How I Learned to Succeed at a Top Law School

– Getting into law school is hard enough. But doing well once you get in, that is a whole other ball game. So how did I learn to
do well in law school, including straight As my first semester? Wouldn’t you like to know. (upbeat music) Hey legal eagles, D. James Stone here teaching you how to think like a lawyer so you can crush law school. I’ve been a big firm
lawyer for over 10 years. But before that I went to law school just like every other attorney. The thing is, when I got to law school I completely freaked out. I’d wanted to be a lawyer for
as long as I could remember. And I knew that, that
meant going to law school. But nothing could prepare
me for what law school was actually like. A lot of kids come into law school and they’re worried because
they don’t know anything about the law. I didn’t exactly have that problem because number one, I
had tons of confidence. Maybe way too much confidence. But I’d also had you know,
experience with Mock Trial, and I’d watched hours and
hours of Law and Order. So I felt like I had, sort of a handle on the law itself. But then I got to class
and then I realized that I knew absolutely
nothing about the law. And not only that but the
quality of the student in law school is unlike anything
I’d experienced in college. The kids that come from Yale and Harvard they just have this swagger. And I have never been in
a room with such a high concentration of just A-type personalities and people that were just
intellectually stunning. Just so many smart
people all in one place. And then of course, there are the gunners. And a gunner is someone who
always raises their hand, they’re always trying
to answer the questions, they think they know more than they do and they think it’s their duty to explain to the professor all of
the things that they know. They’re really obnoxious and
they’re really hard to avoid. But the problem is when you’re
a first year law student you can’t tell the gunners from
the genuine geniuses either. They just seem like they
have all the answers. And they seem like they
have the right answers too. You get to law school
and you’re surrounded by these unbelievably brilliant people. And you’re also trying to learn, essentially a new vocabulary. You’re learning new substantive law that you’ve never seen
in your entire life. And every class basically
has it’s own vocabulary, such that it’s like learning
a different language. But it’s like learning
French, German and Spanish all at the same time in different classes. So it’s just completely overwhelming when you get to law school. So my vision for what law
school was going to be like did not match up with the reality. And you know, I tried to do my best. I tried to do the readings. I tried to engage with the professors. But there’s just so much out there. And I remember one time in criminal law where we were discussing
the different forms of criminal homicide and I thought I spotted a flaw in the
professor’s argument. So I raised my hand and
I explained my argument and I said you know professor, isn’t that just a semantic difference? Thinking I was going to win this argument. And the professor retorted back, well isn’t everything
a semantic difference? Aren’t we always talking
about the differences between the definitions of words? And it got a huge laugh
in front of the class and I felt humiliated and I didn’t realize I was going to have to be debating with essentially a post-modern professor who was a total relativist. But, you know, he made a good point. And I’ll never forget, you
know, what it felt like to be skewered at the
end of a logical knife of this professor. But that was not a situation
that I was used to being in. And yet every single day in class I would find myself on
the horns of a dilemma or you know, I wouldn’t
understand the arguments that were being made. Or I felt like I just couldn’t
keep up with the readings and the arguments that
were going on in class. Now, in the past it was
rare that I didn’t think that I was one of the
smartest people in the room. But in law school I definitely was not the smartest person in the room. And I probably wasn’t
even in the top half. I mean I really felt like I was surrounded by intellectual geniuses. And after class it seemed like everyone was actually studying harder than I was. I don’t know how it was possible. But they seemed to find more
time in the day to study, to read their cases, to read supplements. Everyone was not only really smart but no one was slacking off and everyone was incredibly hard worker. So I knew that I had to
figure something out. Because I couldn’t just skate by with the habits that I had in undergrad and procrastinating like I used to. I knew that I was gonna have to have some different tactic in law school. Because otherwise I was
just gonna get left behind by my classmates. And I knew that I just
couldn’t rely on innate talent, because everyone seemed
to be incredibly talented. But worse than that everyone
seemed to be working at least as hard if not harder. So I knew that I couldn’t
rely on innate talent, and I also couldn’t
outwork my cohort either. I realized I had to come up with a system. I had to try something different. So, in addition to studying
the law for my classes, I also decided to study law school itself. I figured there must
be a way to go about it better and smarter. So I read everything I possibly could about the tactics of law school itself. And I got tips from upperclassman. I talked to them about what
worked in their first year and what didn’t work. I talk to practicing attorneys. I really tried to reach out to get as much on the ground
experience as I could. Because I figured that
experience is the best teacher. And you know, you only get one shot at your first year in law school. So I really had to make the most of it. And it really seemed like after you go through your first year, all of the upperclassman
were completely changed. And so I had to figure out how they made that transition and how they learned to do what worked and
discarded what didn’t work. So in addition to reading
about law school itself I started reading about practice exams. And not only that but
I tried to do as many practice exams as possible. In those days there used to
be more public data bases where you could go to
different law school’s websites and you could download more past exams. And I figured that there
might be some commonalities between different exams. And low and behold I
found that almost everyone used this weird, sort of
law school exam called an Issue Spotting Exam where
you’re given a fact pattern. And what I found is that
Issue Spotting Exams were really unlike any of the stuff that you do in class in law school. When you’re in class
you’re basically doing appellate opinion autopsies. So you get an opinion
from an Appellate Court that lays out the facts
and the legal reasoning and comes out with a particular holding. And you’re basically doing
a dissection or an autopsy of that opinion. But the thing is you’re
not tested on almost any of that information. The amount of information that you glean from a particular case is so small compared to what you
actually do on a final exam. And because there are
so many commonalities between the final exams,
I figured out what works for those finals. And I learned that the
kind of in class dissection that you do on Appellate Opinions, well that’s important and
you use that in practice. You don’t really use it on the final exam. So I really emphasized my practice exams. I really emphasized
learning the strategies of how to write a really good
Issue Spotting Exam answer. Because all the finals are
basically the same format. And at the end of the
day all the strategies that I come up with, all
the experience that I got from the upperclassman
and all the experience that I had doing my practice exams, ended up having a good result. I remember my first semester when I got the report card. And it’s given to you in an envelope and so much relies on those grades. I mean you use your first
semester grades to get your, your 1L summer job when you come back for your second year to do
interviews with law firms. Like, all they look at basically
are your first year grades. And when I got that first report card, I had it in my hand and
my hands were shaking. And I just couldn’t open
it up in the classroom that we were given it to. So I walked outside. UCLA Law has this really
beautiful courtyard that’s surrounded on
three sides by buildings. It’s got huge trees. And I sat down on a bench, I opened it up, and I saw the picket fence, A, A, A. We only had three classes that semester and I got straight As. And to this day I don’t
think I have ever had a single better feeling moment than when I picked up the
phone and I called my parents and I said, hey mom and dad I just got my first semester grades, I want you to know I got straight A’s. Everything’s gonna be okay. And my parents were yelling and crying. And it was just one of the best moments I’ve ever had in my entire life. And as I predicted it would it set me up for a really good first year job. It set me up for getting the
big firm job that I wanted in Los Angeles and nothing has
really ever compared to that. And frankly, you know, your
first semester is so important. It’s by far the most
important part of law school. And I was able to keep up the momentum. I graduated with a whole lot more A’s. And the next two and a
half years of law school were intense but they were nothing like that first semester. I used a lot of those skills
in Mock Trial and Moot Court. Where it went on to win a
couple of national tournaments and between my grades
and my extracurriculars, I was able to get set up to work for a big firm. An Am Law 100 Firm in Los
Angles and I was able to get my dream job as a Civil Litigator. And I’ve been a Litigator ever sense. Now, the story of how I
became a big firm lawyer is one that we’ll have
to save for another day. But if you wanna hear more stories about my law school experience, or my experience as an attorney, check out this short
playlist I put together. It has a bunch of legal war stories and I think you’ll
really enjoy the videos. So click on this playlist and
I’ll see ya in the next video.

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