How to Excel on Law School Assignments (with Minimal Effort!)

Law school is difficult. The amount of work doled out combined with the quality expected bedevil many law students. Since most schools are on some sort of B median, most people will not be satisfied with their final grade, especially considering that before law school most of those students were used to As and high Bs.

Moreover, we all procrastinate. Sometimes outrageous youtube videos and drinking excursions are a lot more compelling than getting a good head start on that key assignment. But there’s a way to enjoy the good life and good grades simultaneously.

The expectation for a good grade is a relatively sophisticated level of analysis. Easier said than done right? So here’s how you do it, quickly, easily and efficiently.

Conduct preliminary research with an eye to finding academic articles. Law review articles are especially useful. But even law professor or scholar blogs can be the sources of analysis from which your work can be launched from. The key is recognizing there are people out there who know a lot more about your chosen or assigned topic than you. Find those people’s works, and study them. Use them, either by quoting, paraphrasing, and/or synthesizing their arguments with your personal observations.

This goes without saying, but always, always source ideas. The last thing you want to do is copy a smart sounding idea without attribution and have the grader notice an inconsistency in writing styles, and google the sentence and see it being the product of someone else’s work. At the very least, you will fail the assignment. Plagiarism is such a serious offense that in many cases academic probation or expulsion are automatic. So make sure you source the work of others.

My personal preference is to paraphrase. I recently wrote a complex 22-page legal paper on an ambiguous and unresolved issue in a developing body of law in about 4 days, the majority of the time I suffered massive writers block, and received an A- on it. I did it by finding about 3-4 academic articles on the subject, and paraphrasing the arguments contained therein. Many of my pages consisted of 90% paraphrasing with citations. At the end, I had over 120 footnotes. But all of the research conducted was online.

It can be done, even in ridiculously short periods of time. The key is not trying to do it all yourself. One of the best ways of learning is imitation. Too many law students try to analyze by themselves but all they can come up with is a regurgitation of facts and conclusions. One of my profs even has a “Where’s the law?” rubber stamp. But academics live and die by excellent research and analytical abilities. You can piggyback on them and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Ideally, you will offer your own input by synthesizing ideas. For example, if academic A wrote: the water is blue because chemical X added to the water supply tends to dye things blue, and academic B writes that chemical X is toxic when exposed to salt and benign when not, you can synthesize the ideas by saying that in this case, whether chemical X can be safely added to the water depends on whether the water is fresh or saline. That’s all you have to do. Sometimes it gets more complex than that but the example hopefully illustrates the point.

Finally, don’t be emotional. You may be writing about important topics where significant issues of justice are involved like domestic violence or pollution, but writing emotional arguments will scuttle your academic integrity and your grade will reflect that. The reason for this is that problem  can best be solved by looking at them objectively. Pollution is bad and writing about BP may make it difficult to remain void of emotion, but you must ensure all relevant perspectives are given equal consideration and that your analysis or conclusions aren’t unduly influenced by emotional reactions or judgments.

Another tip is to not be afraid of ambiguity. It’s OK to not be able to draw a definitive conclusion. If you are writing about chemical X, you don’t have to say it’s necessarily bad in certain contexts or good. Sometimes there just isn’t enough scientific information or jurisprudence to be able to draw definitive conclusions. Your role as a scholar is not to cast judgment, but to use the existing body of knowledge to analyze the present state of affairs. There are some exceptions to this, the precautionary principle in environmental law is an example, but generally policy makers and jurists don’t rule conclusively when the surrounding information doesn’t allow one to make a certain conclusion. In short, don’t be afraid to say the situation is unclear and requires further study.

Hence, it is easy to write A papers and assignments in short periods of time with minimal intellectual effort (relatively speaking, you will still be expect to do some critical thinking, of course). But the key is recognizing your limitations and seeking help off the labor of others with more experience and knowledge in the area you are working on. Citing their work promotes their ideas and makes your work sound sophisticated, well thought out, and persuasive. It’s a win-win, and the internet makes the process as easy as a few database and google searches. Enjoy the looks on your friends faces when, after hearing them lament the C they spent weeks working on, you inform them you started getting your A a few days before it was due!

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