Monday, July 6, 2009

Top 10 tips for success in law school

Whether someone is just starting out as a 1L student or getting ready to enter 2L or 3L year, the following tips can help with both academic and personal success.  These are my top 10 tips out of several hundred that could be given.

  • Have a restful summer.  Law school is hard work.  To get consistently high grades, law students need to work 50-55 hours a week outside of class.  It pays off to have a blissful and restful summer.  In addition to any work hours or class hours, have some fun.  Get lots of sleep.  Enjoy life.  Do at least some things that have nothing to do with law.  (And, if you are an entering 1L, do all things that have nothing to do with law.)
  • Learn how to manage your time well.  Many law students become stressed and overwhelmed because they do not take control over their time from day one of classes.  Flying by the seat of one's pants worked well for most students prior to law school.  It is the road to self-destruction and mediocre grades in law school.  Set up time blocks on a weekly schedule for completing all tasks regularly: reading for each course, reviewing the material again before class, reviewing class notes within 24 hours to fill in gaps and condense, outlining weekly, reviewing outlines, doing practice problems, working on papers or other assignments.  
  • Stop wasting time; that is, stop procrastinating.  Law students tend to waste enormous amounts of time if they do not have structured time management schedules.  Some of the big time wasters are interruptions from e-mails, instant messages, text messages, and phone calls.  Other time wasters are naps, errands, video games, TV shows, surfing the Web, and visiting in the student lounge.  Use these distractions as rewards after getting your work done rather than as time wasters to avoid work.
  • Use memory to advantage.  Unlike undergraduate school, the courses that one takes in law school need to be remembered because of the bar exam and legal practice.  Cramming does not reinforce memory because the information never gets into your long-term memory "filing cabinet" and disappears once you regurgitate the information on a final exam.  Law school courses have an overwhelming amount of material that needs to be applied on exams and not just memorized.  Because we forget 80% of what we learn in 2 weeks if we do not review it constantly, review every week of the semester is the key to good grades on exams and retaining information for later use.  It is easier to regain use of information for the bar exam (and practice) if one learned it well to begin with and merely has to "brush up" rather than re-learn.
  • Become efficient.  Efficiency is about making the best use of one's time.  Law students who constantly monitor how they are learning and hone their skills to be more efficient will excel.  Active learning techniques help one to become more efficient because one is using study time to learn rather than merely "do time" over cases or outlines.
  • Become effective.  Effectiveness is about getting the best results out of one's studying.  Law students who constantly monitor what they are learning and hone their skills to be more effective will excel.  Using learning styles to advantage will help one to become more effective.   
  • Take responsibility for your own learning.  In law school, you will not be spoonfed by your professors.  They will expect you to read in-depth, to review material, to ask questions if you have them, and to practice application of material on your own. 
  • Monitor your own learning.  Always as yourself questions to determine how well you understand the material.  Always evaluate your study habits to see what is working and what is not.  Then determine the changes you have to make.  Professors, tutors, and the academic support staff can all assist you in becoming a better student.
  • Undertake some pro bono or volunteer activities.  Whether you help with local legal clinics, build a house with Habitat for Humanity, or walk dogs at the local animal shelter, you want to get active helping others.  Why?  First of all, it helps you to remember how fortunate you are instead of becoming depressed by all the work in law school.  Second, it helps you become a better lawyer because you gain empathy for others and a routine of service to others.  Third, it helps you feel more connected to your law school's community which is most likely not your own home town.
  • Take good care of yourself.  Get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep.  Eat balanced meals rather than junk food.  Exercise several times a week.  Laugh every day.  Give yourself rewards for a job well done.  Law students often defeat themselves by getting liittle sleep, eating poorly, never exercising, and constantly focusing on the negative.

It is possible to do well in law school AND have time for oneself.  However, law students often fall into extremes - playing too much, sleeping too little, waiting until too late to do the work.  And, when they get in trouble, they often refuse to ask for help.  Do yourself a big favor and get help when you need it.  (Amy Jarmon) 

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