December 9, 2014
It has been said that law school does not prepare one for the actual practice of law. In some ways that is true. However, the preparation for and the taking of final written exams provides multiple opportunities to think and act like a real lawyer serving the needs of your client (which in this case is your professor). Your mission is to understand the facts you need (which may or may not have been supplied) and apply the relevant legal principals in a concise and thorough manner by somehow synthesizing the heaps of material you have learned into a user friendly format (which, if possible, is consistent with the style preferences of your professor). Ok, that is a lot of words. So, how do you accomplish it all? Below are five keys for acing your exams.
- Take Practice Tests. Do as many as possible, no matter how old. These tests will give you a sense of what the professor thinks is important and his or her exam style.
- Attend Review Sessions/Office Hours. Go to any review sessions that are offered even if you do not have questions. Someone else may raise a question or way of looking at something that you had not considered. If review sessions are not offered, schedule a meeting with your professor during office hours. Use that meeting as an opportunity to get inside the mind of your professor. What does he or she think is important? What interests him or her about the area of law being taught? Does he or she have a take on current events taking place in that area of law? How does he or she approach a particular problem? What is his or her style, generally? Also, use this meeting as an opportunity to discuss solutions to practice tests which you have taken.
- State Your Assumptions. At a minimum, restate the relevant facts when answering the question to demonstrate that you have read all the facts and you understand which ones are important. You should also state assumptions (not presented in the question) which you are making to answer the question. This will be good practice for practicing law when often the client does not provide all the necessary (or any) facts.
- Relate the Question to the Real World. As part of your answer, cite any relevant, pending Congressional, Executive, or other action. For example in tax law, there usually is a provision that expired that may be on the verge of being brought back to life in the last days of a particular Congress. Noting that your answer “assumes that xyz provision is extended (or is not)” demonstrates that you are a thinking person and that you have a handle on the big picture.
- Allocate Most of Your Time to Analysis. Summarize your conclusions up front. Then provide plenty of rigorous analysis so someone with no technical knowledge (usually the client, in this case your professor) can follow your thinking. This approach should earn you enough points to do well, even if your conclusions are not what he or she was looking for.