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  September 4, 2000

Paul's Book Helps Law
Students Excel at Exam Time

Most first-year law students realize that succeeding in law school requires moving beyond the days of memorization and "yes" and "no" answers. But turning that realization into a reality is often more difficult than students expect.

Jeremy Paul, professor and associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Connecticut School of Law, has co-authored a book meant to help students make the transition from successful undergraduate to stellar law student. In Getting to Maybe: How to Excel on Law School Exams, Paul and co-author Richard Michael Fischl explain law school exams in an effort to improve the reader's performance.

"There's a certain point in the education of an adult when rote learning is no longer what you want to accomplish," Paul says. "The law school exam changes the question from 'Did the person memorize the rules?' to 'Did the person solve the problem?'"

The two authors originally came up with the idea for the book in the early 1980s when they were both starting their academic careers at the University of Miami. After making a presentation to a student group at the university, the two realized that they shared many of the same ideas about improving students' performance on exams. Further research showed that there were no books that made their points.

Though there are countless books about surviving the first year of law school, their sections on exams are typically short, Paul says. Another genre is made up of short books about law school exams that don't explore the connection between the exam process and what you learn in school, he adds. A third kind of book serves as an introduction to legal reasoning.

"There was no book that tied all three together," Paul says. "We thought it was a big market for us."

While the idea for the book struck early in Paul's and Fischl's careers, they decided to put it on hold while they focused on their academic work. After Paul arrived at UConn in 1988, he contacted Fischl, now a professor of law at the University of Miami, and suggested they start working on the book.

After several trips between Connecticut and Florida, the book was completed and published by Carolina Academic Press last year. The publishers of the website Lexis-Nexis have posted test-taking tips from the book on their web page.

Response to the book, which went into its second printing five months after publication, has been enthusiastic. In an online review of the book, the author of a competing book calls Getting to Maybe a "Godsend." Professors at law schools around the country have told Paul that they make the book required reading for students who need help on exams.

At the University of Connecticut School of Law, Professor Deborah Calloway requires students in her methods course to read the book.

"My own faculty certainly has given me nothing but positive feedback," Paul says.

It's not only professors who have welcomed the book.

"I had a student who'd won an award come up to me on awards day and say, 'I never would have won this award without your book,'" Paul says.

With this sort of response from faculty, students and other authors, it seems surprising that no one else has written a similar book. According to Paul, the book's topic isn't one that interests many faculty members.

"I think that to write the book the way we did, you have to be more interested in the nuts and bolts of legal reasoning than a lot of faculty would be," he says. In addition, most people who become law professors did very well in law school, so as students they had no need for a book like Getting to Maybe.

Yet after grading years of exams, the need was clear to authors Paul and Fischl.

"It came about as a product of experience," Paul says. "To write this book, having graded thousands of exams was helpful."

Paul and Fischl plan to follow up the successful book with a law review article explaining why they wrote it. Paul hopes faculty members who read the article will also read the book. Doing so could change how they view law school exams and the way they approach them, he says: "We hope if faculty read it, it will make them ask 'Why are we doing what we do now?'"

Allison Thompson