on June 24, 2005
I read Planet Law School in the summer of 1998 when the book was brand new, in the months before I began my legal studies. It was invaluable. I went to a "Top 10" law school (not literally, but rather as the term is defined in the book) and found the cynical advice to be on point. Law school is a business. Administrations are more interested in attracting and keeping top professors (and in soliciting donations from wealthy/influential alumni) than they are in ensuring their graduates will find fulfilling careers that also enable them to repay their crushing student loans. Planet Law School also accurately describes the socio-academic atmosphere at law schools - the contagious stress and anxiety, bordering on hysteria; the social stratification that occurs based upon class rank after first year grades are issued; the extreme difficulty those with mediocre or low grades have in obtaining respectable and well-paying employment through on-campus interviews. The book is less helpful (but still very enlightening) when it comes to its discussion on how to prepare for and do well in law school. I disagree with the author's theory that virtually any law student who follows his system and works hard will be able to excell in law school. I believe this is because, mistakenly, the author makes Black Letter Law and Thinking Like a Lawyer seem paramount. At least where I went to law school, these items were only half the battle. I had good friends who were in the top of my class and we often were enrolled in the same courses with the same professors. They consistently received top marks; mine were almost always mediocre. However, when comparing our final exam responses after the fact, it often turned out our responses were substantively identical (same points of law, same reasoning, same conclusions). The differences were our writing styles and the fact that my friends consistently delved into collateral issues that, while not responding to the "call of the question," were apparently topics of interest for the professor. Sometimes, my friends' responses virtually ignored the call of the question and they still Am-Jur'ed the course. (By the time I realized this, First Year was over; my grades rose dramatically by the end of Second Year, but in fall of Third Year most employers were not looking to hire 3L's.) While the author of Planet Law School does allude to the importance knowing each professor's "agenda," this crucial component of law school preparation should be more heavily emphasized in his book - even more so than "Black Letter Law" and "Thinking Like a Lawyer." After all, at any reputable law school virtually every student will walk into final exams knowing Black Letter Law backwards and forwards. To distinguish yourself (and earn top grades) you have to also appeal to and work in (no matter how tangentially) the professor's pet topics of interest or areas of research. As a post-script, the author and the law schools share a similar failing: They both fail to warn students about "insurance defense" law firms, which require billable hours comparable to the "Big Firms" but offer half the pay, a fraction of the chance to specialize in a practice area, and none of the respect. (The "clients" of such firms, insurance companies, also tend to treat their counsel as the enemy and will begrudge every tenth of an hour billed for.) To the uninitiated 2L or 3L, these firms often appear almost indistinguishable from the "Big Firms." Law students should be subtly warned to avoid insurance defense practice to the fullest extent they can, and instead seek government or boutique practice work in a speciality they enjoy so that they can eventually become well-respected practitioners in a field of specialty.
on January 25, 2004
I wrote a review of PLS before I hit law school, and since I now have a semester under my belt, I figured I'd update my thoughts on this particular tome.
First off, I should mention that I just got my first semester grades back, and I am in the top 5% of my class. I'm not going to gush like a schoolgirl and say I owe it all to PLS--after all, I worked hard, and I feel like I earned my grades. But more importantly, I worked SMART, and I think that is where PLS helped me the most. The case method can be a bit of a minefield, and I saw lots of 1L's worrying more about knowing the facts of these cases than knowing the rules that the cases illustrate. By and large, these are the same 1L's who are looking a little morose now that grades are out. I've heard a lot of 1L's promising themselves that they won't get as caught up in the details of the cases this semester; that they'll buy some commercial outlines and worry more about the big picture this time around. That's definitely a step in the right direction, but they'll still have their first semester grades hanging around their necks like an albatross. I'm glad I read PLS, because for all its faults, it taught me the lessons that a lot of 1L's only learned by getting reamed by their first semester exams. It taught me that knowing the cases backwards and forwards will not earn you good grades, and that sounding smart in class doesn't count for a thing. It taught me that the person who studies ten hours per week can get better grades than the person who studies twenty hour per week, if he's getting more out of every hour of study. For me, these lessons have made all the difference between working smart and just spinning my wheels on busy work.
Again, PLS has its faults. It's too long, because Falcon does a lot of ranting, and it becomes redundant after a while. It's poorly edited and has a lot of typos. And some of the law school horror stories bear no relation to the law school I attend. But that doesn't mean that all the info is bogus. You just have to use your brain a bit to separate the wheat from the chaff. Anyone who says that this is a bad book simply because some things are over-the-top or exaggerated is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. If you don't like his suggestion that you shouldn't buy the casebooks, well, buy the casebooks!! That's what I do (I buy them used over the internet for 1/3 what I'd pay at the university bookstore, of course). Stripped down to its core, the PLS message is about questioning everything, from the concept of the case method to the professors' pedagogical style to the bookstore's policy of charging $100 for a casebook and then buying it back for $15. And to me, that means even questioning PLS itself.
So if you simply want to be a sheep who obediently follows the rest of the herd, skip PLS and buy one of the 150-page feel-good books instead. You don't necessarily need PLS to do well, although following the pack is a good way to wind up in the middle of the pack. But for those who want to question things to see if maybe there's a better way to do it, for those who don't want to blindly follow conventional wisdom, and for those who don't want to take any chances with the all-important first year, give PLS a try. Adapt it to your own needs. Question anything in PLS that you don't agree with. Those are the attitudes that will set you apart from the pack.
on August 14, 1999
I finished my second year of law school, I made law review, I read Planet Law School when it first came out, and I've recommended it to many friends. One friend mentioned that she wouldn't buy it because of a review on Amazon. I was curious, so I took a look. I can't believe we're talking about the same book.
Many of my friends from law school did not make law review. Some of them are smarter than me. This book isn't about professors or "making friends" or any of that. It's about taking responsibility for your legal education. It's about preparing yourself, and about your attitude.
I owe my success to Planet Law School, and to Wentworth Miller's program recommended in the book. In fact, I continue to read it again every month or so.
I absolutely recommend this book to anyone who is considering going to law school. I would give it six stars if I could.
on June 15, 2000
I posted a good review of PLS on July 25, 1999 (right before entering), and after survival OneL, I wanted to write again and tell everyone how much MORE I recommend it. PLS definately helped me survive my first year. Pretty much, it was my bible. I found out that I was way more prepared for what was to come than all the other students. I was a walking advertisment for the book-- I mean, I recommended it to EVERYONE, current as well as future students. I will continue to do that- it is the only way I know to thank Atticus Falcon. I literally followed every bit of advise in PLS, and it showed in my performance, and in how I handled the extreme level of stress. I was able to handle the workload and the stress alot better than my sectionmates. I have absolutely no doubt that if I hadn't read the book- I would have either dropped out or flunked out the first year. This book is more important to first year survival than Black's Law Dictionary. There isn't one thing in that book that didn't come true. I highly recommend reading PLS the year before entering-- it is an absolute must for anyone thinking about law school.
on January 15, 2003
I am a 1L at a top-10 law school who purchased this book last summer. Having now completed one semester (and having gotten very good grades), I can say that I found Falcon's advice about how to approach classes to be mostly on target. Specifically, the LEEWS exam-writing system he recommends is worth buying, although it is not quite the panacea that Falcon makes it out to be (I found it to be extremely helpful for Torts and Contracts, rather less so for Criminal Law and Civil Procedure). His recommendations for how to study are also good (for example, he'll tell you to use commercial outlines if you can, and concentrate more on learning the legal principles in each class than on the minutiae of each assigned case). Finally, I entirely agree with his detailed critique of the Paper Chase and Turow's book ("One L")- if you try to imitate the "heroes" of those works you'll have a nervous breakdown and you'll get terrible grades.
However, I'm not sure I can recommend the book because of its relentlessly negative depiction of law school and the legal world generally, which I have so far found to be completely without foundation, at least at my school. Simply put, law school is really not as bad as Falcon makes it out to be. Falcon comes off like the Howard Beale of the legal profession, yelling that he's "mad as hell, and he's not going to take it anymore." Law school certainly isn't for everyone, but I'm just worried that people are going to be unnecessarily deterred from going after reading this book. The farther I got into law school, the less credibility his book as a whole had with me.
In sum, if you can only buy one book about law school, buy Law School Confidential by Robert Miller. If you can afford two books, go ahead and buy Planet Law School for its advice about studying, but don't take his ramblings about the horrors of law school too seriously.
on February 28, 2005
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I'm going to echo most of the reviews here.
Yes, many of the negative comments are true. Atticus Falcon is harshly cynical about law school and deeply embittered by his experiences there. His depiction of the law student's life is so dismal and over-the-top gloomy it's almost comical. To hear him tell it, you'd think you were entering the darkest circle of hell instead of a mere college campus. He wastes about half the book mounting the soapbox to make the same harangues over and over. And the editing is atrocious: there are more typos than you can shake a stick at.
That being said, every piece of advice Atticus Falcon gives is right on the money, from what to read before law school, to how to prepare for exams, to how to make law review, to internships and job interviews, and beyond. I followed his advice to the letter and made law review at a top-20 school. He never steered me wrong in practical matters. I wouldn't have done nearly so well if I hadn't read Planet Law School.
Sure, Atticus Falcon is hella cranky. Who cares? Let him bitch and moan, if it makes him happy. He's also an expert guide who knows what he's talking about. So, take his jeremiads with a grain of salt; but heed his advice meticulously.
on November 28, 2001
OK, there are a few very valuable things you can take from this book, and I'm going to tell you them here for free so that you won't have to read the cynical, soul-destroying rest of the text:
1. Know the law --generally-- before you start a given course & especially before going to class each day. Don't just try to deduce the law from the cases. Probably the best way to do this is to read Aspen's series including the famous two by Glannon on Torts and Civ Pro. Commercial outlines (Emmanuels, Gilberts, etc.) can fill in the gaps.
2. Make your own outlines & keep revising them as you go along.
3. Take the LEEWS course on audiotape before & again during law school. Don't just believe the simplistic "IRAC" advice that professors and upperclass students pass around. (BUT only for the exam-taking skills; his study tips border on the dangerous.)
But that's it. Don't, don't believe the rest of "Atticus Falcon"'s bitter, cynical, childish ramblings about legal education. Is he right that there's a problem with legal pedagogy? Absolutely. Is it a massive conspiracy of evil law professors out to get students? No, probably just institutional sluggishness. But more importantly, how can this possibly matter to you? You can't change it. "Falcon"'s 'advice' sounds like the whinings of a high-school student who wants to change the rules but couldn't get elected to the student council.
And who writes a book under a pseudonym anymore? Particularly such an obvious one? (He signs himself "Atticus Falcon, Member of the Bar, State of Flux") That's the sort of byline I would have come up with for an article in my high school newspaper, not a book which proports to give professional advice!
on June 9, 2000
PLS _is_ a godsend.
I spent a ton of money on the materials--but it was worth every penny. The Aspen series is easily the best material available for law school. I made law review and am at the top of my class at UF...a very good school...and I am probably transfering to at top 10 this Fall..
I definetly couldn't have done it without PLS. People I've talked to dismiss PLS because it (admittedly) kind of sounds like a "get-rich-quick" scheme... but its the furthest thing from it. Doing what PLS recommends entails working _much harder_ than most people do--even in Law School. The real point is the headstart that the primers and material gives you.
The faster you learn to "think like a lawyer" the faster you'll conquer law school--the headstart PLS gives you is INVALUABLE! How can you not want to go into first semester having already studied all the material once? How can this NOT be an advantage?
At my law school the major problem was--too MUCH study aids--no one knew what the good stuff was...PLS cut through all the bull and gives the straight dope...do what this man says and you will make law review. Its that simple.
on April 1, 2001
I have reservations in recommending this book. Not b/c it deserves negative feedback. On the contrary, I believe this book to be so informative that it would actually help my future classmates ( my competetion ) with their first year of law school. I actually read this book last year. Since reading, I have searched and research all there is about preparing for law school and I continually come back to PLS. One review stated that all this book does is point you to other info. This is true, however, I must say that there is much more valuable info. packed into his book. For example, he thoroughly covers classroom expectations, the socratic method, and exam preparation. The other materials he recommends are to further your prepartions in law school. Truly dispells the theory that there is nothing that one can do to prepare oneself for law school.
on April 29, 2005
If you're planning to attend law school, I'd say the one thing you really need to do once you've sent a deposit in to your school is get this book, the SECOND edition. You also need to set more money aside, because he recommends a lot of prep materials to get you ready to actually understand what's going on come the end of August or September. But you can get those materials used, and even if you just get some of them, you will be ahead of everyone else (unless they used these materials over the summer, too).
I worried about the criticisms of the book, as well as had some more valid questions of my own. I can address some of those off the top of my head:
1) The tone
I think most people who read this book have a problem with the author seeming to have "an axe to grind," and it makes some people suspicious. Honestly, to me, if you've ever heard about "The Paper Chase" or "One L," or if you even know people in law school, I'd wonder why you'd have a hard time believing some of the criticisms he gives of professors. If you know lawyers or have even met or observed some of the people who claim to want to be lawyers, I don't know why you would doubt his criticisms of lawyers and professors. I find the majority of pre-law students jerks and/or people who want to attend law school for the wrong reasons, to be frank...so why wouldn't lawyers or professors be jerks and not REALLY be there to do their jobs? Law school (or, rather, some law schools) might not be as bad as some books and movies suggest, including PLS, but his criticisms (or generalizations) of professors or, even, lawyers (in terms of not knowing as much as they should), even if they turn out to be wrong, really don't HAVE to have anything to do with his base advice...which is you would benefit greatly from summer prep. Regardless of what kind of professor you get, the material you are presented with and expected to learn (and, in many cases, already know) is great, and getting, at least, some familiarity with it doesn't hurt. What I have actually been able to do is not be bothered by his tone and stick to the basic idea of summer prep--in fact, I would say much of the second edition is not necessary for you to even read. You can if you want to, but the first and third parts of his book, some of the info about lawyers and professors, comments from students and the prep recommendations are probably the only things really worth much time and thought. Everything else is like long-winded commentary (or, as others think, excessive negativity).
2) The length, which I addressed above.
Skip some of that stuff, if it bothers you, and pull out only the most helpful info. Use the table of contents and the index to find what you need to know.
3) Are his recommendations actually any good?
From what I can gather, yes. The law school to which I have sent my deposit, as best as I can tell, is a PLS kind of school. Not only is my school mentioned in one of the comments sent to him by a law student who was letting Atticus know how right he was, but the current students with whom I've spoken have let me know in subtle ways that PLS methods will work there. This is a top 10 school, by the way, and that was also a question I had (see point #4 below). Basically, current students at this school swear by Examples & Explanation guides and LEEWS (only most of them discovered them AFTER entering school), have seen exam questions that have resembled material from E&E and have successfully used LEEWS on their exams...which I seriously considered not purchasing LEEWS because I have seen people say on message boards that they used LEEWS and their particular style of professor didn't want LEEWS-style answers on exams. There are also other books/guides mentioned by the author that either have extremely high ratings on this site, are recommended by way too many people with whom I've spoken to be a coincidence or were mentioned by current students at my law school as books that saved their butts in certain classes. I recommend that if you're not sure LEEWS or some of these books are necessary at YOUR kind of law school, you ask current students what they used or would recommend (but ask them as if you're speaking of materials for the fall, because they are almost sure to try to talk you out of summer prep). I can almost guarantee people will recommend E&E guides, at the very least. I would also recommend that in order to know whether or not LEEWS will work at your school, ask current students whether or not anyone there has used LEEWS and how it turned out...and/or get LEEWS over the summer and go through it just in case (or wait until you're in school, but it will be WAY harder to do LEEWS), get copies of old/example exams your professors give if you can and compare it to LEEWS methods. This is getting into points #5, but you have to be flexible in law school and adjust PLS according to what observable differences you actually see in action.
4) Does PLS apply more to some schools than others?
I still suspect that it might, but this is another thing you just have to question. However, I was supecting that PLS applied more to lower-ranked schools before I talked to current students at my top 10 (because I had witnessed more people from lower-ranked schools successfully using PLS, and I had the idea that top law schools worked more like elite clubs where you were treated 100% great and given EVERYTHING in order to succeed just because you were good enough to be accepted). In addition, PLS has testimonials from students who attend schools such as HLS and NYU. There's something different about YOU going and getting the evidence, though, so, again, I urge you to ask current students at certain schools key questions in order to gauge whether or not PLS might be effective there. I still say that, at least, E&E guides will be helpful ANYWHERE, as long as you use them correctly, though.
5) Burnout and learning things that you won't need to know for law school/you don't know what the professor will focus on.
Well, the second part of that is, once again, not the point, as Atticus points out. If you do what he says, you will have Black Letter Law down, so that all it will take once you get to the Bar Exam is relatively minimal reinforcing in order to do well. It's also about knowing all the essential Black Letter Law needed in order to ultimately be a great attorney. Don't think in terms of what you need to know for first year ONLY. Have the common sense to be flexible once you're in school. If you don't need to know something, great--put it aside for a second and focus on what you do need to know. As long as you can put it aside, it won't hurt you to have learned it--on the contrary, it will ultimately help. And having become familiar with those concepts prior to school will make it so that you won't need as much time to study and absorb the material once classes are underway. You won't be as overwhelmed once you get to school and in the thick of the fast pace, because you will have that familiarity and some knowledge. You want to become familiar with the way things work--you don't want to get bogged down. And you don't have to. And, to me, if you're going to law school, you should be interested in this material. So you shouldn't be getting burned out over the summer. Don't work hard on the summer prepping--you're not being graded just yet. But do try to pull as much info as you can in the name of making things easier for you later. And, later on, you can adjust somewhat in order to fit the professor's ways. Atticus actually advocates this (such as by learning the professor's favored jargon and using it on the exam).