Wednesday, April 24, 2019
The dog really did eat my homework. To be more precise, when I left my desk to fix a cup of tea, my four-month old puppy tore into my outline with joyous, tail-wagging abandon. Those pages that didn't turn into blobs of slobbery mush were ripped to shreds. I panicked, of course. Based on the nonchalant manner in which the professor had conducted the class, I had assumed the exam would be a policy-discussion cakewalk. Too late I realized that while classes were casual, the professor's exams were rigorous. My case briefs were chicken-scratch; my class notes, almost worthless. And the outline the dog destroyed? Well, it wasn't exactly "my" outline; it was a photocopy of a friend's outline because I'd been "too busy" to create my own. And since I had borrowed it only three days before the exam, in those days before e-mail attachments made routine information-sharing easy, I didn't feel like I could count on my friend's good graces to give up her original for the several hours it would take me to copy it again. I had an emergency on my hands.
To be sure, life has its share of genuine emergencies, the gut-wrenching, out-of-the-blue occurrences that shake our world to its foundations. And when these happen the best thing is to let someone at the law school know as soon as you can. But many, perhaps most, of the emergencies we encounter in the law school context, whether as students or instructors, stem from the combination of unexpected circumstances plus our own lack of foresight. We can mitigate the effect of these circumstances by prudent practices. Perhaps you've heard the acronym PPPPPP -- Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance. Proper prior planning can indeed help weather most law school exigencies.
Computer mishaps are nowadays probably the most common law school emergencies. The hard drive crashes, the computer is dropped, the wifi network goes down, printers jam, and suddenly we lose precious work product or can't access needed materials. Consistently creating backups and having alternatives are the keys to mitigating any computer problem.
Using a cloud storage and file synchronization service like Dropbox is the easiest way to provide consistent backups, but because even the best systems fail occasionally, it's wise to periodically check that backups are actually being made. Those reluctant to trust documents to the cloud can effectively back up with encrypted thumb drives or external hard drives. In time-crunch situations like putting the finishing touches on a brief, even e-mailing critical documents to yourself works. When using physical backups, it's prudent to use multiple devices in different locations and to rotate them: for example, you can keep one encrypted thumb drive in your backpack, one in your vehicle, and one at home.
Just as important as backing up current documents is saving versions of your documents through time. Most of us have had the experience of either accidentally deleting a large chunk of material from a document or deliberately cutting out a sections of what seems like extraneous material, only to realize later we wanted the section back. So it's a good practice to save documents under a new name at least daily by adding the date or a sequential number so you can retrieve mistakenly deleted material from an earlier version of the document. At this time in the semester, for example, many students are filtering their outlines down to the essentials. When you use your capsule outline in tackling practice problems, you may find that you were over-enthusiastic in pruning rule statements or even left an important concept entirely out of your capsule outline. Having your earlier, more expansive outline to draw from can save you hours of work.
A good way to mitigate emergencies is to have alternatives in mind given the certain knowledge that things don't always work as they should. Are old exams easily accessible on the web? Figure that the school's internet may go down, and download them to your own computer so they are available when you need them. Does everyone in the law school use the same two printers when legal writing assignments are due? Chances are that your legal writing faculty does not accept "the printer jammed" as an excuse for late papers. Scope out alternatives across campus, or print out your near-perfect brief at home so you can have something to turn in on time even your last minute perfect brief gets stuck in the law school printer queue. Is arriving on time critical for a meeting, exam, or interview? Leave home early enough so you can cadge a ride if your car breaks down or stay calm in the midst of a traffic jam.
Prevention, of course, is the best cure. Learning and reviewing day by day, week by week, practicing problems, diligently doing interim assignments, building and refining your own outlines over time -- keeping a steady schedule of good habits can put you in a place where a total computer melt-down has limited effect because you already have have learned and practiced the material throughout the semester. Otherwise, you just have to hope the dog doesn't sneak into your study.