How to Learn Law on your Own

Last Updated on December 28, 2022

The process of learning law is not easy, but it doesn’t have to be as difficult as everyone makes it out to be. In fact, I know some people who have learned the basics of law on their own and passed exams on their first attempts. This guide will walk you through everything you need to know to start learning how to learn law on your own with no outside help!

While attending a law school is the best way to obtain a full comprehension of legal theory, there are many other methods of self-studying law that can be just as efficient and effective. This article will discuss why someone would want to self-study law, the different ways to do so, and what you need to know before embarking on this journey.

Right here on Collegelearners, you are privy to a litany of relevant information on how to learn law as a hobby, how to study law at home for free, how to study law effectively, and so much more. Take out time to visit our catalog for more information on similar topics.

Law Study Skills Guide

How to Study Law

The law is not a set of hard rules that are unchangeable and hard to understand. Instead, the law is made up of many different principles and ideas that you can learn on your own, if you know what questions to ask. Infolearners provides the guidance and links to help you master those principles so that you can apply them when you need them the most.

How to Learn Law on your Own. I have been a student of law for almost 3 decades, and I can tell you that the best way to learn the law is to read cases. But as any attorney will tell you, reading cases is a long and tedious process. You have to find the case, then read through it page by page, line by line…

Studying smarter, not harder, is the key to success when studying law. The field of law provides such a diverse and vast opportunity for knowledge acquisition that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to learn and do it all. As a student of law, part of your job is to determine how and where you’ll allocate your efforts to maximize your success in your classes and to position yourself for a job offer following graduation. Remember, just because your professor tells you to read something doesn’t mean it’s the best use of your time. As a law student, one the strongest signals to potential employers of your value as an applicant is your GPA. As you study law, earning a high GPA should be a priority, but not your only goal. Your study of law, and the content of that study, should also focus on preparing you for a specific career path. For example, if you want to be a real estate attorney, your time may be better spent studying contract law than in mock trials. Be strategic. Allocate your time and efforts in a way that will help you succeed not only in your classes, but also in your future career.

As a law student, part of studying smarter includes employing strategies and techniques that will help you maximize the effectiveness of the knowledge acquisition and learning process. Below we’ll introduce you to proven techniques and strategies that will facilitate your study of the law, improve your GPA, and prepare you for career success.

Do the reading. Don’t fall behind.

Complete all of your assigned readings and complete them on time. If you fall behind in your readings, you may never catch up. Do your reading assignments at a time, and in a location, where you can focus and are not distracted.

Brief each case.

As you read each case, take notes. Organize your notes into a short summary and analysis of each case for classroom discussion. Identify the legal issues, the holding of the case, and analyze the reason for the court’s decision. And remember, your briefs should be just that, brief.

Arrive at class prepared.

Not only should you arrive at class having completed all assigned readings, you should also review your reading notes, and case briefs, before each class. If you arrive at class having neglected either of these tasks, your ability to follow class discussion will be limited, and when you’re called upon by your professor to answer a question, you’ll be unprepared. Avoid classroom embarrassment, and increase your ability to follow class discussion, by always arriving to class prepared.

Attend class regularly.

It is true that class discussion often follows the assigned readings, but sometimes your law professor will introduce concepts and material not covered in the readings. If you don’t attend class, you’ll miss information vital to your success on exams and as a law student. Law school is already competitive enough, don’t put yourself at a disadvantage by not attending class.

Don’t just attend class, participate.

Students who participate in classroom discussion tend to perform better than students who just show up to class. This could be because they are actively engaged in the learning process or because those that participate typically arrive to class prepared. Either way, you’ll learn best when you participate in classroom discussion.

Take notes in class.

If you arrive at each class with notes from assigned readings, along with the student case briefs you’ve prepared, then your class notes should just fill in the gaps. Don’t write down everything your professor says. Your class notes should include new material introduced by your professor as well as explanations and analysis that improve your understanding of the law as it relates to cases you’ve reviewed. Never get so caught up in taking notes that you don’t pay attention to what is being said or become unengaged in class discussion. Review your class notes directly after class, before starting your next reading, and right before your next class.

Prepare an outline for each class.

The process of preparing a course outline for each class is vital to subject mastery. Don’t rely on commercial outlines or those developed by more senior students. Using an outline prepared by someone else is no substitute for doing it yourself. The analysis of the rules of law necessary to develop a course outline is what will help you master course subject matter and determine how the rules of law relate to one another. You can prepare an outline once a week, once a month, or whenever a new topic is completed. The most important thing is that you actually do it.

Form a study group.

With respect to the study of law, there are many advantages to forming study groups. Study groups provide students the opportunity to discuss course material with one another. Talking through law concepts, cases and course material increases understanding and improves retention. It’s been said that two heads are better than one. This is another benefit of study groups. Each group member brings unique insight, perspective and knowledge to the group. Keep study groups between three and five students. Select group members who are well-prepared for class and have similar academic goals as your own. Study groups should never turn into social gatherings and should run no longer than two to three hours.

Don’t procrastinate. Don’t cram.

There is no place for procrastination or cramming in law school. Waiting until the reading period to start reviewing for exams is a recipe for bad grades. Cramming just doesn’t work. One of the keys to superior exam performance, and achieving good grades in law school, is to review your notes and course material frequently throughout the entire semester.

Attend review sessions.

If your professor holds a review session prior to the exam, make sure you attend. Review sessions are a great way to get answers to questions you may have. In addition, many professors will divulge helpful tips and information for improving your performance on the exam and provide insight into possible exam questions.

Take practice exams.

Taking practice exams, especially those administered by your professors, is one of the most effective ways to prepare for exams. Take each practice exam and then compare your answers to the sample answers in order to evaluate your performance. The more practice exams you’re able to take, the better prepared you’ll be for the actual exam.

Develop a study plan.

As we already pointed out, there aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything. But there is enough time, if you plan carefully, to prepare outlines, brief cases, take practice exams, attend review sessions and complete everything else you need in order to succeed in your law studies – and still have a social life outside of school. Part of your job as a law student is to determine the most efficient and effective use of your time. This requires creating a study plan. To learn more about effective time management for improving study skills read Using Time Management to Improve Study Skills.

Get an early start on LRW papers.

Good legal writing requires time, preparation and a lot of editing. Good LRW papers don’t happen overnight. Once you’ve received your LRW assignments get started on them as soon as possible. The sooner you get started on an LRW paper, the more time you’ll have to review, edit and perfect it.

Review your exam performance.

Law school isn’t just about getting good grades. It’s about learning the law. However, if you want to improve your grades and learn the law at the same time, then take the opportunity to review each exam with your professor after grades have been posted. With his help you can determine what you did well and what you need to do to improve in the future.

Don’t get caught up in the competition.

Yes, law school is competitive, and you want to do your very best. But remember, only one person is going to be at the top of the class, and chances are it won’t be you. Focus on achieving the highest GPA you can, while taking classes that are challenging and that will position you for career growth within your target niche. Don’t cheat. Be respectful of your classmates. Make law school a positive and fulfilling experience for everyone involved.

If you are considering getting a law degree, but have little time to spend on it, or have already decided to go with a non traditional way of learning law, then this book is for you. Learn Law provides clear guidance as to what materials and classes you will need so that you can be on your way to becoming an attorney after only a few months of study.

Apprentices and lawyers in Oakland, Calif., clown around with a stovepipe hat (an homage to Abe Lincoln) and a copy of "Practicing Law in the Sharing Economy," a book by Janelle Orsi, a mentoring lawyer. From left, Christina Oatfield, Chris Tittle, Neil Thapar, Ms. Orsi and Ricardo Nunez.
Apprentices and lawyers in Oakland, Calif., clown around with a stovepipe hat (an homage to Abe Lincoln) and a copy of "Practicing Law in the Sharing Economy," a book by Janelle Orsi, a mentoring lawyer. From left, Christina Oatfield, Chris Tittle, Neil Thapar, Ms. Orsi and Ricardo Nunez.
Apprentices and lawyers in Oakland, Calif., clown around with a stovepipe hat (an homage to Abe Lincoln) and a copy of “Practicing Law in the Sharing Economy,” a book by Janelle Orsi, a mentoring lawyer. From left, Christina Oatfield, Chris Tittle, Neil Thapar, Ms. Orsi and Ricardo Nunez.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

By Sean Patrick Farrell

  • July 30, 2014

When Chris Tittle meets new people and the topic turns to his work, he sometimes fishes in his pockets and produces a business card that reads “Abraham Lincoln.” Below the 16th president’s name in smaller type the card reads, “Just kidding, but I hope to follow in some of his footsteps.”

Mr. Tittle, who sports the kind of full beard more often associated with folk-rock bands than future junior partners, is working toward becoming a lawyer under an obscure California rule that allows people to “read law” much as Lincoln did, studying at the elbow of a seasoned lawyer.

“There is very little that would entice me to go $100,000 or more into debt for a credential,” said Mr. Tittle, who is in his first year of a four-year program of practical study.

California is one of a handful of states that allow apprenticeships like Mr. Tittle’s in lieu of a law degree as a prerequisite to taking the bar and practicing as a licensed lawyer. In Virginia, Vermont, Washington and California, aspiring lawyers can study for the bar without ever setting foot into or paying a law school. New York, Maine and Wyoming require a combination of law school and apprenticeship.

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The programs remain underpopulated. Of the 83,986 people who took state or multistate bar exams last year, according to the National Conference of Bar Examiners, only 60 were law office readers (so-called for the practice of reading legal texts as preparation). But at a time when many in legal education — including the president, a former law professor — are questioning the value of three years of law study and the staggering debt that saddles many graduates, proponents see apprenticeships as an alternative that makes legal education available and affordable to a more diverse population and could be a boon to underserved communities.

“Attorneys have carved out a place that is high income and inaccessible,” says Janelle Orsi, co-founder of the Sustainable Economies Law Center, a nonprofit in Oakland, Calif., that focuses on legal aspects of the “sharing economy.”

To Ms. Orsi, a graduate of the highly ranked Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, apprenticeships are a way to reorder the economics of law school and law work. Without loans to pay back, she argues, lawyers won’t have to chase big paychecks or prestige with corporate clients and could instead work in nonprofit, environmental and community law.

“Attorneys trained in this way will be able to be average people,” Ms. Orsi said, “not just because they don’t have debt, but because law school tells us that we’re really special.”

Ms. Orsi and two other lawyers are mentors to four apprentices, who are chronicling their experiences on a blog curated by the center ( Mr. Tittle is director of organizational resilience at the center, where he spends six hours a week in his supervising lawyer’s office “helping her do client work or small research assignments, or it might turn into a mini-lecture on that particular kind of law that she’s working in.” Fridays often find him and the other apprentices in the county law library, studying.

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Ms. Orsi and the cohort of “apprenti,” as they jokingly refer to themselves, hope their experience will serve as a model for other nonprofit organizations to cultivate their own lawyers. “The mission is not to create more lawyers,” said Ms. Orsi. “It’s to serve the community.”

This is not entirely untrod ground. The United Farm Workers, the California-based agricultural union founded by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, has been training lawyers through apprenticeships for decades, said Mary L. Mecartney, the managing attorney for the union’s legal department, who studied for and passed the bar in 1993 through apprenticeship. She’s helping to train two new apprentices, both the children of farm workers.

Before the prevalence of law schools in the 1870s, apprenticeships were the primary way to become a lawyer. “Stop and think of some of the great lawyers in American history,” said Daniel R. Coquillette, a law professor at Boston College who teaches and writes in the areas of legal history and professional responsibility. “John Adams, Chief Justice Marshall, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson. They didn’t go to law school at all.”

The earliest law schools, Mr. Coquillette said, worked in tandem with apprenticeships, a practice he noted is returning as many law schools move toward externships for third-year students.

But there are obstacles. None of the states help prospective law readers locate a supervising lawyer, and finding one willing to take on the responsibility of educating a new lawyer can be difficult. Bar passage rates for law office students are also dismal. Last year only 17 passed — or 28 percent, compared with 73 percent for students who attended schools approved by the American Bar Association.

“The A.B.A. takes the position that the most appropriate process for becoming a lawyer should include obtaining a J.D. degree from a law school approved by the A.B.A. and passing a bar examination,” said Barry A. Currier, managing director of accreditation and legal education for the group.

Robert E. Glenn, president of the Virginia Board of Bar Examiners, was less circumspect. “It’s a cruel hoax,” he said of apprenticeships. “It’s such a waste of time for someone to spend three years in this program but not have anything at the end.”

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One former apprentice, speaking on the condition of anonymity, dropped out after her third year of study. The stumbling block, she said, was the first-year exam, the so-called baby bar required of all those in California who study outside of law schools accredited by the A.B.A or state’s Committee of Bar Examiners.

“It was the writing,” she said. After two attempts and stumped by legalese, she decided law might not be her path. “I’m over it now, but it was disappointing that I couldn’t pass it,” she said. Still, she doesn’t regret her apprenticeship — the lessons, she says, have been useful in her current work in state government.

Isabell Wong Flores knows well the feeling of bar exam defeat. After completing her law office study, it took five attempts over two and a half years before she passed the bar exam. “There were times when I wanted to give up so much,” said Ms. Flores, now a Sacramento criminal defense lawyer who draws on her perseverance in her side work as a motivational speaker. The exam is torturous, she said, but “you have to find ways to conquer it.” Ms. Flores bought study tapes and enrolled in bar prep courses at local law schools before passing in 2007 — seven years after starting down this road. “I wanted to give myself an education,” she said. “It took a little longer than I thought it would.”

The lack of a J.D. can also be cause for concern to clients.

“I do have some clients who look up on my wall and say, ‘Where did you go to law school?’ and aren’t too happy with the answer,” said Ivan Fehrenbach, who recently passed the Virginia bar after three years of reading law. Unburdened by school loan debt, he said, he has been able to become “a country lawyer,” taking on work like speeding tickets, divorce and wills.

For most, the lack of class rankings put clerkships with judges and plum gigs at big firms out of reach. There are exceptions: Jeffrey L. Smoot, a law reader, was recently made partner at one of Seattle’s oldest firms, Oles Morrison Rinker & Baker. “It’s a validation of the program,” he said.

Washington’s program for apprentices — called law clerks there — stands out for the extent of support from the state bar association. A volunteer board sets study standards and assigns a liaison to each lawyer-apprentice duo to monitor their progress. Students must also be employed by the office in which they study. Of law clerks who took the Washington bar last year, 67 percent passed.

Talia Clever, who coordinates the program for the state bar, says she routinely fields calls from people who want to know how hard it is to become a lawyer without law school. Her answer: very. “It’s a lot of work. It’s four years and you don’t get summers off. You’re on the line working with a lawyer every day.”

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