Q & A With A Law School Tutor
It’s no secret that law school can be incredibly difficult. Preparing for class, having one final exam make up your entire course grade, and just the sheer amount of material you have to work through can be overwhelming. Today, we focus on law school tutoring. This can be a great options for those who feel overwhelmed or who need some additional support throughout their law school studies. Read on as we do a Q&A with a law school tutor!
Q & A With A Law School Tutor
What is the #1 academic mistake you see first-year law students make?
Over-reading and under-outlining. In my years of experience working with law students, I have found that 1Ls spend far too much time reading their casebook and too little time outlining their coursework.
Please don’t misunderstand me—every 1L should strive to complete every assigned reading prior to class. But how you go about doing that, and how much time you spend on those readings, could make or break your first couple of semesters.
In law school, nearly all your course grades—including and especially 1L course grades—will be determined by your comparative performance on a single, end-of-semester exam. Backward plan from there, and you will realize that to earn the best marks possible, you need to begin preparing for that final exam from your very first day of class.
That does not mean spending thirty-plus hours each week on pre-lecture reading assignments and case briefs. Many 1Ls depart their lectures realizing they wasted time deciphering legal lingo that they were never expected to understand in the first place. And as for those case briefs: you’ll probably never need or see them again.
Instead, work smart and hard. Follow JDA’s guidance and begin to build an outline for each of your courses starting on the first day of lecture. Take class notes, yes, but then spend time that evening (or the next morning) converting your scattered thoughts into a single, cohesive, thoughtfully organized outline that summarizes the key rules, their elements, and the applicable, illustrative case law. And for every hour you spend reading, spend at least one hour (if not more) on building those course outlines.
Students who commit to this approach and adopt efficient methods for reading—book briefing rather than case briefing for instance—can often complete all their assigned readings over the weekend, leaving their weekday study hours for outlining. The result? A comprehensive summary of your course, prepped and polished just in time for finals.
What is something you wish you knew before you went to law school?
You cannot do everything (so, set healthy boundaries!). If you are focused on and committed to learning the law in the manner I just described, then you will not have enough time for everything else you are told to do—completing your pre-lecture readings, befriending your classmates, pursuing student leadership opportunities, and chasing after that summer internship you’ve been told you need.
No, what you really need is to prioritize.
Start with the essentials: healthy sleep, nutrition, and exercise habits; quality social time with friends and family; social connections and networking opportunities in and outside the school; and reading and outlining efficiently. Understand yourself—your personal goals, priorities, who you are and who you want to become—and then plan accordingly. And whatever those priorities may be, you will need to protect them. Law School will not lead you into that; it will consume every waking moment of your day if you let it.
When I was a 1L, I also worked full-time as the executive director of a nonprofit startup. My day-to-day schedule was daunting: I worked very full-time, sometimes beginning as early as 6:00 AM, and often arrived to my law school lectures a few minutes late. I rarely completed my readings and often needed weekends to keep up with basic outlining. It was exhausting. By my second semester, I needed to make critical changes—I rarely stayed up late studying, exercised multiple times a week, and remained connected to both my local church community and neighborhood sports teams. I didn’t allow Law School to swallow my life.
What do you think makes the difference between an “A” student and a “B” student?
They work smarter and harder, not necessarily more. In my experience, law students don’t lack for intelligence or work ethic, especially if they are working with us at JD Advising! But what is it that sets exceptional students apart from their peers? In my experience, they rarely work more than their counterparts. Instead, they often work smarter and harder. And in the best of cases, they learn to love the law.
By smarter, I mean these students plan for and step into successful study situations. They experiment with, design, and scrupulously follow an academic routine that meets their needs. They know the kind of student they are—morning versus evening studies or audio versus visual learning. In addition, they find classmates who they can trust for accountability and perspective. And yes, they set healthy boundaries around food, sleep, exercise, and often take an entire day off each week to rest and recalibrate.
And because these students work smarter, they are liberated to work harder. They can reject short cuts, roll up their sleeves, and put in the old-fashioned hard work necessary to memorize and apply the law. These students put in two hours for every hour of classroom lecture; they spend every morning (or evening) transforming their scattered lecture notes into carefully constructed course outlines; they “actively review” (flash cards, read-and-recite, charts and graphs) their outline from cover to cover; and they calendar out weeks’ worth of practice questions and essays salvaged from their professor’s test bank.
And yes, some of these students even begin to develop a love for the law! As they regularly engage with and wrestle their way through the nuances of the dormant commerce clause, adverse possession, and the battle of the forms, they begin to see the law at work all around them. They recognize the well-intended policy aims hidden underneath cumbersome, complicated set of rules and regulations. They even begin to sketch out potential notes for law review and journal submissions stemming from these piqued interests.
What advice do you have for someone who didn’t do very well and wants to improve?
Come work with us! All kidding aside, you should seriously consider asking for outside help. I have worked with students who narrowly survived their first semester of law school, and I have worked with students at the very top of their class. All of them have benefitted tremendously from processing law school with another experienced voice. Sometimes, even just an hour or two with a tutor or more experienced peer can provide a valuable, outsider’s perspective into your situation.
Any final thoughts?
Yes! Be kind. For those unfamiliar, the term “gunner” refers to law students who take themselves very seriously, who participate in class quite vigorously, and who often appear to have exchanged their obsession with LSATs for a new obsession with GPAs and OCIs.
Don’t get me wrong: credentials matter to an extent, especially in your early career. And law school is a battle that will require you to be at your very best. But, that doesn’t mean you should treat your classmates like cannon fodder.
In many cases, your law school classmates will become a source of client referrals, subject matter experts, and potential colleagues/employers. Few of your classmates will remember you grade in corporations, or your official title on Law Review. They will remember whether you were a kind, decent, honest person. To this day, there are former classmates in firms, government, and academic who I can call because, at a minimum, they didn’t contribute to my law school anxieties. I hope they feel the same way about me.
Jonathan Demers is a law school tutor with JD Advising and is licensed in the State of Michigan. He graduated cum laude from Wayne State University, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Law in Society and was a nationally-ranked ABA moot court oralist. He prepared for and passed the Michigan Bar Exam in 2018 with a 90th percentile MBE score. In addition to working with JD Advising, Jonathan is a practicing attorney in Detroit.