Is your professor using Zoom, WebX, or another online platform to teach your course live? Here are some best practices for presenting yourself professionally and having the best learning experience in your online classroom.
Test out Zoom with your computer before it’s time for class. Many universities give students access to Zoom, WebX, or other online classroom accounts. Set up that account in advance, and practice using it. Make sure that you have your computer set up properly: explore how to mute and unmute your microphone, activate your camera so that you show up in the class on video, raise your hand and use the chat features. Make sure your internet works properly with the platform, and fix any problems you identify before it’s time for class to begin.
Realize that you have a significant problem accessing the course online? Reach out in advance to your professor, your law school’s IT department, or the Dean of Students to identify solutions for those problems as soon as possible to ensure that you maintain access to the course materials and don’t fall behind.
Find a distraction-free environment for taking classes on Zoom or other platforms. It’s important to use these platforms in a distraction-free environment, so that you can focus on what your professor and fellow students are saying. Eliminate background noise in your own environment, such as the TV or music playing, people talking, or a dog barking. If you unmute your microphone to respond to a professor’s question or ask your own question, anything sound in the background will be picked up by your microphone. The best place is a quiet room where you can shut the door and not be interrupted. Don’t forget to tell anyone that you live with not to interrupt you during class time, and silence your phone as well.
Take your online class as seriously as you would if it were held in the law school classroom. Moving a class online doesn’t change your professor’s expectation of the level of preparation you have done in advance, your willingness to participate in class, or your ability to answer questions if you are called on. Engage in your online classes fully and be prepared to get the most out of them possible. Not only will you do better in that particular class and on the exam, but you will carry more knowledge and skills from that course into your other academic and professional endeavors.
Use a computer for live online classes, not a cell phone. Although a one-on-one Zoom/WebX meeting may be effective using the app on your phone, phones are really not useful for online classrooms. A cell phone is just too small to see Powerpoint slides, documents, or websites that your professor may share with the class through the platform, and some features are hard to find and use in the cell phone app.
Makesure youfollowappropriate online classetiquette. Sign in with video so classmates and your professor can see you. Keep your microphone muted unless your professor calls on you in class. Dress as you would for an in-person class, considering what you want your professional reputation to be. Be on time entering the class, stay engaged with the class for the entire time, and don’t leave the online classroom until your professor has ended class (unless you’ve told your professor in advance why you have to arrive late or leave early). Show respect for your professor and your fellow classmates by paying attention, just as you would in the physical classroom.
If you follow these best practices, you will set yourself up for getting the most out of those live online classes, and you will demonstrate your professionalism to your professor and fellow students.
Many law schools have made an abrupt shift from face-to-face to online instruction in the past week in response to the coronavirus outbreak, and more will be joining them in the upcoming days. These changes can be stressful for law students, and it is hard to stay focused on your studies in times of uncertainty. Today, I want to focus on six key strategies you can use for successful online learning. Implementing these strategies will help you get the most out of your studies, stay focused and motivated, and make sure that you continue to make progress on your academic and professional goals. And there is an added bonus – taking charge of your academic plan can also help reduce your stress in an uncertain time.
Strategy #1: Know the Facts. Check your email regularly (at least twice a day, but I recommend more often on days that you have online classes – your professor may communicate specific instructions to you before class time begins). Read every email coming from your university, your law school, and your professors carefully. Have classes been suspended while your law school prepares to transition to remote learning? If so, when do classes resume?
What format will each of your classes take, and what learning platforms or technology will your professors use? Make yourself familiar with them. Make sure that your computer is set up properly and that you can access class resources, video, etc. from home. If you identify any challenges that would make it difficult for you to access online learning materials, reach out as soon as possible to the Dean of Students at your law school, as well as your professors.
Will your classes be synchronous, held at the same time on line as they were regularly scheduled in the classroom, or will they be asynchronous, where material will be posted online for you to complete on your own schedule? Are there classes that will have to be made up because they were suspended during a transition period? If so, when and how will those classes take place?
Are your professors making any changes to course requirements or assignment dates? Make sure you are aware of any changes to your courses, and seek clarification if you are unsure of your professors’ expectations for online attendance, participation, or other requirements.
Strategy #2: Plan Your Days. Just because you are studying at home rather than at the law school, it doesn’t mean that you throw away your study schedule. To stay on track with what you need to learn and accomplish over the upcoming weeks, you must develop a study plan. But this isn’t something new – you already know how to do this. Think of your study and class schedule as a regular job that you have to do every day. Create a daily schedule, with blocks of time that you are “in class,” times that you are preparing for class or reviewing and synthesizing material after class, and time that you are working on other class assignments (such as those you may have for a legal writing course). Need an online template for creating your new study schedule? I really like Free College Schedule Maker, which allows you to break your schedule down into half hour increments, can be color coded, and expands to a 7-day schedule.
Don’t forget to include breaks in that schedule that you’re creating. Schedule regular breaks to get some exercise, take a walk outside in the sunshine, eat healthy meals, etc. When we are at school, we naturally move around more, and it’s important to keep that up at home – for your health and to maintain focus in your studies.
Strategy #3: Eliminate Distractions. If you don’t usually study at home, it will be easier to become distracted when you are trying to get work done. Look for ways to reduce or eliminate distractions, to the extent that it’s possible. Try to create a dedicated study space that is not in the main traffic zone if at all possible, and communicate the importance of not being interrupted to anyone that you live with. (Obviously if you have children, this may not be that simple! But think about what strategies you can use to create as much distraction-free time as possible.) Share your study schedule with friends and family so that they know when you need to be focused on your work, and ask them to text, call, or talk to you during the times that you’ve scheduled for breaks. Turn off the TV while you are trying to get work done as well.
Make sure that you avoid the distractions of texting and social media during your study blocks. There are some great apps out there to lock down your phone or computer when you want to study, such as Pocket Points, Forest, and Flipd, and if you have a hard time resisting the urge to check out social media or news outlets when you are studying, it is worth exploring them. (I’ll discuss more strategies for avoiding distraction in a later post.)
Strategy #4: Keep Priorities in Focus. The routine of going to law school every day helps to establish discipline and accountability, and you may feel less motivated without that structure in place to support you. But it’s important to keep your larger priorities in focus during this time, and make sure that your efforts reflect those priorities. Don’t reduce your efforts when no one is watching you. You are going to law school because your professional goals are important to you, and you need to remind yourself that these final weeks of the semester are still an opportunity to gain knowledge and skills that will help you achieve your academic and professional goals. For those who are graduating and taking the July bar exam, this is particularly important. Don’t lose momentum now, at this critical point.
Strategy #5: Stay Engaged with Your Professors. Your professors are still among your most important resources in law school, and it’s important that you stay engaged with them. Come prepared to online classes, and participate fully in any class discussion. As you review course materials and synthesize what you’ve learned, reach out to your professors with your questions. You can always email any questions, but your professor can also schedule phone calls or Zoom or Skype meetings. If your professor hosts virtual office hours on line, I recommend participating. It’s a good way to stay connected with your professor and your classmates, and you will enhance your understanding of course materials in the process.
Strategy #6: Stay Engaged with Your Classmates. Your classmates can be your greatest resources and support system during law school, and remote learning has the potential to isolate you if you don’t take active steps to stay engaged. In a study group? Brainstorm ways to maintain your meetings remotely. There are all kinds of resources out there, from Zoom or Skype to shared folders in OneDrive or Googledocs. Reach out periodically to check on your law school friends and classmates. Take the time to touch base with people you’d normally sit next to in class. Support each other, encourage each other, and as you find strategies that help you study effectively in the online environment, share those strategies with others.
A move to remote learning may require some adjustment, but taking intentional steps to maintain your studies and stay engaged with your professors and fellow students will ensure your continued success. Stay tuned over the upcoming days and weeks as I write about additional tools and strategies for academic and professional success.
The news media and social media have constant coverage of the spread of the coronavirus right now, and law students may feel stressed as they think about how the virus may affect their law school studies over the next several weeks. A lot of that stress has roots in the question, “What if … ?” Although it isn’t possible to predict the future, you can often reduce some of the worry you feel about a possible “worst case scenario” if you sit down and create a plan for what you would do if the thing you are worrying about actually occurred. Hopefully, you won’t ultimately need to follow through on the plan, but being prepared reduces stress and sets you up for success in the long term.
What might that plan entail in this circumstance? Here are a few suggestions, but you can brainstorm to identify other things you may want to include.
Are you checking your school email on a regular basis so that you are up-to-date on emails coming from your law school dean or the university? Schools commonly communicate important information through email, and therefore checking it regularly – at least twice a day, morning and late afternoon/evening – is advisable. (This is a good practice even if you weren’t worried about the coronavirus! Important information in law school and legal practice is usually communicated by email, so it is helpful to develop regular email habits.)
Do you have an organized contact list of everyone you would need to notify if you became ill and needed to miss school for several days? That list may include the names, email addresses, and phone numbers for key law school administrators like the Dean of Students and your professors. (Once again, this is a good thing to have organized anyhow – it is so much less stressful to have a plan if you ever get sick or need to miss a significant amount of school for an important reason.)
Do you have books, notes, or other things that you commonly leave in a locker at school, but would likely need if your law school decided to hold classes online for a week or two? Decide what you need to bring home with you on a regular basis so you won’t be caught unprepared if the school building was closed for a time.
Do you have email and phone contact information for members of your study group and people you sit next to in class? Your friends and classmates are a great resource in this type of situation, and study groups can still meet virtually using a variety of apps and online platforms. Plus, you can support each other if someone has to miss class because they are sick.
You’ll notice that these ideas take very little time, but they can help you feel calmer in times of potential turmoil. And it’s important to understand that, if your feelings of anxiety are making it difficult or impossible to focus on your studies or are otherwise affecting your health, you may need to reach out to a mental health professional, therapist, or counselor for more specific help in treating your stress and anxiety.
Every year at this time, I meet with first-year law students seeking to do better than they did last semester. Those meetings may be required because of their academic performance. We usually start our discussion by exploring their approach to their studies in the Fall. There are often common themes to what they tell me. Many struggling students weren’t able to effectively manage their time, and in an attempt to get their work done they took shortcuts. Perhaps they relied on canned briefs rather than reading cases themselves, or they used a commercial outline to study for exams instead of synthesizing course material for themselves. They didn’t do practice exams in the weeks leading up to finals, perfecting their approach to essays and multiple choice questions before grades were attached to their work. All of those choices were important to their first-semester outcomes, but there is another common trait at the heart of those results: these students almost never sought help in the midst of their struggles.
So why is it so hard for law students to seek help when things aren’t going well? Some law students are embarrassed to admit to their professors that they don’t understand course material or don’t know how to complete a particular type of assignment. They believe that their professors will think less of them if they ask for too much help. Other students believe that they must “figure it out” on their own, and if they aren’t able to do that they just don’t belong in law school. There are some who don’t even realize that asking for help is an option. They may be first gen students, not knowing that their classmates who weren’t first gen already knew the process for asking for help. Or maybe their undergraduate institution didn’t really have an “office hour” culture, and so the idea that professors could be available to answer students’ questions outside of class didn’t even occur to them.
There may be a variety of reasons law students don’t seek help, but their choices end in common results. Rather than developing strategies and processes for long-term success, the struggling student reinforces bad habits that perpetuate the challenges they’re facing. Their first-semester grades come in, and they are in academic difficulty – often on academic probation, or not far from that line. They start off their second semester of law school discouraged, overwhelmed, and still not sure what they should be doing to improve their studies.
Does this post so far describe you? If so, you are not alone. And most importantly, there is an opportunity to change course. Help may already be on the way, if your law school has required you to meet with your academic support department. But there are also things that you can begin to do, on your own, to initiate those conversations and get the help you need for law school success.
What can you do to get help? Most law schools have at least one professional academic support person, and you may already know who that person is. If they haven’t reached out to you, take that first step and reach out to them. If you don’t know who provides academic support at your school, contact your Dean of Students to find out who can provide help. But don’t stop with academic support. Talk to your professors. Get feedback on your performance on your exams last semester. Ask questions about things you don’t understand. Go to office hours. Ask your classmates questions. Seek out a study group (as long as that group is actually productive). These are all things that successful law students do, and you should do it too. Seek help to break out of the old, unproductive habits from last semester, and use that help to develop new habits that build your confidence in your ability to be successful.
Finally, don’t delay. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you will be on the right path for your future academic and professional goals!
Most students find the transition from undergraduate student to law student challenging because law school is unlike anything they have previously experienced. Today, I want to talk about some of the ways that law school is different than undergrad. In all, there are 6 major differences related to your academic success as a law student.
1. Your law professor is not just going to stand up in front of the class and lecture while you take notes. It’s rare that law professors lecture to their classes. Instead, many use Socratic method—the professor asks you questions about the assigned cases, and you must be prepared to answer. Many of the questions are in the form of hypotheticals that require you to think about what you have read and apply it to new fact patterns. There’s a lot to be learned in class, but you must be an active participant in the learning process. Even if you aren’t the one the professor is calling on, you need to be thinking through what your answers to the questions would be, and identifying the things you don’t understand and need to explore further.
2. Reading 20 pages may take 3 hours, not 30 minutes. In fact, during your first several weeks of law school, it may take even longer to complete your reading! One reason for this difference is that the language of law is different from that of other disciplines, and it takes a while to learn it. You will have to look up a lot of words and phrases in your Black’s Law Dictionary, and many cases may take three (or even more) reads before you understand the important stuff. You cannot skim what you read in law school; instead, you must think about the meaning behind everything that you read to make sure that you understand enough to be able to answer those questions during class and apply what you are learning to solve new legal problems.
3. Many course grades in law school are based upon a single assignment or exam. Unlike undergraduate courses, where you often have multiple midterm exams, quizzes, graded homework assignments, or individual lab assignment grades, many law school grades are based upon a single exam! What is the potential problem with this? If you do not adopt other methods for self-assessment of your understanding of course materials, you may not realize that you don’t understand until you’ve already received your final grade. This is one reason why students find law school so stressful. But if you pay attention to the strategies I discuss in this blog, you will develop tools for self-assessment that help you take control over your learning process and reduce those feelings of stress.
4. In law school, you are in charge of your own learning. For the most part, if you are not called on during class, no one will know if you don’t do the reading on any given day. In many cases, if you skip class no one will follow up to make sure you are OK or if you have caught up on the material. No one forces you to review material after class is over, and your professors won’t follow up to make sure that you are outlining course materials in preparation for final exams. Instead, it will be up to you to motivate yourself and remain disciplined in your approach to your studies and classes. If you don’t, you will find yourself in academic danger by the end of the course. If you slack off for a few weeks during the semester, you may never get caught back up again—and that is your responsibility, no one else’s.
5. In law school, professional expectations begin the first day of Orientation. These expectations actually contribute to your academic success, but they also contribute to your professional reputation as a future lawyer. What am I talking about here? As a law student, you are expected to be timely (both in terms of your presence and completion of assignments), prepared for class, willing to contribute to class discussions, and respectful (even when you disagree with someone else). In reality, these are not necessarily different expectations than existed in your undergraduate classes, but the consequences of not meeting those expectations can be much greater in law school.
6. Everyone is smart, and they are used to getting good grades. People who choose to go to law school have usually been pretty successful in undergrad. The result: law schools are filled with smart students who are accustomed to getting good grades. Many students find it hard to adjust to this difference, as they go from being praised by their undergraduate professors, earning the top grades, and generally being successful in everything they do, to being the “average” student in law school. Moreover, many law schools have mandatory grade distributions, which means that only a small percentage of each class will earn an A for the course. Your identity as a successful student may be challenged by this new environment, and it may take some time to figure out who you are as a law student and future lawyer.
Although these six differences mean that the first weeks and months of law school are a challenging transition period, there are things that you can do to take control of your learning process in this new environment and set yourself up for academic and professional success. In the next several weeks, I’ll be posting more articles about what new students can expect in their first several weeks in law school, as well as strategies for success.
It’s that time of year when law schools are preparing to welcome new students to Orientation and their first semester of classes. As a new law student, you have probably received numerous communications from your law school, providing a variety of instructions regarding your 1L year. You may have read some books which describe the law school experience, and you may have current or former law students giving you advice. There are a wealth of articles on this blog to help you during your transition to law school, but I thought that I would highlight some that may be particularly useful in the first few weeks. Here they are:
First, a couple of articles explaining one of the common approaches to the law school classroom, Socratic Method:
More posts about how to be a successful law student coming in the future. In the meantime, does anyone have any specific questions or concerns about starting law school? Feel free to put your questions in the comments section for this post.
Incoming and returning law students are often interested in finding apps to support their studies in law school. Here is a post from the blog, updated to include new editions. I hope you find these suggestions helpful!
I often have incoming law students ask me what they should be doing the summer before they start law school. You want to do well, and you may be concerned that you will be left behind if you don’t do something to get a head start. In response to those questions, here are 4 suggestions for things that you can do the summer before starting law school (as well as some suggestions for what not to do as well!):
1. Do some reading. But don’t read every book out there on how to succeed in law school. Many students think that they need to read as much as possible about law school and the subjects they will be studying. But there are three problems with that kind of approach. First, many of the books that are out there are written by people who were successful in law school themselves, but these people may not have any expertise in how to help other people be successful. Second, you don’t need to be an expert on the law before you even come to law school—if you did, law school wouldn’t be necessary in the first place. You could just study on your own and then take the bar exam. Third, students who try to prepare too much in the summer before law school often end up burning out because their brains are already tired before the first day.
So what should you read instead? Read for fun. Read those novels you haven’t had time to read because you were finishing up that senior project in undergrad (and won’t have much time for once law school begins). Read some magazines, or even some comic books! Have fun with reading rather than making it a chore. And if you really want to read something law related, still try to read books that are not too academically oriented. Everyone has their favorites, but here are a couple of websites that list some of the best law-related books: ABA Journal’s 25 Great Law Novels Ever, and 50 Greatest Legal Novels for Both Lawyers and Laymen.
2. Create a context for the things you will be studying in law school. Expand your understanding of the larger world, whether through travel, going to museums, reading and watching the news, or other efforts. Law is situated within the fabric of our society as a whole—its art, culture, political structure, debates, current events. The more background information you know, the more context you will have for the topics you will be studying in law school. And, as a bonus, it’s fun as well!
3. If you don’t already have one, develop a healthy routine to take care of your mind, body, and spirit. As I’m sure that you’ve heard before, law school is an intense, often stressful, experience. Developing the habits that you need to take care of yourself now will help you tremendously once you are in law school. What each person needs in this respect is different, although there are some common elements. Try to eat food that are good for you—what nourishes the body also nourishes the brain! Develop some type of exercise plan. For some people it may be running, while for others it may be yoga or swimming. Even if you just take a walk every day, you will be improving your overall health. You will be able to handle stress better, and it also can have a positive effect on your immune system. Law students often ignore their physical health because they are so focused on academics, but physical health can have a significant effect on mental health and academic performance as well.
4. Have some fun with friends and family. Law school will be a busy time, and you won’t always be able to spend as much time with friends and family as you would like. So take the opportunity this summer to have fun. Enjoy holidays like the Fourth of July with family. Have those cookouts, and go on those family vacations. Go to the movies. By spending time with your friends and family you will be communicating that they are important to you, even if you won’t have as much time to hang out with them in the Fall, and you will be recharging your batteries as well so that you are ready to hit the books in August!
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Yesterday, we explored some of the dos and don’ts for effective law school study groups. Today, I want to take that discussion a step further and explain how the members of your study group can develop your own hypothetical practice questions as you prepare for final exams.
One way to test your understanding of course material in law school is to go through hypothetical questions, but your casebooks and commercial study aids often have a limited number of practice questions. Students often ask me where they can find more practice questions, and I always explain that it is possible to create your own hypotheticals. This approach is particularly effective if you participate in a study group. For the best results, you should first complete your outline of the legal issue(s) you want to practice.
Here are 5 steps for creating hypothetical practice questions:
Identify specific legal issues that you want to practice. The best issues for this purpose are complex issues—the kind that you might have some difficulty with on an exam. For example, in Civil Procedure you might want to practice how you would apply the law to fact patterns where the Erie Doctrine or Subject Matter Jurisdiction was at issue. For Constitutional Law, you might choose to focus on Equal Protection or Due Process issues. For Evidence, maybe you want to explore some of the hearsay exceptions.
Assign each member of your study group a time period or jurisdiction for their hypotheticals. Taking this approach ensures that two people do not bring the same hypothetical to the next group meeting. For example, if your group is going to study the Erie Doctrine, maybe one person looks for Erie cases from the Second Circuit, another looks for cases from the First Circuit, and the third looks for cases from the Third Circuit. Just make sure that, if the law has changed in recent years, you do not assign time periods prior to any changes in the law.
Each person will look for cases on Westlaw, LexisNexis, or other legal search platforms that focus on the legal issue your group has chosen. You may choose to create your own search terms or may look to see what other cases have cited the cases you studied in class. Just make sure that any cases you choose are still good law! (An added benefit to this process is that you practice your research skills as well!)
Look for cases that have a well-developed but concisely worded set of facts and good explanations of the legal outcomes. The statements of facts from your cases will become the foundation for your hypotheticals, and the court’s explanations are your answer keys for the hypotheticals.
Have each member of the study group bring 3 to 5 hypotheticals to your group’s next meeting. Take turns having each person present one of their hypotheticals. The other members of the group should talk through their legal analysis for that hypothetical, based upon their outlining and studying prior to the group meeting. After the group’s analysis is complete, the person who brought the hypothetical should explain how the court actually resolved the legal issue(s) in the underlying case.
Taking this approach, your study group can create an endless number of hypothetical questions. The process of talking through the legal analysis for these hypotheticals, as well as explaining how the court actually resolved the legal issues in this case, will improve your understanding of important legal issues and provide practice for how you should analyze similar fact patterns in your exams.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
With final exams coming up soon, I’ve had a number of law students ask me about how to use study groups to study for final exams. Study groups can be very helpful as you are preparing for finals—if you take the right approach. But it’s important to avoid some common pitfalls associated with study groups if you want to maximize their value in the upcoming weeks. Today, we will explore some of the Dos and Don’ts associated with law school study groups.
Don’t use study groups to divide up the work. Sometimes law students think that study groups can provide a shortcut for creating an outline. They will divide up the course materials among the members of the group, with each person only creating one part of the outline. The problem with this approach is that outlining is about synthesis. Some of the most important parts of law school learning take place as you weave together the course materials and figure out how everything fits together. Students who take the “divide and conquer” approach to outlining only fully understand the material that they have outlined on their own—if they are tested on the legal issues that others outlined, they do not tend to perform as well.
Instead,do use the study group to reinforce your own outlining. Some of the best study group meetings take place when everyone in the group has already tackled his or her own outline. Set a specific goal for what legal issues everyone must outline prior to the study group meeting. When the group comes together, you can compare what each person has done. If you have identified something you don’t understand, maybe another member of the group has figured that issue out and can explain it to you. You will be better off as you begin to see how others have interpreted the course materials, and you can clarify your own understanding of the legal issues. Even students who are teaching other members of the group benefit in this environment, as the process of teaching the material helps the teacher to understand it even better as well.
Don’t let study groups become a time drain. Sometimes study groups meet for long periods of time without really accomplishing anything. Law students usually have limited time available to study, and it’s important that your group study sessions do not degenerate into a gossip fest or otherwise not accomplish its goals.
Instead, do create an agenda for each study group meeting. Get the members of your study group to set goals for what you want to accomplish at each meeting, and create a plan for how you will accomplish those goals. Make sure that the study group stays on track at each meeting so that your goals are accomplished and your time is used effectively.
Don’t schedule so many study group meetings that you don’t have time to study on your own. Study groups can be one effective way to study, but as I talked about before, it is important to have the time to work on your own outlines as well.
Instead, do schedule study group meetings to ensure that you maximize both your personal study time and the benefits of the group. If properly spaced out, study group meetings can provide additional motivation for your studies and a system of accountability. There is nothing like knowing that someone else expects you to have something done to help you stay on track with your personal study plans.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s blog post, when I will explain how a study group can be used to create and explore hypothetical practice questions! And happy studying!