Friday, December 09, 2005

Why do Commercial Study Guides Exist?/Why is Law Taught via the Case Method?

Until recently, I've been mystified by the vast number of commercial study guides available for law school. I think my initial attitude was something like: If you can't extract a rule from a case, you'd might as well save your money and shoot yourself now.

Conversely, at times I've been mystified by the case method: Why teach law this way when it's clearly not the fastest way to learn doctrine?

Now it all makes sense...

Law is taught by the case method because:
  • Otherwise, it would be brain-searingly dull. The "stories" in the case books are the only thing that's kept me going some weeks.
  • What you learn via the case method is not doctrine, but legal reasoning and reading.

Commercial study guides exist because:
  • The legal reasoning and reading taught via the case method is hard. The more comprehensive study guides (like the Examples & Explanations* series) often explain things very much as the prof did in class, so they give you a second chance to make it stick.
  • The commercial outlines pull together all the doctrine in an organized (sometimes even systematic) fashion. You could do this from the cases, but:
    1. It would take a long time.
    2. Much of that time would be spent on essentially clerical tasks, and who needs that?
    3. You may have missed some of the doctrine in class while the reasoning methodology was melting your tiny little brain.

To perform well on finals, you have to both know the doctrine and apply it in a lawyerly way.** Therefore, if you just rely on the cases from class and don't either extract the doctrine yourself OR use a study guide to do so, you'll be screwed. Likewise if you just learn from a commercial outline and didn't get the reasoning of the cases.

*Pedantic point: These should really be called Explanations & Examples, because FIRST they explain, then they give you examples.
**Or so I've been told.


At 8:53 AM, December 11, 2005, Blogger Kitchen Monkey said...

Your blog is oddly comforting. Being a 31 year old 1L who left a decent paying job (although without having really saved much money) to go to law school in DC and pay high living costs at a very expensive law school, rarely a day goes by where I don't think about the insanity of the decision. When I think about the fact that I have no burning desire to be a big firm drone (assuming I'll even have the grades to do so) and may end up as a government drone with 20 years of debt or a public interest lawyer who rides the bus and owns one suit--well, then we've gone beyond insanity to something approaching zen-like absurdity.

I've also appreciated your frustration with making friends in law school, particularly since the bulk of my section-mates are in their early twenties. I happen to go to a law school where people look out for each other and the competitivness is buried deep (when its there at all), but the gossip factory high-schoolness of it is maddening sometimes. It doesn't help that we have lockers. LOCKERS for GODS SAKE! And DC is supposed to be a great town for singles. What you don't anticipate is that you won't get to meet any of them, at least for the first year. And dating within the law school? The potential for error is, well, staggering. Not to mention the fact that being a law student and future lawyer is all fine and good, but do I really want to end up in a long term relationship with a LAWYER?

It appears I've been venting. Sigh. Believe it or not there are actually a lot of things about law school that I find exciting. And DC is in fact a cool town.
In any case, being a foodblogger (who has not kept up with the blog) I'm looking forward to trying at least one of the pie recipes soon. Now stop distracting me, I've got a torts final tomorrow.


At 11:42 AM, December 11, 2005, Blogger ohplease said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 11:45 AM, December 11, 2005, Blogger ohplease said...

Good luck on that Torts final.

It really is demonic that law students procrastinate by reading each others' blogs.

Now back to our regularly scheduled "quality time" with the Restatement of Contracts...

(Comment above was identical to this one except for awful spelling error, removed for that reason.)


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