December 18, 2012
How should you spend your semester break if you are a law student?
We finish our exam period tomorrow afternoon. The first-year students finished yesterday. The building has emptied significantly since 5:00 p.m. after the last 1L exam.
Some students (especially 1Ls) have been asking what they should do over the semester break to get ready for second semester. For the most part, I advise them to relax, rest, recharge their batteries, and renew their relationships with family and friends.
They are often surprised that I do not tell them to read a study aid for each new class or start to read their casebooks. I realize that some of them are eager to "get ahead" and "have a leg up on their classmates" for the next semester. However, I caution them to not get too gung-ho.
Here are some reasons why I do not suggest a bookish break:
- Most law students are worn out after the semester and need time away from the law school routine.
- Many law students have become myopic over the semester without a life outside of law school and need to regain perspective on life outside the law school walls.
- Family and friends have endured the "loss" of their law student for 15 weeks and want to reconnect.
- Brain cells are often gasping from exertion and need a Florida vacation from the heavy-lifting of cases, hypotheticals, and legal analysis.
- Many law students have had too little sleep, too few nutritious meals, and minimal exercise for the entire semester - good habits need to be re-established.
- Professors will skip topics in the casebooks, take a different perspective on a course from a study aid, and emphasize different angles on a course - studying/reading ahead may cause a student to go off track before the course even begins.
- Reading a casebook or study aid without class discussion can lead to emphasizing the wrong material or, even worse, serious confusion about the material.
If a student really feels compelled to prepare for the second semester, I suggest that reading a good book on law school study skills might be more beneficial than a book about a course subject area. Books by Michael Hunter Schwartz, Herb Ramy, Dennis Tonsing, Ruth Ann McKinney, Andrew McClurg, John Delaney, Charles Calleros, Will Huhn, or other ASP'ers and professors will likely assist students who want to become better law students during the next semester.
Why do I say that? Many law students read "how to succeed" books before they arrive at law school. That is useful preparation, but I seriously think they get even more out of the books if they re-read them after they have at least one or more semesters under their belts. What previously was merely theoretical to them now has real context.
Students who are in their 2L and 3L years can also benefit from these books because they now realize they have specific, repeating areas of weakness that need to be addressed. If they do not know where they are weak, then the books will help them to evaluate changes that they may need in multiple study areas.
Most of all, I think students need to have a break - that is why it is called a semester break. It is fine to do some general evaluation of study skills and preparation to do better as a student. However, burning oneself out with studying before the next fifteen-week marathon is just asking for trouble. (Amy Jarmon)
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