#The2Llife: Missing the Forest for the Trees

GUEST BLOG By Harrison Thorne
2L at UCLA School of Law

Law school is very hard. There is more reading than you think possible, and nobody gives you concrete feedback.

During my first year, it was fairly common for me to oscillate between feeling that I had everything under control and freaking out. Ask my family. I would correctly recite case facts during a cold call and feel on top of the world. But then someone would make a comment that I hadn’t thought of, and life was over.

This pendulum drove me to work harder. I always wanted to be on top of the readings, and I never wanted to feel left out of class discussion.

However, it is very easy to miss the forest for the trees in law school. It is great to know every case’s holdings. But the facts and the specific parties to a case are almost completely irrelevant.

The point is to fit all the pieces together, and to synthesize rules that come from cases. The teachers do not care whether you can recite facts on an exam. Rather, they expect their students to analyze the facts given on the test—perhaps by comparing/contrasting the given facts to cases you’ve read.

I think this really sunk in after my first set of finals during 1L. Consequently, my studying techniques changed drastically. I no longer obsessively tried to figure out the procedural posture of cases, or who was the appellant vs. appellee. Rather, I tried to make all the cases fit together in such a way that I could create a framework to analyze new facts on a test.

I suppose this post is inspired by the fact that I just began my evidence and bankruptcy outlines this past weekend. Outlining is a big task. You have to take a ton of information and cases, and actively synthesize rules to figure out how various cases fit into a bigger picture. And that’s not easy—especially for bankruptcy!

Fotolia_62353810_Subscription_Monthly_MHowever, as always, work smarter, not harder. I recently obtained outlines from past years for each of my courses, and have used those to get a broad sense of my courses, and to help guide my own outline. I also use Barbri study guides, as they give a no-nonsense breakdown of black-letter law. Barbri outlines saved my life during criminal law . . .

So, if you are reading this as a 1L, the takeaway is that when reading a case, always think about the facts so that you’re prepared in case of a cold-call. But, more importantly, think about the bigger picture, and how you would apply this case to new facts on an exam.