Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

One reader -- let's call him Gilbert Nutshell -- e-mailed me to ask about what I thought of supplemental study guides. In case you don't know what these are, visit your local law school bookstore and you'll find them right below the sign that says "study guides are not returnable." If you don't see that sign, you might want to buy some, read them, and then return them, but we'll get to that tip in just a minute. Anyway, you'll notice they come in a bunch of flavors. Because long lists of things are usually funny, here's a long list of just some of the kinds of study guides you might find:

E-Z Rules
Professor Series
Examples & Explanations
Black Letter Series
Extra line no one will notice
Casenotes Outline Series
Sum & Substance
Sub & Sumstance
Understanding Series
Another extra line no one will notice
Siegel's Series

Ha, ha, ha! Long lists are so funny! Anyway... here's an edited-for-comedic-value version of the e-mail question Gilbert Nutshell sent me:

"I have a professor who only speaks German. Incidentally, he loves Goulash and you may have seen him eating last night at the restaurant you visited and reported on last night. While he seems like a nice person, I fear I will not learn anything he is teaching, since I don't speak German. I was also unable to tell from our first class today whether he is my Contracts professor, or actually the registrar giving us instructions on the course selection process. If the latter, he may actually have been speaking English, but the instructions were too complicated for me to understand. Especially since I had to leave in the middle of the class and get a Hepatitis vaccine to finish my immunization requirements.

My question: Should I go to the campus bookstore and buy a study guide? Or should I buy a German-to-English dictionary? Or should I wait and see if he learns English on his own and things get better? I don't want to fall behind. I've already missed a reading assignment since I don't know what pages he assigned, and the syllabus is written in Chinese. I think his secretary speaks only Chinese. The love child they have together speaks only Russian. I barely speak English. What should I do?"

My answer, in a Nutshell (ten points for laughing at that):

1. There is no way to know after one day of classes whether or not you need a study guide. Wait a couple of weeks, and then see if the material is coming together. Some professors, even German ones, start off the class in ways designed to be confusing (much like a German restaurant next door to a synagogue would be), and then they bring it all together like magic in order to make themselves seem all-powerful. Plus, different professors emphasize different pieces of the subject, and approach things in different ways -- black letter vs. policy, for example -- so you won't know at least for a little while which study guides will be helpful, and which won't.

2. And even if you feel you need something, a study guide may not be what you need. Perhaps you need an old outline from a 2L or 3L who might be willing to give you one -- most useful by far are those from classes taught by the same professor; next best but not really even close are different professor but same casebook; different professor and different casebook and you may be very prepared -- for a different exam than the one you'll be taking. Perhaps you need to go to office hours and see if the professor can help you one-on-one, or perhaps if you can sleep with him or her for a higher grade and not have to take the exam or learn the material at all. Or perhaps the professor only speaks German for effect in class and is really from Long Island and speaks perfect English -- well, perfect English with a horrid accent, that is.

3. And, if you know you want a study guide, check out if your law school library has a copy -- or if the local city library might -- or if you have 2L or 3L friends who kept theirs and can let you have / borrow them, or check out your bookstore's returns policy. As interesting as these things are, they're kind of pricey, and no need to spend the money if you don't have to.