Law School Prep Courses

law1950jpgAre law school prep courses a waste of money?

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.

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11 Responses

  1. Anthony says:

    “That said, a prep course can’t hurt you.”

    Oh, it definitely can hurt you if it lulls you into a false sense of security, or teaches you methods that aren’t applicable to your particular school/professor.

  2. Laz says:

    I’d be willing to bet that there is in fact a negative correlation between taking a law school prep course and getting top grades (at least at tier 1 schools). Plus, I can’t imagine a more effective way to annoy your classmates than revealing that, yes, you already know what promissory estoppel is because you studied it in your prep course.

  3. anon says:

    there’s a lot of money to be made on fear and anxiety.

  4. theimbroglio says:

    I won’t hear anything bad about Barbri, the most rewarding law education experience I’ve ever had.

    Um, really?

  5. Amber says:

    Even if people don’t take a prep class, they should be strongly encouraged to read some brief treatment of economic thought (and maybe statistics) before the 1L year. Nothing is more agonizing than listening to a bunch of English majors in a torts class who don’t understand anything about incentives or probabilities.

  6. Paul Gowder says:

    Except, of course, listening to a bunch of economics majors who think the whole world is the nail for their hammer.

  7. Uhu says:

    What about prep courses that last 8 weeks in the summer time?

  8. Nazli says:

    Are Barbri prep. courses available in Oman?

  9. Guy says:

    There’s a hilarious Barbri parody video on YouTube where the teacher keeps singing acronyms for laws and such.
    There are longer classes like The Center for Legal studies which has a 7 week course. By the way, Law Preview provides data- albeit biased data- about students consistently scoring in the top 20% or so (you were saying you couldn’t find any data- sorry to not be exact statistics guy ^^ ). Probably the motivation factor but if the data’s accurate, it seems to show that it does’t hurt people (yeh I know correlation doesn’t necessitate causation) . They also have hundreds of testimonials so you could read those. Number 3 doesn’t make any sense- just sayin.

  10. Laura says:

    You all missed the point of the prep courses. Those people were the only people who taught me the proper way to brief cases, outline, choose among hornbooks, and prepare for and author an exam. They used 1L topics as illustrations since those were the classes we were going to take, but the whole point of the course was to teach us to see the forest through the trees. The goal of these courses isn’t to give you a substantive edge, if you’re that kind of gunner you can just pre-read hornbooks or something. The point is they teach you how to do law school, wtf is an outline, a case brief, and how are exams different from cold calls.

  11. Arlen says:

    Hey I dont want to be a jerk after you wrote that long article.. However that is very very erroneous. I am a 1L.. I am so screwed its not even funny.. this is why..

    1. I do not know how to IRAC for exams, forget about issue spotting and law/fact analysis!!
    2.I did NOT understand time management,
    3.I DID NOT know about the Barbri exam prep before Jan15 (extra $1000)
    4. I did not get my bar prep backgound info ready now it will be late and after my classmates
    5. I did not know about book discounts or to wait till classes started.
    6. the competitiveness of our section
    7. importance of balance
    8. exam prep
    9. how to create an outline
    10 many many many more inside things that you are expected to know that screw up your time you could be studying.. not to mention all the things that have cost me money, stress time and anxiety…

    I ask in the most respectful way… How could you dare post this???????!