Should I take a law school prep course?

When I saw this negative thread about law school prep courses on Reddit, I got a lump in my throat. Instantly, my life’s work was invalidated and I was essentially branded a snake oil salesman. It happens every year around this time — people without any idea about what we do, opine that a law school prep course is a total waste of time and money.

So, after uncurling myself from the fetal position and opening my black-out blinds, I thought I’d respond to the critics (and skeptics) by explaining exactly what Law Preview is, how our curriculum differs from the law school orientation offered by all law schools, and why a law school bootcamp makes sense for most incoming law students.

Before addressing specific comments about Law Preview’s utility or effectiveness, I need to begin with an undisputed premise for why anyone would even consider taking a law school prep course in the first place: In law school, top first-year grades open doors, while poor (or even average) grades close them.

Facts first: 1L grades are the most important

Ask any attorney and they will agree that law students who earn top grades during the 1L year have more options than those who do not. In the short term, 1L grades allow law students to: maintain law school scholarships that are conditioned on maintaining a certain GPA, negotiate more scholarship money for their 2L and 3L years, or transfer to higher-ranked schools that may offer better opportunities for employment or judicial clerkships.  Longer term, 1L grades directly impact the job opportunities available after graduation because the most selective legal employers begin recruiting for 2L Summer Associate programs (the springboard for full-time BigLaw employment) prior to the 2L fall semester; at that time, 1L grades are the only thing that recruiters use to determine who to interview.

Law school is a substantial investment and, while there may be varying opinions about whether it makes sense to try and prep for it, there is really no disagreement that that students’ 1L grades dictate whether they will see a return on that investment.

Making the case for 1L prep

Now, if you’re considering a law school prep course that is simply a repeat of what’s covered during law school orientation (or a “preview” of the law school experience), then I would agree with the critics and dissuade people from wasting their time.  By contrast, Law Preview’s law school prep course is a carefully designed 6-day course with over 45 hours of classroom instruction that prepares and positions serious incoming law students to excel during the all-important 1L year.  We do this by offering two distinct components of the Law Preview course: (1) providing substantive previews of each of the “core” 1L courses and (2) teaching proven academic skills that go way beyond the cursory case-briefing skills that get covered during many law school orientations.

The case for 1L course previews

In law school, professors employ a ‘building block’ approach to teach the evolution of law called the Case Method. Law students read judicial opinions (cases) that gave rise to legal rules and, using classroom discussion, professors lead a retrospective analysis that distills each case to a fine point of law and explores why the court crafted the legal rule as it did.  Then, again using the Case Method, students will read and discuss other cases that build upon the law they have already learned. A major drawback of the Case Method is that it’s not until the end of the semester — or the year if it’s a full-year course — that students are able to see how the various rules they’ve learned fit together.

To combat the Case Method, Law Preview retains top law professors who are subject-matter experts and who regularly teach and write on the 1L subject they cover during Law Preview. So, for instance, if you attend Law Preview in Boston or New York, you will likely be introduced to Torts by John Goldberg and Tony Sebok — co-authors of the popular Torts casebook, Tort Law: Responsibilities and Redress (4th ed. 2016).

Unlike a bar review lecture that offers third-year law students a black-letter “review” of Torts in preparation for the bar exam, Law Preview’s course overviews are carefully designed for those entering law school. As such, during their 6-hour Torts Preview, John and Tony will place a heavy emphasis on the legal theory underlying the law of torts. They begin with general concepts of why we have tort law and where it came from, then their lectures move into a doctrinal review of the major black-letter principals covered during the year and, ultimately, where the typical torts class ends up.

Law Preview offers these types of 4- and 6-hour overviews for each of the core 1L classes — something that is definitely not covered during any law school orientation in the country.   And, while some believe that a foundational knowledge of each course can be gained from self-study, all of the existing texts, study aids and review lectures are created for an audience of current law students with a law school-level understanding of the material; consequently, they are not really appropriate for entering law students.

By providing a 30,000 foot view of each class, Law Preview students are able to see the entire “forest” before they are asked to study the individual “trees” (cases).  Absent an overview of each course, 1L students are forced to read cases in a vacuum — without any real understanding of where those cases fit in the “big picture” until much later in the semester.

Now, many critics of law school prep ask: can’t some students excel in their 1L courses without any type of preview?  Absolutely – in fact, I did it. But, just like it’s easier to drive to an unfamiliar destination previewing your route with a map or GPS, it’s far easier to understand the legal significance of assigned cases if you first have a general understanding of how and where those cases fit into the overall body of law.

The case for learning academic skills

Ask any attorney or law student, and there is general agreement that the study and test-taking skills that proved successful in college have little utility in law school.  Consequently, the second component of Law Preview helps students develop the skills they need to excel in law school.

During the 6-day class, our faculty of law professors and successful attorneys devote over 10 hours teaching proven success tactics, including: case-briefing and caselaw analysis, time management, note-taking, outlining and exam-taking strategies.  Students practice and reinforce these skills by reading and analyzing 30 landmark cases they will surely encounter during their 1L year and by taking practice exams.

The learning curve for both substance (e.g., civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law, property and torts) and skills are very steep for incoming students.  While Law Preview cannot eliminate those learning curves entirely, it can lessen them to a substantial degree by empowering entering law students with a carefully crafted plan for excelling during 1L.  The result: Law Preview students begin their studies with a meaningful head start on their uninitiated classmates — allowing them to learn more efficiently while simultaneously avoiding common pitfalls.  The alternative is a risky trial-and-error approach to 1L that, given the high stakes and the overall law school investment, just seems silly.

But wait, law preview costs too much!

I know that there are plenty of critics who’ll refuse to believe that the cost of attending Law Preview outweighs any of its benefits.  The fact is that last summer more than 50% of our enrolled students paid absolutely nothing to attend Law Preview.  The Law Preview Scholarship Program — funded by some of the world’s largest law firms, corporations and bar associations — annually allows more than 650 students to attend Law Preview at no cost.  So, if you want to attend Law Preview and truly do not have the financial means to do so, we’ll likely find a scholarship for you.

Even for those students who end up paying approximately $1,000 for more than 45-hours of instruction from the nation’s top law professors and attorneys — it ends up being a pretty good deal if they are able to achieve the desired result: Top 1L Grades.

What’s the impact of Law Preview on 1L performance?

So that begs the question about Law Preview’s effectiveness.  To find out Law Preview’s impact on 1L performance, we retained an independent research firm to survey more than 5,000 Law Preview alums who took the class between 2010 and 2014.  The overall results were outstanding, but here are a few highlights:

  • The median 1L class rank for Law Preview alums was in the top 16th percentile of their class;
  • 38% of Law Preview alums finished in the top 10% of their 1L class;
  • 63% of Law Preview alums were invited to join a law review or journal; and
  • 67% of Law PReview alums earned a 2L Summer Associate/Clerkship position.

Now, true, some biases (e.g., self-selection, reporting) could positively skew these results. However, when you ask Law Preview alums — people who, by the time they get their grades can attribute their success to just about anything they want — they consistently say it was their participation in a law school prep course that made all the difference during their 1L year.

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