– Getting into law school is hard enough.
But doing well once you get in,
that is a whole other ball game.
So how did I learn to do well in law school,
including straight As my first semester?
Wouldn’t you like to know.
Hey legal eagles, D. James Stone here
teaching you how to think like a lawyer
so you can crush law school.
I’ve been a big firm lawyer for over 10 years.
But before that I went to law school
just like every other attorney.
The thing is, when I got to law school
I completely freaked out.
I’d wanted to be a lawyer for as long as I could remember.
And I knew that, that meant going to law school.
But nothing could prepare me for what law school
was actually like.
A lot of kids come into law school
and they’re worried because they don’t know anything
about the law.
I didn’t exactly have that problem
because number one, I had tons of confidence.
Maybe way too much confidence.
But I’d also had you know, experience with Mock Trial,
and I’d watched hours and hours of Law and Order.
So I felt like I had, sort of a handle
on the law itself.
But then I got to class and then I realized
that I knew absolutely nothing about the law.
And not only that but the quality of the student
in law school is unlike anything I’d experienced in college.
The kids that come from Yale and Harvard
they just have this swagger.
And I have never been in a room with such a high
concentration of just A-type personalities
and people that were just intellectually stunning.
Just so many smart people all in one place.
And then of course, there are the gunners.
And a gunner is someone who always raises their hand,
they’re always trying to answer the questions,
they think they know more than they do
and they think it’s their duty to explain
to the professor all of the things that they know.
They’re really obnoxious and they’re really hard to avoid.
But the problem is when you’re a first year law student
you can’t tell the gunners from the genuine geniuses either.
They just seem like they have all the answers.
And they seem like they have the right answers too.
You get to law school and you’re surrounded
by these unbelievably brilliant people.
And you’re also trying to learn,
essentially a new vocabulary.
You’re learning new substantive law
that you’ve never seen in your entire life.
And every class basically has it’s own vocabulary,
such that it’s like learning a different language.
But it’s like learning French, German and Spanish
all at the same time in different classes.
So it’s just completely overwhelming
when you get to law school.
So my vision for what law school was going to be like
did not match up with the reality.
And you know, I tried to do my best.
I tried to do the readings.
I tried to engage with the professors.
But there’s just so much out there.
And I remember one time in criminal law
where we were discussing the different forms
of criminal homicide and I thought
I spotted a flaw in the professor’s argument.
So I raised my hand and I explained my argument
and I said you know professor,
isn’t that just a semantic difference?
Thinking I was going to win this argument.
And the professor retorted back,
well isn’t everything a semantic difference?
Aren’t we always talking about the differences
between the definitions of words?
And it got a huge laugh in front of the class
and I felt humiliated and I didn’t realize
I was going to have to be debating with
essentially a post-modern professor
who was a total relativist.
But, you know, he made a good point.
And I’ll never forget, you know, what it felt like
to be skewered at the end of a logical knife
of this professor.
But that was not a situation that I was used to being in.
And yet every single day in class
I would find myself on the horns of a dilemma
or you know, I wouldn’t understand the arguments
that were being made.
Or I felt like I just couldn’t keep up with the readings
and the arguments that were going on in class.
Now, in the past it was rare that I didn’t think
that I was one of the smartest people in the room.
But in law school I definitely was not
the smartest person in the room.
And I probably wasn’t even in the top half.
I mean I really felt like I was surrounded
by intellectual geniuses.
And after class it seemed like everyone
was actually studying harder than I was.
I don’t know how it was possible.
But they seemed to find more time in the day to study,
to read their cases, to read supplements.
Everyone was not only really smart
but no one was slacking off and everyone
was incredibly hard worker.
So I knew that I had to figure something out.
Because I couldn’t just skate by
with the habits that I had in undergrad
and procrastinating like I used to.
I knew that I was gonna have to have
some different tactic in law school.
Because otherwise I was just gonna get left behind
by my classmates.
And I knew that I just couldn’t rely on innate talent,
because everyone seemed to be incredibly talented.
But worse than that everyone seemed to be working
at least as hard if not harder.
So I knew that I couldn’t rely on innate talent,
and I also couldn’t outwork my cohort either.
I realized I had to come up with a system.
I had to try something different.
So, in addition to studying the law for my classes,
I also decided to study law school itself.
I figured there must be a way to go about it
better and smarter.
So I read everything I possibly could
about the tactics of law school itself.
And I got tips from upperclassman.
I talked to them about what worked in their first year
and what didn’t work.
I talk to practicing attorneys.
I really tried to reach out
to get as much on the ground experience as I could.
Because I figured that experience is the best teacher.
And you know, you only get one shot
at your first year in law school.
So I really had to make the most of it.
And it really seemed like after
you go through your first year,
all of the upperclassman were completely changed.
And so I had to figure out how they made
that transition and how they learned
to do what worked and discarded what didn’t work.
So in addition to reading about law school itself
I started reading about practice exams.
And not only that but I tried to do as many
practice exams as possible.
In those days there used to be more public data bases
where you could go to different law school’s websites
and you could download more past exams.
And I figured that there might be some commonalities
between different exams.
And low and behold I found that almost everyone
used this weird, sort of law school exam called
an Issue Spotting Exam where you’re given a fact pattern.
And what I found is that Issue Spotting Exams
were really unlike any of the stuff
that you do in class in law school.
When you’re in class you’re basically doing
appellate opinion autopsies.
So you get an opinion from an Appellate Court
that lays out the facts and the legal reasoning
and comes out with a particular holding.
And you’re basically doing a dissection or an autopsy
of that opinion.
But the thing is you’re not tested on almost
any of that information.
The amount of information that you glean
from a particular case is so small
compared to what you actually do on a final exam.
And because there are so many commonalities
between the final exams, I figured out what works
for those finals.
And I learned that the kind of in class dissection
that you do on Appellate Opinions,
well that’s important and you use that in practice.
You don’t really use it on the final exam.
So I really emphasized my practice exams.
I really emphasized learning the strategies
of how to write a really good Issue Spotting Exam answer.
Because all the finals are basically the same format.
And at the end of the day all the strategies
that I come up with, all the experience that I got
from the upperclassman and all the experience
that I had doing my practice exams,
ended up having a good result.
I remember my first semester
when I got the report card.
And it’s given to you in an envelope
and so much relies on those grades.
I mean you use your first semester grades to get your,
your 1L summer job when you come back
for your second year to do interviews with law firms.
Like, all they look at basically are your first year grades.
And when I got that first report card,
I had it in my hand and my hands were shaking.
And I just couldn’t open it up in the classroom
that we were given it to.
So I walked outside.
UCLA Law has this really beautiful courtyard
that’s surrounded on three sides by buildings.
It’s got huge trees.
And I sat down on a bench, I opened it up,
and I saw the picket fence, A, A, A.
We only had three classes that semester
and I got straight As.
And to this day I don’t think I have ever had
a single better feeling moment
than when I picked up the phone and I called my parents
and I said, hey mom and dad
I just got my first semester grades,
I want you to know I got straight A’s.
Everything’s gonna be okay.
And my parents were yelling and crying.
And it was just one of the best moments
I’ve ever had in my entire life.
And as I predicted it would it set me up
for a really good first year job.
It set me up for getting the big firm job that I wanted
in Los Angeles and nothing has really ever compared to that.
And frankly, you know, your first semester is so important.
It’s by far the most important part of law school.
And I was able to keep up the momentum.
I graduated with a whole lot more A’s.
And the next two and a half years of law school
were intense but they were nothing like
that first semester.
I used a lot of those skills in Mock Trial and Moot Court.
Where it went on to win a couple of national tournaments
and between my grades and my extracurriculars,
I was able to get set up
to work for a big firm.
An Am Law 100 Firm in Los Angles and I was able to get
my dream job as a Civil Litigator.
And I’ve been a Litigator ever sense.
Now, the story of how I became a big firm lawyer
is one that we’ll have to save for another day.
But if you wanna hear more stories
about my law school experience,
or my experience as an attorney,
check out this short playlist I put together.
It has a bunch of legal war stories
and I think you’ll really enjoy the videos.
So click on this playlist and I’ll see ya in the next video.