1L FAQ's

Often, incoming first year students have general questions regarding the upcoming year. Here are a few frequently asked questions and answers.

What do we call the faculty?

Unlike most undergraduate schools, which tend to favor 'Doctor,' the faculty is generally called 'Professor.' An exception applies to all who hold the position of dean - they are referred to as 'Dean.' All other members of the faculty, from adjunct to full professors, should be referred to as 'Professor.' Thus, as a member of the faculty, you would call me 'Professor Herleth.'

More importantly, you are encouraged to contact the faculty and get to know them. The faculty serves not only in a teaching capacity, but also in researching and other outside legal interests. You have a great opportunity to learn about larger legal issues by talking to the faculty.

Why does Law School have a reputation for being so difficult?

Law school is difficult because legal analysis is so different from your tried and true methods of learning in undergraduate classes. Simply stated, law school is about legal problem solving. It is not just memorizing facts. You are expected not only to have an answer, but also to explain how you came to that conclusion. Moreover, legal problems are not generally easily resolved - there is rarely a simple, right answer. Legal rules have exceptions; sometimes more than one theory applies, and factual differences can often change the result of any legal application. Policy may also need to be considered before a legal answer can be considered 'complete.'

Moreover, the Socratic method, which is used at the Law School, can be very confusing (see, Class Preparation on my website). Unlike the traditional lecture methods of undergraduate class, the Socratic method relies upon questions and answers - with the professor asking the questions, and you providing the answers. At its best, this method encourages students to analyze problems and explain how they reached their conclusions. Initially, however, you might feel lost. Hang in there - you will hopefully find the major issues and methods of analysis as you move through the semester.

I was able to skip an occasional class during undergraduate days. Can I continue with this practice, as long as I go to most of my classes?

While most professors have strict rules regarding attendance (and the American Bar Association has attendance requirements for all accredited law schools), the real reason to attend all classes is linked to the Socratic method and the complexity of the substantive material. A substantive legal topic often has many interrelated issues. While you may learn a general rule over a series of two classes, the professor may not discuss some exceptions, or policy considerations until the following week. The professor may also not ask relevant hypotheticals which can stretch your understanding of the application of a legal rule until several weeks later, when you are discussion a parallel issue. Law is not neat - you need to constantly be asking yourself how the new information relates to the old. If you aren't there - you won't be able to pick up all the distinctions that the professor expects you to know for her examination.
Moreover, on a practical note, how can you be certain that the notes you have borrowed are any good? After all, none of you have taken an exam yet!

Where do I go for information regarding credits to graduate, probation, courses to take, as well as other types of information?

The Student Handbook is your best starting point. (Go to the SLU Law website) Our handbook is the most current source of general information regarding law school policies and procedures. I would suggest you look at the handbook to review some important information that hopefully you will never use. Note in Chapter X that students who have completed a minimum of 12 hours and have a cumulative grade point average below a 1.60 will be dismissed. In addition those students who have completed between 11 and 15 hours their first semester, and have a grade point average between 1.6 and 2.1 will be on academic probation and required to register and attend a Legal Methods course in the second semester instead of Constitutional Law I. The Legal Methods course is a three-hour course graded on a pass/fail basis. The course explicitly examines the analytical process needed to solve legal problems. Students in Legal Methods will be generally taking Constitutional Law during the following fall semester.

Although the above is fairly clear, the upshot is that a law student cannot afford a disastrous first semester (make that two for the part-time students). So make sure you keep up and not wait until the last minute to get ready for exams.

Another source of information is SLU LawNews which comes out weekly during the school year on-line and by email. This newsletter is a good source for all academic and career services information and deadlines. In addition, LawNews also contains information about all other upcoming events, including social events and other law school workshops, meetings, and presentations. Make sure you consistently check this source. Similar to the law, ignorance of the deadlines is no excuse!

Another place you can get information is the student services complex that is located near the Lindell Boulevard entrance of the law school. The Registrar, Assistant Dean of Students, Assistant Dean of Student Activities and Leadership, Academic Advising, Writing Support Services and a number of other student-oriented services are located there. Moreover, Career Services are located down the hall, near the Atrium. If you need to speak to someone - start in one of those places.

Finally, computer sites can be helpful - especially our law school homepage. You can find most information on our homepage. In addition, professors often use WebCT, TWEN, Google Apps, or other computer sites to contact their classes. Likewise, the administration and faculty use emails to contact students about particular matters. This suggests that you should check your SLU emails on a regular basis - minimally twice each week, more if you know that this is the standard method of communication from your professors.

Finally, look around. Notices for meetings, workshops, class changes, etc. are often put on bulletin boards near your mailboxes, the elevators, plasma screen, and near the Atrium. But the bottom line is you need to PAY ATTENTION to your surroundings.

What do I do if I cannot figure out an issue or area of law in one of my classes?
Try these steps:

  • Review your case briefs and notes to see if you have misses something important. It is a good idea to compare your briefs to the class discussion. Make sure that you have not missed any key areas of analysis.
  • Go over the syllabus/table of contents to provide some context - look at a treatise if necessary. Having a general idea of where this part of the law fits within an entire section of the course can often help in understanding the readings.
  • Talk to your study group/fellow students. Try to work through a hypothetical that incorporates the issue that you find confusing. Often the professor will provide these hypotheticals.
  • Focus on how you get the answer - look for connection between the source of your confusion and other areas the professor has already covered
  • Ask the professor during office hours - after you took the above steps. The professor will appreciate the effort you made to resolve the problem and will be more willing to guide you in finding the answer. Remember, the professor's goal is to teach legal analysis as well as the substantive content. Help yourself by attempting it before you look for outside help.

Notice that one of the steps involved group discussions. Cooperative learning - that is, in a group setting - is vital in law. While you might consider only one aspect of an issue, another students (or two or three) may be able to see other aspects. Moreover, you might be a 'big picture' person; others may help fill in the details. So consider group discussions as a way to learn the law.

Aren't commercial courses and outlines an easy way to learn the law?

Commercial and other students' outlines can be helpful in preparing for class, particularly is you are unclear about a particular case or area. These outlines can give you some context, so that you can then decide on the pertinent information. They can also be helpful to 'get you started' on creating your own outlines. Just don't depend on them to do your thinking. Use sparingly unless you are having difficulties with a section or group of cases.

On the other hand, you should not rely on study aids in lieu of creating your own outlines. Remember, you not only learn the various elements of the law, but also are learning how to create a strategy for the exam. Using commercial outlines for more than a general guide or to fill in specific gaps is generally fine - but remember that you need to practice organizing and using that information. Moreover you will miss the professor's slant on the subject matter, hypotheticals, and advice regarding an approach to the legal issues. (See, Outlining on my website).

It sounds like I won't be sleeping much from Thanksgiving through the end of exams - is that true?

Whether you choose a rather questionable practice of cramming is up to you. However, lack of sleep has been shown to affect your memory - so it certainly appears counterproductive to expect to remember great amounts of organized information while suffering from lack of sleep. While undoubtedly there are those who can boast great success with the regiment of coffee-candy-little sleep and lots of cramming, most find that a more reasonable approach meets with greater success.

The key then is to be prepared before mid-November. Be efficient and effect in your outlining, case briefing, study groups etc. Then you won't have an overriding need to cram, and therefore sleep and healthy food can be managed. Don't forget to exercise or continue whatever normal program you typically follow.

Finally - stay calm! Panicking helps no one and while a little adrenaline may be good - panic will only block your cognitive processes. You want to go into the exams with minimal stress. And remember if you feel you need outside help, our Student Health provides great services. We also are lucky to have a wonderful part-time chaplain, who is located near Admissions, who will also help you during difficult times.

Final Thoughts:

Law school is a great opportunity to discover your career, to make new friends, to enjoy an academic regiment that can stimulate you, and to learn more about your abilities. Don't forget, however, that the faculty and staff at Saint Louis University School of Law are here to help you acclimate and thrive. Get to know us; use our services.

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