Friday, November 26, 2010

How to Get Published & Why It Matters

Whether you're on a law journal or not, having a publication can be a real boon to any resume.  Nearly all law schools require a writing component, where you have to take a paper course.  There's no reason that you shouldn't be able to take that paper and publish it.  I'm convinced that I landed some of my most prestigious law school internships from my publications, not my GPA.

A publication really sets you apart.  Most law students have not published anything.  Ever.  So, when a perspective employer sees "PUBLICATIONS" as a category on your resume, he/she will likely be impressed and curious.  That's a good thing.

Note: This blog entry is NOT about how to write a publish-worthy piece.  Rather, this blog assumes that you have written something excellent and explains the process of getting that fabulous piece of work published.

You are going to need to know how to do the following:
  • develop good key words
  • write an abstract... a good one
  • write a cover letter for law journals in which you want to get published
  • create a CV (curriculum vita)
  • submit all of these things together with your paper
At the outset, know that a paper submitted for publication by a student is called a comment, not an article.  This is specific to the legal field.  In non-law academia, all published pieces are called articles.  Also, when you refer to your own comment, whether in an abstract or in the paper itself, you will capitalize the word "comment."  Ex: This Comment seeks to explore blah, blah, blah.

Key Words:
Key words are important because they help future scholars find your article.  There are certain DOs and DO NOTs associated with creating key words.  Let's begin with the DO NOTs.

DO NOT use the same words that appear in your title.  This creates a redundancy.  When people search for certain key terms, of course words that appear in your title will come up in that search.  Therefore, you want to make your key words work for you in case somebody is trying to find a paper like yours but has not used words in your title.

DO think of synonyms for words in your title.  Also, think of the type of law you are discussing in your paper.  If you have written about an entity, you'll want to use that as a key word.  Finally, if you discuss an important piece of legislation not mentioned in your title, use that.

One key word can actually consist of more than one word.  I know this seems confusing, but it's true.  So, for instance, here is a title of a paper, and here is a list of key words (usually, you want 5-8 key words):

Title: Mass Meat Consumption, Human Rights, and Animal Welfare: An Alternative Appeal to Limitative Federal Legislation


Key Words: food, water, environment, property, EPA, Declaration of Human Rights, NAFTA


Abstract:
The abstract appears at the beginning of your paper, under the title, and before the Table of Contents.

Its purpose is to act as an extremely concise synopsis of your entire paper.  Typically, journals limit the number of words that an abstract can contain.  Law journals usually place this limit at 200 or 250 words, so there's no room to mess around.  Here's how to do it:

Goal:
The first sentence literally states the goal of the paper in non-b.s. terms.  By that, I mean you must flag for the reader that you're talking about the goal of your paper.  How do you do this?  Simply write, "The goal of this paper is to . . . "  That's it.  If you prefer some kind of synonym to the word "goal," like "purpose," fine.  But just get to it, and do that in the first sentence.

Ex. (taken from a different paper than the one I listed under Key Words): This paper sets out directive arguments based upon international treaties as well as a combination of U.S. and Indian law for the impending Indian Supreme Court decision that will determine the extent to which corporations’ water rights may impose upon basic human rights to potable water.

Background:
The second sentence should explain briefly some facts about the issue that your paper is addressing.  If the issue is controversial, you can use the next sentence to demonstrate the facts of the other side of the story.  This will show the reader that you can be objective, and this makes you a more trustworthy author.

Ex.: Companies like Coca-Cola, which rely upon access to an abundance of water for their products, have set up factories in India and provide employment for nearby residents. On the flip side, an Indian appellate bench sacrificed a community’s access to water for Coca-Cola’s absolute property rights.

The next few sentences--tops--should discuss, in order, the effects/implications and the current state of the legal matter (whether the legal matter you're addressing is a law, a case, or whatever).

Ex.: As a result, Indian women, with whom many societies charge the daily procurement of water, must travel farther and farther to fetch the family water. The effects of Coca-Cola’s water extraction have caused political uproar within and across Indian communities. Now, the Indian Supreme Court must decide whether companies like Coca-Cola retain absolute rights to any and all water beneath their real property; the fates of companies like Coca-Cola and communities’ livelihoods rest in the Court’s  hands… and there the decision has rested for years.

The "So What?" Factor:
Explain in one sentence why your issue matters.  Is there a separation of powers issue?  Will the resolve or lack thereof forever change employment law?  Tell me: Why does your paper legally matter?  

Ex: This case may spur international movement either toward or away from multinational corporations’ absolute property rights in the face of thirsting and drought-affected communities worldwide.

The Normative Factor/Conclusion:
In one sentence, tell the reader what "should" be done and why.

Ex.: The Indian Supreme Court should rely upon CEDAW, the CRC, its Constitution, court precedent, and the public trust doctrine in order to both satisfy its international obligations to provide its communities with water and avoid judicial activism.

Cover Letter:
Very similar to my other post about cover letters for jobs, this kind of cover letter also serves a very specific purpose.  Therefore, each paragraph has its own particular goal.

You want this cover letter to be SHORT!  Otherwise, the very busy editor is not going to want to bother reading your cover letter.  S/he is busy.  If you can't demonstrate what your paper is about and why it matters in 3 short paragraphs, the editor will likely safely assume that you can't write very well to begin with.

First Paragraph:
I call this the "Why You?" paragraph.

The whole basic point of the first paragraph is to introduce your paper and say that it's nuanced.  The journal, frankly, does not give a damn about your paper if there's nothing nuanced about it.  If you don't know whether or how your paper is nuanced, you should think about that.  I mean, really.  What makes your paper different from all of the other ones out there?  Only you can come up with that.

So, your first paragraph should contain: 
  • the title of your paper (in proper Bluebook format)
  • the statement that it's nuanced
  • the legal topics that your paper covers
Ex.: My article, Mass Meat Consumption, Human Rights, and Animal Welfare: An Alternative Appeal
to Limitative Federal Legislation, presents several nuances to the fields of human rights, animal
welfare, and environmental law.

Note: I referred to the paper as an article because it had not been published yet, so I didn't want to call it a comment.  Plus, "article" is more scholarly than "paper."  I also didn't capitalize "article" because this is a cover letter, not the paper itself or the abstract.

Second paragraph:
I call this the "Prove It" paragraph.  In other words, sure, it's easy to summarily claim that your paper is nuanced, but now you're going to have to prove that.

I think that the easiest, clearest, and most concise way to do this is to draw the reader's attention to 3 points regarding why your paper is different than everything else out there.  I do this by using the words "first," "second," and "third."  It's that simple.

Ex.: First, though most animal rights/welfare articles speak to atrocities inflicted upon animals, my article recognizes that such appeals fail to spur federal legislative action. Second, my paper presents an alternative approach—a human rights approach—to support arguments for limitations on mass meat production and importation, which would at once effectively reduce animal torture, at least  quantitatively, and improve human rights by reducing instances of starvation, environmental degradation, and drought. Third, the article argues that Congress both may and should legislate mass meat production/importation limitations; these powers should not be left to the states.

The Third Paragraph:
I call this the "Why Them" paragraph.  Now, here's where you need to be a little creative.  After all, you probably don't have time to research every journal in order to discover why they are special.  Moreover, to increase your likelihood of getting your piece published, you're going to want to mass-submit this thing.  I refer to this as the shotgun approach.

So, how do you make the editor of the journal feel like you really want to submit to their law journal, even while you submit your paper to perhaps dozens of places?  Well, you do this by including the following in your paragraph:
  • these words: opportunity, future dialogue, and intersections (if your paper discusses more than one area of law and/or policy)
  • the legal topic(s) that your paper address(es)
Every journal wants to believe that they, too, are nuanced and produce interesting stuff.  That's why you tell them that you know their journal presents that possibility, even if you don't actually know that.  They want to believe that this is true because it adds prestige to their journals.

Ex.: I have chosen to submit my paper to your journal because it provides an ideal forum for my article’s subject matter through opportunities for future dialogue regarding the intersections of human rights, the environment, and animal law.

Add a final "Thank You" paragraph, and you're done!  :)

CV:
A CV is very different than a resume--especially a legal resume that remains only one page in length for a few years.  Unlike a resume, a CV includes everything you've ever done.  Really.  Throw it all in.  Even the kitchen sink.

You want to have the header match that of your cover letter.  Consistency is always very important.

A CV might include the following categories in, more or less, this order:

Education
Publications
Works in Progress
Presentations
Legal/Teaching/Research Experience
Academic Honors, Programs, & Scholarships
Community Service
Professional Affiliations
Research Interests
Foreign Languages

Everything under each category should be in reverse chronological order.  

Do NOT include anything non-legal or non-academic.  Everything should at least tentatively relate to law or scholastics.  Because political events and policy issues relate to scholastics, those things are okay.

Also, do NOT double-dip, meaning don't place one activity in more than one category.  For instance, if you received an award for volunteer work, place that under either "Awards" or "Community Service" but not both.  I would choose the most prestigious category in that instance, which would be Awards.

If you need more guidance with a CV, go here.

Submission:
This is the easiest part.  Go to UC Berkeley's submission site.  It's called ExpressO.  There is a large "Start Your Submission" button in the upper right-hand corner.  Start there.

Simply follow the instructions thereafter.  There will be places for you to enter your Key Words, your Abstract, your Cover Letter, your CV, and your paper.

The beauty of ExpressO is that you can shotgun your paper to a ton of journals at once.  You can do so by category (i.e., top 50 journals, all IP journals, etc.) by simply checking the box next to all of the journals to which you want to submit your paper. 

Warning!  Don't submit your article to journals that indicate that they are "closed to students."  Otherwise, frankly, you look like a dumb-ass who can't even follow directions.


WHEW!  That was a LOT to write.  I hope that it helps y'all out.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Clubs & Organizations: How Social Should You Be?

Now that I've graduated from law school, I've been receiving emails and invitations to attend certain events as an alumn.  Like in law school, participation in events or clubs should be undertaken with discretion.  Notwithstanding, I still think law students and lawyers should participate in, at least, some social interests.

Law students:

Being involved in a law school club can keep you from wanting to gouge your eyes out in law school.  There were some days when the only motivator to me to come to campus was the fact that I had to moderate an event for the International Human Rights Law Society or some other club.

Also, being involved in a club helps you to have at least something in common with your fellow classmates besides law!  Perhaps, besides talking about Pennoyer, you can talk about something interesting... like animal welfare, tattoos, or surfing.

One of the most worthwhile organizations that I became involved with was my local bar association.  I met many lawyers with whom I still keep in contact.  That was invaluable throughout my three years in law school, while studying for the bar, and beyond.


Lawyers:

Recently, I volunteered to judge 3 rounds for a national moot court competition after a law student who has a particular way with my heartstrings asked me to do so.  Even though it was a pain to drive nearly 2 hours to get to the event, and even though I have almost zero time for myself after having started working for my firm, acting as a moot court justice was incredibly rewarding!

These kids really had it together!  I was so proud of them and how well they did.  Plus, I (along with every other attorney) have a belief that my feedback will somehow make a difference in their lives.  I'll never know, but I'll just close my eyes and believe.

Sadly, I can't go to everything that I've been invited to.  Hell, I can't even make it to 1/10 of the events... not even the events that really interest me.  I just live too far away from my old law school.

Still, I found that judging the moot court competition felt good to my soul.  So, I'm going to make an effort to do one thing each semester with law students... no matter where I end up working in the future.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Does this Cover Letter Make My Butt Look Big?: Address to Impress

Whether you’re an attorney seeking a change in employment or a “rising” 3L trying to land a job, publication, or clerkship, having a good cover letter can make or break your chances for consideration.

But why stop with “good?” This blog entry will demonstrate the whats and hows of superb cover-letter writing.

Before we plunge into the nuts and bolts of it, it may help you to have an inside look into the mind of the person who will likely receive your cover letter. Chances are that this person is (1) extremely busy, (2) extremely bored with the task of sifting through mountains of applications, and (3) extremely annoyed with all of the terrible cover letters that he/she has already read.

Even when a résumé looks awesome, a crappy cover letter will certainly land you in the circular file. Crappiness can range anywhere from poor format to poor grammar, from too long to too not-paying-enough-attention-to-get-the-job-description-right.

And even when a cover letter is concise, grammar-smart, and correct in stating the proper position sought, it is the rare, RARE cover letter that goes above and beyond “good” by having purpose. Purpose, in addition to the necessaries of good writing, will often draw the distinction among already solid résumés.

So, alas, let’s get down to it, shall we?

First: Bank on the fact that it is highly unlikely that your entire cover letter will be read... that is, until and unless you are selected for an interview. Because of this, you want to show the reader (think: future boss or Zuul to your future boss) that you appreciate his/her time. But you do this with more than a byline at the end of the page; better, you do it with format. Hence, your cover letter should never extend beyond 3 paragraphs.

When Future Boss or Zuul merely glimpses at your cover letter—number 251 in a pile of 400, he/she will greatly appreciate the look of your cover letter at a concise 3 paragraphs. The thought will be something akin to, “Thank god. A short one.” This increases the chance of Zuul actually reading your letter.

Your first and third paragraphs will be very short... about 2 sentences each. Your second paragraph is good stuff is. Think about your second paragraph as the analysis in a memo, brief, or law exam. The analysis, of course, is the most important portion of legal writing, and, likewise, the second paragraph will be the most important portion of your cover letter. But we’ll get to the construction of these paragraphs in a bit.

Second: Each and every sentence should have a purpose. So, when I say that the first and third paragraphs should consist of only about 2 sentences, this is because each of those sentences serve a particular purpose. To arbitrarily add sentences with no purpose is a waste. It’s a waste of your time, and it’s a waste of Zuul’s time.

Third: Your cover letter needs to follow rules of grammar and style that both are accurate and appeal to the legal community. For this, I highly recommend buying, reading, and following the Texas Law Review Manual on Usage & Style (“the manual”).

Do not assume that you know how to use commas. Trust me; most of you don’t. I’m not trying to be a jerk. I’m just telling you that I’ve read many, many, many letters, writing samples, résumés, briefs, memos, blah, blah, blah to lead me to the conclusion that most people simply don’t know how to use commas in every circumstance. And I’m not saying that I know what to do 100% of the time with commas and grammar, but I know a lot more after actually having read the manual. Plus, it’s now in my arsenal in case I get stuck.

Also, refrain from semi-colons, colons, dashes, and so forth until you absolutely understand the rules regarding how and when to use them.

Some helpful rules: (1) Never use conjunctions in a cover letter (or any other professional writing, unless you’re quoting someone). (2) Do not use parentheses; there’s absolutely no need for them in a cover letter.

Some helpful hints: (1) Read your cover letter out loud. Don’t cheat by mumbling through it. Rather, go big or go home: read it out loud as though you were reading it to someone over the phone. Hell, actually read it to someone over the phone.  Find a victim.  Surely somebody out there owes you a favor, right? (2) Release the iron grasp of pride, and—gulp—have somebody else read your cover letter.

Why? I’ll tell you why. I had a student once ask me for help with a cover letter, and she had made a very innocent mistake: she wrote “inter-workings” instead of “inner-workings.” Spell check wouldn’t catch it. Reading it over the phone wouldn’t alert the listener because of our American lack-of-pronunciation of “t”s when they fall in the middle of words. However, another person physically reading the cover letter would likely catch the error. [Note: This student’s original draft of her cover letter was very good, but since Zuuls actively look for reasons to exclude applications, a simple mistake like this could have easily resulted in a quick trip to the circular file.]


STRUCTURE

Now, we come to the structure of your cover letter. Everything should be block formatted (meaning, justified and flush left; in other words, don’t indent paragraphs).

Header: It must match your résumé precisely.

Date: Don’t forget to update your date if you’re working off of a previous cover letter.

Recipient’s name and address: Make double sure that this information is accurate, which includes that you ensure accurate spelling of everything.

Salutation: Um… “Dear” + title (i.e., “Judge,” “Mr.,” or “Ms.”) + last name. End the salutation with a colon, not a comma.  Be sure to spell any names accurately.

NOTE: If you are in any way uncertain about the gender of the person to whom the letter is supposed to be addressed, never assume one way or the other.  For instance, when I get a letter to "Mr. Zaylia," I never, ever, ever give that person a shot.  I'd rather see someone address a cover letter to my full name than to presume that I am a man.  On the same note, if there is no name for you to use in your salutation, never write "Dear Sirs."  Just... no.  You can write "To Whom It May Concern" or something that is gender-non-specific.  I'd rather see "Dear Sir/Madam" than "Dear Sirs."  If you know that the addressee is a woman, then write "Ms." instead of "Mrs." because it is not professional to assume (1) that women are married, (2) that women want to be defined by their marital status, or (3) that their spouses are men.  I could write a whole separate blog entry about this, but, for now, you'll just have to trust me.


FIRST paragraph:

Sentence #1 should convey two specific things: who you are (i.e., “a third-year law student at X University” or “a third-year attorney”) and what position you are applying for.

Sentence #2 should consist of some blanket statement about believing that you would make a great fit for the position. This is a relatively superficial statement, but don’t worry because the following paragraph will not only relate to this sentence but will, moreover, prove it up.

Example:

I am a second-year law student at the University of San Diego School of Law and am interested in a position as an associate with [Your Firm]. I believe that my experiences in criminal law, writing, and advocacy would allow me to successfully contribute to the program.


SECOND paragraph:

Ok. This is it. This is what I call the “prove it” paragraph. This is where you prove the point that you just made in the preceding sentence: namely, that you make a great candidate.

Here, your job is to weave. Just as we weave facts and rules into an analysis as legal writers, in paragraph #2, we weave in our legal experiences with characteristics—the characteristics that employers look for. The point of the second paragraph is not to talk about your qualifications but, instead, to prove them through your experience. No self-proclaimed characteristic should stand by itself; it must be tied to a legal/professional experience so that Zuul can see why you think you have that qualification.

So, just like legal analysis, you will be using the word “because” and its progeny a lot.

Also, if you consider yourself a “diverse” applicant and want to let Zuul know about it, you should do so upfront, but it must, must, MUST speak to a qualification that pertains to the position.  Otherwise, leave it out because it looks like you’re saying, “Hire me because I’m diverse,” and nobody wants to do that.

Example:

Because I am the first member in my family not only to attend law school but also to have earned a four-year degree, I am an experienced self-starter, understanding the importance of dedication and follow-through. Using these attributes, I secured two federal externships, hold the chief articles editor position for the San Diego Journal of Climate & Energy Law, am a member of the San Diego International Law Journal, have published six journal articles, and have presented independent research at several national conferences. As a former judicial extern for two federal judges, I have handled and witnessed many criminal matters before the court. Also, as part of my work for the Criminal Division of the California Attorney General, I briefed three criminal cases and, moreover, successfully argued before the California Court of Appeal in three separate criminal matters.

As you can see, I like starting out with the legal/professional experience first before I go into the characteristic/qualification that I garnered or honed from that experience.

Seriously, your second paragraph should consist of—tops—5 sentences. That’s it.

Do not regurgitate your résumé in paragraph #2. Rather, expand on things that are not obvious in your résumé.  For instance, in my paragraph #2, I mentioned my six publications because, frankly, I couldn't fit all six on my single-page résumé, and I wanted Zuul to know that I had six—not two—publications.


THIRD and FINAL paragraph:

Thank Zuul, and, once again, express your interest in discussing your qualifications.

Example:

I look forward to discussing with you how my experiences in externing, researching, writing, and publishing would allow me to contribute to [Your Firm]. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Salutation (yes, another one): Something like “Best regards” followed by a comma should do. Note that if your final salutation has more than one word in it, all of them begin with a lower-case letter… except for the first word, that is.

Please note that you should refrain from anything with the word “submit” in it, such as “Respectfully submitted.” This is because you submit things to a court. You submit legal documents. However, this is not a legal document that you’re submitting to a court, so just choose some other salutation. K?


Your name: Press return/enter four times after your salutation, and type your name as it appears in your header. In other words, there should be three blank lines between your salutation and your name.  This is the standard spacing, and it provides enough room for your signature below the salutation.

Enclosure(s): If you are attaching a résumé or something else, like a writing sample, type “Enclosures” immediately below your typed name. If you are only attaching one item, type “Enclosure.”


THAT’S IT!  Whew!

Long entry, but I hope that this will help you along your journey.

Ciao!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Study Groups: Good Idea or Painful Waste of Time?

Ok, I'll be honest.  You could grab about 10 random law grads, and I'm willing to bet that each would have strong feelings about the answer to this blog's topic.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret... "you" being the 1L: none of you know what you are doing.  This is completely acceptable!  It's just that 1L paranoia begins to set in rather rapidly as you begin law school, and you--along with the rest of your colleagues--will all pretend (consciously or not) that you DO know what you're doing.

This fact relates to study groups in a very poignant way: namely, a bunch of people who don't know what they're talking about getting together and putting forth their ideas does not appear helpful at the outset as a means of study.

You'll here over and over as a 1L that by the time you reach your third year of law school, you just "get it."  This is really true.  And it becomes both laughable and painful to study next to a bunch of 1Ls who are in a study group... not because they don't know what they're doing but because the "knows-better" 3L is drawn like a moth to the flame in the desire to help.  Either that, or the 3L wants to cover his/her ears, scream at the top of his/her lungs, and run for the hills before the 1L study group sirens lure the 3L into spending a good chuck of his/her own study time "helping" the group.

Here's the deal.  Whether study groups will help you during your first year simply depends.  (Get used to that answer; it's a popular one.)

How study groups can be helpful: small, focused, and--ideally--working out practice exams.  The study group experience that I wasted my time in the least was when the 3 or 4 of us (tops!) had a practice exam in front of us, and, after digesting it on our own in silence for a while, outlined all of the issues that we saw on a big dry-erase board.  If I missed something, my friend didn't, and vice versa.

How study groups can suck the life out of you: too big, too much time, a leech, and too much focus on trying to figure out the "truth."  Let me break it down for you.

(1) Too large of a group means too much time will be spent talking; you want to keep things succinct, and it's just impossible with a large group (5 is too big, I think).

(2) If one person doesn't know what the hell is going on, like, at ALL, you have got to cut that person loose.  This is the leech.  My group avoided this by setting forth ground rules at the very beginning of the semester.  The ground rules went something like, "If you keep coming to the group and add nothing of any value, we're going to let you know that we don't think it's very efficient to study together anymore.  Nothing personal." (Turns out that we did have to let one of our friends know that we didn't think we should study together.  That was rough, but--hey--having set this all out in the ground rules at the beginning made the ousting a whole lot easier.)

(3) The "truth."  Well, if you follow my blog, you know that I like examples.  Let's say that the issue is whether someone consented... to anything.  "Consent" is the legal issue.  A fact will tip you off as to that issue.  So, in the fact pattern, you will have Person A ask Person B if some outrageous/horrible thing is ok to do; Person B will shrug.  Note: You will never get to the truth of this matter.  Almost all of the issues on your law exams will be like this.  The whole point is that, in the future, as a lawyer, you will have to argue your client's version of that fact.  Does a shrug sufficiently consent?  Who cares?!  As a student, the professor wants you to see that this is an arguable issue because the facts are not clear and the outcome on this issue could go either way.  Read my other blogs for how to deal with this stuff.  Right now, I just want you to know that if you (or someone else in your study group) spend time on trying to discover or argue the "truth" of an issue that should be clearly arguable given the facts, you are wasting your time!  If you must, note the facts that support, say, consent and those that don't.  The time to argue will be on the exam, not with the study group.

If you do decide to work in a study group, my advice is to resist any temptation to make that your default study method.  Each person should be coming to the table with some value.  So, before you meet, do some practice exams or something on your own so that, individually, you can at least have an idea as to what the hell you're doing by the time you meet up.  Like, you will all need to know the rules of law and rationales to cases (see my blog on an alternative to outlining for a detailed explanation) before you get together.  Otherwise, the group may very well amount to a wheel-spinning session, and you don't want that.

Until next time...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Don't Let This Happen to You

Normally, I don't post things like this, but I think that all new lawyers and law students should have a look at this video. First, it's so unbelievable that it's hysterically funny. Second, sure it's a major money-making program, but whatever. Third, it speaks to deference... if not anything else.



Until next time...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

How and When to Use Practice Exams


About mid-semester, if I'm being smart, I start busting out some practice exams. But why now? Why would I start doing that before I have a full course's worth of materials to incorporate?

I'll tell you why:

Doing practice exams over a prolonged period of time makes your thinking and analysis on the day of the exam go very smoothly because, after all, you've done it before. Personally, the more I do, the better I tend to perform. However, this doesn't hold up as well if I wait until the last few days before the exam. I think one reason for this is because doing the exams creates a more holistic approach in terms of everyday learning in class. By the time you take the real exam, you've been so used to analyzing problems for your class a certain way that it becomes a cinch.

Note: I have a very specific way that I use practice exams. I only take exams that have either model answers (by the top scoring student) or model outlines (by the professor who gave the exam).

I do this for two very simple reasons: to know when I'm wrong and to learn hidden issues.

The first couple of exams that I take I do untimed. I do this to save my sanity and because I know that it will take time for me to try and pull together the half-semester's worth of information that the professor has already gone over.

If you decide to follow my method, do not grow disheartened if (and often when) you realize upon reading the model answer that you have totally failed and wasted your time. In fact, you have not. Reading about all the ways in which you messed up is one of the best ways, I think, for law students to learn because we're so hard on ourselves and will thus drive the point home even harder the next time we take a practice exam. Further, rest assured that at least you practiced and did not perform that way on the real exam.

You're bound to not have covered some issues if you start doing this mid-semester. But you will master what most students will wait until the very last minute to do. More importantly, you will do so along the way, so the transition from practice to real-deal will, hopefully, be seamless.

As soon as I get about 2 or 3 exams under my belt, I start timing myself. This, again, is key because... well, simply put, you will be timed on the day of your actual exam. No shocker there. So, timing yourself will, again, get you used to performing not only in the proper manner but also within the same time constraints as the final.

DO NOT CHEAT YOURSELF by looking at the model answers to these practice exams before you take them! It's just not the same learning tool as doing it yourself and then grading yourself according to the model. If you read the model answer first, you might pick up on some things, but the exercise will be more passive. Make practice exams work for you. That's the whole point.

Where do you get these practice exams? Most importantly, where do you find exams with answers?

Well, there are a few ways:

1) Your law school's library or website. Some professors that make past exams available also have model answers that accompany the exams. Just check.

2) Ask your professor. One student did this my first year in law school. She simply asked the professor to provide students with the model answer. Surprisingly (or perhaps not... I don't know), she did! It was great.

3) I always think that the exams from your professors are the best source. After all, different strokes for different folks. However, if you don't have access to past exams with model answers from your professor, here you go: http://www.ggu.edu/lawlibrary/studentstudyaids/law_exams/course. There, you can search classes from 1L to 3L in alphabetical order. Then simply search around for the professors who post model answers along with the exam.

CAUTION!: The website comes from a CALIFORNIA law school, so the laws in your state (and hence exam info) might differ, depending on the class that you're taking.

4) Google is your friend. How do you think I found that website up there? It didn't come floating to me; I Google-ed it. I used to have more in my arsenal, but many of those sites have taken down public access. Take some initiative, and if you find a gem, please post it here via a comment. :)

After you've done all of the above, if you're heading toward the final weeks of class, take one of your professor's old exams, EVEN IF there's no accompanying model answer. Make an appointment with the prof, and ask whether he or she would be willing to review your answer to an old exam. I've never had a professor turn me down on this. Of course, I come prepared; I provide the professor with his or her old exam that I worked off of in order to remind the prof of the content.


I hope that this advice will help you. I should listen to my own advice more than I have recently. Whenever I've implemented practice exams early on in the semester, I've always done very well.

Until next time...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Oral Argument: A Note About Your Introduction

Last week, an inquisitive 2L approached me about her upcoming oral argument.  We spoke for a bit until it became clear to both of us that she did not really know what on Earth to do with her introduction sentence. She didn't know how to structure it or, more importantly, what particular functions it serves.


Many law students and, likely, lawyers encounter this same stumbling block.  I have been lucky enough to have participated in many moot court competitions before actually arguing before the California Court of Appeal three times (successfully) last summer.  Through trials, errors, triumphs, and blunders, I have learned a thing or two about oral argument.


One of the more important things that you can work on to focus your entire argument--not to mention direct the court to the point of your "presentation"--is the introduction.  The introduction acts as a sturdy, no-nonsense frame.  And it lets the court know that you know what the heck you're doing up there.


Now, to be clear, I'm not referring to the "May it please the Court, Jessie Zaylía, on behalf of Petitioner, X, Y, Z Corporation."  No, no, no.  I'm referring to the introduction of the argument--the very next thing you say after all of that preliminary stuff.


The introduction should be memorized... smooth.


For those who don't know where to begin... who aren't sure how to formulate a proper oral argument introduction, consider the following formula as a starting point:


Civil case: Party name + liability + theory + "because" + facts + verb + element


Allow me to explain.  Example: XYZ Corporation [party] is not liable [liability] for breach of contract [theory] because it's "thank you" email [facts] did not  constitute [verb] an acceptance [element of contract].


Another example... let's make this one a criminal case instead of a civil case, where we'll substitute liability for guilt or innocence: Ms. Peterson is guilty of first degree murder because 36 stabs to the chest satisfy the requisite malice aforethought.


These are just examples of where you can start.  A lot of times, moot court competitions will deal with a constitutional issue.  In this case, you would slightly alter the "formula" above to something along these lines: Act/Statute + constitutionality + "because" + facts + verb + constitutional provision/power/doctrine.


Example: RLUIPA [Act] is unconstitutional [constitutionality] because the imposition of strict scrutiny [facts] violates [verb] Separation of Powers [constitutional doctrine].


Note: If you have more than one issue to present to the court, get rid of the facts in your introduction.  Just tell the court that a statute violates whichever constitutional provisions.  Ex: RLUIPA is unconstitutional because it violates the Establishment Clause and exceeds Congress's Fourth Amendment powers.


Of course, there are variations to these things, but I don't want to confuse.  I just want this blog to present a very simple jumping-off point for beginners in the world of oral advocacy.  I, personally, would probably vary my own examples a bit, but the point is for you to become familiar with your own argument.  You also need to be comfortable presenting your argument to the court, which means that your introduction should be polished.


Get your intro down first so that you know exactly what is going on in your case before you begin outlining your argument.  You'll save time.  You'll be efficient.  Plus, your final oral argument product will be better for it.