Law School Prep Courses
posted by Dave Hoffman
My gut says yes. But the distributed wisdom of pre-law students, who are driving a growth in these courses, says no. The author of my casebook apparently endorses the concept, as do many other accomplished teacher-scholars.
I poked around the ‘net, and couldn’t find any empirical evidence one way or another on the utility of taking a prep course in achieving its goal: raising student’s grades. (Of course, such data would be very hard to find for non-prep-takers). My intuition, which I’m willing to yield to evidence, is that prep courses are for most consumers a bad buy. Here’s why:
1. Such courses generally seem to focus on teaching the substance of the first-year. For a small minority of students, comfort with substance may help to ameliorate anxieties in the first-semester, but I don’t think that it will likely lead to higher grades. Grading in law school, to the extent that it is rational, is tied closely to the skill of taking a particular professor’s exam. That skill is partly a method problem, and partly a product of absorbing the professor’s approach to legal reasoning. That is, since law is a predictive enterprise, better exam answers usually (at least to me) predict the law in ways reflected from classroom discussion. Most of the time, you won’t be able to learn that from an outline, and you won’t be able to learn that from some other professor, no matter how gifted, six months before the fact.
2. Students who take prep courses are likely to be more motivated than the norm, and possibly more organized. (Their non-prep compatriots either didn’t think about this potential success route, or did think about it and missed the deadline.) Such students don’t need help.
3. The courses are exceedingly short. How much law can you process in a week? (You may respond that Barbri is short, but (1) Barbri creates a network effect of success, because the Bar is a curved exam; and (2) Barbri isn’t that short; and (3) I won’t hear anything bad about Barbri, the most rewarding law education experience I’ve ever had.)
Are these intuitions right? At some level, I may be resisting the idea of preparatory courses because I want my view of contract law to the first that my students hear, and because I don’t want students to add to their already crushing debt load in an attempt to marginally improve their chances at a better grade.
That said, a prep course can’t hurt you. It is a matter of the opportunity cost of your time, and the actual cost of the course. My advice if you have time and money to spare: buy your loved ones gifts to ease the strain ahead; invest in good lighting for your study area; and use the time to get a healthy tan at the beach.