Frequently Asked Questions from New Students
The questions below are some of the ones new law students typically have. They include a quick overview of the academic rules, where to find things, how the school operates, and advice based on having attended Lewis & Clark myself and on the conversations I’ve had over the last 25 years with countless law students. I hope you find some or all of it useful. Good luck in your first year of law school.
Libby Davis ’93
Associate Dean for Student Affairs
Where do I find out what the rules are?
What grades do I need to get to stay here long enough to get out?
What courses am I required to take to graduate?
Does anybody here care what I think about this place?
What about academic integrity?
What if something comes up that keeps me from being able to continue this year or later?
What about exams?
What about grades?
How do I find out my grades?
How will I get information about academic rules, registration, exams, and so on?
How does the school communicate with me?
How do I register next year?
Is there any formal academic advising?
Any advice on the secret to learning law?
What about these folks sitting next to me in class?
Anything else you think we should know – maybe something about life while in law school?
The student handbook is called “What’s What.” You can find it on the web site under “Registrar.” Go to the “What’s What - Handbook” on the right side of the page and click. This contains the basic rules — including the Honor & Student Conduct Code. Sometimes you will be given additional information specific to a particular activity - for instance, during exams or registration. Some departments at the law school have their own sets of detailed and specific rules contained in handbooks or handouts. These include the Library, Career Services, and the clinics.
The “What’s What” has information about the required grading curve and about the consequences of not maintaining the required grade point. You have to have a 1.8 yearly and cumulative grade point average at the end of your first year. That’s slightly higher than a C- average. You have to maintain a 2.0 yearly and cumulative grade point average at the end of each subsequent year and at the time of graduation. That’s a C average. One probationary semester is allowed if you fall within a certain range of good standing. If you fall below a 1.6 at the end of your first year, or if you fall below a 1.8 at the end of any upper division year, you will be academically dismissed. We determine good standing at the end of each academic year, which is at the end of the Spring semester only, not at the end of each semester. Don’t fret. I’m telling you this simply because you need to know what the standards are. The vast majority of you have nothing to worry about when it comes to good standing. We average two or three academic dismissals a year. We brought you here to stay not to send you away.
This is laid out in the “What’s What.” Anyone entering Fall 2014 or later must earn 90 semester hours of credit, take 65 Foundational credits, 6 Highly-Specialized credits, and 6 Experiential credits.
Your upper division requirements involve only a few actual classes that are required. Most of the requirements can be met by choosing from a number of courses.
1) You have to write two papers as an upper division student. One is called the WIE, or Writing Intensive Experience. The other is called the Capstone. Course descriptions will tell you which courses meet which requirement, and we publish a list of the WIE and Capstone courses each year.
2) You have to meet the professionalism requirement which means taking a class that indicates it satisfies this requirement.
3) You have to take Constitutional Law II.
Monitoring your progress toward graduation is your job. However, the Registrar or I will be glad to meet with you to go over your transcript with you and discuss what you need in order to finish.
Two students are elected as voting representatives to every standing faculty committee and two students sit as voting representatives at faculty meetings. The faculty committees decide policy, rules, set curriculum, and hire new faculty. Students are also free to make appointments to talk to any administrator about any concern or idea they may have.
The law school has an Honor Code. This means you are on your honor not to cheat. The Honor Code is in the “What’s What.” Read it. It’s a violation of the Honor Code to fail to report a violation. We do not have very many honor code investigations but when the situations have called for it, Honor Committees have imposed serious sanctions up to and including dismissal from school. If you are not sure if something is a violation, ask. You can ask your professor, you can ask me, you can ask the Dean, just ask. If something in you says something might be on the “edge” of the Code, ask. Trust your instinct. Note that sharing outlines or notes, studying together, and talking over class assignments is NOT a violation unless an instructor has given an explicit instruction not to discuss something.
Every year at least one student will find that family or work or personal issues demand immediate time and attention and that law school cannot realistically be a priority. Family, health, and work demands, are all important and taking a semester off or taking a lighter load temporarily in order to get things settled may be the right choice. Should you find yourself in this position, please come talk to me before taking any exams. While it may seem hard to slow down law school or stop for a short time, in the long run it may be what allows you to thrive and succeed at it. Never hesitate to ask what your options might be.
Most of your courses in law school are graded by means of one examination that occurs at the end of the semester and that tests on any of the material you have covered during the semester. Exams are taken anonymously. You use an exam number that is issued to you by the Registrar each semester. Typically exams will be the length of time that matches the number of credit hours for the course. For instance, if you have a civil procedure course that meets twice a week for one-and-a-half hours each time, a total of three hours a week, the course is worth three credits, and the exam will usually be three hours long. A professor may give a shorter exam, a professor may tell you it’s a three hour exam but you can check it out and take it home for 24 hours to work on it. There are lots of variations although you won’t see many variations during your first year. Typically, in the first year your exams are scheduled - the Fall and Spring exam schedules are posted on the Registrar’s webpage.
Exams that are not scheduled at a specific time are called “unscheduled” or “open” exams. This does not mean they are “open book” — it just means they are unscheduled. An unscheduled or open exam may be picked up at specific times of the day on any day the registrar is open during the exam period. The exam is in an envelope. It is time-stamped out, you go to one of the specified rooms on campus to take the exam and then you turn it in to the Registrar when you are done. Again, if you have such an exam, the Registrar will get you information about the rules shortly before the exam period begins. You can see the exam schedule on the bulletin board next to the registrar’s office or on the web site.
First of all, it’s too early to start thinking about grades and I shouldn’t even have put in a question about them but my thinking it’s too early won’t stop you wondering, so here goes. Our grading scale goes from A+ to F and the number equivalents go from 4.3 (A+) to 0.5 (F). We have a mandated maximum average at this school. All first year classes and upper division classes with 20 or more students that use an exam as the primary basis for a grade in a class, must have an average grade for the class that is no higher than 3.0. A grade point average of 3.0 is a B average. This means an awful lot of you are going to get your first C+. The majority of the practicing bar lived through the experience. So will you. Mathematically speaking, 90% of the class cannot be in the top 10%, so congratulate yourself if you find yourself there and do not despair if you are not.
In the middle of the spring semester, we hold sessions on how to plan your upper division courses.
Many students would like individual counseling as they make decisions about their upper division courses. I am available for general advising on an individual basis. Those who know they are interested in specializing can meet with the head of a program to do academic planning.
In addition to the advising session, the faculty have written four curriculum planning guides that are available on the web site. The curriculum planning guides are “General,” “Natural Resources and Environmental Law,” “Business Law,” and “International Law.”
Although we do not assign individual advisers, faculty members are willing to meet with you about your schedule. Deans in charge of specific programs will meet with you, and members of the Career Services staff and the Academic Enhancement Program, and I, regularly meet with and advise students. Please don’t hesitate to ask any of us about how to plan your curriculum.
My first piece of advice is to be careful of all the advice you will get about how to get through law school. I vividly remember going to a noon session put on by one of the student groups not long before exams. Some upper division students did a panel on how to study in law school. The first person got up and explained in excruciating detail how to outline a course and stated that outlining was the key to success in law school. I took notes. I was profoundly moved. Well, not really moved but I did think I’d just learned the secret to it all. The next person began to speak and the first thing she said was “I’ve never outlined a class the entire time I’ve been in law school.” Well, what to do now?
The thing to do is to remember that, particularly in the first semester or two of law school, you are on two learning curves. One is learning legal analysis, legal vocabulary, how to articulate legal analysis in writing and orally, and you are learning lots of legal rules. The second learning curve is learning a little bit about how you learn. Do you take in information more readily if you hear it, if you see it, if you read it, if you talk it over with others, if you rewrite it in your own words? What makes something stick, really stay, in your mind? Build into your study habits those techniques that make the stuff stay with you. Listen to whatever advice anyone gives you but only use that which really seems to be a good fit for you.
There are plenty of books about how to study effectively and loads of people willing to talk to you about their perfect methods. Just remember that the fact that it works for me doesn’t mean it will work for you. Pay attention to your own instincts and know that while law school is a lot of work, it doesn’t all have to be hard work. It should stimulate as well as challenge. It should make you feel more competent as well as thick as a board.
Most of you will be facing for the first time in your educational careers a new kind of learning experience. You must enter the classroom prepared to discuss the material, not waiting for someone to just explain it to you. Whether you are called upon in class or not, your best learning will occur if you go into class ready to engage in discussion about the material. On the one hand, each of you must learn and know the material for yourself. On the other hand, some of your best learning will happen as you talk about the cases with each other and discuss them in class. It is the collaboration, the back and forth that will take you to the next level in your learning. You will learn from your professors and you will learn from each other. You are bright, capable people each of whom has much to add to the classroom experience. Trust yourself, even to the point of taking the chance that you will fall on your face now and then.
My analogy for law school is that it’s like taking up running. At first it hurts, one is not as fast as one wants to be, there are times when one just wants to say “forget it” and then there come days when your body seems to be doing everything just right and you feel great. As you take on this enterprise of going to law school you are about to exercise some new muscles. You won’t always be graceful. If this were easy, you wouldn’t be spending three years working at it before being allowed to get licensed to do it professionally. I think though that you will find even at the end of just a year that you have greatly expanded your skills of analysis and articulation. You will have some new problem-solving tools. Do be careful with them and don’t try to use them on your friends, family, or even on irritating sales clerks.
These are powerful tools and in addition to acquiring them, you will need to develop good judgment about when to use them. This is where friends, spouses, partners, and children can come in very handy. They will usually tell you when you’re getting a little too caught up in using an elegant, complex, objective legal argument when a simple statement of subjective preference would be just fine.
In a far shorter time than you can believe right now all of you will be in positions of extraordinary responsibility. Your judgment, your common sense, and your ability to understand, articulate, and argue the law may literally mean the difference between life and death for your client. It may be up to you to maintain the viability of a corporation that needs protection under the federal bankruptcy laws, whose employees would face joblessness or who would see their pensions disappear but for your ability. You may be the one that works with a community to bring about the protection of a wildlife habitat. In your hands may lie the life of someone accused of a terrible crime, or you may be the one who will fight for justice for the victim of that terrible crime. How you are perceived by these people sitting with you here in this room will have a tremendous bearing on how effective you can be for your clients. Start today making a reputation for yourself as civil, thoughtful, and clear-headed. Make it with the people who you are meeting today in your classes. Tomorrow they will be your colleagues, your adversaries, your judges, and your best friends. You start making your reputation today and your reputation is the most precious thing you have to offer your clients.
So, here’s what I’ve observed in 20-some years of talking to law students. First, law school could take up every minute you wanted to give to it. There’s always something more to read or talk about or review. While there is no doubt that this enterprise is going to demand a great deal of your time and that your family and friends are going to have to make some sacrifices for you to be here, don’t sacrifice your family and friends. Make time for the people who are important to you. Make time for yourself.
I can tell you this for sure, while you are in law school some of you will fall in love, some will end long-standing relationships, some will lose a parent or other family member to old age or to debilitating illness, some will be given added responsibilities at work, some of you will find your own personal demons go to work on you, or you will need to take care of a loved one who is suffering greatly. Should you find that the needs of your family, your loved ones, or yourself need all of your attention, come and talk to me. There are professionals available at the College of Arts and Sciences who have counseled hundreds of law students. There are counselors available through an organization called Oregon Attorney Assistance Program, who deal with addictions, stress, and feelings of being overwhelmed.
Depending on the nature of your difficulty, it may be that the best solution is to take a lighter course load or to leave school for a semester. When I mention leaving school, I know some people blanch but what I can tell you for sure is that the law school will still be here when you are ready to come back and we’ll be glad to have you back. You can leave us for awhile and pick things back up. That may not be true for your relationships or your own well-being. If a parent is dying, or a child in in trouble, you may need to be there now, not later. We’ll be glad to have you back when you decide to return and you will be the richer for having made sure that all of your life, not just law school, is attended to.
My last few words of advice on getting through law school start with this - don’t isolate yourself. Talk to each other, talk to your professors, talk to me, talk to the folks in the career center and the library. On the one hand, you must do law school on your own - it is very much a self-teaching, self-learning experience. Your professors are there to guide you but far more of the responsibility for your learning is on you in law school than it was in undergraduate school and in most other graduate programs.
Finally, you should expect great things of yourself - this is a great enterprise on which you are embarking. May it be a worthwhile and satisfying endeavor for you.