Monday, September 3, 2018
My favorite season began last weekend. Some people like one of the weather seasons, but my favorite season is college football season. The pageantry, great food, and fanaticism permeates the air. Last Saturday’s heat index rose above 100 degrees while hanging out with over 85,000 of my closest friends, but I couldn’t be more excited. I get to experience that pure joy with my 2 sons, and we have a blast. Similar experiences and joy are important for a successful law school career.
My love of college football didn’t start after law school. I grew up rooting for my hometown team, which eventually became my alma mater. I watched them consistently growing up and attended some games in college. I wouldn’t miss watching a game. When I got to law school, I made the decision to take off every Saturday to continue watching or attending games. It was one of the best decisions I made for myself.
Law school is hard and busy, especially the first year. The language isn’t the same as undergrad. Readings take longer. No one feels prepared, and many first year students feel behind almost immediately. Many students have a tendency to work non-stop to make up for the perceived inadequacies. Students will read something every day and not schedule down time. LRW assignments start increasing, and by mid-October, many 1Ls start hating law school.
Law school hatred is fueled by burn out and being overwhelmed. Those feelings lead to less focus when reading, which then requires more time to complete the work. Students will then take more breaks throughout the day, extending work late into the evening. The extended work deprives them of relaxation each night. Feeling behind causes some students to work 7 days a week, which then exacerbates the exhaustion. The downward spiral unfortunately continues throughout the semester, and it causes many students to despise the law school experience.
While law school is definitely hard, the experience can be much better with built in balance. Work-life balance isn’t a fad, and balance isn’t a problem for “other people.” Everyone needs time away from studying to stay both happy and productive when preparing. Everyone is different. I took almost every Saturday off during law school. I made the choice that what I enjoyed would be a priority. It made outlining on Sunday easier for me. I had my break and could get back to work the next day. I have students who spend every Sunday with their family. Think about what is important for you. Write it down. Decide now what will help you enjoy life outside law school.
After deciding what is important, decide when you take time off to enjoy it. Planning the time away now is important. Everyone has difficulty taking time off when already overwhelmed. Trying to come up with coping mechanisms while stressed is difficult, and trying to add in relaxation when overburdened is near impossible. The time to plan your non-law activities is now.
While planning when to take time off, consider the impact when everything is scheduled. Our 1L students have classes M-F. Many students read the day before class. On Friday, students go to class, but then tend to take the rest of the day easier. They may look at a few extra problems or organize material from the week, but they don’t spend 4-5 hours on those tasks. The day is still long, but not as productive as a normal day. Those students then spend a significant portion of Sunday completing the reading for Monday, which is still exhausting. For those students, 6 days a week are long and exhausting. They also struggle to find time to complete outlines, practice problems, and LRW assignments.
A different plan may increase effectiveness and decrease stress. I encourage students to spend Friday reading like a normal day. Read the material for Monday. The stress of required work on the weekend is gone. Spend a day off either Saturday or Sunday. On the other day, work on outlines, practice problems, and other study tools to prepare for finals. I wouldn’t casually study on Sunday, but working for a couple hours, then taking a break is easier when class isn’t looming the next day. Spending 5-6 hours on study tools provides a huge benefit for final exams. Choosing what to study each day has an impact of how overwhelmed you feel. This schedule benefits from a clear day off and a day focused on final exam study.
Peanuts, hot dogs, fresh air, and exuberance helped my mood throughout law school. The break can help your mood as well. Make time for your fun activities to not merely survive, but to thrive in law school.