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How to do well in law school

The assiduous student who wants to do well in law school should do well to start preparing now. Atty. Jim Lopez has written a most helpful book for those entering the equivalent of Dante Alighieri’s DivinaCommedia (1307) – the law schools in the Philippines. It’s a world filled with “name-calling, long assignments, cranky professors, vicious insults, numerous case studies, and protracted recitation.”

Ranged against this “dark side” of law school is the book, TheFundamentalsofLawSchool (Anvil Publishing), a treasure trove of history, lore, tips and techniques for the aspiring lawyer. The author is a three-time winner of the National Book Award for his books TheLawonAnnulmentofMarriage (2001), JudgmentProof: HowtoProtectYourPropertyandBusinessfromLawsuits (2003), and TheLaw onAlternativeDisputeResolutions (2004).

This UP College of Law alumnus asks outright: How should you cope with the rigors of law school? “The first step is to have a burning desire to be a lawyer.” Right. So those of us who took – and passed with high grades – the UP Law Aptitude Exams in 1984 but did not pursue it wouldn’t fare well anyway. Pushed by fathers who were lawyers and only following the template others have prepared for us, we would have found the tomes too thick to read, the articles too many to memorize. The eyes blur, the head aches, and you begin to ask: Why am I here in the first place?

Being a lawyer should be your dream, and since it is your dream, let nothing snatch it away from you, including that demon called fear. “Nihiltimendumest. Fear nothing. This should be the motto of law students who wish to excel in law school and in the practice of law.” Atty. Lopez argues that the law is relatively easy to study – if you have the strategy and the commitment to excel. Your mantra should be this: “Nothing is better than a most diligent life.” And what is the cause of failure and dropouts? “Unfamiliarity with the new environment and lack of preparation.”

Atty. Lopez paraphrases Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of SpeciesbyNaturalSelection (1859). In law school, the one that survives is not the strongest of the species, or even the most intelligent, but the one “most responsive to change.”And change begins in freshman year, the period of adjustment and the scariest. “An intense culture shock will be felt, a time in which the tectonic plates will be rubbing up against one another in ways that often make law school a jarring experience.”

This is when your professor in Persons and Family Relations will ask you to make a digest of 200 cases – in your own penmanship, which he will compare with your penmanship in the midterm and final exams, to make sure your boyfriend didn’t do the digests for you. This is when your professor in Criminal Law I will ask you to recite the first ten articles in the Revised Penal Code, Book I, while you’re standing up, sweat dribbling down your back because the professor said you missed “one word” in Article 5. This is when everybody is watching JusticeLeague and the last film you watched was two years ago, because you were busy wrestling with the thousands of pages in your law books.

Opinion ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1

We are no longer in Wichita; we are no longer in college. Cuteness will get you nowhere in law school.

Welcome to law school, where there is little handholding from teachers and administrators, and you are on your own. The former Dean of the UP College of Law, Dean Merlin Magallona, remembers his teacher, Professor Troadio Quiason, asking him a question in class based on a footnote found in the textbook. Another legend at UP, Dean Vicente Abad Santos, once asked a student to recite a case. The student did and with eloquence, too. But the Dean’s last question floored the student: “What is the address of the defendant in that case?”

But at year’s end, the freshman student begins to see the how the laws intersect in a logical, if not grand, design. Moreover, one begins to think like a lawyer, which “involves suspending judgment, much as the reader of poetry or fiction must willingly suspend disbelief. A lawyer may have to argue either side of any case or question, so one should not come to an opinion too quickly.”

How about study methods? Atty. Lopez gives us 10 tips. 1) Write a brief schedule and stick to it; 2) Schedule your study time for your hard courses during law-school hours so that you can get help from law professors; 3) Do all of your homework and hand them on time; 4) Write your work neatly because neat papers get better grades; 5) Make sure all your work is accurate and complete; 6) Write brief outlines; 7) Study when you say you’re going to study; 8) Ask advice from your law professors about problems you’re having and follow their suggestions; 9) Listen closely and look interested in the classroom; and 10) Be persistent. Keep at it every day.

And you have to read fast: first to skim, then to scan, and finally to read with intensity, while taking notes along the way. You also have to read your notes after every class, and after every chapter, to understand them, or even to rewrite them neatly. The Rozakis Method also tells you to study the most difficult subject first, and study when you aren’t sleepy or tired. Give yourself short breaks; stretch every 15 minutes or so. My friend who is now studying in Hungary told me that she would rest from the density of the law texts every 30 minutes, scanning the green ceiling. Look at the big picture – what is the issue, the law, and the application? What is the policy behind the legal rule?

And do not forget to eat, sleep, exercise, and keep good relations with your family and friends – even if you rarely see them now. That is the closing argument for anybody who wants to be a damned good lawyer.

Comments can be sent to danton.lodestar@gmail.com

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