Monday, April 11, 2011

Basic Exam Advice for 1Ls

                The end-of-semester attempts to get insider information on exam content never fails to amuse me.  Most of those attempts come from my 1Ls who, realizing that we have covered quite a bit of information, seem to be trying to narrow their study load to the greatest extent possible!  Of course, I rarely allow them to eliminate study of any concept; after all, Contracts is a comprehensive first-year course that covers many concepts important to the bar exam and practice.  
In studying for an exam, students should begin with their outlines to remind them of the concepts they have covered, that should be followed by rules of law, and how courts have applied those rules.  Students should note any questions the professor raised and important nuance that the professor may have noted.  If the class is a problem-based one, they should re-work the analysis in the problems they discussed in class.  And by re-work I mean that they should write out their answers not just “think them out”. 
In a full year course, students ideally have a greater sense of what their weaknesses were in first semester.  Try to avoid making those mistakes in the second part of the class.   Also be practical—for example, remedies can be included as part of any question.  Since we covered remedies this semester, I will include damages in each of my three exam questions.
I certainly cannot speak for all law professors, but as the professor of a first-year required course I feel a responsibility to cover a broad spectrum of information critical to an understand of basic Contract law, but equal responsibility to demand the analysis that is essential to law school success and legal practice.  It is a difficult balance of depth and breadth.  Issue spotting is important, but proficiency in applying rules to the hypothetical is also critical.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Put the A in IRAC

There is a persistent law school myth that grading is arbitrary.  Most of us are familiar with the tongue-in-cheek urban legend that professors grade by merely tossing exams down the stairs and grading according to where the exams land.   As a law student, I could not understand why the amount of time I studied or even how well I thought I knew the subject matter was not reflected in my grades.  There were times I earned a higher grade in a course where I felt I knew less about the subject matter, and an okay grade in course that I thought I aced.  It was not until I began teaching legal writing that I truly understood the type of analysis that resulted in “A” grades rather than grades of B or below.   Because legal writing assignments are due before the exam period, the course began to serve a diagnostic function.  In fact, by mid-October or so I could predict with pretty impressive accuracy which students would earn spots on law review even when the writing class was pass-fail! 
One of the things I tell my students is that there really is not much difference between what the B student and the C students know.  The A student probably does know more, and is strong at analysis to boot, while the student who bombs a class probably missed critical issues and/or is truly struggling with analysis.  As for the rest, most spot the same issues but the difference is the strength (or weakness) of the analysis. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Read the Question! Read the Rule!

Welcome to the Naked Law Professor!  Many sources encourage students to read the call of the question before reading the fact pattern.  That is sage advice.  I would like to add when approaching a rule of law that you must read it carefully, in its entirety, and analyze all applicable parts of the rule.
I recently facilitated a law school sponsored study session where I used part of the session to go over last semester’s Contracts I exam.   One thing that never fails to surprise me is how many students fail to analyze a complete rule of law.  I am not talking about the depth or quality of the analysis, I am literally talking about completing their read and inclusion of the rule itself.  The following is a simple, yet illustrative example. 
The Restatement, Second §15 Mental Illness or Defect states:
(1)    A person incurs only voidable contractual duties by entering into a transaction if by reason of mental illness or defect
a.       He is unable to understand in a reasonable manner the nature and consequences of the transaction, or
b.      He is unable to act in a reasonable manner in relation to the transaction and the other party has reason to know of his condition.
(2)    Where the contract is made on fair terms and the other party is without knowledge of the mental illness or defect, the power terminates to the extent that the contract has been so performed in whole or in part or the circumstances have so changed that avoidance would be unjust.  In such a case a court may grant relief as justice requires.
My exam question addressed in part a salesman who entered into a contract with an elderly woman with a brain tumor.   Most students spotted the issue and addressed section one (a & b).  However, many failed to address section two.  Few analyzed whether the transaction itself was fair, and should be voided.
Now you may posit that those students were merely nervous (it was their first law school exam ever), careless or just unprepared.  I think the problem runs much deeper.  There is a phenomenon where law students are so excited about spotting the issue that they do not slow down to actually fully read the question, process the rule, and then complete their analysis.   Stay tuned for ongoing tips on analysis.