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The purpose of this guide is to demystify the law school experience, show some of the many resources you can use to improve your law school experience, and impart some advice on how to approach law school.  Armed with the information in this guide, there’s no reason you can’t excel in law school.

Last updated 3/24/2015

Getting Started

What to Read Before Starting Law School

If you haven’t started law school yet, you’re likely wondering what you can do to prepare yourself for the experience. If you're in your first year, you might feel like you could use some guidance. Here are some suggestions.
First, make sure you have a good working understanding of American Civics. While many incoming law students are familiar with the structure of the American government and legal system, some haven’t studied Civics since high school, and some are foreign lawyers coming to the U.S. to earn an LLM. Regardless of how much you know about U.S. Civics, it would be wise to make sure you are familiar with all the basic concepts and terminology. You probably aren’t going to be asked how many members are in the House of Representatives or to name the last three Chief Justices of the Supreme Court on your first day, but this is the foundation that your legal education will be built on, and you shouldn’t expect a review in your classes. These resources are loosely organized from most basic to most complex.
Schoolhouse Rock: How a Bill Becomes a Law

This classic educational video will be familiar to most people who went to grade school in the United States. In about three minutes, it will walk you through the legislative process and fill you with nostalgia at the same time.
Government 101 (Project Vote Smart) This introductory guide gives all the basic information you need to know about the U.S. government before starting law school. If you aren’t very familiar with the details of the American system of government, this will get you up to speed.
LexisNexis Overview of the US Judicial System  This resource is a glossary of the concepts of the U.S. judicial system. It will give you a very basic introduction to a lot of the ideas that will be fleshed out during your first year of law school. Familiarizing yourself with these concepts before you start will help reduce the overload of new terminology and jargon you’ll need to absorb during your first year.
About America: How the United States is Governed (the State Department) Covers the structure of the federal government, the legislative process, and the relationships between federal, state, and local governments. Look this over if you already know a fair amount about the U.S. government and want a solid refresher mixed with some interesting history. 
How Our Laws are Made (Library of Congress) This is a very detailed analysis of the federal legislative process. You don’t need to know all the details described here when starting law school, or even by the time you graduate, but if you want an expert level understanding of how legislation is made, this is an excellent resource. 

Guides to Law School

These resources will help you understand how law school works, and show you what you need to do to succeed. When using these resources, remember that what you are reading is advice from experienced and well-qualified people, often law professors. Their advice is worth heeding, but there isn’t a single “correct” way to approach law school, and you need to take that advice and apply it in a way that works for you. If you can, read one or even a few of these books before starting law school.

Bridging the Gap Between College and Law School: Strategies for Success
LAW STACKS 2nd floor  KF 283 .S77 2014
Most first year law students will need to make major changes to the way they studied in college as they adapt to law school.  This book attempts to guide the reader from their college-level study habits to a traditional law school study strategy. It provides a detailed look at the standard law school study techniques, including briefing cases, creating outlines and flowcharts, and preparing for exams, including several examples of each. If you're wondering how studying in law school differs from studying as an undergraduate, and if you'd like to have your study plan laid out for you in detail, this is a good choice for you.

Excelling in Law School: A Complete Approach 
LAW STACKS 2nd floor  KF 272 .M55 2013
Covers the entire experience from deciding whether to apply to law school to preparing for the bar exam. Written by a recent law school graduate, it contains sensible advice and straightforward descriptions of the law school experience.

Hard-Nosed Advice from a Cranky Law Professor
LAW RESERVE 2nd floor  KF 283 .P37 2010

If you are less interested in reading about the experience of being a law student and would rather just get good advice for what you need to do, this may be the book for you. It is written less like a guide and more like a manual, with prescriptions and instructions for what you need to do to succeed in law school (following the traditional study model fairly closely) and some insight into what your professors might expect from you. It is short and clear, and will give you a clear understanding of why to do things the orthodox way.

Law School Success in a Nutshell
LAW RESERVE 2nd floor  KF 283 .B87 2008
Starts from the beginning, both in terms of giving advice for what to do before entering law school, and giving an overview of the American legal system that you should be familiar with before starting your study of law. This guide is more focused on familiarizing you with law school terms and concepts than giving advice on what to do, but it does this well, and it does a good job of covering exams, including model questions and answers.

Law School Survival Manual: From LSAT to Bar Exam
LAW RESERVE 2nd floor  KF 283 .R37 2010
This book looks at the law school experience as a whole, and focuses on specific aspects of law school that are particularly stressful or important to your success. As such, there are aspects of law school the authors don’t thoroughly cover, but the topics they do focus on are some of the most important you’ll face as you navigate your time in law school, and they discuss these issues in a conversational, helpful, and often humorous tone.

One L of a Year: How to Maximize Your Success in Law School
LAW STACKS 2nd floor  KF 283 .C473 2012
This general guide to law school sets itself apart by looking at the traditional approaches to law school and adapting them to modern learning theory. It also takes into account the different learning styles that different students might prefer, dealing with the anxieties that come with law school, as well as all the practical studying and exam taking advice you need.

Strategies & Tactics for the First Year Law Student
LAW RESERVE 2nd floor  KF 283 .W35 2010
This guide to your 1L year covers most of the things that you should know when you begin law school, and it very helpfully starts out by going through many of the things that are frustrating or stressful to new law students, including explanations for why casebooks can be intentionally confusing, why your peers might be misleading you (and themselves), and why many of the things you hear all the time about law school aren’t true. As the title suggests, this book is more focused on the mindsets and strategies you can adopt to be successful, but there is still practical how-to advice.

Understanding Law School
LAW RESERVE 2nd floor  KF 283 .U53 2004
This book is part of LexisNexis’s Understanding the Law series, and it consists of excerpts from other books in the series, allowing you to read the introductory chapter of the Understanding book for each area of the law you’ll study during your first year. These introductions usually include high-level overviews of the subject, discussion of key concepts and terms, and some history of the area of law. Other introductory guides may offer more complete coverage of the subjects in this guide, but this book is a good way to quickly introduce yourself to all the areas of law you’ll study as a 1L.

Your Brain and Law School: A Context and Practice Book
LAW STACKS 2nd floor  KF 283 .H47 2014
If you prefer to have a scientific rationale for your study strategies, you will be well served by this book. It outlines modern principles of neuroscience and the science of learning, and applies those concepts to the context of law school. The first section of the book details how the brain absorbes information, and what strategies for learning in law school are best supported. The second half of the book explores some key pieces of "thinking like a lawyer", particularly on analysis and persuasion. It explores the cognitive biases that a lawyer needs to take into account to perform dispassionate analysis.

Your Brain and Law School is clearly written and relatively short at 187 pages, and it is an excellent primer for tailoring your learning strategies with how your brain operates. It doesn't include introductions to specific legal topics like many of the other resources on this page, so it pairs well with a primer like Understanding Law School, above, which focuses on the legal subjects typically studied by first year law students.

The Zen of Law School Success
LAW RESERVE 2nd floor  KF 283 .N67 2011
The concept that sets this book apart from the other guides on this list is its focus on your mindset. It attempts to draw from Buddhist tradition a way to keep your stress low and your focus clear as you navigate the difficult task of law school. Don’t think it neglects practical advice, however, as the author is a long-time law professor. It includes helpful advice for studying, preparing and taking exams, and other aspects of doing well in law school. The author also writes the blog

Videos and Podcasts

Preparing for your First Semester of Law School (CALI)

In this podcast, two law professors share their experiences and insights on time management issues for law school students, preparing for class, how to brief a case, research tips applicable for 1L writing assignments (and the eventual practice of law), how to develop an understanding of the law, and techniques and tips for studying and preparing for the final exam.

Other Resources

The University of San Diego Guide to Succeeding in Law School – if don’t have time to read a book about law school, this is a good collection of tips to get you on the right track, including instructions for briefing a case and making an outline, and nuggets of wisdom like a reminder to eat breakfast before your exams.  
Articles at
Articles for Law Students at The Lawyerist
Law School Zen Blog
Learning the Law
—How Law is Taught
You may already have an idea of how the law is taught from movies and books about law school, or from speaking with people you know who have been to law school. The popular image is of late nights in the law library and lectures spent being asked to recite back from what you’ve read. This isn’t so far from the truth, but it isn’t necessary to spend every waking hour studying and practicing if you take the time to figure out how to learn the law efficiently. These resources will help you figure out what works and what is a waste of time.

The first thing you need to know going in is that the law is usually taught by the case method, which originated at Harvard Law School almost a century ago. This method relies on students reading assigned cases by themselves, trying to figure out the rules those cases stand for, and then being asked to talk about them in class. The traditional law classroom is some combination of lecture and Socratic questioning, which means that the professor asks the students for the answer, and attempts to lead them to the correct conclusion with further questions. Today, different professors may use different techniques, but this is still a very common format for first year classes.
—Reading the Law
The first thing you need to know is how to read a legal opinion, or ‘case.' I highly recommend that everyone starting law school read the following article as early as possible, as it lays out very clearly what you’re supposed to be doing when you read legal opinions as a law student.

Orin Kerr, How to Read a Legal Opinion: A Guide for New Law Students, 11 Green Bag 2d 51 (2007)

There are also whole books devoted to the topic of how to effectively read and learn the law, and by following their advice, you can save yourself a tremendous amount of time by making sure you’re getting what you need out of your reading the first time. Here are some examples:

Cracking the Case Method: Legal Analysis for Law School Success
LAW RESERVE 2nd floor  KF 283 .B47 2012
If you are wondering what it’s like to study the law during your first year in law school, this is an invaluable introduction. The purpose of this book is to explain how the law is usually taught, how you should study it, and to make explicit a lot of the legal techniques and concepts that are sometimes described as “thinking like a lawyer."

Reading Like a Lawyer: Time-Saving Strategies for Reading Law Like and Expert
LAW COURSE RESERVE Legal Analysis (Griffin)
One of the major skills you’ll learn during law school is how to read a legal opinion like an attorney. This will obviously be important when you practice law, but learning to read cases efficiently and professionally will save you time during your class reading, and time is precious during your first year. This book will help you pull the information you need out of a case accurately and quickly, and these skills will serve you well during law school and beyond. If you’re getting ready to start law school and you’ve already read a general guide, this is a good book to read next.

Videos and Podcasts

How to Brief a Case (CALI)
This is an exercise designed to introduce first-semester law students to the basic elements of a typical case "brief" and to teach them general methodology for writing their own briefs.

Law School Academic Success Project – Videos covering learning strategies for law students.
—Studying the Law
While everyone will benefit from completing their assigned reading and participating in class, most law students also use other strategies to improve their understanding of the material. Many of these strategies are covered in the general law school guides above, but here are some more resources that are more specific to studying.


Outlining an area of the law is one of the most common study methods. Outlining means creating a summary of the law. Typically, students create an outline for each of their classes, so you might make an outline for the Law of Contracts, and another for Constitutional Law. There are several philosophies on how best to outline, and some successful students don’t use outlines at all. What is important is that your study method prepares you to take the exam, and helps you learn the law so you succeed on the bar exam and in practice. Here are some resources to learn how to outline effectively.

Outlining for Exam Success: A Step by Step Approach to Outlining and Exam Writing
LAW RESERVE 2nd floor  KF 285 .Z9 B38 2012
This slender volume details the traditional method of creating an outline, and offers answers to many common questions about outlines, such as, “How long should an outline be?” and “What should I include?" It also devotes over half its length to discussing how to study from your outline and how to answer exam questions.

Web Resources on Outlining

LawNerds Guide to Outlining
Law School Ninja's Guide to Outlining
How to Outline for Law School Exams
How to Build an Outline
Law School Outlines – How to Write a Law School Outline


Commercial Outlines

One mistake many law students make is thinking that they can substitute a commercial outline for one they create themselves. After all, they’re created by professionals, right? The mistake here is in thinking that having an outline is the valuable part. You won’t have time to refer to your outline much during the exam, so the real value of an outline is how the process of making one helps you to understand the law in a deep way. Nevertheless, comparing your outline to a commercial outline before your exams can be a good way to be confident that you haven’t overlooked anything, or made mistakes about the law.

Westlaw Outlines from the Black Letter Series

Study Guides

While the casebook method is based on reading primary sources of law, mostly legal opinions issued by courts, many students find referring to secondary sources helpful. There are many kinds of secondary sources. Some are organized like traditional textbooks with chapters explaining each topic, while others are organized to facilitate different kinds of studying, like presenting legal problems and helping you walk through how you should analyze them.

You can view subject-specific study guides here.
—Researching and Writing About the Law
In addition to your doctrinal classes, you’ll be learning about legal research and legal writing. These are two of the most important skills for practice, and they can be difficult to learn. Expect your research and writing assignments to take more time than a research paper would have in your undergraduate studies, and get started early.


Legal research is a skill that can take a long time to master. Don’t expect your excellent Google skills to transfer over perfectly. You’ll receive instruction in legal research from your class instructors, the law librarians, and the representatives of the major legal databases, but even after all of that, you might be confused as to what you need to do. If so, please visit with one of the law librarians. They’re experts in legal research and they are eager to help you figure out what you need to do.

Some other resources for legal research:
Basic Legal Research: Tools and Strategies
LAW COURSE RESERVE  Foundations of Legal Research (Harrell / Linz / Schultz)

Legal Research: How to Find & Understand the Law
LAW RESERVE 2nd floor  KF 240 .L45  17th ed 2015

Legal Research in a Nutshell
LAW RESERVE 2nd floor  KF 240 .C54 2013


The Process of Legal Research: Authorities and Options
LAW RESERVE 2nd Floor KF 240 .P76 2012

Where the Law Is: An Introduction to Advanced Legal Research
LAW RESERVE 2nd floor  KF 240 .A76 2009


Legal writing is another skill that takes practice to develop. These resources can help supplement what you learn in your legal writing class.
Aspen Handbook for Legal Writers: A Practical Reference
LAW RESERVE 2nd floor  KF 250 .B68 2013

Legal Writing in a Nutshell
LAW RESERVE 2nd floor  KF 250 .S68 2009

Legal Writing in Plain English: A Text With Exercises
LAW RESERVE 2nd floor KF 250 .G373 2014

Legal Citation

Learning how to properly cite sources using Bluebook format can be confusing, but it is important for your legal writing assignments, and especially if you plan to work on a journal. Many students recommend reading through the Bluebook cover to cover to familiarize yourself with it. It may also be helpful to tab your bluebook so you can quickly refer to different sections.

These resources can help you learn Bluebook citation with less headache:
Cite-Checker: Your Guide to Using the Bluebook
LAW RESERVE 2nd floor  KF 245 .B68 2011

Understanding and Mastering the Bluebook: A Guide for Students and Practitioners
LAW RESERVE 2nd floor  KF 245 .B37 2015
Excelling at Exams
Ultimately, you should have two goals in mind as you go through law school. The short-term goal is to do well in your courses, and the long-term goal is to succeed in practice. Most or all of your grade in your first year classes will depend on how well you do on the exams, so your short-term goal from the first day of law school forward should be to prepare for them. Here are some resources that will help you learn in a way that will pay off at the end of the semester.

Getting to Maybe: How to Excel on Law School Exams
LAW COURSE RESERVE Legal Analysis (Griffin)
This is the classic guide to law exams. Other books will tell you more about what to expect in law school and how to prepare for class and what sort of extracurricular activities you should involve yourself in, but none will teach you as much about how to take a law school exam as this book.

How to Do Your Best on Law School Exams 
LAW RESERVE 2nd floor  KF 283 .D45 2012

This is a good practical guide to preparing for and taking law exams. In addition to its clear advice, the most valuable thing about this book may be its wealth of examples, both of model exams and of good answers provided by real students. Even if you’ve already read about law school exams from another source, reading the model exams and answers will be worthwhile.

Law School Exams: Preparing and Writing to Win 
LAW COURSE RESERVE Legal Analysis (Griffin)

This meticulous book describes and illustrates the various kinds of law exams you’re likely to encounter, and provides detailed analysis of the techniques you should use to answer them. It includes model exams and exercises to help you prepare.

Mastering the Law School Exam 
LAW RESERVE 2nd floor  KF 283 .D37 2007

This is another excellent primer to law school exams.  What makes it stand out is its structure, which is designed to help guide students towards the information they need depending on what stage they are in law school. Particularly noteworthy is chapter 8, which is devoted to helping students figure out why their exam results were disappointing, and how to do better in the future. If you are one of the many smart, hardworking law students who didn’t do as well on your first semester exams as you’d have liked, this is a great resource to check out.

Open Book: Succeeding on Exams From the First Day of Law School 
LAW COURSE RESERVE Legal Analysis (Griffin)

A highly accessible guide to law school exams, this book is an excellent choice to read before starting law school or during your first year. It reveals what law professors are looking for in exam answers. The book is organized with information about exams in the beginning, and information about how to tailor your study habits toward the goal of succeeding on your exams.

Writing Essay Exams to Succeed in Law School (Not Just to Survive)
LAW COURSE RESERVE Legal Analysis (Griffin)
This slim book goes over what to expect in your law exams with little fluff. If exams have crept up on you and you need to fit exam prep in with a heavy workload, this book covers the basics of how to take a law exam in about 100 clear and concise pages.

Videos and Podcasts

Exam Taking Skills, Outlines, and Advice for Law Students Podcast: Panel 1, Panel 2, Panel 3 (CALI)
Six law professors talking about outlines, studying for class, preparing for exams, time management, and how professors grade exams.
Tips for Multiple Choice Exams in Law School Podcast (CALI)
Provides students with advice on multiple choice exam questions.

Top Ten Tips for Successfully Writing a Law School Essay (CALI)
This podcast discusses the top ten mistakes law students make in law school examinations.

Writing Better Law School Exams: The Importance of Structure (CALI)
This program is designed to be useful to students interested in improving their exam-writing techniques.     

How to Do Your Best on Law School Exams - Part One, Part Two
Professor John Delaney, law professor of thirty years and author of the book How to Do Your Best on Law School Exams, gives advice on how to prepare for first year law exams.

If you would like additional one-on-one academic support, whether it's with legal writing or preparing for final exams, Professor Amy Griffin is always happy to help. Contact her at
Career Advice
Perhaps the most important thing you can do during your first semester to improve your career prospects is to focus on doing well in your course work. However, there are other things you can do to make your eventual job search easier.

During the fall semester, you will meet with a member of the Career Development Office team to start making a job search plan. Take advantage of this opportunity to ask questions, get advice, and think about where you want to end up after law school. Don’t hesitate to contact the CDO if you have questions.

As you get closer to applying for jobs, it can be helpful to read job postings in the area you’d like to practice in, and see what skills and qualifications employers tend to look for. After your first semester of law school, you can view job postings at CDOnline. You can also use CDOnline to explore career paths, connect with alumni, schedule appointments with your advisor, prepare your application documents, and RSVP for CDO workshops. 

Finally, make an effort to become involved in the community you’d like to join. If you’re interested in a particular area of law, join (or even start!) a student organization. Attend CLEs; try to meet people who do what you’d like to do.  They can tell you what it’s really like, give you advice on how to get there, and even give you a heads up when jobs open up. You’d be surprised how much of a difference it can make.

A good way to meet legal professionals is to join bar associations and professional groups. Law is a very interconnected profession, and this is a great way to meet the people who will be your colleagues in the years to come.
Work/Life Balance
Law school can be a stressful and confusing time for many students, particularly during the first year. The law isn’t taught the way undergraduate programs are taught, and while many law students did well in college without having to work very hard, in law school, you’ll be competing with other very intelligent and academically successful students. You’ll likely find you have to make adjustments to your learning style, and you’ll have to put in more effort than you did in college.

That doesn’t mean you should be working all the time, however. Many successful law students treat law school like a job, arriving at the law school at 8:00 am, regardless of when their first class is, and not leaving until 5:00 pm. If you study efficiently and diligently, this is a perfectly adequate way for many students to study and be successful. You will discover the best schedule and strategy for your learning style, but remember that being a good student doesn’t mean studying all the time.

The major reasons why law students spend too much time studying is that they use inefficient study methods, and feel pressure to keep studying even after they’ve mastered the materials. The former problem can be solved by using some of the study resources above, and the latter can be at least improved by recognizing how law school distorts your thinking. First, you’ll be very tempted to compare what you’re doing with what your peers are doing. You may also feel bad if you feel like you’re not working as hard as they are, or if you feel like it’s taking you longer to learn the materials than it’s taking your peers. This is very common in graduate programs in general and especially common in law school and it can lead to something called impostor syndrome. This false impression that you’re not living up to the challenge of law school can be exacerbated by the fact that your peers, who feel the exact same way, feel pressure to either exaggerate how diligently they’re working, or else disguise how difficult they’re finding law school. So don’t compare your study habits with your peers. Do what is effective for you, and take time to do other things without feeling guilty about it.

Taking Care of Your Mental and Physical Health

There are plenty of good reasons to stay healthy, but you’re going to feel pressure to make compromises during law school. Beyond your general health, here are two good reasons to prioritize eating well, exercising, and making time to do things you enjoy during law school.

First, stress hurts your memory. By doing things that lower your stress, like exercising, spending time with friends, pursuing relaxing hobbies, you’ll actually improve your ability to learn. Second, exercising improves your memory, especially cardiovascular exercise. 

Take some time to look at the Maintaining Your Wellbeing section of the law school's website. Our Student Affairs Team is committed to supporting you during your time at Colorado Law. Please reach out to them if you ever have questions or concerns.

So not only is it important to your health, it’s important to your academic performance. Here are some resources for more advice on staying sane in law school:

Law Lifeline
The ABA Mental Health Initiative
Law School Academic Support Blog
Things to Do Outside of Law School
Fortunately, Boulder has a lot of opportunities for staying active. The Student Affairs team has surveyed students and compiled a list of outside organizations they are involved in here. Please e-mail them if you have any other suggestions or requests.

Here are some other resources:
The CU events calendar
Join a club
Hike or trail run
Mountain bike
Road bike
Practice yoga
Cross country ski and snowshoe
Rock climb
Visit museums
Getting Tuned In to the Law
One of the best ways to keep up with developments in the legal world is to pay attention to legal blogs.
​Another good way to keep up with news in the practice area you're interested in is to set up news alerts.

BNA Law Reports
After signing in, click the header on the right that says “Manage Email Notifications”, then select and add practice areas that you’re interested in. You can choose to receive news as it happens, or in a digest form. Don’t forget to go to allow BNA to send alerts to your email address if you want to receive them that way. To find that setting, go to the Saved Searches & Alerts tab at the very top, and select the “Settings” tab.

You can also automatically receive news items related to your search terms with these tools:
Google Alerts