Advice to New Law Students

Quentin_Massys_-_Portrait_of_a_Man_-_National_Gallery_of_Scotland

(1) Think long-term:

(i) Be kind to your classmates. Building your professional reputation begins on the first day of orientation.

(ii) Compete with yourself, not others. The old adage of “look to your left, look to your right, because one of you won’t be here by the end of the year” is false.

Remember, “true nobility lies in being superior to your former self.” – Ernest Hemingway

(iii) Focus on understanding the material instead of fixating on the pursuit of good grades. As future officers of the court, you have a professional obligation to understand legal concepts. And, anyways, good grades follow an understanding of legal concepts.

(iv) Keep perspective. Although grades are important (future employers will use them as a lazy shortcut to weed potential employees out), ultimately grades are a footnote in your life journey. Trust me, no one is writing them on your tombstone.

(2) Learn the Basics:

(i) Before starting law school, read about the history of our legal system. History shapes the development of case law. Case law does not form in a vacuum, even for Lord Denning. “The doctrine that lower courts must follow the decisions of higher courts is fundamental to our legal system.  It provides certainty while permitting the orderly development of the law in incremental steps” (Carter v. Canada, 2015 SCC 5). Look to Professor Dodek’s reading list to get started – http://bit.ly/1MtnuHu.

(ii) Review civil procedure before even touching case law. Case law makes infinitely more sense with an understanding of procedure. Procedure is intimately tied to the substance of the case. In particular, you should pay attention to learning the difference between appellate level versus trial level and interlocutory versus final decisions. Challenge yourself to spot them when reading case law. E.g. Is this an appellate case? Is this a motion?

(3) Read different textbooks:

Find a textbook that clicks with the way you think. Cheat on your syllabus and start “seeing” different textbooks. Maybe even different libraries. If you live in Toronto, go to the Great Library in your quest for better resources.

(4) Modify – Don’t Adopt:

Study as you studied before with minor tweaks. Professors will make a huge deal about summaries. Often people waste hours making them look perfect. This is stupid. You do not submit these summaries for grades. Write them for you.

(5) Enjoy the ride!

Three years goes by in a flash. It is a privilege to be in law school.

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