WMU-Cooley Law Professors Give Advice to First Term Students

Starting law school is a major life event ... and sooner or later most first-year students seek advice from a legal mentor, many times a professor, about how to make it through with flying colors. The advice they receive from these seasoned legal professionals is often remembered for the rest of their lives because it helps them meet and overcome challenges time and again. To share some of that valuable wisdom, we asked a few of our professors what advice they usually give first term law students …

Strike a balance

Cooney_Mark Cooney-2"Strike a balance. I don't mean between school and personal life. I mean in your schoolwork. Once the term's fourth or fifth week arrives, you must split your time between class preparation and studying your notes from previous classes. If you don't start reviewing the material from previous classes early in the term, you won't be able to master it. There's no such thing as cramming in law school. Starting to study for finals in week 10 or 11 is way too late. It never works.

"By the time you take a final exam, you should be prepared to teach the course. And when you write your essay answers, you must assume the role of teacher, not student. Help your reader understand what the law is and how it applies to the facts. A lawyer (or law student) must always be the teacher." — Mark Cooney

Bauer_Gary Bauer
Reassess after your first term

"Don't load up on credits for your first term; see how you do after the first term and then accelerate if you have done well. Part of the learning process is to learn how to study and take exams and it is different than undergrad. Walk before you run.

"Consider family obligations, work commitments and time to exercise and stay physically healthy when making commitments during your first year of law school. Try to seek balance in your life — be cautious making commitments beyond preparation for your academic endeavors. 

"Read ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.’ Download it as an audio book and listen to it as you drive from point to point or at other times instead of checking Facebook." — Gary Bauer

Engage, Express, Enjoy

"To make a good start in law school, engage, express, and enjoy. Did you know that big fry make big fish? In other words, if you start stronger, then you finish farther ahead. 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." — Nelson Miller

Live by your honor code

"A number of years ago when I was a brand new attorney, a wise old judge told me the above quote and I will never forget it. Lawyers live by their honor code every day." — Mable Martin-Scott

O'Leary_Kimberly E_no_glare
Remind yourself why you're in law school

"Set aside regular time to work on class preparation that is free from interruptions. When possible, work on law school tasks at whatever time of day or night you normally feel most focused and energetic. Set aside regular time to do something other than law school that you enjoy - whether it is exercise, church, going to movies, or reading a novel. Nobody can work 24/7 on law school, and trying to do so will be counterproductive.

"Remind yourself from time to time, why you are in law school. Even if you spend most of your time learning rules of law on topics you may or may not wish to practice as a lawyer. Remind yourself that foundational knowledge is important no matter what kind of lawyer you choose to be. Don't overextend yourself with student activities, but attend interesting events from time to time. Think about HOW you build legal arguments as much as WHAT those arguments are.  Understanding the process of how lawyers construct legal positions is a key skill you will learn in your first year." — Kim O’Leary

Don't be satisfied with being average

"Always be prepared and try your best on all assignments. This level of preparedness is what your future clients will expect. Do not be satisfied with being an 'average' student. No one wants to hire an 'average' lawyer. Push yourself to do your best. Approach law school with the same level of preparedness that you would a court date or a client meeting. 

"Study at a regular time and at a regular pace. Select a location most conducive to uninterrupted study. Know your periods of maximum alertness. Know your time limitations, but push yourself. Set a goal for your study time.

"Read everything assigned. Interact with your readings — underline and highlight. Remember to save time to brief your cases and look up the terms that you are unfamiliar with in a legal dictionary. Take notes during class. Compare your case briefs and answers to hypotheticals to those discussed in class. Review and update your notes after class. You should update your outline each week before the next class session. You should also review your outline weekly. Don’t wait until the end of the semester to study. Ask questions when you are confused. Do practice essays and practice multiple choice questions. Visit the Academic Resource Center. As Daisy Hurst Floyd and Paul Haskins wrote in Essential Qualities of the Professional Lawyer, 'The absence of diligence is negligence.'" — Stevie Swanson

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