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More Advice for Second-Year Law Students.--

David Bernstein has some excellent advice for second-year law students. In particular, as David notes, many students may not realize that most students work much less hard in their last two years, so if you work as hard as you probably worked in your first year, you have a good chance of getting better grades.

Let me offer some additional suggestions:

1. Seminars. Take seminars--and if your school has them, graded faculty workshop courses. They generally offer interesting reading, writing training, the opportunity to get to know professors better, and high grades. [I am here assuming that the curve is substantially higher than in lecture courses, as has been generally true at the six law schools at which I've taught].

2. Independent Study. If your school has possibilities for independent study with a professor, do this both years (with two different professors). The advantages are the same as for seminars--only these benefits are usually realized to an even greater extent. Also, you might get a publication out of it. In choosing whom to work with, try to choose a professor who has successfully supervised or collaborated with students on publications before (ask other professors for this information). For example, on the Northwestern faculty perhaps a third to a half of the prominently published student work has come from working with just a few professors; the most outstanding supervisors on this score have been Steve Calabresi, Ron Allen, Marty Redish, and (before he left for Columbia) Tom Merrill. If no professor has successfully supervised students on independent study, at least pick a professor who publishes a lot, because he or she usually has ideas to share.

3. Law Review Fall Write-on (but only at schools where it often works). A few schools (probably less than 15%) have true open-access law review possibilities in the fall of second year, where at least a quarter of the second-year staff of the main law review are chosen by writing a near-publishable draft of a student note during the semester. Most schools have a write-on option for publishable work, but they are not really geared to accept people through that route, so almost no one succeeds at it. If it is not common at your school to write-on by this method in the fall, I would usually recommend not trying, because it is much too easy to get discouraged. But if access to the law review is truly open and substantial numbers of fall write-ons are selected for the review each year, then I would recommend trying. Work closely with a professor to refine your idea so that you don't spin your wheels, and then kill yourself for the three months it takes to write on. Follow the advice in Eugene Volokh's book and make sure that your blue-booking is exemplary. If doing cite-checking of law review manuscripts is allowed for those merely writing on, volunteer for at least some of this work and make certain that you ace that assignment. For those trying to make the main law review (or for those on the review trying to make the managing board), making an extreme effort for just a few months in the fall term of second year can pay big dividends in the long run. As for working on other than the main law review at your school, I'm not sure that I agree with David. He may be right, or he may not be. Certainly, if you strongly desire that experience, I would do it. As to whether it matters on a resume, I've always thought that being an editor on a less prestigious law review was a plus, but he might be right that it may not be worth the considerable effort, both in making the managing board and doing the editing if you make it.

4. Different Sorts of Educational Experiences. I would generally recommend doing some different sorts of educational experiences because the learning curve is especially steep at the beginning of a new experience. If you don't do law review, you might consider working in the clinic or doing an internship off campus. Both can be terrific for learning how to practice law. While I think that doing moot court can be educationally sound, unfortunately I don't think that it helps your resume unless you win at least some level of the competition. At schools that give a lot of course credit for moot court, that might offset the time spent away from other work, but otherwise I would be cautious about participating in moot court--unless you just love that sort of thing or you realistically have a good chance of winning.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. More Advice for Second-Year Law Students.--
  2. Advice for Second-Year Law Students:
Cornellian (mail):
I disagree that taking small seminar courses is a good way to improve your grades. Such courses tend to have a higher percentage of people actually interested in the subject (instead of just taking it because their law school required them to take it or because it was a "core" course) and have a higher risk of arbitrary grading.

I'd give the opposite advice - take the courses with the largest enrollment assuming they're not taught by a bad prof. Those courses are filled with curve-friendly slackers.
8.24.2006 2:12pm
James Lindgren (mail):
Cornellian:

Boy, that has not been my experience at any of the six law schools at which I've taught. Were seminars at your school subject to roughly the same curve as other courses? If so, then your advice would indeed follow almost automatically. But if the curve was substantially different (as it has been where and when I taught), then the curve was usually so much higher as to offset the problem you note.

Jim Lindgren
8.24.2006 2:24pm
Opus:
Look into taking non-law school courses at your university if they may be taken for credit. In my case, 12 of my credits towards graduation were spent taking foreign language classes. Languages, economics, philosophy, statistics, etc... are all good choices.
8.24.2006 2:30pm
LizardBreath (mail):
I'd like to say that I'm also skeptical about the 'don't bother with being an editor at a second-tier journal' advice. I didn't bother (at NYU) and got the strong impression a year later that I had absolutely torpedoed myself in terms of the clerkship hiring process. Firms didn't care, but I got almost no clerkship interviews, while friends with significantly worse grades, but editors on non-Law-Review journals, got more. I ended up not clerking.

This is an anecdote, but I'd think that choosing not to do any journal is tantamount to opting out of the possibility of clerking, which largely closes down the possibility of any sort of academic work.
8.24.2006 2:31pm
Tennessean (mail):
No offense, but "[]any students [who do] not realize that most students work much less hard in their last two years" probably lacks the mental actuity to significantly improve their grades in any case.

(From my slanderous generality derived solely from my own three-year experience, I except out students in night programs, heavily commuter programs, or any other similar programs where peer communication is curtailed.)
8.24.2006 2:37pm
Billy Budd:
There's another problem with loading up on seminars to raise your GPA: Firms and (especially) judges know what you're doing, and adjust their opinion of your resume accordingly.
8.24.2006 2:50pm
jimbino (mail):
How about taking some math, science and engineering courses so that you can gain some knowledge that will distinguish you from almost all other lawyers and all judges?
8.24.2006 3:11pm
James Lindgren (mail):
LizardBreath:

I hesitated to disagree with David on this point, but your comment of the resume value of a law review other than the main one is what I would expect to be true.

Jimbino,

Good suggestion. I would recommend taking statistics (rather than other types of math).

Tennessean,

You are probably right. The best excuse that I can come up with for repeating David's point is that how fervently someone believes something to be true might affect how strongly they act on that knowledge.
8.24.2006 3:22pm
Lawbot2000:
"There's another problem with loading up on seminars to raise your GPA: Firms and (especially) judges know what you're doing, and adjust their opinion of your resume accordingly."

I don't know if this is accurate, Billybudd. I externed for a judge last semester when they were hiring a clerk for the following year. They ended up hiring this girl with terrible grades her first year, mediocre grades the first semester of her second year, but had a 4.0 on the second semester of her second year. They were very impressed with her improvement in the last semester, etc. etc.
When I looked at the resume, I noticed she had taken all seminar/clinic courses the last semester. I wasn't nearly as impressed as the judge or his other clerks who apparently didn't notice.
8.24.2006 3:28pm
A.S.:
many students may not realize that most students work much less hard in their last two years

I disagree.

At least in my case, first semester of second year was MUCH more hectic than first year. First year, all you did was study. But first semester of second year involved studying and interviews AND law review. That was a lot more work than just the studying I did first year.

In particular, in my case, interviews were very time-consuming and difficult (partially, I assume, because I went to school in DC and interviewed in NYC; however, even the people who interviewed in DC put a lot of time into it). And, frankly, interviews were a much higher priority for most students than the first couple of months of classes. By the time November came around and I got my offers, I was already way behind in studying.

Moreover, firstyears likely did not do anywhere near as much outside activities. Law review took a significant amount of time - and even if you aren't on law review, it is likely you'll be doing something like moot court.

In the end, I'd be very cautious about how much you think you can take on - at least for first semester of second year.
8.24.2006 3:51pm
James Lindgren (mail):
A.S.:

I was writing about working on graded class work (and Bernstein's post was in response to someone not on law review).

I agree with your comments on law review. Indeed, my post included this discussion:


Work closely with a professor to refine your idea so that you don't spin your wheels, and then kill yourself for the three months it takes to write on. Follow the advice in Eugene Volokh's book and make sure that your blue-booking is exemplary. If doing cite-checking of law review manuscripts is allowed for those merely writing on, volunteer for at least some of this work and make certain that you ace that assignment. For those trying to make the main law review (or for those on the review trying to make the managing board), making an extreme effort for just a few months in the fall term of second year can pay big dividends in the long run.
8.24.2006 4:07pm
poster child (mail):
At my law school alma mater, seminars were a great way to boost your GPA. On the other hand, a "Lesbianism and the Law" seminar course will be of little use to you on either the bar exam or in most fields of practice.

Personally, I was happy enough with my GPA that I didn't bother taking the gut courses. More importantly, they tended to be smaller in size and my proclivity for skipping class would've been much more noticeable. Dirty little secret of law school: if you do the reading and spend your time productively, you can attend every other lecture and still make good grades.
8.24.2006 5:16pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
Seminar courses are no joke. Unlike some other classes, where I showed up when I felt like it and took the exam, I have to actually work in the seminar courses, writing 20+ page papers with footnotes. It may be different elsewhere, but where I go they are not easy.

As an example to what I said above, Con Rights was a 4-credit class that met 3 times a week for an nour and 15 minutes. I showed up on days 1 and 2, and the last day, which was a review. I took the exam and got an A-.
8.25.2006 1:03am
Not Kidding (mail):
Have sex regularly. It improves your G.P.A.
8.25.2006 1:44am
Medis:
A couple quick thoughts:

On seminars/paper classes: I think they can be good for some students if only because some students are better at writing papers than at writing exams (including yours truly). In that sense, if you didn't feel that the typical 1L exam played to your strengths, but you are a strong writer in general, I think seminars can help your grades even without the curve being better in seminars (and in any event, it usually is better).

Plus, not all seminars sound ridiculous on a transcript--indeed, they don't necessarily sound like seminars. In other words, you can take Advanced Topics in Evidence rather than Law and Our Feelings if you are concerned about how people will see your transcript.

On secondary journals: I agree firms may not care, but I can also attest that the people on my secondary journal who took editorial positions seemed to do well when it came to clerkships (indeed, those of us who went on the clerkship market arguably did better on average than the LR folks, although many of our editors self-selected out, so that is an unfair comparison). In general, my sense is that it depends on the judge: some basically demand LR and so don't distinguish between non-LR folks, but some think a top editorial position on a secondary journal is roughly comparable to being just a member on LR.

Incidentally, not surprisingly, I think there may be a correlation between the first kind of judges and judges who tend to hire from a short list of schools, and the second kind of judge and judges who are willing to consider the top students from a broader range of schools.
8.25.2006 8:09am
3L:
How about a post with advice for 3Ls on how to capitalize on the third year, especially for those of us thinking of teaching down the road?
8.25.2006 11:11am