The BriefA Blog about the LSAT, Law School and Beyond
Back in 2011, I attended a pre-law conference run by PLEN, a women’s leadership non-profit based in D.C., and had the opportunity to listen to a number of highly accomplished female lawyers and law students. A few years later, the person I remember most vividly is Shama Farooq, a Fredericksburg public defender whose passion and genuine empathy for her clients impressed and resonated with me. Here she speaks to 7Sage about the learning curve, warfare-like litigation, and her experiences in Palestine with the International Legal Foundation.
What is your day-to-day schedule?
You have this routine of court, jail, office.
A normal schedule for a public defender would be to head to court in the morning if you have an assigned docket or a case. Then I would go back to the office, where I have some managerial duties--advising other attorneys on their cases for example. Usually I go to the jail at least once. Then I’m back in the office, making phone calls to clients, speaking with investigators, visiting crime scenes, and looking up case law. You have this routine of court, jail, office.
What is the learning curve like for a new public defender?
The legal learning curve is definitely going to be very steep.
You are basically learning how to interact with others and how to develop trusting relationships with people. You are learning how to talk to judges, juries, prosecutors, police officers, and most importantly, your clients. You are learning to recognize what the priorities are for people. This is something you develop at your individual pace.
The legal learning curve is definitely going to be very steep, everything from learning to recognize the elements of a crime to listening to a story and within two minutes, being able to understand what the problems are for you and the other side. The first nine months as a public defender, you learn a ton, and afterwards, you learn the complexities.
Can you talk about the adversarial side of being a public defender?
It is like warfare but civilized warfare. You’re using the law and procedure practices as your weapons.
Being inside the courtroom – you have to recognize for yourself if you are the sort of person who can deal with the tension of being inside the courtroom because you are not really on your best social behavior [in this setting]. It is like warfare but civilized warfare. You’re using the law and procedure practices as your weapons. At the same time, you have to be professional, you have to be civil, and you have to be courteous. If the other side needs to break, for a legitimate reason, and it doesn’t hurt your client, you should give it to them. Those courtesies will come back to you. So on one side, you have to have this thick skin but you also have to remain a human being. Be kind and generous as long as it doesn’t hurt your clients.
What was a memorable case you worked on?
The experience really reaffirmed my faith that judges understand that they are human beings who make mistakes and that when presenting a reasonable legal argument, you can convince a judge to change his or her mind.
I had one very recently. I had a client who is a drug addict, and by the time she got arrested, she was on her way to recognizing that it’s a disease and to dealing with it. But the law is a bit tough on it. It only gives you a few options for avoiding a felony conviction for example. We wanted to use some of those options for her. But the judge was a fairly new judge, wasn’t being convinced, and was using something on her record as a hindrance. He wasn’t giving me a chance to explain when my client really deserved another chance. It was a devastating blow. But we filed a motion after her conviction and put in all the laws I knew he wasn’t aware of. To his credit, he let me argue again in court and reversed himself. He acknowledged that he was wrong. The experience really reaffirmed my faith that judges understand that they are human beings who make mistakes and that when presenting a reasonable legal argument, you can convince a judge to change his or her mind. That’s an amazing thing.
What advice do you have for students interested in public defender work?
It’s very rewarding--being an advocate for someone else and putting your heart in it.
It’s one of those jobs that you are going to love. It’s going to be really tough but you are going to love it because you have an impact on people’s lives every single day. You are upholding a basic human right and the Constitution in a way very few people get to do. It’s very rewarding--being an advocate for someone else and putting your heart in it.
From the very beginning, take as many basic criminal law courses. If you can do internships in public defender offices, there’s nothing better you can do. Everything you learn in your 1L year, you can put into use immediately. You can also seek out opportunities in a criminal justice clinic, which most law schools have, or find people in the local legal community to shadow, even if it’s only for a few hours.
You mentioned that you were interested in international affairs in undergrad. Is that something you miss?
You’d be surprised that many of the same principles of protection apply for criminal defendants in Palestine as in the U.S.
No, actually, I took a three-month fellowship last year in the Palestinian West Bank where I was training Palestinian defense attorneys with the International Legal Foundation, an NGO based in New York that helps set up attorneys in post-conflict societies. In Palestine, I was doing the exact same work as I do here, and I was training attorneys to analyze the law, conduct investigations, and how to argue. You’d be surprised that many of the same principles of protection apply for criminal defendants [in Palestine as in the U.S.]. So many constitutions have similar provisions for the right to counsel, having affidavits, and preventing the mistreatment of detainees. Pretty much every major democracy has those.
Visit the 7Sage Law School blog to read more interviews with students and lawyers.
Here is a list of all of them:
When it comes to correct LSAT answer choices: There can be only one
I tend to always hear from typically new students, disgruntled at having gotten a question wrong, “Hey, I totally understand why C is right, but I’m sure B is also right. Here, look at my proof.”
Since, you’re just starting down this long road, I want unburden you from this misconception. It makes for lighter travel. Plus, I don’t want to yell at you later.
So, drop this misconception on the ground, dig a fire pit, burn it, and bury the ashes. There is never another answer choice that is even arguably right for any LSAT question. Don’t even think about it.
I’ll say it again. There is only ever one right answer choice and four massively, horrendously, embarrassingly, wrong answer choices.
This is not to say that it’s easy to identify the right answer choice. Quite the opposite, it’s very difficult. Often, I have a difficult time figuring out why an answer is right or wrong. But, I never think it’s because the LSAC messed up. Rather, it is invariably true that I just haven’t figured it out yet.
Why am I so certain of this? For a couple of reasons. First, I’ve done or taught every LSAT question in existence (over 7,000) and I have never run across a wrong answer choice that I thought was even arguably right. Second, I’ve discussed this issue at length with other LSAT instructors and high scoring students and we’ve always independently come to the same conclusion. Third, and this is the important one, LSAC’s policy in dealing with possible mistakes in their questions guarantees this result.
Of the four LSATs administered each year, the June, October, and December LSATs are disclosed to the test takers. You receive a PDF of the test and you have 90 days to challenge any question you want.
Just think about that for a second. Think about the importance of your LSAT score. The difference even a few points make. Think about the level of neuroses that pervades LSAT takers. When you get your score back and you see that you got some questions wrong and the LSAC is telling you that you have the option to challenge every one of those questions and that’s your only chance of getting a higher score, what do you think you’re going to do? Of course you’re going to scrutinize the shit out of every single question.
Except it’s not just you doing this. It’s everyone who took that LSAT. That’s the insane level of scrutiny that every LSAT question is subject to.
It doesn’t even end there. Say you sincerely believe that the LSAT has made a mistake. You write in your challenge. The LSAC will answer every challenge in writing showing you why the right answer is right and the wrong ones wrong and why your argument fails miserably.
But, say you get their response back and you’re still not satisfied. Then, you get to appeal this issue to a panel of independent outside experts. This means that the LSAC writers must ultimately write their questions with reasoning solid enough to persuade a entire fucking panel of independent outside experts that there is only one right answer choice and four wrong answer choices. If a wrong answer choice was even arguably right, they would be unable to meet this standard.
Now, of course, this doesn’t mean the LSAC never makes mistakes. Even the LSAT writers are human after all and even though the system they designed is solid, any human system is subject to error. Every once in a while a written challenge does reveal an error. When that happens, the question is removed from scoring and removed from the published Prep Test. By the time you are taking that Prep Test, it’s already been through hellish scrutiny. You’re not going to find anything new that tens of thousands of people just like you only with way more riding on the line haven’t found before.
So remember. There is only one right answer choice.
Matthew Fenn, a 3L at Fordham Law School, takes time out of his very busy schedule as the Fordham Law Review's Editor-in-Chief to talk about pre-law advice, future aspirations, and the demands of being a law review EIC.
What do you like most about law school?
I have always been someone who loves learning about new things and exploring why society is the way that it is, and law is perfect for this.
My favorite thing about law school is that it forces you to tackle issues, in depth, in a lot of different subjects and areas of life. Law school makes you think about politics, education, sports, art, medicine, economics, and any other topic you can possibly think of from a whole new perspective. I have always been someone who loves learning about new things and exploring why society is the way that it is, and law is perfect for this.
Is there a study tactic or method you find most helpful?
Keeping smart people around to chat with, bounce ideas off of, and study with never hurts, either!
One thing that was difficult for me in college and continues to be challenging in law school is that you have a lot of “unstructured” time, or time when you are not in class but have plenty of work to get done. The most helpful thing, for me, was to keep a regular schedule and treat law school like a full-time job. Keeping smart people around to chat with, bounce ideas off of, and study with never hurts, either!
Can you tell us more about Fordham's Law Review?
The most challenging part of the job is the sheer amount of work that it requires, as my friends—who don’t see me very often these days—can attest to!
The Fordham Law Review publishes roughly 3,000 pages of legal scholarship each year on topics ranging from constitutional law to corporate law and everything in between. We also host symposia and lectures to bring distinguished professors, scholars, judges, and practitioners together to discuss advancements in law.
The editor-in-chief, from a big-picture perspective, is in charge of making sure that the publication of each book, the execution of each event, and relationships among editors on the board are all smooth. The editor-in-chief’s primary responsibilities include approving articles and notes to be published in the law review, working with the managing editor to set a publication schedule, and making final edits on each piece that will be published.
My favorite part of the job is the opportunity to lead and work with a group of extremely intelligent, hard-working people, and to be part of an esteemed tradition of editors who have done the same. Fordham Law Review has an impressive legacy, and it’s an honor to carry on that legacy and attempt to make a personal mark on it. The most challenging part of the job is the sheer amount of work that it requires, as my friends—who don’t see me very often these days—can attest to!
Do you have any advice for students interested in legal research or in publishing (as you did in the Fordham Law Review)?
Great legal scholarship doesn’t have to be about a popular U.S. Supreme Court case or a constitutional amendment.
My biggest piece of advice would be to find an interesting topic and start to learn more about it, whether that is by watching the news, browsing the internet, or following experts in the field. As I mentioned earlier, law touches so many corners of life. Great legal scholarship doesn’t have to be about a popular U.S. Supreme Court case or a constitutional amendment. It doesn’t have to revolutionize the law. It just needs to expose a pressing legal problem, examine the problem in depth, and suggest a solution or point out something that others hadn’t necessarily thought of before.
What are you interested in doing after law school?
Mostly, though, I just want to work hard with smart people tackling difficult problems and have a good time doing it.
I will be working at a big firm next year, and for a judge the year after that, both of which I am eagerly looking forward to. I am very interested in appellate practice and would love the opportunity to argue in front of the Supreme Court, but so few lawyers get the chance to do that. Mostly, though, I just want to work hard with smart people tackling difficult problems and have a good time doing it.
Any other law school related advice?
When the workload is especially heavy, it’s easy to cash it in early or take shortcuts, particularly when the only person watching over you is you. Just remember that you are working hard for a reason.
For prospective students, read and write as much as possible—fiction, nonfiction, news, comedy, sports, really anything. Thinking critically and being a strong reader and writer are, I think, the most important qualities a lawyer can have and also correlate pretty closely with success in law school. The only way to hone these skills is through practice.
For current students, one important piece of advice is to keep your long-term goals in mind, especially when the going gets tough. When the workload is especially heavy, it’s easy to cash it in early or take shortcuts, particularly when the only person watching over you is you. Just remember that you are working hard for a reason. Also, an underrated piece of advice: be considerate and nice to your peers. A little kindness goes a long way, especially in an intense environment like law school.
Visit the 7Sage Law School blog to read more interviews with students and lawyers. In the coming weeks, we'll interview a former tennis star turned law student, a public defender who volunteers in Palestine, and a NYU Law graduate working as an angel investor.
The single most important thing you can do to improve your LSAT score is to take real, full length, timed LSAT Prep Tests.
In a previous post, I told you about the biggest mistake that everyone makes: underestimating how hard the LSAT is.
Now it’s time to take your very first LSAT Prep Tests. Download the June 2007 LSAT from your course. If you don't have a course yet, click here for a free trial.
Enter your answers and then score your lsat. This will help you analyze your strengths and weakness and know what you should focus on for maximum results.
With a free or paid account you can watch the video explanations for every single question on that test. Understanding every question you got wrong or weren't sure about is vital to improving your score.
The more LSAT Prep Tests you take, the better your score will be.
Anyone who is really good at something can do the basic skills without thinking. It's just pure instinct. That is what you want to happen with the LSAT. You want to read the question and then just KNOW.
To get there, you need to internalize the logic of the LSAT. Use the flashcards in the 7Sage course to drill the fundamental concepts into your head.
I know, I hate memorizing too. That's why these flashcards have been carefully selected to only cover only the most important areas that need to be memorized.
They're really easy to use. Work through them from top to bottom. Put your cursor over a card to see the answer. If you make a mistake, drag that card to the bottom. That way you'll see it again and reinforce that concept.
For example, here are the vocabulary flash cards that are used in the full course:[ss_flashcards source="http://7sage.s3.amazonaws.com/lsat/lessons/lsat-vocabulary-flashcards.txt"/]
What should you do today to study for the LSAT? How long do I need to study to get ready for my test date? When do I start taking timed Prep Tests? How do I plan out my days?
To answer all these questions for you, we’ve created a highly detailed and personalized LSAT study schedule that will answer these and more questions about how to plan out your LSAT studies. Our week by week study schedule gives you just enough information that lays out the goals you should accomplish for this week.
Having small discrete goals is incredibly important for staying on track and accountable.
Have you taken Prep Tests yet? You need to if you want to do well on the LSAT.
Now, if you've taken Prep Tests, have you properly reviewed them? To properly review your LSAT Prep Tests, you need to understand the reasoning behind each question and each answer choice.
We have short, to the point, bite sized video explanations for how to approach every LSAT question in the June 2007 LSAT. If you have a free account, you can see all the explanations to June 2007 here.
We also have the same explanations for every single LSAT question from Prep Tests 46 - 69 and many of the questions from Prep Tests 36 - 45. If you have a full course, you can access those from your progress page. You can also purchase explanations for individual LSATs here.
Look at that McRib. So juicy and so tempting. So easy to eat it just melts in your mouth and coagulates on your gut. Look at those fries. Perfectly flavored with all natural chemicals. Crispy and salty. Isn't is so much easier to just eat that than to eat an ugly salad? You know it is. You also know it's terrible for you.
So brace yourselves. We're tossing up some salad and you're not going to like it. But it will save your life.
Also, I'm talking about the LSAT. I don't really care if you eat McDonald's.
Ready? Here we go.
1. Underestimating when to start studying for the LSAT (Three months is not enough time to prepare!)
When should you start studying for the LSAT? The first mistake students make is underestimating the difficulty of the LSAT. So, let me be very clear. The LSAT is a beast. I don't know you. I've never met you. Maybe you're a beast too. But, I'm telling you right now that you need more than 3 months to adequately train.
Now, I know the "industry standard" is 3 months. I have no idea how it got there but it's stupid and detrimental. I have some theories: implicit collusion between you and the test prep companies that charge you $1,000+ for an LSAT Course. They, of course, want to maximize profits and therefore will run the shortest class acceptable. You hate the LSAT so you'll readily accept a prescription of 3 months (or fewer! yay!) as "appropriate" for the amount of time to train. It's collusion and you're the victim.
But that's not important, is it? The important thing is that you plan to spend way more than 3 months training. A year is reasonable. Look at it rationally. Which is weighed more heavily in law school admissions, GPA or LSAT? LSAT. Duh! Yet, you spend 4 years on your GPA but, what, only 3 months on the LSAT? How the hell does that make any sense? Do you even know how important the LSAT is? It makes or breaks your application. End of story. If I'm telling you that you need to spend a year, only a year, to realize your maximum potential on the LSAT, you should be thinking this is a fucking bargain. Because it is. You're getting a great deal. And I haven't even counted the tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships.
The LSAT is a test of skills. Your skills in parsing difficult grammar. Your skills in conditional logic. Your skills in causation logic. Your skills in argument evaluation. These skill, like all skills, require time to take root and grow. You have to actively cultivate these skills. You have to train. A necessary ingredient is time. There is simply no substitute. You need time.
2. You're wasting irreplaceable LSAT Prep Tests
This second mistake causes irreparable harm.
You have to realize that there are a finite number of Official LSAT Prep Tests (PTs). (You're not a moron so you must know that you are to avoid fake LSAT questions like the plague.) To date, there are around 70. That's it. If you exhaust all of those PTs, you're pretty much done. You have nothing left to train with.
This is because the one thing you have to do over and over and over and over and over again is to take timed, proctored, full length PTs and then Blind Review. Performance on a new, recent PT, under conditions of stress and strict timing. That's why it's so important not to spoil recent PTs.
Of course, you do have to learn the fundamentals somehow so you have to sacrifice some PTs for that. But, not the recent ones!
Here's how we do it.
We only pull LSAT questions from pre-PT 36 to use for the curriculum and problem sets. Every PT starting from 36 and above are kept pristine for you to take under timed conditions.
3. You're setting an unrealistic schedule
Don't be naive.
Seriously, take a good look at your ability to handle responsibilities and commit. Back in college, at the beginning of every semester I'd load up on classes thinking this is it. This is the semester that I turn my life around. I will be awesome and responsible and blah blah blah and 3 weeks in I watch ALL the episodes of The Wire in 5 days and shit I missed all my classes. But, hey, I went out and had the BEST TIME OF MY LIFE or whatever shreds of the 36 hour binge drinking marathon that I could recall anyway. And all my heroic, naive promises to myself just look stupid.
Sound familiar? Look, if that's you, that's fine. Just don't expect the LSAT to change you. That shit takes a long time. What's faster is recognizing, embracing, and planning around your limitations. That's called "wisdom".
Don't be like me: "I GOT THIS. I WILL STUDY 30 HOURS A DAY. SLEEP IS FOR LOSERS." No, moron, there's only 24 hours in a day and you need to be not conscious for 7 of those hours. You also need a realistic study schedule. If you're in school. It's very, very hard to study for the LSAT. Plan on something light, like 4 hours a week. Same if you're working full time. Study first thing in the morning, not last thing after all your other things of the day. Draw out your LSAT schedule to a year.
If you are studying full time, still don't study more than 30 hours a week. You simply need to give these ideas time to take root and grow. You also need time to relax. Go on a date. (You're studying for the LSAT, you're obviously single or will be very soon.) Go for a jog. Go on a date with your computer. Go see a movie. Stare at the moon. Get away from the LSAT. Burnout is a real phenomenon and you don't want to be anywhere near it.
Ideally, a wise student who avoids all three mistakes sets out a year long LSAT study schedule, begins with learning the fundamentals (e.g., logic, grammar, causation, argumentation, the scientific method). Then, she practices them on problem sets from pre-PT 35. Then, after some months of doing that, she starts to take timed, proctored full length PTs and Blind Reviews.
Slow and steady. That's the way to go.
Studying for the LSAT can be demoralizing at times. I’ve been there myself and I know how much that sucks.
I also know that when it gets you down. The most important thing you need is a supportive community who also understands what you’re going through.
Over 1,000 students and teachers gather in the 7Sage LSAT Forums to discuss everything related to the LSAT and law school. From explanations to specific questions that you don’t understand, to finding an LSAT study buddy, you can find all the help and support you need.
If you’re doing well on the test, the forum is a great place for you to be a teacher and a leader. Help out others who don’t understand the LSAT as well as you do and improve your own understanding at the same time. After all, as Aristotle said, teaching is the highest form of understanding.
Let’s beat the LSAT together!
Practice LSATs can be a gold mine of valuable data on *exactly* what you need to work on to improve. Unfortunately, most students don't know how to take advantage of this.
That's why we made the most powerful LSAT grader available anywhere. It will let you drill into your answers to figure out exactly what you did wrong, and what you need to work on. You can analyze your performance with pretty charts, question and section difficulty ratings, and question type analysis.
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