Law School -- Materials for Success: 

Chapter Four - After Class Review

Professor Barbara Glesner Fines © 2000
UMKC School of Law

After class review is perhaps the most important, and often overlooked aspect of study.  If you take time to synthesize each day's material with the rest of the course, you will have a much easier time studying for finals.  Immediately after class, most faculty members remain in the classroom to continue discussions begun during the class hour, to hear where students are confused so they can clarify the next day, and to answer questions on side issues.  It is an extra opportunity for you to get to know the professor informally, and often sparks interesting debates.  Join in (especially those of you who are initially reluctant to talk in class).  In the hours and days after class you should try to synthesize the material, and put it all into perspective with what was previously studied.  Go over your class notes, try to fill in gaps or clarify issues by talking with classmates and continuing debates or discussions.
 

Why review?

Information learned can be recalled most effectively 10 minutes after that learning has
stopped. After this information is lost rapidly, so that after a few months only a tiny
percentage can be recalled. By spending a few minutes reviewing material after the
learning session, you can quickly refresh your memory, and:
  significantly reduce the time needed to relearn the knowledge when you need it,
  ensure that you have a reasonable basis of knowledge all the time, and
  allow you to improve the quality of future learning, by building on a well-remembered foundation. This allows you to make connections you would not otherwise make.

The aim of frequently reviewing information is to end up storing it in memory for the long
term.

Review immediately after class: This can take the form of re-reading or re-writing your notes
Review after one day - take a few minutes to jot down everything remembered and compare this with your notes.
Review each week to synthesize the materials
Review at the end of each section to outline the materials

By reviewing frequently, information should be fresh in your mind, should be clearly
structured, and easily accessible when you need it.
 

 Group Study

Study groups are invaluable learning experiences and support systems.  The structured study group program in particular can help you learn efficient and effective techniques for mastering law school study.   There are many useful activities a study group can pursue -- for example, sharing case briefs, reviewing class notes, or preparing group outlines -- however, group problem solving is perhaps the most useful activity.

Group problem solving is an activity that provides a practical element to the study of law. Oftentimes, lawyers use other lawyers as aides in solving many legal problems. In fact, it is rare that any one lawyer has the ability or resources to address all the legal issues in any given case. Therefore, the strategy of group problem solving attempts to emulate the legal environment by allowing students to bounce issues, ideas and solutions with other students in an organized fashion.

The main objective in group problem solving is communication between the students.  It is essential that all students, as would all lawyers, communicate their ideas to each other, no matter how trivial.  Even the "silliest" of ideas can sometimes contribute to, at a minimum, the outer limits of a problem.  Another goal, is to use all of the information uncovered to arrive at a group answer. The group answer should consist of a synthesis of "possible answers" derived from the session and reflect a solution that most plausibly meets the objective. Included in the group answer should also be reasons why other arguments were not chosen.  This is an important step, since it is by revealing what is not the "right answer" that we can more readily see what is the right answer.

Procedure

1. Someone introduces a specific problem or issue. It may  come from class discussion, the students' textbook, or a self-made hypothetical. Problems that deal with multiple issues are ideal since your group can then work together to synthesize the many concepts you have learned.

2.  Appoint a scrivener to write down all of the ideas and solutions, and a leader to help keep everyone participating and focussed.

3. Start the group problem solving session by identifying possible issues relating to the particular problem you are trying to solve. Before any solutions are discussed, make sure everyone has the problem and sees the issues.

4. After you have identified the issues (or problems) begin formulating possible answers/arguments/analysis and allowing the scrivener to record them in an organized manner on a sheet of paper.

5. Use the resources available to you -- your text and class notes, supplementary material, your professor -- to develop your analysis as completely as possible and to resolve disagreements.

6. Organize and summarize what you have learned.  Predict how and when it might be tested.
 
For more tips on forming and conducting study group sessions, see the article at the Villanova Law School Academic Support web site.

 Supplementary Resources

 Your after-class efforts to clarify questions and increase the level of understanding may often lead to outside reading.  Most students find, at some point during law school, that some supplemental resources are helpful in studying a particular course.  Your text books often cite relevant supplemental materials following the cases.  Some of these citations are to law review articles or additional cases on the course topics.  Others are drawn from the treatises (hornbooks) described below.  Additionally, your intellectual curiosity may lead you to consult the Index to Legal Periodicals for additional articles on the class subject matter.

Hornbooks (single or multiple-volume treatises on areas of law) are the best overall resources for reference and study for your law school classes.  Ask your professor for suggestions as to which treatises are the most useful for the subject matter you are studying.

Besides these scholarly resources, you will quickly discover an abundance of commercial study aids intended to make digestion of "the law" as fast, painless, and easy as possible.  Though these resources may be useful in "checking up" on understanding gained through your original analysis, or for pre-exam review, or merely for a "security blanket", reliance on these materials is dangerous.

First, the materials necessarily provide only a superficial view of legal concepts.  Many of the "course outline" resources, such as Legalines or Casenotes legal Briefs, are written by publishing company employees: neither practicing attorneys nor scholars.

Second, it is far too easy to fall into relying on these materials to do your analysis for you --  superficial, often misleading, analysis at that -- when the entire purpose of your studies is to develop these analytical skills for yourself.  In the short term, empirical studies have demonstrated that reliance on these commercial study aids is associated with decreased performance on law school examinations, while use of scholarly treatises as study references is associated with increased performance.  So if you hear upper-level students gloating that they relied on a study aid to pass a course, that may be true; chances are, however, they would have done even better by doing the coursework (and of course you simply won't hear any gloating by those who relied on study aids and didn't pass).

Finally, in the long term, relying on "canned analysis" is a bad habit to develop for your future practice.  As an attorney, you will be generating your own, creative analysis based on the original sources as well as evaluating the analysis provided by your opponents, or by journal articles on the subject matter of your cases.  You will need to have firmly established by that time the habits of thorough analysis, and, equally importantly, confidence in your analysis.  You won't have time to develop those habits then: your clients and society will pay for your incompetence or vacillation -- and eventually you will lose clients, lawsuits, or your license to practice law.

That is not to say that commercial study guides do not have a role in successful study.   Reliable, commercial study guides can be used as a source for comparative organization, as a "check" on your own study, even as a background resource to help you understand areas you are struggling with (as long as you have really struggled first).   The key here is to select reliable study guides.  Check the author.  If the study guide was written by your casebook author or a law professor, you can have greater confidence than if written by a publishing company employee or law student contractor.  Be especially wary of the outlines available on the internet.  Would you take advice from a complete stranger on the street about how to succeed in law school?  Why would the fact that the advice comes in electronic form lead you to give it greater credence? )

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