Category Archives: Law Student Voices

Law Student Voices: If I Did It All Over Again . . . Advice for Incoming 1Ls

Hello all! For those of you who do not know me, my name is Angela and I am a 3L at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago. I am going to school full-time, and would ideally like to practice real estate or bankruptcy law.

Most of you reading this are probably incoming 1Ls, and to you, I will say this: Congratulations on everything you’ve achieved thus far, because very soon, you will feel as though you know ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

But wait!, you may say: “I’ve read all the cases, I’ve looked at all of the supplements before class, I went to an early bird class!” I will tell you this right now, no matter how much preparation you have done prior to law school, you will still feel like you know nothing. This is an incredibly frustrating point in a law student’s life. You essentially go from feeling smart (because you have to be to enter law school) to feeling like that kid in undergrad who never read for class and was drunk/high during class. The professor will call on you, and you won’t know the answer to his question. Even worse, he won’t just pass over you (unless you have a nice professor—but they will not all be that nice). You will be forced to have a dialogue with the professor about a topic you’re unsure about, and most likely you’ll be wrong.

With all that negativity behind us now, what is the best piece of advice I have for incoming 1Ls?

DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME WITH PEOPLE WHO AREN’T RIGHT FOR YOU.

Now, what does that possibly mean?

It means that everyone in your life, from family to friends to significant others, needs to be examined BEFORE you walk into your first day of law school. Inevitably, you know people who are incredibly supportive. Those people are important. But wait! I am going to complicate things more by saying that not all people need the same kind of people in their 1L life.

Huh?

For example, as a 1L I needed people to bounce ideas off of. I would get out of class at 5:30 and want to talk over my day. Extensively. Essentially, I needed people to talk to, not only about law school, but about the outside world as well. Believe me, the law school life tends to consume you during your first semester of law school. For me, I needed that balance between law school and the greater world.

I knew other people who would get out of the same class at 5:30, grab dinner, and then study until the library closed at 11. Those people liked to sleep in, so that schedule worked for them. Those people wouldn’t want the same “Let’s talk to each other for an extended period of time” people that I needed. They may talk to friends only once a week.

My point is that my friend and I would not have been happy with the same group of people. We had different needs. In the same way, you need to examine and decide what kind of friends you want to keep around, and what friends you will need to talk to before law school. For example, if you’re like my friend and keep to yourself most of the time, you may want to pull aside some talkative friends and explain that your time is valuable, and you won’t be able to talk to them every day. Same thing if you’re my personality type.

One BIG point that I want to make: Don’t waste any time on people who do not care about you and who do not understand your journey (especially if you’ve spoken to them about the situation). These people are POISON and will mess up your first semester grades. This applies mostly to relationships, although it can apply to friends as well. If you sit down with your significant other/friend and explain your concerns, and your significant other/friend ignores them, then DUMP THEM! I held on to someone who didn’t care about me for the majority of my first semester of law school. This individual was not a good fit for me because, after I explained my issues, nothing changed. I finally realized it . . . in early November.

Moral of the story: Don’t make the same mistakes I did! Examine your relationships NOW, before you are beat down by the stress of the first semester of law school. Better yet, enjoy the stress and learn from it—you will look back and smile (or grimace . . . ) after you’re done with your first semester.

This post was authored by Angela M. Biesiada, J.D. Candidate, Class of 2015, The John Marshall Law School, Chicago, Illinois.

1 Comment

Filed under General, Law Student Voices

Law Student Voices: A Review of the BriefCase. App

Other posts on this blog have made reference to the importance of briefing cases for class (here and here). Briefing is an important skill for first year students to master early on, if for no other reason than it forces 1Ls to separate elements of a case into a basic conceptual framework. At the same time, to new law students, briefing can often feel like a relic of the past. Until recently, there has not been a modern equivalent to keep tech-savvy Generation Y on the road to success. Enter: BriefCase., an iPad app.

Creator David Lutz, a third-year student at The University of Michigan Law School, has found a way to quickly and easily separate segments of court opinions and documents into a condensed form. BriefCase. is beautifully designed with smooth transitions, a simple interface, and intuitive controls. Folders are available to keep cases and their briefs organized within the app. Highlighting is color-coded to match the various assignable sections (i.e., facts, procedural history, etc.) and is easy to understand. The student (or practitioner) can also add notes, define terms, or search through documents.

BriefCase highlighter

BriefCase highlighted example

While the app is free to download and enjoy the basic functionality, there are a number of paid features available with a yearly subscription fee of $9.99. So why would anyone want to upgrade if you get the gist of the features for free? Simply put, BriefCase. is an entirely different app with a subscription (note: this author has only utilized the free version). From the FAQ, discussing the difference in account type: Premium Users will be assigned a personal @thebriefcaseapp.com address to automatically import cases from their preferred legal research website. They will also be able to sync with Google Drive and Dropbox, share briefs via e-mail and print their work. Free Users will not be able to remove their work from the application and must import cases manually.

In terms of usefulness, the free version only slightly gets to the point of the app. While students can brief cases, those briefs are trapped on your iPad. There are some professors who are radically opposed to technology and refuse to allow students to use it in the classroom. While there are valid concerns (i.e., Facebook, iMessage, shoe shopping), technology is capable of aiding many students in the learning process.

BriefCase final briefIt should be noted that students choosing to brief cases with this app are essentially copy-pasting rather than synthesizing “nuggets” from the bedrock of text. The effectiveness of this method is likely debatable. There are those who would argue that synthesizing is the whole point to briefing. Additionally, the vast majority of law students use a casebook with edited versions rather than downloading full-text opinions. As such, the best use of BriefCase. is either in the context of legal writing assignments or for young (by experience, not age) practitioners open to incorporating new technology into the workplace.

Verdict: try it out, it’s free! The Premium version appears to be leaps and bounds more useful than its free counterpart, but the free version has largely the same functionality. If you can bear to have your brilliant work confined to one device, this app may be worth a shot.

This review was authored by Justin Iverson, J.D. Candidate, Class of 2015, Savannah Law School.

**This review is not intended to be an endorsement of any product. Its sole purpose is to provide useful information to law students.

Leave a comment

Filed under General, Law Student Voices, Legal Writing and Oral Arguments, Study Tips, Technology

Law Student Voices: Finding Balance in Law School

 

Image courtesy of chanpipat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of chanpipat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One of the most difficult tasks for a law student at any stage of law school is to find balance. It is easy to succumb to the many long hours of studying and school-related activities. However, focusing on law school to the exclusion of everything else can be a recipe for disaster. One key ingredient to law school success is taking affirmative steps to care for your mental and physical health.

In our first year legal writing class, we were taught the importance of incubation. Incubation is a period of time, after saturating your brain with research, when you go do something non-law related to allow your brain to make the subconscious connections that cannot be made while actively thinking about a problem. Allowing your brain to quiet for a short period of time can lead to that pivotal moment where the solution to your problem becomes clear. Personally, I took this advice and applied it to all aspects of law school. When life gets overwhelming, I do something active—usually running—in order to re-group and recharge. I also run one mile with a friend before every exam. This helps us to get out some of our physical anxiety and gives us a few minutes for mental preparation. Each person has to choose an activity that fits their life. Even though running is what works for me, for others it may be meditation, yoga, creative writing, reading for pleasure, going on a date with your significant other, seeing a movie, etc.— anything enjoyable that is not law-school related. Obviously, this technique will not work if you let it take away from your studies. But allowing yourself a short break will keep your brain sharp and fresh, ready to dominate the mental gymnastics of law school.

It’s also important for law students to pay attention to their sleep and diet. Busy schedules and dedication to excellence can lead to poor eating and sleeping habits. These two things are very important to mental health. It will be more difficult to pay attention in class or create outlines if you are exhausted. You will spend your energy trying to stay awake rather than absorbing the material. Sleeping enough and eating well will keep your energy up and provide the endurance to keep pushing forward on your law school journey.

My colleagues frequently ask how I have time to run with all the demands of law school. My answer is always the same, how can I not? I know I owe it to myself to take care of my body and my mind, so I find the time. This is my challenge to you: Take care of yourselves, make the time!

This post was authored by Amanda M. Fisher, J.D. Candidate, Class of 2015, Savannah Law School.

Leave a comment

Filed under General, Law Student Voices, Stress and Mental Health

Law Student Voices: Taking the Wheel on the Journey to JD

Image courtesy of dan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of dan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Legal education has evolved over the decades from being a singular means to an end to just one step in the process. Many years ago, to become a lawyer a person simply got the education. Then upon graduation, employers would come knocking, handing out jobs and benefits. Now the roles have reversed: it is our responsibility to convince employers to take a chance on us. It is no longer enough to earn a J.D. and pass the bar exam. Surprisingly, there is still a lingering expectation, despite the recession and debates about how legal education is losing value, that law students will graduate and “magically” land a great job. We must understand that our legal destiny is largely within our own control.

Each student entering law school needs to not just know but fully understand that we get out of it what we put into it. Granted, that concept is simple and seems obvious, but I’m not sure many students truly grasp it. Drawing from my own experiences and observations, here are some suggestions for putting this principle into practice:

Grades: Law school is hard! The most important thing is to always put 110% effort towards our grades. (One caveat: Performance in law school is not the only definition of living a fulfilling life. More later on balance and holding on to sanity during this journey.) Grades are one of the most visible defining characteristics of a law student, and the outside world, legal or otherwise, will place a heavy emphasis on grades. So, this means: do your reading, ask questions, study with others, and consult trusted mentors to help you with success strategies. Although some people may have more of a natural inclination for understanding the law, that is not a free pass for others to simply give up on excellence because of having different strengths. The Law School Curve makes life interesting and difficult when it comes to grades, but always giving your best efforts will keep you from ever wondering if there was more you could have done.

Get Involved! Extracurriculars such as moot court, trial team, and law review are valuable in so many ways. These activities not only “look good on a resume” but provide practical skills that will be useful later. I’ve had the privilege of competing in two moot court competitions so far. The skills and confidence that I have gained from these experiences are invaluable. Panel interview for a big law firm? Bring it on! In this same vein, internships and externships are equally as valuable. They give us real world experience that shows potential employers that we are willing and ready to tackle hands-on application of what we are learning in the classroom. This is an area ripe for us to take control of our futures. If you are interested in working for a firm or externing with a government office that is not currently affiliated with your school, ask your career services office for guidance on initiating contact. Don’t wait for someone else to get the ball rolling because that person will then have the advantage of impressing a potential employer.

Networking: Everyone knows someone who can help shape our futures, sometimes in the most unexpected places. I have stumbled upon amazing opportunities simply by striking up a conversation with someone new. I highly recommend carrying business cards. Don’t be afraid to let people know that you are in law school. You may be speaking with someone who has a relative or close friend who is the hiring partner at a firm. Also, always keep in mind that, as a lawyer, your name and reputation are all that you have. Act professionally and courteously at all times. You never know when you are making an impression on your next employer.

The key is to take active control of your law school experience—you have the power to make it a good one!

This post was authored by Amanda M. Fisher, J.D. Candidate, Class of 2015, Savannah Law School.

2 Comments

Filed under General, Law Student Voices