Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Canadian Law School: Black Letter Law

A reader of my book sent me an email last week. I thought it would be worthwhile to provide the answer to that email, as it may be useful to everyone.

Original email question:

"I have a question I've been mulling over. I have an uncle who attends law school in the United States and he suggests that a big part of law school success is 'mastering the black letter law.' Distressingly, he found that the black letter law was not taught in law school (at least not explicitly), and that students must learn it on their own. In particular, he recommends notes from BARBRI Bar exam preparation lectures as a good source for 'black letter law.' Do you think this is good advice for Canadian law students? What IS the black letter law? Is BarBri a good source for learning Canadian law (aren't Canadian and American laws pretty different?)."

Answer:

Thank you for the email. I really appreciate it. The "Black Letter Law" debate is a good one, and one that I have heard for quite a few years now. Some people live by it. It's not discussed much at all by Canadian law professors, from my experience. From my experience, it's application of the law that you learn in class that is most important. Being able to disect a problem into its issues, sub issues and sub issues. You will find that Getting to Maybe is invaluable, and I recommend that you read it before classes begin.

I know law students who have had terrible memories. They can't remember dates, names, case names, etc. However, they have received A's in their classes because they are able to take a step back, take a breath and begin dissecting a hypothetical problem, keeping all of the sub issues in mind, returning to them and fleshing them out. They are able to get the big points out of the way quickly, and then are able to get bonus points for dissecting the minutiae. Read Getting to Maybe. Take every opportunity that you have to discuss exam preparation and application of law with your professors. Get to know the professors well. I wish someone had given me that advice early on, because it is very good advice.

Find your strengths early on. Stay on top of your material, but don't become so engrossed in it that you can't see the forest through the trees. Find other students (especially upper year students) that are proving to be successful, and find ways of accessing their knowledge and experience. Write me during the course of your law school experience when you have questions, and I will do my best to answer them, or to point you towards a resource that may help.

Thanks again, and good luck in your new career. You've made a great choice.Find your strengths early on. Stay on top of your material, but don't become so engrossed in it that you can't see the forest through the trees. Find other students (especially upper year students) that are proving to be successful, and find ways of accessing their knowledge and experience. Write me during the course of your law school experience when you have questions, and I will do my best to answer them, or to point you towards a resource that may help.

Thanks again, and good luck in your new career. You've made a great choice.

ed note: BLACK LETTER LAW - The principles of law which are generally known and free from doubt or dispute. Also see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_letter_law

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