Saturday, November 24, 2012
I did not cook for Thanksgiving this year. My best friend and I decided to go out to dinner instead. I realized in the days after Thanksgiving that I basically was content not to have leftovers crowded in my refrigerator. Except maybe the from-scratch cranberry sauce. And the stuffing. But the turkey, green beans, succotash, gravy, potato au gratin, sweet potato casserole, crescent rolls, pumpkin pie, pecan pie - well you get the picture - were not missed.
I realized for many of my students, the last week of classes (at our law school immediately after the holiday break) is a lot like leftovers. More reading, briefing, and new class material up to the last minute are now no longer appealing. One is already sated with those items and ready for something else. The professors who wrap up or review material are like the favorite leftovers that one is happy to have servings of for the next 5 days after the holiday.
Like all of us who ate too much and sat overstuffed on the couch after the holiday meal, our students are lethargic when it comes to more class sessions. They are focused on exams and want the leftover classes to be over. Wrap-up and reviews make sense because they go along with the exam purposefulness that students have. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
I have watched this classic law school film multiple times over the years and vividly remember seeing it in the cinema when it first came out (long before I ever ventured across a law school threshold as a 1L student). Recently I decided to watch it once more because it had been several years since my last viewing.
The film has always seemed to me to be the perfect commentary on how not to have a study group. I was reminded of those points once again. Here are some of the things we learn from the movie:
- A study group needs to have members with the same goals and purposes to avoid logistical and group dynamic problems.
- A study group needs to have some ground rules so that each member knows the responsibilities and etiquette of the group.
- A study group will falter if each person is assigned one course to specialize in because only that one person learns the course well and the others suffer if the expert drops out of the group.
- A study group will have conflict if its members become overly competitive, are argumentative, refuse to negotiate on tasks, or hold others hostage by refusing to share information.
- A study group does not belong to the person who invites others to join; it belongs to everyone and should be cooperative.
- A study group will be disrupted by members who become overwhelmed and are unable to pull their weight in the group.
- If one does not study outlines all semester long and distribute learning the material, it may require holing up for days with no sleep at the end in order to cram.
- Learning styles within a group vary; one person will consider an 800-page outline a treasure while the others will view it as a curse.
- Always have a back up copy of your outline in case your computer crashes (or your outline is accidentally tossed out a window).
My wish for all law students would be to have supportive, cooperative, hard-working study groups without drama and negativity. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, November 15, 2012
When reviewing 1L's first drafts of practice exams, there is one problem that always comes up: writing in law is not creative writing. 1L's get confused by this statement, especially when their professors tell them that creativity is an important part of lawyering. However, the creativity that law professors are referring to, and the creativity that law students try to demonstrate on exams, are two different things. This is a particular challenge for students who majored in English in undergrad, and for law students who previously worked in creative fields, such as PR or marketing. Students need to understand that the purpose of writing for a legal audience is different from the purpose of writing in those fields. Lawyers need to be understood. A creatively written contract, that uses terms of art in new or novel ways, is likely to be misunderstood by the parties, and wind up in court. This is NOT what a lawyer wants when they write a contract. Therefore, lawyers use terms of art carefully; in fact, lawyers use words carefully. The goal of writing for a legal audience is not to show them how many 25 cent SAT words you know; the goal is to be understood.
Here are some other basic rules of writing for a legal audience that 1L's frequently misunderstand:
1) Using the same words throughout an exam is smart. Don't try to change your vocabulary so you don't overuse a word. That rule is true for creative writing, but it undermines the coherence of your essay when writing in law.
2) Keep your sentences short. Long sentences frequently contain too many ideas that need to be discussed separately.
3) Use linking words, like because. Although your sentences should be short, you need to be sure that you make explicit connections between law and fact. You are not a fiction writer; you do not want to make the reader make inferences. Spell it out for them.
4) A paragraph should focus on one idea. If you have a new idea, start a new paragraph. If you reread your work, and find that you have multiple ideas in one paragraph, chances are you are not discussing any one idea completely.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Have you noticed your 3L students struggling a bit? They stop to chat and tell me that they are lacking motivation, have the blahs, cannot focus, or other descriptions of their malaise when it comes to law school.
For some, it is that they are focusing on their job hunt and have taken their focus off courses. For some, it is a focus on December graduation and chomping at the bit to be done. For some it is a focus on taking the bar in February before their final spring semester is over and thinking about bar review now. For many it is just being sick and tired of law school with this semester and another one left to go.
For many of our 3L students, the third year seems like more of the same. The study tasks are just like the first two years. Unless they have elective courses that really grab their attention and introduce them to or re-immerse them in an area of law that they have a passion for, the courses seem uninspiring.
Some exceptions to the 3L boredom problem are our externship and clinic students. They seem to be energized by the change of pace they have during the semester. Other exceptions are those students who are in Trial Advocacy or other practice-oriented classroom experiences. Students who have traditional classes with even some component that breaks the mold (one drafting assignment, one client interaction, etc.) also seem more engaged in those classes.
What can 3L students with the blahs do to increase their motivation and focus if they do not have any of these types of classroom experiences? Here are some thoughts:
- Employ more active study techniques. Ask questions while reading. Read aloud instead of silently. Discuss cases and concepts with others. Switch up the facts and consider how the court would have responded to that new fact situation. Answer all of the questions at the ends of cases even if not required.
- Imagine that the client in the case had walked into one's own office with the legal problem. What questions would be asked of the client? What additional arguments could have been made by each side that were not made? What would be the strengths and weaknesses of those arguments? Are there any policy considerations? What ethical problems could have surfaced in the situation?
- Consider after each class how the information could be used in practice. Create hypothetical scenarios to delve into how the basics learned in the course would relate to a variety of legal situations.
- Discuss those hypotheticals with classmates. If you are uncertain how the concepts would work in the scenario, talk with the professor about the scenario.
- Volunteer for pro bono opportunities to see the law in action instead of feeling on the sidelines.
- Find part-time legal work in the community - even if it is an unpaid internship - to increase one's interaction with lawyers and involvement in the practice of law.
- Remind oneself of one's original goals for coming to law school and how courses will help one in passing the bar and practicing after graduation.
Even when 3L students feel that they just want to be done with their degrees, they still have the ultimate goal of becoming the best possible attorneys. Each bit of knowledge, each fact-scenario analysis, each probing question can lead to that goal - even when one is tempted to consider all of it just same old-same old.
Hang in there and take one day at a time. Learn as much as you can because for most future attorneys this will be the last time that they have the luxury to focus on learning. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, October 20, 2012
Students who are just now realizing how close exams are and how much they have to do are looking for ways to be more efficient and effective. The trick is to continue the daily work for classes but still find time for exam review. A good time management schedule can help a student see where everything can be completed. (See my Thursday, September 6th post "When will I have time for . . . " for advice on time management.)
When looking specifically at exam study tasks, a student should ask the following questions:
- What is the payoff for exams of this exam study task?
- Is this exam study task the most efficient use of time?
- Is this exam study task the most effective way of doing the task?
Question One: This question is focusing on whether the exam study task is really going to help one do well on exams. If not, then the task should be dropped (or modified) for a task that will have more payoff.
- Example 1: Re-reading cases to study for exams rarely has much payoff because the exam will not ask you questions about the specific cases and instead will want you to use what you learned from the cases to solve new legal problems.
- Example 2: Reading sections in a study aid that do not correspond to topics covered by your professor in the course will have little payoff on your exam. If your professor did not cover defamation, reading about it in a study aid "just because it is there" in the book is a waste of time.
In example 1, you would get more payoff by spending time on learning your outline and doing practice questions. In example 2, you would get more payoff by reading only those sections of the study aid that are covered by your professor's course and about which you are confused.
Question Two: This question focuses on whether the task that you have determined has payoff is a wise use of your time. If you do a task with payoff inefficiently, you can still be making a study mistake.
- Example 1: You have not bothered reviewing and learning a particular topic for the exam yet. You decide to complete a set of 15 multiple-choice questions on the topic. You get 8 of them wrong and guessed at 3 of the ones you got right.
- Example 2: After outlining, you have lots of questions about the first three topics that your professor has covered in the course. You decide to worry about them later and continue on through the course with more questions surfacing each day.
In example 1, practice questions have payoff, but you wasted time because the questions would have more accurately gauged your depth of understanding and preparedness for the exam if you had done them after review. In example 2, listing the questions you have on material has payoff, but you wasted time by not getting all questions for the first three topics answered while you had the context before moving on with new material.
Question Three: This question focuses on whether the task that you determined has payoff is getting you the maximum results. If you do a task that has payoff ineffectively, you can also be making a study mistake.
- Example 1: You are reviewing your outline which is a high-payoff task. However, you choose to review your outline in the student lounge while talking to friends and watching the news on the television.
- Example 2: You join a study group which meets every week and has an agenda of topics and practice questions that will be covered. You attend regularly but never go over the material or practice questions before the meetings.
In example 1, your outline review was ineffective because you were not focused fully on that exam study task. You may say you spent two hours reviewing, but your results will be far less than the time you pretend to have spent. In example 2, your exan study was ineffective because you got minimal results compared to what would have been possible if you had prepared before the meeting.
Spending time on exam studying must have payoff, be efficient, and be effective to deserve being called exam study. Otherwise, you only fool yourself. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, October 18, 2012
We are on the downward slope of our semester now. The midpoint in classes for our law school passed last week. The level of stress among students has increased as has the level of negativity. It takes a stout constitution to stay focused on the postive instead of getting mired down in the negative.
Here are some suggestions to help students accentuate the postive:
- Remember why you came to law school and keep those reasons in mind. Law school was the pathway for meeting a goal. If that goal is still valid, then law school is still valid.
- Realize that you can only control yourself and your time. You cannot control other law students who are super-competitive, moaning and groaning, irritable, or stressed.
- Realize that you are not going to like every other law student any more than if you chose 700 (or however many law students are at your school) random people and put them together. Some people will be unlikeable, gossipy, childish, lazy, mean or have some other negative trait. That is life. Do not paint the other nice people with a broad brush that condemns everyone.
- Remove yourself from negative situations. Avoid people who stress you out, focus on doom and gloom, and complain constantly. Refuse to become engaged in conversation with someone who wants to boost his own ego at your expense by attempting to make you feel less capable.
- Surround yourself with positive people. Seek out law students who are supportive of fellow students, who have a balanced approach to law school, and who are focused on doing well while still being nice people. Talk on the phone each day with supportive family and friends.
- Avoid "should of" statements. You cannot change the choices you made earlier in the semester about outlines, study habits, and more. You can change how you move forward with your studying. Focus on positive changes rather than past bad decisions.
- Break down assignments into smaller tasks so that the work becomes less overwhelming. You can cross off small tasks more quickly and feel a sense of accomplishment.
- Make a list of the questions that you have about the material for each course. Get the questions answered now rather than later. You will feel better if you are not as worried about things you do not understand. Get help from a classmate or your professor.
- Avoid exaggerating your concerns about a course or task. "I am clueless about Federal Income Tax" is much more negative than "I do not understand depreciation." "I'll never get my outlines done" is much more damaging to your confidence than "I will get two outlines done this weekend and two by the following weekend."
- Make sure you have some down time from studying and take care of yourself. Take a dinner break. Exercise at least three times a week. Get 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Take a couple of nights off on the weekend.
A full-time law student should be able to get all study tasks (reading, briefing, outlining, finishing assignments/papers, reviewing for exams) done in 50-55 hours per week. That still leaves time to have a life outside of law school. If you use your time wisely, you will feel more positive about law school because you will see that you are getting everything done and having guilt-free time for yourself. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Law students have a large number of items to memorize so that they can state the law precisely, know the exact definitions, use the correct steps of analysis, ask the right questions to analyze a topic, or connect the right policy arguments to a topic. At times the volume of information to remember can be daunting.
Here are some things that can be helpful when students are considering how they want to do memory drills:
Memory drills usually work best in shorter bursts of 30 minutes or less.
The number of memory drill time blocks per week will depend on the number of rules or other items that must be memorized. A course with lots of rules will need more drill blocks than one with fewer rules.
Because the brain can only memorize a few chunks of information at a time, memory work should be distributed throughout the semester rather than crammed in at the end of the semester.
Memory techniques should be matched to what works for an individual student - how did one successfully memorize material in the past, for example.
A combination of memory techniques may be needed by one student while another student has one memory technique that always works.
Possible ways to memorize material include:
- Flashcards: some students learn more by handwriting their own than using software
- Writing a rule out multiple times
- Reciting a rule aloud multiple times
- Drawing a spider web, mind map, or other visual of the rule
- Acronyms: taking the first letter of each word (for example the elements) and remembering them with a silly sentence (duty, breach, causation, harm becomes DBCH and then becomes Debbie's boa constrictor hid).
- Rhymes or sayings: assault and battery are like ham and eggs.
- Storytelling: coming up with a story that weaves together the words (for example, the soldier was on DUTY when a tank BREACHed the wall of the fort, etc.)
- Peg method: combining a numbered list with rhyming words (one bun, two shoe, three tree, four door, etc.) and then a visual image combining the item (bun, shoe, etc.) with the word that needs to be remembered (example: one bun duty is a sticky bun with a soldier saluting it; two shoe breach is a man's business shoe with a tank tearing apart the toe as it drives out, etc.)
Every student has to put in the time memorizing the material. However, remember that memorization alone will not garner a high grade. It is the beginning of learning. One has to understand what is being memorized and be able to apply the material to new legal scenarios on the exam with a thorough analysis. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, September 20, 2012
Law students spend a great deal of time on their case briefs while preparing for class. They then listen carefully in class and take copious notes. But sometimes in the hurry to get on to the next reading and briefing assignment, they forget to take time after class and compare their briefs to the professor's class discussion. By critiquing afterwards, the briefs can become tools to see how one can do a better job of analysis for the next case.
One professor may go into great detail on all aspects of a case while another professor will just hit the highlights of the same case. Each professor is different, so a student's brief may include more or less detail depending on how the professor teaches and what questions typically come up in class. Students' briefs will also differ in length and format because of their learning styles.
Despite these factors, students still should to use their case briefs as a learning tool for how to become more adept at analyzing and briefing cases. Student want to learn how to select all of the correct essentials for a brief rather than including too much that is extraneous or too little that ignores important points. Critiquing ones briefs increases one's ability to find the balance needed.
Take the facts section, for example. One wants to be able to differentiate between the legally significant facts and the storytelling facts in the case. The court usually includes both types of facts because the reader needs to know the facts that relate to the court's holding as well as enough facts to understand the scenario of the case.
If a brief includes all of the facts given, then it is not making the distinction about what is important. If a brief includes too few facts, then it may miss the legal significance of some facts.
By analyzing why one missed some facts that the professor emphasized as important to the outcome, one gains greater understanding on how to spot legally significant facts among the overall facts. By asking oneself why the professor left out some facts that the student thought were important, one begins to see why some facts are merely storytelling facts and not necessary to the legal analysis.
Next think about the issue in the brief. Student issue statements are often too narrow or too broad rather than in line with the professor's version. Issue statements that are too narrow restrict the court's question to fewer legal scenarios than are meant to be included. Issue statements that are too broad apply the question to more situations than are meant to be encompassed. Because the holding is the answer to the issue, an incorrect issue statement will then be mirrored in an incorrect statement of the holding of the case.
By evaluating why one's statement is too broad or too narrow, the student learns how to understand the court's specific purview and the reach of the law. One learns how to analyze the impact the case will actually have.
Because casebooks edit cases for a specific teaching purpose, students may not realize initially that cases are often far more complex than what is being assigned for the reading. They may not be aware that there are multiple issues in a case.
Also consider the reasoning section in the brief. Students sometimes miss the logic of the case because they skip steps in their briefs rather than delineate the entire reasoning process of the court. They mistakenly focus on just getting to the holding rather than learning how courts reason so they know how one would argue a client's position.
By evaluating whether one left out steps in the reasoning or misunderstood the importance of various aspects of the discussion, the student learns to work through the analysis logically and to weigh the importance of arguments. One's ability to reason persuasively increases as one gains knowledge in how courts make their decisions.
A student may find that critiquing her briefs indicates where the problem is but then the student is unsure how to fix it. For example, the issue statements may be frequently wrong, but the student may not see why and what to do differently. I would suggest that the student visit with the professor during office hours and show the professor a selection of briefs with issue problems. The professor is likely to see the pattern of error and be able to make suggestions to correct it. (Amy Jarmon)
Sunday, September 16, 2012
Some of my students struggle with getting their work done in a timely manner. They succumb to electronic distractions: cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, e-mail. They take 2 - 3 hour naps. They allow a 2-hour reading assignment to bleed over into 3 hours. They wander around the law school chatting with friends.
Setting up accountability mechanisms works well for many of these students. They lack self-discipline, but can meet expectations when someone else is going to monitor what they do. Some examples of accountability strategies are:
- Students with major papers to write can set up a series of deadlines when they will confer with their professors or turn in certain work (if the professor is willing): topic discussion; outline of initial research; initial bibliography; first drafts of each paper section.
- Probation students meet weekly with me and know that I will ask about their reading and briefing, outlining, writing progress, and reviewing for exams each time I see them. Having to be accountable keeps most of them on track.
- Married students post their study schedules on the refrigerator at home so that their spouses know when they should be studying rather than watching television. They give their spouses permission to monitor their time and hold them accountable if they are not adhering to the schedule.
- A law student will ask a classmate to help them stick to a study schedule. The student gives the classmate permission to call them to account if they are wandering around chatting, taking too many breaks, or avoiding an assignment.
- A law student agrees to meet another law student at the library for several hours of individual study so that the appointment is incentive to show up and study instead of doing other things.
- A law student joins a study group that has a weekly agenda of review topics and practice questions that each member agrees to complete individually before the study group meets.
- A student calls a significant other or parent every evening and gives that person permission to ask what they accomplished that day in studying.
- A student uses one of the on-line time management programs to monitor use of time so that it is readily apparent how much time was used for studying versus breaks and other tasks.
Most students do not want to disappoint others even though they regularly disappoint themselves on study tasks. If accountability provides the initial way for a student to break bad habits regarding starting or completing study tasks, then the law student should take advantage of the willingness of others to help them stay on track. In time, studying will hopefully become a matter of self-discipline. All of them will need self-discipline in practice! (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, September 8, 2012
Reading cases takes up major blocks of time in a student's schedule. Students want to become more efficient and effective in their reading, but often do not know how because they are missing some important bits of information about the task. Here are some things that I try to point out:
- Initially as 1Ls, students will take forever to read cases - even relatively short ones - because they do not have legal context, vocabulary, and awareness of what is important. By the end of the first month of law school, however, they should see their reading times begin to come down. By second semester, they should be faster still.
- There are two reasons for reading cases. One reason is to gain an in-depth understanding of the case itself. The second is to understand how the case relates to the topic and to other cases within the topic. Both aspects need to be completed if the reading time is going to be worthwhile.
- Cases are often edited for a specific use in a casebook. At times what is edited out may cause confusion for the student reader because they do not readily understand the remaining material because of a lack of context and legal experience. Consequently, three good reads should be the limit. Then put a question mark in the margin next to the confusing section and continue reading.
- Cases are written for legal professionals and not for law students. Attorneys have experience and legal context that make cases easier to understand. Some things will not make sense to the student reader until class discussion.
- Not all cases are equal in density or importance. One case may contain multiple rules plus definitions of elements plus policy arguments. Another case may contain an exception to a rule. Yet another case may contain a definition of an element. Although length often relates to complexity, even short cases can contain a great deal of law.
- Older cases may still be good law. Some older cases are assigned - even if the law is now outdated - to show how the law evolves over time. A law student has to learn how courts reason over time, how policy may change the law over time, and how the law today may be different in a few years.
Paying attention to class discussion and the professor's observations about cases helps the student learn what that professor considers important about cases. By being patient with themselves and not expecting competence immediately, new law students can improve their case understanding and decrease reading time over several weeks. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, September 6, 2012
A number of the 1L questions that I posted earlier are at least in part related to time management. Initially reading and briefing take so much time that 1Ls cannot comprehend how they will get done everything that they hear about: outline, review for exams, do practice questions, complete legal research and writing assignments, and more.
The answer is to have a routine that is repeated every week - do the same thing on the same day at the same time as much as possible. By having a standard schedule with study blocks for each task for each course, a law student can make sure that everything is getting done. A standard routine takes the guess work out of "What should I do next?"
Most new law students have never had to manage their time. They were able to get excellent grades with little effort. We know from national surveys that most of them did not study more than 20 hours per week in college and many of them studied far less. They could decide most days as they went along what they felt like doing. They could write papers at the last minute and get good grades. They rarely (if ever) studied on the weekends. And they got good grades while working and participating in leadership positions in numerous organizations.
Here are the basic steps for students who want to set up a study routine for the first time:
- Plan to spend 50-55 hours per week beyond class time for full-time studies and 35-40 hours per week for part-time studies.
- Initially set up a weekly schedule template with one-hour blocks from 6:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. The final schedule may not use all of these time slots, but the extra slots help when first building a schedule. Eliminate any hours in the template that are not used. in your final schedule.
- Label all task blocks in the schedule with the what the time is alloted for in the block (examples: read torts; read contracts; writing assignments; meal; sleep).
- Build a time management schedule in layers so that you can make conscious decisions as you put in each layer.
- Layer One: put in your classes and any weekly review sessions that your law school provides for 1L students.
- Layer Two: include 1/2 hour review either before your class or before bed the night before the class so you have seen the material twice; back-to-back classes would mean 1/2 hour for each class.
- Layer Three: decide when you will get up (at minimum so you can get to school for your first 1/2 hour review and class); get up at the same time Monday through Friday even if your class times change.
- Layer Four: decide when you will go to bed Sunday through Thursday nights to get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep (less and you are chronically sleep-deprived according to the medical research).
- Layer Five: include true commitments that are the same every week (dinner with Auntie Em on Wednesdays at 6:00 p.m.; religious service at 5:00 p.m. Saturdays; study group 2-4 p.m. on Fridays); do not include things that you want to do but have time flexibility for (exercise that is not an actual class time).
- Layer Six: estimate for each class how long it takes you to prepare for class for one day (reading, briefing, problem sets, etc.) for the longest or hardest assignments; if necessary, keep a log for a week so you can make more realistic estimates regarding the time blocks; schedule in your class preparation time - if possible, prepare for Monday and Tuesday classes over the weekend.
- Layer Seven: schedule 6-8 hours per week for any paper/project course; you decide which number and the increments (for example, 7 hours: 2 + 2 + 3).
- Layer Eight: add weekly time to outline for each doctrinal class; 1 - 1 1/2 hours depending on the difficulty of the course.
- Layer Nine: add exercise time, meals, down time, chores, and other miscellaneous tasks as they seem to fit logically in the schedule.
- Layer Ten: after you live with the schedule for 7-10 days, make any adjustments; allow more or less time for estimated blocks; move any task blocks to other days/times that work better.
- Layer Eleven: add time to review for exams (weekly read through of your entire outline; intense study of specific outline topics as though you had to walk into the exam; practice question time; memory drills).
Task blocks in the schedule can be moved up and down during the day if a task is completed earlier than expected. Task blocks can also be flipped between days if necessary. The task blocks are place markers to make sure that all study tasks are completed within the week. As long as all task blocks are completed, the student is on target and can have guilt-free down time. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
New law students are now gracing our halls. Their faces hold a mixture of excitement and uneasiness. They want someone to tell them the ONE RIGHT WAY to read cases, brief, outline, and complete all of the other study tasks. They get inundated with lots of advice regarding how to get the best grades in law school from a myriad of sources.
By mid-September (if not sooner), I see them totally lose sight of some basics that make a huge difference in their ability to do well in law school. They seem to let their common sense fly out the window.
Here are 10 common sense tips that will allow a student to be successful:
- Get a minimum of 7-8 hours of sleep per night. You cannot learn and retain anything if your brain cells are not alert.
- Eat three nutritious meals a day - not caffeine, sugar, and junk food. You cannot learn and retain anything if your brain cells do not have nourishment.
- Exercise for at least 30-45 minutes three times a week. You can alleviate stress and sleep better with exercise.
- If you are sick, go to the doctor. You may not feel that you have time for a doctor's appointment, but you especially do not have time for an illness to drag on for weeks because you did not get the medication/treatment that you needed.
- Do not believe everything you hear on the grapevine. Law schools are fertile ground for rumors and gossip. If something you hear sounds outlandish or wrong, it probably is. If the item is important, check it out with a reliable source.
- Be patient with yourself. Law requires new ways of thinking, writing, and studying. You will need time to learn how to do those things well. Do not expect to get everything right initially. Even today's Olympic swimmers started in the shallow end.
- Compete with yourself rather than with everyone else. You cannot know how you will do in relation to your entire section, but you can know whether you are putting in your best efforts each day.
- Get assistance when you need it. Use the resources at your law school to help you succeed: professors, academic support personnel, tutors or teaching fellows, writing specialists, and the many others who will be willing to assist you.
- Stop wasting time. Limit the electronic distractions in your life: e-mail, twitter, facebook, texting, cell phone calls. Focus on studying and use these tasks as rewards after you get your work done.
- Treat others as you would want them to treat you. You do not have to be cut-throat competitive or a jerk to succeed in law school. Your classmates will be your future professional colleagues. You want them to refer clients to you, give you a thumbs up for a job at their firms, and remember you positively. Build a good reputation as an attorney starting now.
No matter how brilliant you may be, you still need to use common sense. I have seen too many law students falter because they ignored the basics. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, July 27, 2012
Some of the returning students always ask my advice on what they can do to get ready for their academics and improve their grades for the coming year. Here are my suggestions - some of the items can be done this summer; others can be completed in the first few weeks:
- Sit down and evaluate your study habits from the previous year. Look at each aspect of law school: reading and briefing, note-taking in class, outlining, reviewing for exams, memorizing the law, taking fact-pattern-essay exams, taking multiple-choice exams, completing papers or projects. What were your strengths in studying and why? What were your weaknesses in studying and why?
- Decide which study habits to continue and which study habits to change. Meet with the academic success staff at your school if you need help with this evaluation of your studying or with brainstorming new strategies.
- If you have specific skill weaknesses, read a book about that skill to improve your understanding. Here are a few examples: Reading Like a Lawyer by Ruth Ann McKinney; The Five Types of Legal Argumentby Wilson Huhn; The Eight Secrets of Top Exam Performance in Law Schoolby Charles H. Whitebread. You can find a number of excellent books through Carolina Academic Press and other publishers.
- Start regimens now that are healthy and sensible. Get on a routine sleep schedule of 7-8 hours per night. Exercise at least three times a week for 30 minutes to an hour. Eat healthy meals. Do not let these routines disappear during the semester.
- If at all possible, relax for at least one week prior to the beginning of classes. You want to begin the semester with fully recharged batteries.
- Time yourself in each course for the entire first week to see how long it takes you to prepare for class (read, brief, complete problem sets). Then pick the longest block of time for each course and use that to set up your class preparation schedule.
- Schedule also regular time for other tasks each week: outlines, review of outlines, practice questions, research, writing, study group, and more.
- Read your course syllabi very carefully. Many professors include information that can help you get the best grades in the course: learning objectives, study aid recommendations, websites and other resources, study tips, and more.
- During the first month of school, review all exams from last semester for which you received a C+ or lower grade. By getting feedback from your professors on what you did well and what needs improvement, you can make the appropriate changes as you do practice questions for your next set of exams.
- If you were disappointed in your performance in a paper class last semester, ask the professor for tips on how you could improve your research and writing. Then use the feedback to improve on your papers this year.
Second and third years are somewhat easier because students have learned the basic skills needed for success in law school. However, both years bring new responsibilities with part-time work and student organizations. Time management and organization are going to be two key areas to work on to attain your best grades. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, March 8, 2012
It is time for law school spring breaks. This is our pre-break week; it is obvious that most of our students are already mentally away from the law school. The few focused students are the ones with a mid-term exam, paper deadline, or other assignment due date. My "no shows" for appointments and cancellations always increase during this week; they simply forget days and times.
Last week and this week have been consistently filled with appointments to plan the balance between study and play during their nine days away. Most of them cannot afford to take the entire time off because exams are 6 weeks away when they come back. Yet they do need to have some relaxation so that they return refreshed.
Here are some points that we cover in our discussions:
- What are all of the due dates that they have during the week before break and the week after break? We schedule the work required to meet any deadlines before they leave town. We list the other deadlines for consideration as we plan their study tasks while gone.
- What is their status on reading/briefing and outlining for each course? We prioritize any catching up that is needed. If possible, they complete that step before they leave. If not, they schedule it for the first study days during break.
- What is their status on any papers that must be completed for each course by the end of the semester? We look at these long-term research/writing projects to determine what steps remain. We look at any interim deadlines still outstanding for outlines, drafts, or other stages. Many students plan to do major work on these papers over the break.
- How much exam review have they already started for each course? We prioritize where they need the most work, next most work, etc.
- How many practice questions have they been able to complete already for each course? Again, we prioritize.
- What are their travel plans? We look at travel dates, mode of transportation, locations, and possibilities for studying. Listening to audio CD's is popular for students driving. Reviewing outlines or flashcards is popular with students flying. Other tasks on non-travel days will depend on their specific plans for the break.
- What portions of any day do they think they can study? Each day has three parts: morning, afternoon, and evening. Most students try to study at least two of those parts on the days when they can realistically do so. We consider when they can study and when they want to be with family/friends. Non-skiers study while the others are on the slopes. Students at home may study while their parents are at work or before the rest of the family gets up or after others go to bed. We also note any days that will not realistically include studying because of family plans.
- What tasks do they want to assign tentatively to each study block? Some students like to spend the day on one course. Other students like to divide their time among two or three courses. Some students want to mix up the tasks for one course: intense exam review, practice questions, making flashcards, or other tasks. Paper or assignment tasks also fill in slots.
- What tasks do they want to list for any unexpected smaller blocks of study time that emerge? By listing a few tasks that might work for extra time that is found, they will not waste those times. Examples of such tasks are reading through an outline for a course, working with flashcards, or doing practice questions.
- When will they complete their reading for the first class days on their return? Sometimes students forget to schedule when they will read and brief for the Monday after Spring Break. If they can get reading done for Tuesday classes as well, the beginning of classes will be less difficult for them.
We lay out the spring break schedule on a monthly calendar template so that they have a schedule to take with them. By having a plan, they are more likely to accomplish their goals. Within the plan they can move tasks to different days/times as they wish. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
It is easy to assume that we can accomplish nothing important in small chunks of time. It is human nature to waste time increments that are under an hour, and especially under 30 minutes. We feel we acquire permission automatically to take breaks, chat with friends, mindlessly surf the web, or complete any other leisurely task in such time blocks.
However, if one seriously follows this line of thought, it is very easy to waste enormous amounts of valuable time within a day. There are many tasks that can be completed in small amounts of time. It does not matter whether the windfall time occurs because a reading assignment was shorter than expected, class let out early, a ride showed up late, or there was merely a break between two scheduled classes. For students, using those chunks of time can be critical as exams approach.
Think about it. If you capture 1/2 hour per day for small study tasks for 7 days, you have found 3 1/2 extra study hours during the week. If you capture 3 slots during the same day of 20 minutes that can be rearranged to end up consolidated together, you have an extra hour to study rather than taking 3 study breaks at separate times.
Here are some study tasks you can do in blocks of time under 30 minutes:
- Review the day's class notes for a course to fill in gaps, re-organize, and condense them as a pre-outlining step.
- Write down a list of questions that you need to ask a professor.
- Make several flashcards for a course.
- Quiz yourself from your flashcard deck.
- Complete 2 or 3 multiple-choice practice questions and read the answer explanations.
- Complete 3 or 4 CALI questions on a topic.
- Write out several rules or element definitions multiple times to help you memorize them.
- Talk with a classmate about a case or concept you did not understand.
- Make up hypothetical fact spin-offs to consider how a case rule would apply in another scenario.
- Stop by a professor's office to ask questions about the material.
- Edit several paragraphs of a paper.
- Add a subtopic to your outline.
- Review a subtopic in your outline.
- Sketch a preliminary flowchart or other visual to finish later.
- Make a "to do" list of tasks for the next day.
Please realize that I am not saying you should never take a break when you have windfall time. (Walking around outside or running a quick errand may be productive use of time rather than a study task.) Instead I am saying that you want to decide carefully how you will use small blocks of time. Do not just assume that you cannot accomplish something productive because you "only have a few minutes." (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Now that you have settled into your courses, you want to consider which study aids might be most useful for each of your courses. As you try to decide about your purchases or loans from other students, think about the following items:
- Study aids cannot substitute for your own learning and understanding. You need to wrestle with the material and spend time at your studies. Merely reading a study aid does not automatically transfer to your knowing the material well.
- Look at your syllabus or talk with your professor about any recommended study aids for the course. A professor will often recommend a study aid that s/he feels matches the professor's version of a course and best covers the topics for your course.
- Avoid purchasing every study aid series out there for your course. You will only have time probably for one commentary (what the law is) and one practice question book (preferably to match the type of questions that will be on your professor's exam). Look through different series to decide which is right for you before purchasing.
- Match a study aid to your learning styles whenever possible. Students learn differently from one another. Your ways of learning should assist you in choosing study aids. Some students benefit from hornbook-style aids; some benefit from audio CD's; some benefit from more visual study aids. Processing styles make for other differences. Some students benefit from study aids that preview the material with introductions or from study aids that delve into policies and synthesis. Other students benefit from study aids that sequentially discuss the parts of a topic and include later summaries for the overview and synthesis. (You can modify the way you use the study aid's internal organization to match your own processing style in some circumstances.)
- Learn your professor's version of the course for the exam. Your professor will find the points more quickly if you use the professor's buzzwords, steps of analysis, statement of the rule, and answer format. In addition, your professor may take a different slant on a course; for example, the professor may be looking for policy discussion that a study aid never touched.
- Use a study aid approriately. A study aid will be more useful to clarify a confusing topic after you have initially done all of your own work on the topic (read, briefed, attended class, etc.) and made a good faith effort to sort out what you do and do not understand. A study aid is best used throughout the semester as you need more information rather than read at the very end of the semester.
- Remember that commercial study aids can be wrong, outdated, or not match your course. Study aids are usually written for a national audience and cover topics that may not be covered by your professor. Volumes that are older editions or have not been revised recently may not include important changes in the law. Study aids that are not written by experts in the area of law may contain errors. Your professor's course may have different emphases or topics included.
- Do not forget that your professor is a study aid with legs. Go in to ask questions when your professor has office hours. Ask your professor to assist you if you are confused after making a good faith effort to learn the material. Talk with your professor about study strategies that might help you understand the course better.
Study aids are there to supplement your own work. They are not bound equivalents of magic wands. Use them wisely, and you can gain deeper understanding of topics. Practice questions can be especially useful in monitoring your understanding and application. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Students and ASP professionals are always looking for ways to turn information into visuals. There are several products that provide free trials of their software. With the one exception noted, you will lose your work after the 30-day period unless you purchase the software. So, print out what you make before your trial period ends if you are not going to purchase the software.
SmartDraw: www.smartdraw.com; free download (doesn't say how long the trial lasts)
NovaMind5: www.novamind.com; 30-day free trial
Inspiration: www.inspiration.com; 30-day free trial
The Brain: www.thebrain.com; 30-day free trial; will be able to access Personal Brain software after 30 days, but cannot edit or make new graphic organizers - the features in the purchased product are amazing, but this one is probably not within most student budgets.
Have fun making your graphic organizers for exam study and workshop presentations. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, November 12, 2011
Law students try at times to substitute memorization of the black letter law for actual understanding of their course material. They are then surprised that they receive grades in the "C" range in return for their efforts.
The focus on memorization is a leftover from many undergraduate courses where the professor just wanted students to regurgitate information on a page for an "A" grade. The difference in law school is that students have to go beyond mere memorization. Memorizing the rules, exceptions to rules, methodologies, policy arguments, and so forth is essential to a good grade in law school; but memorization is just the beginning of the learning process rather than the end goal.
Lawyers in essence are problem solvers. They are confronted with client problems that they must solve either by prior knowledge or through research. The easy questions are dealt with fairly quickly. The hard questions are the ones that consume their days and our court system. To problem solve, lawyers must understand the law and how to apply it to legal scenarios.
Law students must also be able to problem solve. On their exams, they are faced with new legal scenarios that they must analyze. To do so effectively, they need to understand the law that applies to the situation and explain their analysis in detail. Yes, they need to have memorized the law so that they can state it accurately. But without understanding they will be able to apply it only superficially.
Memorization is the start. Understanding is the key. Application is the reward. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, November 10, 2011
As the stress and anxiety of preparing for exams increase, some law students seem to go into overdrive on their procrastinating. Rather than motivating them to knuckle down and study, their stress and anxiety are causing them to turn their habit of procrastinating into mega-procrastination.
Here are the favorite ways of procrastinating that I am seeing among my law students right now:
- Shopping on-line for hours with or without actually purchasing something.
- Talking on the cell phone endlessly about trivial matters.
- Spending hours reading and replying to e-mails - especially the ones with cartoons, You Tube videos, chain e-mails, stories, and jokes.
- Spending hours on Facebook and Twitter.
- Playing endless games of Spider Solitaire to beat their old record.
- Playing endless hours of Internet games so they can play with their on-line gaming friends.
- Watching whatever there is on TV that is mindless and unexceptional.
- Watching multiple re-runs of sitcom episodes they have already seen multiple times.
- Watching endless news coverage (so they can feel righteous about being well-informed).
- Watching whatever sensational trial is currently in the headlines (so they can pretend to be doing something law-related and productive).
- Sitting in the student lounge talking with friends and drinking coffee.
- Sitting in a "study group" talking endlessly about the latest law school gossip.
- Running lots of errands (so they can claim to be doing a lot when they fritter away time).
- Taking three-hour naps each day.
- Sleeping in until noon or 1:00 p.m. each weekend day.
How do you stop procrastinating?
- Remove yourself from the environment where you procrastinate and find another location to study.
- Turn off or leave elsewhere your laptop, cell phone, or other electronic distractions.
- Unplug the TV and put it in the closet until exams are over.
- Do not study on your bed or the recliner/couch where you are tempted to nap.
- Get 7 hours of sleep minimum at night with a regular bedtime and wake-up time so that you do not need naps or late sleep-ins.
- Batch your errands and run them once during the week.
- Use the student lounge for lunch and the occasional break rather than live there.
- Avoid study groups that are merely social events with a pseudo-academic name.
- Allow yourself to answer e-mails, watch TV, make phone calls only at scheduled times once or twice a day - and then only as rewards for having completed your studying.
- Break tasks into very small pieces so that you can convince yourself to get started. Beginning is always the hardest part.
- Make a list of small tasks and subtopics for each course so that you can cross-off tasks as you complete them and see your progress.
- Set up breaks as rewards for getting work done.
As you see progress on your small tasks, you will begin to feel better about yourself. As you cross more and more tasks off your list, you will have less stress and anxiety. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, November 3, 2011
This time in the semester is difficult for a lot of students because they are running low on energy. On the one hand, the semester seems like it has been lasting forever; on the other hand, exams are just around the corner. Now is the time when students often depend on caffeine and sugar to get them through the week. However, those two roads often lead to crashes, jitters, and cravings.
Here are some healthier ways to get an energy boost:
- Walk around the building twice - outside if the weather is nice where you are located; inside if not - and breathe deeply and swing your arms.
- Take a power nap of no more than 30 minutes - longer will make you groggy.
- Spend 15 minutes doing relaxation exercises such as gentle neck stretches, ankle rotations, deep breathing.
- Laugh. Tell a story or joke. Remember a funny incident from your childhood. Read the comics.
- Read some inspirational quotes or scriptures.
- Do several random, small acts of kindness for other people.
- Drink water with lots of ice in it.
- Eat a piece of fruit: apple, banana, grapes, raisins.
- Eat a handful of nuts: almonds, walnuts, and pecans.
- Eat a granola bar.
Whenever you hit a slump in your energy level during the day, choose one or two of these quick fixes to get back on top. (Amy Jarmon)