Tips for Responding to an SEC Subpoena

Being forced to participate in an SEC investigation, even as a witness, can be a harrowing experience, and this is true whether you are a market professional, the CEO of a regulated entity, or an investor. That investigation can have a serious effect on your business, or your career and has the risk of consuming a significant amount of time, and money, even if you have engaged in any wrongful conduct. How you respond to the initial inquiry, and how you manage the events as the investigation continues often determines the outcome of that investigation..

Seal of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commi...SEC investigations can begin from a variety of sources, including anonymous tips, trading surveillance by the SEC, or the exchanges, customer complaints, or from information obtained by other government entities. Witnesses and even targets, often learn of the investigation by a simple telephone call from an investigator or staff attorney. That telephone call will be followed by a letter, which requests that you voluntarily provide information to the SEC Staff.

The first important step – do not have a discussion with the Staff, and should you ignore this step – do not give the Staff false information. Lying to the SEC can be the basis for a felony charge, and the last thing you want to do is to turn a defensible investigation into an indefensible criminal charge of obstruction. We have seen it happen in our own practice, and the world saw it happen – Martha Stewart went to jail for lying to SEC investigators. She did not go to jail for insider trading, and she had a viable defense to that charge.

From this point forward, you need to be involved, and to be proactive, and you need an experienced securities attorney. At this stage, the SEC undoubtedly does not have subpoena power, but that power is easily obtained. You must make a decision whether to voluntarily cooperate, and you should make that decision with an experienced securities attorney. Not only is a securities attorney knowledgeable about the law and the procedure involving investigations, the securities defense bar is small, and your attorney will have access to information and resources that you do not.

In addition, if there is any chance that you will become the subject of an investigation, or that any information you have may be damaging, you need to put an attorney between you, your employees and your company, and the SEC.

Your attorney will contact the Staff and attempt to determine what the nature and scope of the investigation. Unfortunately the Staff is not always forthcoming with that information, and you will have to prepare a response without knowing the scope of the investigation. Providing information on a voluntary basis is typically the better response, but not always, and you should keep in mind that some investigators can become quite vindictive if you do not voluntarily cooperate. Unfortunate, but true.

Together with your attorney you can manage that voluntary request to minimize the impact on your business. The SEC is notorious for asking for reams of documents, using demands that include “all documents relating to” an issue, and which can consume dozens of hours of time to identify, review and produce responsive documents. At this stage, you and your attorney can discuss the requests with the staff, seek clarification and modification of the requests to make that request manageable.

At this stage, you will also need to insure that documents, emails and notes, including electronic notes, are maintained and not destroyed. Employees need to be advised to preserve documents – no shredding, and no reformatting of hard drives. Again, being accused of destroying evidence after learning of an investigation can be worse than the outcome of the original investigation.

While the seriousness of the event is enough to cause concern, a large part of any subpoenaed broker’s concern is the fear of the unknown, including the procedure, what will be discussed and the target of the investigation.

While the SEC will not disclose the target of an investigation to a witness, or even his attorney, a knowledgeable lawyer can obtain SEC information that will lead to a reasonable idea of the witness’ role in the investigation and the scope of inquiry.

However, the process itself is not complicated, but is important to understand. If the SEC’s informal inquiry leads to the possibility of securities law violations, the Staff will obtain permission from the Commission to conduct a formal investigation – a document known as a formal order of investigation. This order gives the staff the ability to issue subpoenas, and they can serve those subpoenas on anyone, nationwide.

Where testimony is being compelled, the witness receives a subpoena from the SEC. The testimony is given under oath and recorded by a court reporter or tape recording equipment, is usually taken by an SEC attorney at one of their regional offices. An investigator is also present, and other SEC staff may attend.
Witnesses who are subpoenaed to appear and give testimony are entitled to see the formal order, and it should be reviewed carefully. It contains information as to the scope of the investigation, when it began and who is authorized to conduct it. Additionally, the formal order may contain information regarding staff conclusions and possible subjects of the investigation.

At the deposition, the Staff will make an opening statement and describe the general process to the witness. The witness is informed that he has the right to be represented by an attorney of his choice, that he may refuse to give testimony based upon his right against self-incrimination, and that any testimony given can be used in other proceedings. (In a FINRA on the record interview, a registered person has no such rights, and cannot assert his right against self-incrimination. If he does so, FINRA will immediately move to bar the individual from the industry, on the grounds that he has failed to cooperate in an investigation).

The witness will also be told that he cannot “go off the record” and that only the staff can direct the reporter to stop recording the session. This is a true statement, but witnesses should be advised of one salient fact — whether the reporter records the statement or not, the staff can use anything that is said. In other words, a witness is never “off the record.”

An examination typically begins with a series of general questions. Depending on the responses, these may take more than an hour to complete. General questions include: the witness’ name; date of birth; home and office addresses and telephone numbers; all telephone numbers; social security number; names of all immediate family members; full employment history, including job descriptions and dates of employment; complete educational background and identification of any securities- or business-related courses taken; all licenses held and when obtained; any disciplinary proceedings in which the witness was named; every occasion in which the witness has testified under oath; details of all lawsuits and arbitrations in which the witness was a party; involvement with any public companies; and the location of all brokerage accounts and bank accounts controlled by the witness.

The examination then continues into the specifics of the investigation. Although the details of the examination will vary, every witness must testify truthfully, fully and honestly. It is a federal crime to make a false statement or representation to any government official, including a member of the SEC.

During the testimony, the witness’ attorney’s ability to object to questions is somewhat limited. However, a witness is permitted to seek an attorney’s advice at any time during the examination, and any question that he does not understand must be clarified by the examiner. The witness has the right to review documents he is being asked to testify about if he does not recall the exact details of the response.

During the examination, it is important to keep in mind that the staff members who attend the deposition will have a role in determining whether further action will be taken. Therefore, the witness’ demeanor and attitude during the examination are important.

After the examination is over, the witness or his attorney is allowed to make a statement on the record. This must be decided on a case-by-case basis but should be used if there were any unclear responses that were not addressed during the examination.

At the examination’s conclusion, the witness has a right to inspect the transcript of the proceedings and may — at his own cost — obtain a copy. Although the SEC may deny transcript access, it does not do so in general practice. To correct substantive mistakes, an affidavit will have to be prepared, and there may be a request for an additional examination.

Unfortunately, the SEC has no obligation to inform witnesses of an investigation’s outcome or even its termination. In fact, the witness may never hear from them again. Should the matter proceed further, there are a number of other possible outcomes, including a cautionary letter, a referral to civil or criminal law enforcement organizations, a referral to a self-regulatory agency, administrative proceedings or injunctive actions.

Receiving a subpoena is not an indication that the SEC thinks you have done something wrong. Most people are subpoenaed as witnesses, not as investigations’ targets. The goal during this process should be to ensure that the witness remains a witness, and nothing more. That can only be done with careful planning and the assistance of an experienced securities attorney.

Trial Lawyers Usually Support Democrats

  • Congrats to Bita Khamsi, a Clark County public defender who was appointed as Justice of the Peace to fill the vacancy created by Judge Bill Kephart moving up to the District Court bench after the election. [RJ]
  • Here’s a look at AB 125, the “Homeowner Protections Act of 2015.” The bill has already been passed in the Assembly and Senate judiciary committee.  It may go to vote before the full Senate today, allowing Governor Sandoval to sign it into law early next week.   (Warning: this article includes insights into the political scene such as, “Trial lawyers usually support Democrats…” [Las Vegas Sun]
  • Two months in and Attorney General Adam Laxalt is making his mark. Here’s an interview with him. [KNPR]
  • Ousted family court judge Steven Jones is set to be sentenced next week. [RJ]
  • The City of Henderson has revoked its policy that anyone who talks to the media can be fired. City Manager Jacob Snow threw an attorney under the bus and said the language was mistakenly included by a new assistant city attorney who had worked in the private sector. So that’s where the buck stops in Henderson!?! [RJ]
  • The Pacific Legal Foundation is representing some clients in a lawsuit against the Nevada Transportation Authority regarding Nevada’s competitor’s veto law. The suit was filed in US District Court in Las Vegas and they’ve got Patrick McDonnell of Rainey Legal Group as local counsel.

The Law School Scam…isn’t.

[this is a cross-post from my blog, but i thought it may be relevant here to law students and especially potential law students, so i’m posting it here in its entirety.]

i’m no longer a lawyer, but i still keep my toe ever-so-slightly dipped into the blawgosphere. i still read above the law religiously. even though it’s a world i’m no longer part of, i still find it occasionally entertaining and more-than-occasionally interesting to keep an eye on that world, since i did make the mistake of dabbling in it myself for a little while.

over the last year or two, there has arisen a whole genre of “scamblogs”: blogs written by law school graduates that refer to law school as a scheme that convinced people to part with large amounts of money, enticed by promises of high starting salaries and financial security. these blogs are getting quite a bit of media attention now that the Newark Star-Ledger has recently published an article about the writer of one of the older and more well-known scamblogs out there, big debt, small law[which is currently offline; the link goes to a cached version].

it’s an interesting, and on some level, tempting argument made by this genre of blogs, but i think it is completely wrong. i think it’s completely wrong even though law school has financially ruined me, and was by far the biggest mistake of my life for that reason and several others.

the argument that law school is a scam is rather tempting. a lot of people who go to law school are enticed by the six-figure starting salaries at Douchebag & Douchebag LLP, and sign their lives away gladly, thinking they’ll make big money and be able to pay it off in a reasonable amount of time. it’s really easy to blame law schools for this. law schools don’t come out of this smelling like roses, since the goal of their recruiting is to bring in a full class of students each year who are willing to pay the tuition and fees…and, preferably, bring in a full class of students with higher entrance statistics than the previous year, so as to raise their ranking and justify charging even more money next year. they have no incentive to highlight the fact that not every marginally bright person who goes to law school gets one of those high-paying jobs, or even gets a legal job at all. they have no incentive to bring prospective students’ attention to the bimodal distribution of legal starting salaries. they have no incentive to portray the potential drawbacks of going to law school.

but, that’s not enough to make it the law school’s fault that law school ruined my life, your life, or anyone else’s life. the argument that law school is a scam rests on the flawed idea that it’s a law school’s responsibility to portray both its good side and its bad side to potential students. in short, it’s not.

would it be nice if they portrayed law school realistically? sure. but, law school is a product, just like anything else. very few products are required to advertise how using them could blow up in your face; the only things i can think of that have to talk in their promotional materials about potential negative side effects are prescription drugs, alcohol, and tobacco products. ads for subprime mortgages or credit cards always focused on what you can get, not the stress of paying them off. fleabag motels don’t actually put pictures of their nasty beds in their advertisements. dicey vacation areas always show pictures of pristine beaches, not shantytowns. how do you find out what’s bullshit in the advertising, and what the reality of the product is?

you do your research.

you find out what kind of work a lawyer has to do, and you find out whether you’d enjoy doing that sort of work or not. you find out what the distribution of incomes in the legal field is. you find out whether you’d be able to stand a job in biglaw if you actually managed to get one. you find out whether you’d realistically be able to pay off the exorbitant amount of debt if you can’t get a job in biglaw. you assess your interests, capabilities, and life goals, and decide if being an attorney fits in with that. you decide whether making the sacrifice of going to law school is worth it. and, you ask yourself, whether you’re willing to take the hit, to live with all that debt and all those years of your life, lost, if you find out that being a lawyer is not all it’s cracked up to be.

for some people, it’s worth it. for me and many others, it isn’t.

i don’t blame law school [either the specific one i went to, or the more general institution of law school] for the fact that law school was the biggest mistake of my life. i blame myself. i did some of my homework, but i didn’t do all of it. i had insufficient experience in the real-world to realise how crushing all that debt would feel. i didn’t take off my rose-coloured glasses and realise that the legal profession was as stodgy as it is, and that i didn’t have the energy or desire to fight the good fight for weirdos in the legal profession. i didn’t think critically enough about the actual work that lawyers do to realise that i’d find it unsatisfying–until i was actually out of school and faced with the reality of having to do it full-time. in short, i wasn’t scammed. i did something really impulsive and stupid, and i have to pay the price for it for the rest of my life. it’s my fault.

in short, calling law school a scam is an excuse. it’s an attempt to shift responsibility for doing insufficient research and making a stupid decision away from yourself and onto someone else.

Temporary Multiple Personality Study Disorder

Re-posted with permission from Like Falling Off a Blawg, by Shan.
 
1. You are super excited to hand in your memo and be done with it. Until you realize it means you have to prepare for exams.

2. You feel a surge of energy as you begin to prepare your outlines. Until you discover your first exam is CivPro. Yuck.

3. You cannot wait to crack open the commercial outlines you bought and let their wisdom flow into you. Until you realize your professor is the crazy one who uses a completely different casebook and focuses on different cases than those in the outlines.

4. You excitedly start counting down the days to the end of the semester. Until you start counting down the days to the end of the semester. WHERE HAS THE TIME GONE?!?! I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH TIME! GAHHHH!!!

5. You loathe the idea of applying for jobs already. Until you realize preparing your resume is a good distraction from studying.

6. You responsibly vow to avoid Facebook so you can focus. Until you realize you’re desperate to see if your classmates are panicking too, so you hop on Facebook.

7. On the day of the Big Game you decide to watch with friends and take a break. Until you start arguing that Official Play Review is sort of like binding arbitration. Hey, Cougars, you AGREED that the official’s call would be binding! SUCK IT!

8. You wisely decide to forgo alcohol while studying. Until you go over Subject Matter Jurisdiction and pray that a glass of wine will wipe it all out again.

Some perspective while you’re waiting for grades

The following was first posted on the now-deceased blog, i.don’t.wear.skinny.jeans.  By some freak of the blogosphere, I found this post and secured the author’s permission to re-post it.  Enjoy. 

I rode the crazy train during my first year of law school as much as anybody.  Answer a question in class; think you’re amazing.  Get a question wrong in class, think you’re an idiot.  Get a good grade; think you’re amazing.  Get a bad grade; think your life is over.  Get on a secondary journal; think you’re amazing.  Don’t get on law review; think you’ve failed.

And it won’t stop there.

Get an offer for a firm for your 2L summer job; think you’re amazing.  Don’t get an offer from Most Prestigious Law Firm for your 2L summer job; think your social status will crumble.  Graduate in the Top X percent of your class; think you’re amazing.  Don’t earn Order of the Coif upon graduation; think you’re a loser.  Get a clerkship after law school; think you’re amazing.  Don’t get a clerkship with theSupreme Court of the United States; think you’re a nobody.  Start working and bill 2300 hours in your first year; think you’re amazing.  Realize that everybody else is billing 2600 hours; think you’re a slacker. Get a fancy new SUV; think you’re amazing. Realize that you’re basically driving a mini-van; shed a tear.

But how many of us grow up dreaming of getting an A+ in Contracts or working for Law Firm X?  How many of us see that as our goal in life, even now?  I’m not trying to be deep, like, “whoa, dude, our existence is fleeting,” or “there is no reality, we are all dreaming.”  But while it’s good to take pride in what you do and strive to achieve good grades, law review, competitive clerkships, and prestigious jobs, there’s no sense in tying your happiness in life to metrics that may impact your delicate ego, but likely have no bearing on your definition of happiness, whatever that is.

I write about this a lot, but it doesn’t always sink in.

Law is a career where you can’t complain.  Everybody has a war story that trumps yours.  It seems like law school and the ever after is all about finding war stories that will one-up other people’s, just to impress them.  You had to work 72 hours straight and had a partner throw a pen at you?  That guy over there worked 100 hours straight, had a partner hit him in the head with a stapler, and that was in his first week at the firm!  There’s no sympathy for the toil because everyone goes through it.   But that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to lose sight of what you’re trying to get out of life.

Maybe your dream involves finding that special someone and starting a family; maybe it involves finding that special pay check and buying a boat.  Heck, maybe your dream really is about sucking up as much prestige as possible so you can forever feel superior to your friends and enemies.  Whatever it is, don’t forget it as we go through the ups and downs of Early Interview Week and beyond.

When I was growing up, the standard line was this: find a career doing something interesting, try to be successful in what you do (which could mean earning baller dollars, just enough to be financially secure, or doing something that satisfies that elusive it), and do that family thing that people do.

For better or worse, a majority of law students end up on the private sector path, which presumably falls into the category of doing something interesting and becoming financially secure (but if your only pleasure in life is doing employment compensation, power to you).  But it is unlikely that working at Some Law Firm is how you define yourself and your goals in life.  If you remove the “oh em gee, I need to work at Vault Firm X” factor, I’m pretty sure that most of us are going to end up doing work that we find interesting, at a job that pays reasonable compensation, and putting in hours that make us want to cry.

Punitive Damages in Ontario Employment Law – Pate Estate v. Galway-Cavendish and Harvey (Township)

American courtroom dramas and John Grisham novels tend to skew Canadian views on what punitive damages are and how they are awarded.

The Ontario Court of Appeal’s November 2013 decision in

Pate Estate v. Galway-Cavendish and Harvey (Township) provides some clarity on the awarding of punitive damages in the employment law context.

What are Punitive Damages?

In Whitten v. Pilot Insurance, the Supreme Court of Canada articulated the purpose, appropriateness and range of punitive damage awards in Canada. An award for punitive damages is only appropriate if conduct is “high-handed, malicious, arbitrary or highly reprehensible … that departs to a marked degree from ordinary standards of decent behaviour.”

Punitive damages awards are not appropriate to compensate the plaintiff, but rather to provide retribution, deterrence and denunciation as a result of the defendant’s conduct. Factors a court considers on awarding such damages, including:

  • Blameworthiness of the defendant’s conduct;
  • Degree of vulnerability of the plaintiff;
  • Need for deterrence;
  • Other penalties paid by the defendant; and
  • Any advantage wrongfully gained by the defendant.

Confusion often arises with respect to the difference between “punitive” and “aggravated” damages, terms which are often conflated and used interchangeably. As per Vorvis v. Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, the general rule for awarding aggravated damages is to compensate the injured rather than punish the wrongdoer.

Punitive damages, however are an exception to this rule, since they are designed to punish the conduct of the defendant. Unlike punitive damages, aggravated damages are aimed at compensating the plaintiff, while taking into account one’s intangible injuries, such as distress and humiliation, that may have been caused by the defendant’s insulting behaviour.

Pate Estate v. Galway-Cavendish and Harvey (Township)

After nearly ten years of employment at the Corporation of the Township of Galway-Cavendish and Harvey (the “Township”), Jordan Gordon Pate’s employment was terminated on the basis that the employer had uncovered financial discrepancies. No further particulars were provided to Mr. Pate and he was told that if he resigned the police would not be contacted. Mr. Pate refused to resign.

Upon his dismissal, the employer turned over information to the Ontario Provincial Police which resulted in criminal charges being laid against Mr. Pate. After a four-day criminal trial, Mr. Pate was ultimately acquitted of the charges.

Mr. Pate successfully sued his former employer for damages for wrongful dismissal and malicious prosecution. At the Ontario Court of Appeal, the Township appealed the Superior Court’s award of $550,000.00 as punitive damages awarded to Mr. Pate.

Double Compensation and Double Punishment

In Whiten, the Supreme Court of Canada held that Canadian courts must refrain from awarding plaintiffs double recovery, “once under the heading of compensation and secondly under the heading of punishment (Whiten, para 116).”

At the Court of Appeal, the Township contended that the award for compensatory damages related to many of the same factors as the award for punitive damages, resulting in “double compensation” to Mr. Pate and “double punishment” to the Township.

These factors included:

  • Damage to Mr. Pate’s reputation;
  • The Township’s unfounded allegations of misconduct;
  • The Township’s failure to provide Mr. Pate with particulars of the allegations or an opportunity to respond; and
  • The ultimatum provided to Mr. Pate that police would not be contacted if he resigned from his employment.

The majority of the Court of Appeal agreed in part with the Township and reduced the punitive damages award to $450,000.00.

The majority opinion held that punitive damages award in this case failed to take into account the overall set of damages awarded to Mr. Pate, which also included compensatory damages in the amount of $34,100.00, general and aggravated damages in the amount of $75,000.00 and substantial indemnity costs. This, the Court concluded, was contrary to “the requirement that an award of punitive damages, ‘when added to compensatory damages, must produce a total sum which is rationally required to punish the defendant (Pate Estate, para 202).”
Where the Law Stands

As stated at the outset of this blog post, Canadian courts rarely order punitive damages, and certainly steer clear of the exorbitant penalties frequently imposed south of the border.

This ruling reiterates that “compensatory damages also punish. In many cases they will be all the ‘punishment’ required (Whiten, para 123).”

Nonetheless, the $450,000 award in Pate stands as an important, but rare illustration of Ontario courts’ willingness to impose significant punitive damages in the employment law context.

5 Tips on Marketing for Law Firms (Video)

The world of marketing remains a bit of a mystery for many legal professionals.  We know enough about it that many of us become do-it-ourselfers for our websites, blogs and even our branding.

Nonetheless, there is much we can learn from true marketing professionals.

To that end, I have the pleasure today of introducing the first in a series of videos on Marketing for Lawyers and Legal Professionals I’ve done withSandra Bekhor of Bekhor Management and Toronto Marketing Blog. Sandra’s firm provides marketing and practice management services nationwide to lawyers and other professional practitioners.

In this installment, Sandra discusses marketing for lawyers and provides 5 tips on taking your firm’s marketing endeavours to the next level:

Here are Sandra’s key tips from the video:

1. Track where your client enquiries are coming from.

  • Generate data on what’s working for your firm today by asking your intake staff to ask new clients how they became aware of your firm and by including a question on your intake questionnaire that asks this same question. And, of course, remember to thank your referral sources.

2. Analyze your marketing budget (and spend wisely)  

  • Be aware of how much you are investing in each of your marketing initiatives over the course of the year, and determine which of those initiatives are delivering a good return.  If an initiative isn’t working, discontinue it.   If you are seeing success, consider how to extend and build on that success.

3.  Decide what you want your marketing to generate for you, and use marketing to shape the practice you intend to build.

  • Consider the “80/ 20 rule:” 20% of your practice drives 80% of revenue.  Decide what you want more of, and direct your marketing efforts toward those outcomes. Develop a sense of who your “ideal” target client is, and target those clients.
  • This applies to each individual lawyer.  Take a look at your practice – the kind of work you are doing and the kind of work you’d like to be doing.  Focus your marketing efforts on reshaping your practice to align with your professional aspirations and goals.

4.  Develop a plan

  • After analyzing what has already been working, deciding where you want to get to and establishing your budget, you will have compiled much necessary information to feed and direct your law firm’s marketing plan.
  • While there are many steps to getting there, ultimately your marketing plan is an action plan.  It tells you what projects you should be working on – develop a logo or tagline, expand your engagement on social media, arrange speaking engagements, or update your website, as examples.
  • It will likely include marketing activity that the entire firm will participate in, as well as personal level activities that are customized to each lawyer’s strengths and interests.
  • If a stated goal is to open x new files in a preferred area of practice or to drive y dollars in revenue by end of year, your plan will also help you determine how many of these marketing activities will need to happen (and at what frequency they must happen) to make your goals a reality.

5.  Implement your plan before the ink dries

In fact, start implementing even before you finish the plan.

6.  Bonus Tip (from me):  Involve Marketing Professionals

  • Marketing professionals bring objectivity, understanding of the marketplace and an assortment of strategic and creative skills to any law firm marketing initiative.
  • But perhaps most importantly, marketing professionals can help law firms to identify and clearly articulate their authentic identities and strengths.  They then can work with us to translate these articulated strengths into marketing initiatives aimed at building the kinds of practices we all genuinely aspire toward.

It’s not quite as simple as “if you build it they will come,” perhaps.

But if you build it and market it appropriately and professionally – and your firm delivers the quality of service it promises to deliver – you are likely to have a very successful career in the practice of law.

For the professional practice of today, I’d suggest, marketing has become one of the necessary – and unavoidable – components of such success.

Tips for 0L’s: How to Prepare for Law School Over the Summer

 

Everyone will tell you something different about law school preparation.  There is one camp of people that think the best advice is “Don’t spend one second studying your summer before law school. Instead, relax, travel, spend time on your hobbies and goof off…because you won’t be able to at all during law school!” (This is an over-exaggeration by the way, I took one full day off every week and still graduated as the number one student out of over 200 students in my class…It is all about finding the right balance!)  There is another camp of people that spends their entire summer reading every law-related book they get their hands on in hopes to get a head start on preparing for law school.

Neither of these approaches are wrong but they are not necessarily right for everyone either.  On the one hand, it is probably not the best idea to become completely mentally lazy or law school may be too big of an intellectual shock for you.  On the other hand, however, you also don’t want to work so hard that you burn out before you even begin school.

The best approach that I recommend is a middle-ground approach: Do some preparation before law school but do not dedicate your entire summer to it. Relax, have fun, travel if possible…but also put in some hours preparing.  Why? It will ease some of your law school anxiety, help you feel prepared and confident, and it can even have a positive effect on your final grades.

What is the best way to get ready? There is no one-size-fits-all approach to law school preparation. I recommend you pick and choose a few things to start with on the list below. If you are not in the mood to dive right into law school material, prepare by doing things that are less law-school-y and maybe add in a few things that are more law-related closer to when your semester begins:

  • Read a lot. Read intellectually stimulating books on history, economics, or political science. Read anything that will challenge you, expose you to different worldviews, and help you to think critically. This will help you get used to the workload in law school as well as the classroom discussion, which will strongly emphasis critical thinking.
  • Get a head start on Legal Writing and Research. Chances are, you have a required Legal Writing and Research course to take your first year of law school. That means that you are going to have to learn how to write all kinds of case citations, become very familiar with the “bluebook” and have a good handle on legal lingo. It can be daunting to start learning all of this in law school (when you have 10,000 other things to do) but if you pre-order your legal writing books you can save yourself a headache by getting a jump-start before law school begins.  I started learning a few basic things about legal writing maybe a week or two before my law school semester started but I remember being very grateful for the head start.
  • Learn the Law. The best way to learn the law is to buy a supplement that covers a topic that you will learn your first year of law school. My favorite series was the Examples and Explanations series (but there are many options: Glannon Guides, Siegel’s.) I didn’t discover these until I went to law school but I knew students who were well-versed in Contracts, Torts,  Civil Procedure and other subjects because they had read a few of these books the summer before law school.  If you read a supplement or two, not only will you know the law for that subject well, but you will have an idea of how law school classes are structured. Teaching yourself a law school course is pretty time-consuming so I only recommend this to serious students who are willing and able to dedicate the time required for such a task.
  • Learn the skills you need to succeed:  Of all ways to prepare, this might be the most useful. Law school is very different from undergrad and requires a new set of skills. You need to learn how to read and brief cases, outline, memorize your outlines, answer questions “on call”, and take law school exams.  Before I went to the law school, I spent many hours learning the skills I needed to succeed in law school and I can say it made the difference between being average and graduating as the number one law student.  (I now teach all of these skills in an online Law School Preparatory Course). There are also law school preparation books that can help teach you the basics about some aspects of law school (Getting to Maybe is a popular one).
  •  Develop good habits: Sleep. Exercise. Learn to prepare healthy meals.  Good habits are underrated in law school and you will be surrounded by classmates who put physical health on the backburner. Physical health is important, in part, because it is intimately related to mental health.  If you are looking to increase your concentration, focus, and recall – and ultimately do well in class and on law school final exams – maintaining a healthy lifestyle is something you should make a priority.
  • Relax.  The “first camp” of advisors have a good reason for telling students to relax before law school. You will have a lot of work to do in law school. Making time to relax, spend time with family and friends, and rest your brain should be something you take full advantage of while you do not have deadlines and exams weighing on you. Relaxing will rejuvenate you and help you feel ready to dive into the work that awaits you when you begin your semester.

 

Is it impossible to do well in law school if you do not prepare ahead of time? No. However, some pre-law school preparation will certainly help ease anxiety and prepare you ahead of time for the challenging task that lies ahead of you.

Ashley Heidemann graduated as the number one law student out of over 200 students in her class of 2011 at Wayne State University. She now works as a tutor for law school and the bar exam. She also teaches an Online Law School Preparatory Course . For more information, visit her site at www.excellenceinlawschool.com.

10 Real Law School Personal Statements

LSAT Blog Real Law School Personal Statements

If you’re reading this, you’re probably applying to law school. I know this process isn’t easy, and it can be incredibly frustrating at times. However, each year, many people overcome the hurdles and get into the law schools of their dreams. You ask yourself, how’d they do it?

When I first started LSAT Blog, there wasn’t any organized place where law school applicants could benefit from the experience of previous applicants. It seemed to me that future applicants should be able to benefit from the lessons others learned along the way. My first attempt to solve the problem was by collecting their LSAT Diaries.

The project was almost too successful. There are now over 100 LSAT Diaries – more than most people will read. Once I organized them, I started thinking about how to make them more accessible. I published short compilations of tips, but you wanted more. So, I published a compilation of the best tips from LSAT Diaries.

This book is the next phase of that project. In it, I’ve compiled 10 actual law school personal statements written by LSAT Blog readers. They generously agreed to share their work to help you get your creative juices flowing.

To that end, I’ve put together a new book, “10 Real Law School Personal Statements.”

I hope these examples inspire you to write a successful law school personal statement.

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Note: Some of these are longer than I’d recommend. Your law school personal statement should be about 2 pages, double-spaced, unless stated otherwise.

For tips on the law school personal statement, check out my new online law school personal statement video course.

Law School Personal Statement Tips

Law School Personal Statement TipsMy in-person and distance LSAT students often ask me to read over their personal statements.

When giving feedback, I try to place myself in the position of the admissions committee. I look to see whether the personal statement answers the following questions:

1. Do you have the discipline, focus, stamina, and commitment to successfully complete the law degree?

2. Do you take initiative and have a proven aptitude for self-motivation?

3. Have you demonstrated the ability to work under difficult conditions or through obstacles, hardship, or other distractions that might arise and potentially hinder progress in law school? (It’s not required, but share your story if you have.)

4. Do you have long-term plans (even though such plans can and probably will change more than once during your time in law school) that require a law degree? Do you aspire to become a leader in society and/or in the chosen specialty (again, even though the current chosen specialty might change)?

5. Have you become involved in extracurricular activities because these opportunities have supplemented the college/post-college experience and/or strengthened leadership abilities, rather than just making you look busy and providing padding for a law school application?

6. Why are you interested in this particular law school, rather than the many other excellent schools out there?

7. What will you offer this particular school that they wouldn’t get if they selected someone else instead?