Category Archives: Advice for New 1L Law Students

How Do you Know When You Are Done Researching?

First year law students often ask how they can feel confident that they have done enough research on a legal issue that they’ve been assigned to analyze and provide client advice about. Law librarians at Rutgers-Camden prepared a useful three-minute video that explains the questions that legal researchers should ask themselves to determine whether they have adequately researched their assigned issue.

(Hat Tip to the Legal Writing Prof Blog).


Why You Should Try Out For a Mock Trial Team – Student Guest Post

A few weeks ago (see my post of November 16, 2012), I told you about the thrilling win of Northwestern Law’s Bartlit Center Trial Team (including my former student John Mack) at the Buffalo-Niagara Mock Trial Competition.  I’m delighted that … Continue reading


Exam-Preparation Tip: How To Transfer New Knowledge Into Your Long-Term Memory

As law students prepare for upcoming exams, here’s some advice about how to ensure that the material you study is retained in your long-term memory. Redbook Magazine,, recently reported on new research from the University of Edinburgh that found that … Continue reading


Why You Should Write Your Own Outline, and How to Do It

You’re a 1L in your first semester of law school. Exams are approaching. By this point in the semester, you’ll have begun outlining your classes – or at least you should! Why should you write your own outline for each … Continue reading

Student Guest Post: Summer Public Interest Jobs

[Today I have another terrific guest post from one of my former students, Ginger Tanton, who worked in a public interest job last summer and loved it. Ginger plans to go into public interest work after law school, and believes there are many benefits for students from working in summer public interest jobs regardless of their career plans following law school.]

Summer Public Interest Jobs

By Ginger Tanton, 2L at Northwestern University School of Law

Summer jobs are obviously a common topic for 1L’s and 2L’s alike.  For students who plan to work mainly in the public interest after law school, public interest 1L jobs are often an obvious choice.  However, 1L public interest jobs offer many benefits for students regardless of their post-law school career plans.

A few disclaimers: I’m writing for myself, a student who came to law school with very specific public interest law goals for the future.  I worked in a large nonprofit over the summer, and the following is based on my own experiences and those of friends who spent their 1L summers in nonprofits as well.  While working in a nonprofit is clearly not the only way to do legal public interest work, that’s my experience and what I speak to in this post.

The Benefits of Public Service Work

  • Real clients with real problems right now.  Everyone I know who has worked in a public interest job in the summer was put to work immediately.  Most public interest organizations have more demand than they have time, so even 1L’s step up to the substantive plate right away.  In my first week, I did client intake solo.  In my first month, I represented a client at a hearing in front of an ALJ.  By the end of the summer, I had written an appellate brief for the Illinois Supreme Court.  At times, it was close to overwhelming, but my supervisor was extremely good about providing a reasonable amount of guidance, and I learned more than I would have thought possible.
  • Close, helpful supervision.  In a related point, my level of supervision was terrific.  I was given a lot of work to do, but I generally watched a task once, then did it under close supervision, and then did it on my own with the understanding that help was always close by.  It was a good way to build comfort level with new material but still get to work almost immediately.
  • Mentorship.  In addition to great supervision, my organization provided good mentorship.  I had regular meetings with my supervisor, and I was welcome to talk to her about work or school or career questions.  She was great about helping get projects tailored to my specific interests, and she’s been helpful in making career contacts too.
  • Observe/participate in decision making.  The last really helpful point from this summer was the opportunity to sit in and participate in collective decision making.  Many public interest organizations have case acceptance meetings (or “CAMs”) to decide which cases to take on for representation, and I was made a part of these meetings, literally at the table.  Since I took over my supervisor’s intake responsibilities for most of the summer, I did presentations at almost all of these CAMs and then got to observe the process of lawyers making decisions.  It was a great window into the function of the organization.

Doing Public Interest Work Well

Just a few final thoughts on doing public interest work well if you do end up in a nonprofit.  Remember that you are there to zealously advocate for your clients- they are not there to provide you with interesting problems or to give you a chance to practice your skills (although these things are happy bonuses).  Also, take it easy with the “when I’m at a firm” talk.  First, you don’t have a firm yet, and second, you don’t want to insult the people around you who love their jobs.

Podcasts on Outlining, Exam Preparation, and Other Law Student Concerns

I’ve just become aware of a useful set of audio podcasts created by the academic support program at Suffolk University Law School. These podcasts are free for anyone to use, and can be found on iTunes U at Each podcast is about five to 10 minutes long.

Prof. Herb Ramy, who directs the academic support program at Suffolk Law, just posted a podcast on how to predict exam questions. With midterms and finals coming down the pike, this is a topic that students will find of interest. On the legal writing professors’ listserv, Prof. Ramy recently explained the goal of this podcast: “The central point of the podcast is that students can learn a lot about the kinds of fact patterns that will appear on their exams by looking for the ‘tension points’ in the law when they review material.  By ‘tension points’ I mean factual circumstances where it is difficult to determine whether the rule will or won’t apply, and cases and hypos from class should be used to find those tension points.”

Other podcasts in the series cover topics including: How Reading Strategies Affect Law School Grades; Creating a Course Outline; The Days Before Final Exams; Exam Writing; Exam Tips; Study Aids and Study Skills; and Stress and What To Do About It.

Commercial Study Aids– Should 1L Students Use Them?

My law students often ask me whether they should use commercial study aids such as commercial outlines, canned case briefs, hornbooks, or treatises.

Many law professors are strongly against commercial study aids, considering them to be a poor substitute for the student’s own work in summarizing cases and outlining the substance of each course they take. (When I was in law school, some of my professors even forbade us from using commercial study aids!). I agree with this perspective to some extent, but I also think that commercial study aids can serve a limited, yet helpful educational function for law students. I will elaborate in a series of posts on various types of study aids, beginning with commercial outlines.

I want to preface my look at commercial study aids by stating my opinion that more helpful than any commercial study aides a law student (particularly a 1L student) uses will be the study aides you create or participate in yourself – primarily, writing your own outlines for each course, and taking practice essay exams made available by your own professors and then studying model answers they provide or asking them to review your answers and give you feedback. Still, commercial materials of various kinds can be helpful in some capacity.

I’ll first discuss commercial outlines. It’s worth noting at the outset that several companies publish commercial outlines, and that some individual outlines correspond directly to particular major casebooks for a particular doctrinal course. So if you use a commercial outline at all, first check whether anyone publishes one that corresponds to your casebook for that course.

Commercial outlines can be useful, but you will do yourself a serious disservice if you use commercial outlines as a substitute for writing your own outlines. You should not rely on commercial outlines instead of writing your own for several reasons. First, even if the outline is geared to your casebook, it may not focus on the same topics that your professor focuses on within that casebook. Second, your professor may have a different idea from the outline writers as to what is significant about the topic, what should be focused on within the topic, or how to interpret a particular case or line of cases. Third, commercial outlines typically do not contain extremely sophisticated analysis of cases and may even sometimes misstate certain aspects of cases.

However, commercial outlines may be very helpful for several limited purposes. First, they can give you a nice concise structural overview of the topic — a “forest” view to complement the “tree” view that you get from reading one individual case after another in great detail. Second, commercial outlines can give you a good starting point for creating the bare-bones structural skeleton of your own outline. That is, they can show you the names of the various topics within a subject (for example, within Torts, intentional torts and negligence, and then further breakdowns of the issues within each of those), where each topic ends and the next begins, and how those topics relate to each other. This can provide you with a very good start to digesting the material you have been reading in the cases and beginning to fit it into a mental map or rubric. Building a mental map of a topic is the first step to being able to issue spot when given a set of facts, which is the main skill tested on law school essay exams. Another thing commercial outlines can do for you is to give you another way to think about individual cases (and the role of each individual case in making up the area of law) in addition to what you gleaned from reading the case yourself and from discussing it in class. That function can also be achieved by reading commercially-prepared case briefs. Note, however, that commercially-prepared case briefs also have many of the same drawbacks of commercial outlines that I just discussed.