Thank you Lee Burgess and Alison Monaham, co-founders of Law School Toolbox, for taking the time to answer our questions about the resources they provide for future and current law students. If you’re applying to law school or have already been accepted to law school then you’ll want to read on.
Accepted: What are some important skills that law school students should have before they become 1Ls?
Law School Toolbox: New students likely already have many of the skills that they need to be successful in law school—after all they did get admitted to law school! But we think there are a few skills worth highlighting:
- You need to brush up on your writing skills. Especially if you haven’t been in school for a while, or if you have been working at a job where writing isn’t a large part of your work, it might be time to brush up on your writing skills. Remember, in law school you are evaluated primarily through your writing on essay exams.
- Also brush up on your task and time management skills. Law school is challenging and there is a lot going on academically and socially. You need to stay organized and manage your time effectively to get everything done. If you aren’t an organized person or don’t have a task management system in place, I recommend you look at different options and try out one before you start school. This can mean one less “new” thing to do when school starts.
Accepted: How does the Law School Toolbox help future law school students prepare for law school? What about once they begin law school?
Law School Toolbox: We started the Law School Toolbox in order to provide law students with a tool to demystify the law school experience. We do this a few different ways.
- For New Law Students: This summer we are offering a free online course where we help new law students start law school right. The course covers all of the critical topics for first-year law students—such as how a law school class works, how to read and brief a case, how to take class notes, and even how to create an outline. Our goal is to offer our students a set of tools to start their first semester of law school feeling ready and confident.
- For All Law Students: We are passionate about empowering law students to get the most out of their law school experience. We do this in a few different ways.
- First, we have our blog where we write extensively on issues relating to class and exam preparation. Right now we have a great series going from our summer intern in which she is talking about lessons she learned as a 1L.
- Second, later this summer we will be offering online course content to help students (both in their first year and beyond) become experts at all parts of law school, from taking class notes to getting ready for exams. If students are interested in hearing more about this, we encourage them to sign up for our mailing list and be the first to hear about our new course offerings.
- Finally, we are offering one-on-one tutoring for law students. We have been tutoring and teaching law students for years and many students find working with a tutor invaluable as they navigate through the challenges of law school.
Accepted: What else can future law students do the year or the summer before entering law school to help them prepare for what’s to come (in addition to taking your course)?
Law School Toolbox: There is no magic formula for getting ready for law school; however, there are definitely things you can do to get ready:
- Talk to lawyers you may know to start networking. Networking is becoming more and more important in this job market, and you can’t start too soon. Let people know you are going to law school. Then you can circle back with them when you are looking for work after your first year.
- Get yourself familiar with the law school experience. Whether it is taking our course, reading our blog, or checking out the other books, blogs, and courses out there, educating yourself on the experience can smooth the transition between pre-law school life and the start of law school.
- Take a break or take a trip! Most people talk about a “bar trip” after you finish the bar exam, but few people talk about a pre-law school trip! Lee took one to Costa Rica and it was a great final hurrah before starting her studies.
Accepted: Can you share one or two bar exam study tips? Do you think your advice can be useful to law students, or lawyers even, after they’ve completed law school and all their exams?
Law School Toolbox: (1) Become an expert exam taker: Many students in law school struggle with their first-year exams. They think that perhaps they just don’t know the law well enough or they are just not used to law school exams. We would argue that there is a skill to taking legal exams (written or multiple-choice) and you should consider refining that skill throughout law school and leading into the bar exam. Lee (who is a one-on-one bar exam tutor for the California bar) works with too many students who have failed the bar exam and who say they wish they had had their newly learned exam skills while in law school. So why wait until the bar exam to learn how to take legal tests?
Try to learn as much about law school exams as you can while you are in law school. Blogs and materials like the Law School Toolbox can help, but you should also use the resources made available to you through your school. Many schools have academic support offices, whose job is to help you work on your exam skills. In addition, spend time talking to your professors and trying to get as much feedback as you can on your exam writing. Some schools also have a TA program where upper-class students help you with exam-taking strategies (we were both TAs at our respective law schools).
The bar exam in most states is considered a test that requires minimum competency of the law. But you cannot be minimally competent when it comes to taking an exam. Use law school as an opportunity to refine exam-taking skills so you don’t have to worry about them come bar exam time.
(2) Become an expert at learning law: People outside of the law often wonder what makes the bar exam so difficult. And for many people it is just the large amount of law that you need to know for the exam (in California, the bar covers 13 subjects, depending on how you count them).
Is this more law than you have likely ever memorized before? Yes. But one of the skills you have worked on in law school (whether or not you know it) involves becoming an expert at learning the law. Every day when you read new case law or went to class, you were studying law. Then, as you outlined and applied the law to fact patterns you were understanding the law and how it functions in the real world.
When you get to the bar exam, you need to utilize these skills to memorize and apply the material covered on the test. You may not know as much detail about a given subject as you did for a law school final exam, but you still want to learn the law just as you did in law school. Did you make your own outlines or study materials in law school? Yes? Then do that for the bar exam. What about flashcards? Did they work for you in law school? Yes? Then make them for the bar exam.
And what about after the bar exam when it is time to practice law? Well, ask any practicing attorney—all of them will tell you that they are constantly learning new law. They will have a case that covers an area of law they have never heard of and they are required to go learn new law on short notice (we both had this happen to us when we were in practice). If you are expert at teaching yourself law, that is a skill that will serve you throughout your legal career.
Want to hear more of our thoughts on the bar exam? Check out our other project, the Bar Exam Toolbox.
About the Law School Toolbox Founders:
Lee Burgess: Lee Burgess is the founder of Amicus Tutoring, LLC, a company she started to help students find success in law school and on the California bar exam. She is also the co-founder of theLaw School Toolbox and the Bar Exam Toolbox. Lee is also an adjunct member of the faculty at the University of San Francisco School of Law and Golden Gate University School of Law, where she teaches classes on study skills, exam preparation, exam writing, and preparing for the bar exam. You can find Lee on Twitter at@amicustutoring, @LawSchoolTools, and @BarExamTools.
Alison Monahan: Alison Monahan is the founder of The Girl’s Guide to Law School and the co-founder of the Law School Toolbox and the Bar Exam Toolbox. Alison is a graduate of Columbia Law School, where she was a member of the Columbia Law Review and served as a Civ Pro teaching assistant. You can find her on Twitter at@GirlsGuideToLS, @LawSchoolTools, and @BarExamtools.