Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Blog

Big Fry. Big Fish. And Big First Steps Critical to Law School Success.

miller_nelsonBlog author Professor Nelson Miller is the Associate Dean at WMU-Cooley's Grand Rapids campus. He has published 49 books and many more book chapters and articles on legal education, law practice, tort law, civil procedure, damages, international law, constitutional law, university law, professional responsibility, bioethics, legal history and philosophy, and faith. He also was named one of 26 law professors selected for a national study in the Harvard University Press project called What the Best Law Teachers Do.

Think of big first steps. How important for the sprinter is getting out of the starting blocks cleanly? Or for the racehorse not to stumble out of the gates? In racing, small leads often grow bigger. Starting behind, or falling behind, can come at a steep price.

Or think of big beginnings. Buy a big puppy or big pet fish, and chances are good that when mature, it will be bigger than the small puppy or small pet fish. A fish-farmer friend of mine proved it to me: big fry (the fish just hatched from the roe eggs) mean big adult fish, while small fry mean small adult fish.

You’ve probably had similar experiences. Whatever you did well in early, you may have persevered with and grown into to do especially well in late. Head starts can mean a lot in human development, just as they do in development generally.

Likewise, recent study shows that law students who do well in their first term and first year do better on bar exams taken years later than students who bring high LSAT scores or strong undergraduate grades to law school, or who do well in law school later. Even in law school, or especially in law school, getting off on the right foot, making a strong start, is important.

So, how do you start strong in law school? Many schools, like WMU-Cooley, offer extensive pre-curriculum materials. WMU-Cooley offers online exercises and a free pre-curriculum book with exercises for all accepted students. Start early, well before law school, and you will likely arrive prepared.

If you haven’t started early, and the time to start law school has arrived, then use your first days well. Attend your school’s orientation sessions, ready to learn. Do the orientation exercises that the school recommends. Get your books and other resources as soon as available, and then prepare for the first class.

Contact your professor if you face obstacles to being prepared for the first class. My law-professor colleagues and I regularly send book chapters and other resources to new students who want to begin prepared. Ask admissions, bookstore, and library staff if you cannot locate resources.

Then, when classes begin, engage, express, and enjoy. To start strong, engage the education fully. Don't dabble. Treat it like the serious, substantive, valuable endeavor that it is. Then, express often, both orally and in writing, the law that you are learning. Don't let it all stay in your head. Expressing what you are learning enables you and others to confirm and correct what you are learning.

Finally, enjoy the education. Take strong interest in law. Appreciate how hugely valuable, important, and practical it is. Your interest in the subject will drive your engagement and expression. You have much to learn, and what you learn has enormous value to you and others. So again, get help. Come prepared. Start strong. And engage, express, and enjoy. Big fry, big fish.

More on Associate Dean Nelson Miller

September 27