Learning Style in US Law Schools - A Quick Thought
I can still clearly remember how I learn the law during my days at the University of Indonesia. I seldom took any notes, usually I preferred to copy my friends' notes which were available for a cheap price at our beloved copy center, Barel. Most of the time, I sat at the back of the class since I'd already known that I can found most, if not all, of what the lecturers said in the learning materials provided by them in the copy center. And lastly, I usually learned for my exams during the trip from my home to the faculty (which took around 2 hours). As I said in my previous post, life is pretty simple and easy in the faculty of law. I even once declared my faculty as the most relaxed faculty in the South East Asia (that's during my trip for an international student meeting in Korea in 2004 and it is based on comparison with what other students doing in South East Asia, Japan, China and Korea).
I must say though that the above system is not entirely bad. Since the students were not that busy, I had plenty of time to do other activities, including joining student organizations, doing personal research (this is how I can have the time to learn Islamic legal theories), reading other legal materials that were interesting to me, taking as many classes as I want (I once took 8 classes in a semester without any difficulties), and of course, dating my girlfriend who later on became my wife :p.
But I guess I can no longer maintain that learning style in the University of Chicago. Last Thursday, I took a simulation test for a criminal law course concerning criminal attempt (percobaan tindak pidana). Although my quick answers are correct, I can't finished the exam in time! The problem? I used too much time to read the cases which serve as the background for the exam's answers. The cases have been provided two weeks ago to the LLM students, but I only have the chance to read it once and I already forgot everything by the day I arrived at Chicago (just coming out straight from a 19 hours flight). Facing this dreaded fact, I quickly realized that having the ability to correctly analyze legal issues is one thing, but you can't trick the pages that you need to read in order to complete your analysis and make it as a correct one.
So while reading the materials for my corporate law course, I start to understand little by little how the US law schools shape their legal education. This Cases and Materials book is designed so that the reader can't get a full understanding of the legal issues without reading the cases and materials completely. There are no simple summarized issues that can be easily grasped and memorized like in Indonesian law text books. You have to walk through a maze of judges opinions and excerpts of law review articles, and analyze the arguments within before you can reach any conclusion on what you have learned from those materials. Like it or not, you are being forced to read and think it through. But by the end of the day, the concept will stay with you forever.
While I consider this as a good method for studying the law, I also realize that this method requires a lot of preparation and therefore, it's time consuming. I can understand now why people do not recommend us to take more than 4 courses. Heck, I've already spent much of my time just for one course, what about the other 4 courses that I'm also taking? Wish me luck.