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Book Review: Law School Labyrinth by Steve Sedberry, Esq.

Thinking about going to law school or preparing to enter one next fall? Then one of the items on your to-do list should be to pick up a copy of Law School Labyrinth: A Guide to Making the Most out of Your Legal Education by Steve Sedberry, Esq. I read this terrific book and shall explain in detail why those contemplating law school don’t want to miss out on all the indispensable information inside!

The book’s author, Steve Sedberry, received his Doctor of Jurisprudence from Vanderbilt University Law School and his Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Texas at Austin. Sedberry entered law school following a twenty-year career in industry. While in law school, he also taught as adjunct professor at David Lipscomb University. Prior to law school, he was the Chief Operating Officer of a large industrial manufacturing company. He had also served as the Vice-President of Sales and Marketing prior to the company’s successful initial public offering. Currently Vice President of Legal Service for VF Imagewear, Inc., a subsidiary of VF Corporation based out of Nashville, Tennessee, his teaching and business experience–particularly in the area of process control and continuous improvement–provides him with a unique insight into the process of law school.

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Licensed to practice law in both Texas and Tennessee, Sedberry is also admitted to the US District Courts for the Eastern District of Texas and the Western District of Tennessee. He’s a member of the American Bar Association and the Association of Corporate Counsel. Steve has addressed a variety of trade and educational organizations, and has been a guest speaker to the West Virginia legislature.

The analogy of law school to a labyrinth is apropos, and one that Sedberry employs throughout the book. Law School is nothing like undergrad – anyone preparing for or taking the LSAT knows that! Lesson #1 of the law school labyrinth is that “you must traverse the labyrinth in order to master it.” Sedberry goes on to detail many more lessons, and how to avoid false turns in the labyrinth. He covers also myths and proven ways to hit the ground running.

The frightening fodder that the dreaded Socratic Method engenders is tackled head on in the book, as Sedberry relates personal anecdotes from his own labyrinth travels. Far from scaring the reader, one comes away feeling empowered. Fear of the unknown is perhaps humankinds’ greatest Achilles’ heel, and knowing what to expect goes a long way indeed toward providing a stable base from which to launch into the labyrinth.

The “Money Minotaur” is covered in detail in Chapter 2, reminding readers that “law school is a three-year financial commitment” (18). Included in the chapter is a financial health quiz, financial options, as well as tips for procuring the necessary funds. Sedberry also covers the “afters,” such as monthly payments, consolidations, deferments, and forbearance options.

Future law students perhaps most want to know how to start law school a step ahead of the pack, which is covered in Chapter 3: “How to Hit the Ground Running Your First Day as a 1L.” Not only does Sedberry explain what the Socratic Method is, and why you should not be afraid of it—and in fact learn to embrace it—but he impresses upon readers the absolute critical importance of those first-year grades. Indeed, Sedberry avers that first-year grades determine who gets chosen for law review (a notable distinction), moot court, and even summer clerkships. Discussing “on-campus reconnaissance” and the pedagogy of the Socratic Method puts readers in the driver’s seat. Furthermore, Sedberry reveals casebook secrets and tips on how to navigate these seemingly archaic books filled with legal jargon of days gone by. Information is power, and this chapter arms its readers with the tools necessary to enter law school as a confident and competent 1L (that’s law school lingo for a first-year law student).

Chapter 3 delves into the role of the mysterious and oftentimes cryptic law professors as well, and includes a primer on the American legal system and sources of law. Additionally, Sedberry explains many other need-to-know items, among them the difference between a brief and a legal memorandum (“degree of persuasiveness versus objectivity employed by writer”), what case law is and why law students study it, and covers what to expect in a 1L classes. A 1L checklist ends the chapter, ensuring you’ve covered all you need to get started on this mighty, and reportedly intimidating, labyrinth.

Chapters 4 and 5 just might be the most utilitarian on your journey. Titled “Your Law School Study Approach” and “How to Prepare for Final Exams,” respectively, they explain how to traverse the conundrum of law school study approaches and the somewhat frightening usually once-a-semester exams. Sedberry explains the bell curve, ie in law school only so many As will be awarded, so many Bs, and so on. Some undergraduates might be chagrined to find they did not make the A cut, and Sedberry offers useful tips to ensure your placement at the top of that bell curve. Remember, every student in law school is just as smart as, or even smarter than, you. All are accustomed to achieving high marks and turning in competent academic work. Because of this, competition for those coveted A spots is fierce, not necessarily in the sense that students are fighting amongst themselves (though this sometimes occurs), but in the sense that students must push themselves to go above and beyond the best that undergrad institutions have to offer. Getting into law school is no easy feat; remaining at the top of the heap is more challenging still. These two chapters focus on fine-tuning your approach to studying, and how to prepare for—and ace—those do-or-die law school exams.

Of course most folks who have researched the idea of going to law school know how imperative and essential outlines are. Sedberry has one-upped that tradition with his own Pyramid Outline Method™ — so valuable and unique it’s trademarked!

At the risk of giving too many valuable secrets away from the book, Sedberry offers up one indelible tip for exams: Find your professor’s old exams with model answers in the law library. Take the exam before reading the model answers. In this way, you train yourself for “issue spotting,” which is what lawyers do day in and day out. Conversely, check the Internet to see if there are old exams online. There’s nothing wrong with reading old exams and preparing yourself for the formatting and types of questions you may encounter. Familiarity breeds comfort and confidence.

Sedberry relates an amusing personal anecdote about a 1L exam he took. Sounds like a no-brainer, but think back to the LSAT: Was any part of that grueling exam strictly intuitive? You’ll do well to remember that if you conquered that particular 3+ hour beast, you can do well on law school exams, too. All it takes is a little information power. For one thing, read the entire exam before beginning to write. Mr. Sedberry relates how he presumed a thoughtful professor had included a blank page for writing on. Keep in mind that, like the LSAT, you’ll have roughly 3 hours in which to write cogent answers to a particular set of fact situation(s). Imagine Sedberry’s chagrin when, after “blissfully” writing what he figured was the best exam of his law school career, he discovered that there was another page with yet another two questions to answer …. with about 30 minutes left! Moral: Read the entire exam, front to back, left to right first, and picture all the angles of the fact situation. In fact, it’s often helpful to start now by taking the opposite position on issues you feel strongly about. In this way, you learn to craft arguments—and anticipate others’ arguments. Skills any lawyer worth her salt can nary do without.

Sedberry covers also in detail many of the traits and skills you’ll need to develop as a law student and, ultimately, as a practicing lawyer: Deductive reasoning, analytical skills, analogical reasoning, hidden assumptions, Black Letter Law, et al.

Chapter 6 details “Summer Clerkships,” an enviable position for any law student. Oftentimes, these turn into referrals or even jobs. This is your chance to be an apprentice, showcase your talents, and capitalize on having a mentor. Sedberry points out that competition is tough for these coveted positions, so this is something to think about and prepare for ahead of time. Sedberry offers practical tips on maximizing your chances of landing a summer clerkship, some of which even pay at an equivalent rate to what first-year lawyers make. The book covers choosing a clerkship, the interview, and how to succeed once you’ve landed the clerkship (Sedberry rightfully points out that “clerkship” is somewhat of a misnomer; you won’t actually be a clerk in any traditional sense of the word, but rather a bona fide legal professional conducting real-time legal work for actual clients). This is your chance to show the legal profession what you can do. Keep in mind, Sedberry rightfully cautions, that many clerkships turn into jobs, thus the job is yours to lose. Additionally, he covers ways to score a clerkship by means other than through the school’s placement office.

“Your Second and Third Years” are covered in Chapter 7. There is an old adage floating around law school circles that ‘the first year, they scare you to death; the second year, they work you to death; and the third year, they bore you to death.’ Is this adage accurate? Reading the Law School Labyrinth can answer some of those questions. One thing is certain, more options open up to the law student that perhaps weren’t previously so transparent, and Sedberry covers selecting courses and choosing professors. He also weighs in on what are considered “essential second- and third-year classes.” Every choice you make should be done with an eye toward what your ultimate goal is, ie what area of law you’d ultimately like to practice. Summer programs are explained as well, along with law school publications and moot court opportunities. No stone is left unturned, no option left unexplored, as considerations are made also for research assistantships, legal clinics, joint degrees, and non-traditional students.

Chapter 8 gets to the nitty gritty—as if you haven’t found the previous 3 years tough enough—“The Bar Exam and Beyond.” Sedberry knows what he’s talking about: He’s licensed to practice in both Texas and Tennessee. No easy feat for anyone. Keep in mind that if you were smart enough to do well in undergrad, perform well on the LSAT, and get into law school, you have what it takes to pass the bar! Again, tenacity and preparation are key. Toward that end, Sedberry offers up what can only be called been-there-done-that practical, pragmatic advice. In other words, proven methods. This chapter not only covers the bar exam, but again details the “afters.” What now? What area of law will you practice? Sedberry advises to “aspire to find a practice area you will be passionate about” (199). And why not? This is something that you will conceivably be doing day in and day out for many years to come. Why not make it a mission, or even better, something downright enjoyable? If you love what you do, you never have to work another day of your life. With so many options in the law, choose wisely, and choose to fit your persona and associated talents. Sedberry covers the different options as far as law firms vs. in-house counsel as well, enabling readers to contemplate a well-rounded plan of action.

As a bonus, there are several appendices added, among them a sample first-year Pyramid™ outline for contracts and criminal law, a first year issues checklist, a legal memorandum, and more!

This writer queried Mr. Sedberry on why potential or future law students might need to read his book. Sedberry answered:

Law school is arguably one of the most demanding among post-graduate curricula. Law students who rely on their undergraduate study techniques do so at their own peril. Law School Labyrinth is designed to give the student a methodology that will assist in the development of their legal reasoning skills, as well as enable them to assimilate the ‘black letter’ law and showcase their new legal skills where it counts- the final exam. The stories contained in the book illustrate principles designed to help students succeed in law school.

This writer, who is preparing to enter law school herself, picked up innumerable indispensable tips toward that end. The book reads like a trusted friend mentoring potential and new law students, and provides both an invaluable roadmap and encouraging tips as readers make their way along the challenging journey to traverse the law school labyrinth.

Sami K. Hartsfield, ACP is an insurance defense paralegal, freelance writer, and NALA Advanced Certified Paralegal living in downtown Houston. She has worked as a law firm Webmaster, law firm social media marketer, and ghostwriter for personal injury law firms.