Category Archives: Stress and Mental Health

5 Tips for Surviving (and Thriving) during Law School Final Exams

image courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net

image courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net

As law students head into final exams, here are 5 tips for surviving (and thriving) during the final exam period:

(1) Take care of yourself. Law school exams are not a sprint but a marathon. Make sure that you get plenty of sleep each night – if you stay up late (or all night) trying to get ahead on your studies, your brain will not function as well afterwards. The next day, it will take you longer to accomplish tasks that would normally be easy, and lack of sleep also has a negative effect on memory. A tired brain does not contribute to academic success in law school. It’s also important to not skip meals – brains need food too! And make sure that you take regular breaks from your studies. Take a walk, or do something else that gets you up out of your chair. After each break, you will go back to your studies refreshed and ready to tackle your outlines!

(2) Create a study plan. Students commonly spend most of their study time on the first exam or two, and then they run out of steam before the end of the exam period. Print out a blank calendar, and divide up your days so that each class gets a reasonable portion of the remaining study time. You will realize that you need to rotate your schedule to give each class its due. For some students, maybe assigning one subject per day makes most sense; for other students, studying two subjects a day may work better. The important thing is to be intentional – if you have a study plan, you know exactly what you should be doing each day to stay on track and maximize your studying.

(3) Identify your priorities. Students often study for exams by going through their outlines over and over again, from cover to cover. Although that approach may work for reviewing course material throughout the semester, it is usually not the most efficient way to study in the days leading up to your final exams. Instead, create a checklist of issues for each subject (instructions for creating a checklist can be found here). Once you’ve created your checklists, start each day by printing out the checklist(s) for that day’s study subject(s). Go through the checklist, evaluating if you can comfortably discuss the law for each issue.

(4) Develop road maps. After you’ve created your outline, think about how you would actually use the information on an exam. If you identify a particular legal issue in an essay exam question, what would you do first? What would you do next? Some students create a flow chart that shows the analytical process they would use in their essays, while other students list a series of steps (kind of like following a recipe). The form is up to you, but try to do much of the thinking about how you would organize your analysis for each legal issue before you get into the exam. If you do, you will spend more time writing during the exam, and less time thinking. And your essays are likely to be more focused and better organized. The process of developing a road map also helps you to identify topics that may need more review.

(5) Take practice exams. Sometimes your professors have released old exams or practice questions. If they have, there’s an opportunity to better understand what your professors are looking for in the exam answers. One way to use a practice exam is to simulate the actual exam experience. Find a quiet, distraction-free place to take the practice exam. Time yourself, so that you write for the amount of time that the professor would allow for that question during an actual exam. If the exam is closed book, don’t look at your notes. Taking an exam, even if you only do one essay, can be a great way of assessing how prepared you are for the exam. You can then spend more time reviewing the areas of the law that seemed too vague or fuzzy. If you feel that you don’t have enough time to write out complete essays, you can still use a professor’s old exams to test your ability to spot legal issues and make sure that you know the law for those issues.

Following these tips can help you make the best use of limited time in the days leading up to final exams. Good luck on your exams!

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Filed under Law School Exams, Stress and Mental Health, Study Tips

Scheduling for Success

It’s that time of year when law students start thinking about what classes they will take during the next school year. The registrar’s office is sending out instructions for course enrollment, and you may be exploring the law school course schedule and course descriptions as you consider what classes you want to enroll in. I often have students ask me for advice about scheduling courses. Some students are overwhelmed by the options available to upper-level students, especially after having had no choice in their schedule during their first year of law school. These students may not even know where to start in creating a schedule for the upcoming year. Other students want to do too much—they see so many courses that sound interesting, and they are trying to cram them all into the Fall semester. Sometimes students have not done as well as they would like during their first year of law school, and they are concerned about creating a schedule that helps them be more successful and improve their GPA. You may have many concerns about how to create the best class schedule for you.

Here are some tips for choosing next year’s classes:

Start with the required courses. The first thing that you should do is figure out what classes are required for graduation. Law schools usually have a set of core required (or highly recommended) courses for graduation. Most, if not all, of those courses are also covered on the bar exam. Depending on your law school and state, these courses may include subjects such as Business Organizations, Administrative Law, Evidence, Wills and Trusts, Secured Transactions, Federal Taxation, etc. Every law student in the United States takes Professional Responsibility. You will also usually have upper-level writing requirements—and possibly other skills requirements. Some schools require certain courses to be taken in the second year and other courses in the third year. You should determine what specific requirements you will need to graduate and create a plan for when you will fulfill each of those requirements.

Don’t try to cram all required courses into one or two semesters though. It is good to be able to check off your requirements, but it won’t leave you time to explore new areas of the law if all you do is take required courses. Similarly, don’t wait until your final year of law school to try to take all required courses. Pushing off too many required courses until the end could reduce your options, make your schedule unwieldy, or even prevent you from graduating on time if you assume that a class will be offered and it isn’t in the schedule.

Ask yourself what academic experiences you want to have as a law student. If you are interested in participating in a clinic, you may first want to take some foundational classes that will help you get more out of the clinic experience. Some clinics may even have prerequisites. For example, Evidence and Criminal Procedure would be helpful and may be required for clinics focusing on criminal law issues, while Immigration Law would be beneficial for a student wanting to participate in an immigration law clinic. Similarly, if you are interested in pursuing a particular type of externship or internship, determine what courses provide a good background for that opportunity.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Look for classes that relate to your professional goals. If you are interested in labor and employment law, take classes related to those interests. If Environmental Law intrigues you, take not only classes specifically covering that topic but also related courses, such as Administrative Law. If you are interested in a judicial clerkship, you may want to take more writing courses because writing is so important in clerking. If you aren’t sure which courses might be helpful for your chosen career path, reach out to alumni practitioners. It’s a good opportunity to network, and you might be surprised about the courses that those attorneys think are important.

Take a class that inspires you and reminds you why you came to law school in the first place. If you are interested in litigation, taking Trial Practice, a Clinic, or some other course that allows you to apply what you are learning may reinvigorate your learning. If you’ve always enjoyed reading and writing, maybe a Law and Literature class is for you. Maybe you had a professor during your first year of law school who inspired you because of his or her enthusiasm for the course materials—see what other courses that professor offers.

Create a schedule that has balance. Think about what you need to be an effective learner. Schedule classes to maximize the way you study and the schedule that works best for you. Law schools will often post the final exam schedule before it is time to schedule your courses—check that schedule to see if you are choosing courses that have exams back-to-back, and find out what your law school’s policy is for rescheduling exams that are too close together. Even if you love writing, don’t sign up for too many writing courses at the same time. A student who is taking multiple seminar courses may find that the due dates are very close together or that the total amount of writing is hard to accomplish when taking into account the rest of his or her schedule.

If you make thoughtful choices about your course schedule, you will take the first step towards academic success in the upcoming school year. Just as important, you are likely to enjoy your law school experience much more as well.

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Making the Best Use of Spring Break in Law School

Law students the world over look forward to breaks from law school. Some students view these breaks as a holiday—a time to get away from the intense daily demands of their studies, travel, and visit with family and friends. Other students have ambitious plans for catching up or getting ahead in their studies. Regardless of which approach you take, you are probably pretty happy when you see Spring Break finally approaching. There is nothing wrong to either approach to Spring break, at least in the abstract. In fact, the best Spring Break plans should probably include some of both. The key is to come back to law school after the break in a better place than you were before—and accomplishing this task takes just a little advance planning.

Here are a few tips for making the best use of your Spring Break or other holidays:

Set reasonable goals for studying during the break. I often have law students tell me that they are going to outline for all of their classes during the break, do practice exams for each class, get ahead in their reading assignments, and read a bunch of supplements. Spring break can be the perfect time to work on getting caught up in your studies, but it is important to set realistic goals. After all, Spring Break usually only lasts a week. You aren’t superhuman, and you can’t do everything. When you set unrealistic goals for yourself, it is easy to get defeated and give up when you realize that you can’t get everything done. Instead, decide what your highest priority items are, and focus on those first. Create a study schedule for yourself during the break, and set reasonable goals for what you intend to accomplish during each of those study sessions. You will be focused and productive, and your efforts will build momentum for the weeks leading up to final exams.

Image courtesy of smokesalmon at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of smokesalmon at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Give yourself permission to take some time off. Don’t get me wrong—it’s good to work on getting caught up on your studies during Spring Break. In fact, I encourage you to do so. But it isn’t particularly healthy to work long days every day during the break, including weekends. There is still a lot of time before the end of the semester, and you don’t want to burn yourself out. If you take a little time off from your studies, you will come back refreshed and ready to tackle the hard stuff. At the minimum, give yourself a couple of days off entirely. Do something fun. Get out of the house. See your friends and family. Read that book (for fun) that everyone has been talking about. Go see a movie. Do something entirely unrelated to law. On the days that you study, take regular breaks. Maybe you will decide to get up and do your studying from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm each day, and then take the rest of the day off. (You can even accomplish this if you travel on vacation during the break—just make sure your goals and study schedule are reasonable!) If you set realistic study goals for yourself and create a study plan to achieve those goals, you will be able to build in some time to relax as well. Your studies will be more productive, and you will return to law school ready to tackle the remainder of the semester.

Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Make vacation plans that recharge your batteries, not leave you even more tired. Maybe you are caught up on your law school studies, and you’ve decided to go on vacation during Spring Break. (Or you are making it a combination study/travel break!) It’s important to make sure that your vacation plans don’t leave you exhausted as you are heading back to classes. It’s still a long uphill climb to final exams, and you won’t be setting yourself up for success if you have run full speed the entire break. It’s best to avoid the type of Spring Break plans that were popular in undergrad, where everyone partied hard and drank heavily every night. Think about what you need to do for yourself to recharge your batteries while you on vacation, and following through on those things will help you in the long term. I also recommend that you not plan to come home at the very last minute—it’s good to give yourself the time to get sorted about before classes resume, and you will have reading to do for your upcoming classes.

Above all, think balance. As with everything in law school, taking a balanced approach to Spring Break and other holidays will help to keep you on the right path to academic and personal success.

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Filed under General, Outlines, Stress and Mental Health, Study Tips

Staying True to the Course During Final Exams

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Final exams can be a stressful time for law students. Much, if not all, of your grade for each course hinges upon how you do on the exam. There’s a lot of pressure, and it can be easy to become distracted by what is going on around you. If you study at the law school (or even follow your law school friends on Twitter, Facebook, or other forms of social media), you will hear students talking about how stressed they are. The more you listen to them, the more stressed you find yourself as well!

One of the things that law students often do is compare what they are doing to prepare for exams to what others are doing. One student will talk about how he is studying so hard that he has quit taking showers—basic hygiene simply takes too much time! Another student claims that she is surviving on gallons of coffee, candy bars, and four hours of sleep a night. You hear two others arguing over who has more supplements for Torts, or Evidence, or Secured Transactions . . . and when you look at their table in the library, it looks like they have accumulated an entire bookstore of supplements! You begin to feel that, in comparison to these other students, you just aren’t putting enough effort into your studies.

Or maybe you are still trying to study with your study group, and you find that the study sessions quickly deteriorate from a productive environment to a gossip session or gripe fest. Or, when you finish an exam, some of your classmates immediately start going through each part of the exam, trying to figure out what they got right and what issues they might have missed. Listening to them, you convince yourself that you must have failed—it doesn’t seem like they are even talking about the same exam as the one you just completed! Rather than turning your attention to studying for the next exam, you spend your time wondering if you should use the holiday break to come up with an alternative career plan.

If you resemble any of the students I’ve described above, you’re not alone in your feelings. Each semester, law students go through the same experiences, and it can be particularly stressful for students just finishing their first semester. But it is important not to let the stress, the comparisons, and the other distractions prevent you from accomplishing what you are capable of on exams. As you make your way through your finals this semester, keep in mind the following tips for staying true to the course:

  • Surround yourself with the right environment. If the law school is becoming too distracting, find a coffee bar, public library, or other location to study. If your law school friends are complaining about exams too much on social media, limit the time you spend reading their tweets and posts. If the study group isn’t working for you any more, take a leave of absence from it until next semester.
  • Don’t compare yourself to other students. Everyone has a different approach to outlining, studying, and memorizing information, and what works for someone else may not work for you. Furthermore, what you hear other students talking about may not be working for them either! A lot of times students get caught up in comparisons that are more related to quantity rather than quality—those types of comparisons are rarely accurate or helpful.
  • Don’t relive each exam as soon as it’s over. Resist the urge to revisit the exam immediately after you’ve left the classroom. Students rarely remember the exam accurately in its aftermath, and that type of discussion only leads to increased stressed and distraction. Close the door on that exam, and focus forward on what comes next—whether it is another exam or a well-deserved holiday break. You’ll have time enough next semester to meet with your professor to review how you did on that exam, and that review will be much more beneficial than any speculation about exam results right now.
  • Take care of yourself. Law school final exams are a marathon, not a sprint. It is important to eat well, get exercise, get a good night’s sleep each night, and build small breaks into your study so that your brain comes back to things refreshed.

Stay true to the course, and good luck on the rest of your exams!

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Thanksgiving Break and Law School

Image courtesy of watiporn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of watiporn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Thanksgiving holiday period is always an interesting time for law students. It’s so close to the end of the semester—some schools finish their regular class schedule right before Thanksgiving, while others will come back for another week of classes before final exams begin. If you are a 1L, you are getting ready for your first set of final exams as a law student, and many of your classes may depend on the final exam as the only grade for the course. But upper-level students are also feeling the pressure, especially if you have fallen behind on your outlining and other exam preparations. Some students choose not to travel to visit family to the holiday, concerned about potential distractions from studying, while others feel that a visit home is just what they need at this point in the semester.

Regardless of whether you are going to be with family or on your own for the Thanksgiving holidays, there are things that you can do to stay on track with your law school studies. Like so much about law school, the key to studying over Thanksgiving break (or any other holiday break, for that matter!) is balance.

Here are some tips to making this upcoming week a time for both recharging the batteries and getting ready for final exams:

1. Give yourself permission to take a break. Sometimes law students feel so guilty about taking time off that they don’t actually enjoy the holidays. But it’s important to take a break sometimes so that you can recharge your batteries, and your family and friends’ support may be just what you need after working so hard this semester. Whether you are going home to visit family or staying near school for the Thanksgiving break, give yourself some time off so that you come back to your studies refreshed and ready to tackle your finals. At the same time, law students are rarely in the position to take the entire Thanksgiving break off from their studies, so consider the additional suggestions below.

2. Create realistic goals for what you want to accomplish during the holiday period. Students often tell me that they packed every casebook, supplement, notebook, etc. when they traveled home for the holidays, and it isn’t necessarily realistic to think that you will have the time to work on every single class. When students set unrealistic goals for themselves, they are tempted to give up entirely once they realize that they do not have time to get everything done. If you set realistic goals, you are much more likely to accomplish what you set out to do. The result will be that you build momentum as you head into the final exam period.

3. Create a schedule, and stick to it. If you do go home for the holidays, create a realistic schedule for what you want to accomplish—and, most importantly, hold yourself to that schedule. Communicate with family and friends about what you need to accomplish, and find the time and the right distraction-free location to get your work done. Maybe you set aside several hours each morning to work on your outlines, and then visit with family and friends in the afternoons and evenings. Or maybe you commit to studying all day long on certain days so that you take other days off entirely. If you set aside time to study and stick to it, you will be able to enjoy your time off even more because you won’t feel like you have so much hanging over you. If you are not traveling for the holidays though, make sure that you take the same approach—create a study schedule for the break so that you accomplish your study goals. It’s much easier to make progress when you have a plan for what you want to accomplish.

4. Get some sleep. Make sure that you come back from the Thanksgiving break refreshed and ready to tackle the end of the semester. This is the perfect time to make sure that you are getting enough sleep, eating well, and getting exercise so that your brain and your body are ready for those final exams.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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The Value of Practice Exams in Law School

The fall semester is flying by at a rapid pace, and final exams are quickly approaching. Whether this is your first set of exams or you are an upper-level student with experience taking law school exams, practice exams can be a valuable study tool. Here are some ways that you can use practice exams to improve your preparation for exams:

(1) Practice exams can provide insight into your professor’s expectations. Many professors release at least some of their past exams. Those past exams may be handed out in class, posted to the course website, or put on reserve at the law school library. You miss an important opportunity to understand your professor’s approach to exams if you do not review available past exams. As you look at the exams, ask yourself: Are the essay questions constructed in a way that gives you plenty of time to analyze all legal issues, or are there more legal issues than it is possible to cover in the allotted time? Do multiple choice questions resemble the types of questions that are on the bar exam, and you have to apply the law to hypothetical fact patterns? Or do the multiple choice questions just test your basic understanding of the black letter law? Do they ask for the best answer, or just the correct answer?

(2) Practice exams can help you gauge the effectiveness of your outlining and study strategies. Taking practice exams can help you determine whether your outline includes the information that you need for ultimate success in your final exams. After you take a practice exam, you should note the areas in the practice essays where you either missed legal issues or didn’t fully develop them, and you should also make note of legal issues that were tested in the multiple choice questions you missed. Go back and reevaluate your outline at that point, making sure that you have included everything you needed to answer those types of questions. You may need to add additional detail to your outline, or maybe you discover that reorganizing it will be more helpful. Use the practice exam as a ruler to measure your pre-exam preparations.

When you evaluate your outlines, you may discover that everything that you needed is actually in your outline, but you just don’t know that information well enough to use it on an exam. If that’s the case, set aside more time to review your outlines on a regular basis, and consider whether it would be helpful to create flashcards to help you memorize important legal tests and definitions.

(3) Practice exams can reduce anxiety about testing. Another way practice exams can be helpful is by making you feel more comfortable with the testing process. Many students struggle with anxiety on exam days, and that anxiety can interfere with their ability to be successful in their exams. The more practice exams you take, the more prepared you will feel for that experience. Your brain will be used to thinking about the material in the way that it will be tested, and it should help to reduce your stress. You can come up with strategies for how you will approach different types of questions in advance—there should be no real surprises on exam day.

(4) Practice exams can provide focus for study group meetings. Members of your study group can take practice exams prior to meeting, and then use the meeting to go over those exams. Or your group may take either essay questions or multiple choice questions and answer them together during your meeting. Sometimes talking through practice exams with someone else, who may have a different perspective and identify different legal issues than you have, can be helpful.

Everyone’s heard that slogan, “Practice makes perfect.” Although practice does not guarantee perfect scores on your law school exams, it can help you hone your study strategies, focus your attention on what your professor expects you to know, and reduce test-taking anxiety. Practice exams can help put you on the path to academic success in law school.

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Socratic Method Survival Guide

Today’s post is about how to survive—and even thrive—in a Socratic Method classroom. One of the most stressful parts of the first several weeks of law school is that many of your professors will use Socratic Method. If you’re an introvert, you may find that it’s even harder to make that feeling of dread go away. When a professor uses Socratic Method, the student is in the spotlight. You can’t always predict what the professor is going to ask you (or when you will be called on!), and, if you are a new law student, you are still trying to figure out what is expected of you and may feel a bit overwhelmed by everything that you have to learn.

Here are some keys to surviving (and growing from) the Socratic Method:

Prepare: In some ways this is the obvious one, but it’s really important and worth repeating. Preparation is the foundation to all success in law school. You have to consistently do the reading, brief the cases, and review your case briefs and class notes if you want to be successful at anything in law school, including the Socratic Method. It will be almost impossible to answer the professor’s question without putting in the hard work first.

Listen: Another key to tackling Socratic Method is active listening. It can be easy to tune out what is going on when your professor is focusing his or her attention on someone else. Often professors will transfer a line of questioning from one student to the next. If you are listening closely to the dialogue that preceded yours, you will often have a better context for the questions you will face.

It is also important to listen carefully to what your professor asks you, and how he or she responds to your answers. Sometimes we tune people out once we think we know where they are going with their questions—we start thinking about our answers instead. It’s important to make sure that you hear the professor’s full question though so that you can respond to exactly what has been asked. Especially as a new law student, you will most likely not predict where the professor is going with the questioning if you do not focus on what is being said.

Engage: Not only should you listen to the questions your professor is asking of other students, but you should actively engage with those questions. Ask yourself what your response would be to the questions that the professor is asking and compare your answers to the other students’ answers. Not only will engaging help you to understand the context of the questions if you are called on next, it is also a great way of practicing Socratic Method without being the student on the “hot seat.”

Anticipate: Part of what students find so stressful about Socratic Method is the fear of the unknown. Especially as a new law student, it often seems impossible to predict what your professor might ask you about what you’ve read. Although you may not know exactly what your professor will ask you, there are things that you can do to anticipate at least some of the possible questions. First, many professors will ask questions about specific parts of the cases you have read, and creating a good case brief for each case will help you to anticipate and answer those types of questions. Second, when you have read multiple cases that relate to the same legal issue, a professor might ask you questions about that relationship. If you think about those relationships before you come to class, you will be better prepared to answer those types of questions. Third, the notes after cases often set up additional hypotheticals—professors will often use those hypotheticals, or other similar hypotheticals, as an inspiration for Socratic Method questioning. Work through the hypotheticals from your assigned reading in advance, and you will be better able to anticipate possible questions in class.

Review: Not all questions come from the current day’s assigned reading—sometimes professors will ask you to consider how a case from today’s assignment relates to or compares to something that you read a week (or a month) before. As you read for each class, ask yourself if there are any aspects from that reading that relate to previous cases that you’ve read. If you identify anything, make a note of it in the margin of your case brief so that you are prepared if the professor asks this type of question. Even if the professor doesn’t ask, the time spent reviewing in this way will not be a waste—identifying these types of relationships will help you to organize course materials for your outlines and exams.

Simulate: Finally, for students who get really stressed about being called upon and having to speak in class, it can help to simulate the Socratic Method experience outside of class. This is where having a study partner can really come in handy. After you both have read for class and created your case briefs, you can take turns quizzing each other as if you were the professor. Sometimes the experience of having to give your answers aloud to someone else, even if it doesn’t involve the same pressure that you feel in the classroom, can help you get used to being put on the spot and speaking confidently about what you have studied.

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4 Tips for Handling Criticism

Receiving criticism can be a difficult experience. As a law student and future lawyer, you will receive criticism on a regular basis–and it won’t always be presented in a positive way. One form of criticism you may receive happens in the classroom when the professor is not satisfied with a response you gave to a question. You also receive criticism in the form of feedback you get from judges after moot court or trial competitions, or, most commonly, in comments on graded assignments.

It is easy to react negatively when we receive criticism. Often, criticism can make us feel defensive–we may feel that we are under attack. Some people respond to criticism by shutting down emotionally–but it really is an opportunity for growth. The time spent in law school can be an opportunity to learn how to handle criticism in a productive way. If you approach it with the right attitude, you will grow even more as a law student and attorney. You will also find getting feedback less stressful.

Here are some tips for turning criticism into opportunities for positive growth:

Recognize that criticism is almost never personal. You may say, “Of course it’s personal! It’s directed towards me!” That’s true, but criticism is rarely about who you are as a person. Instead, criticism is usually related to your actions (or inactions), things that relate to your interactions or communications with others.  Recognizing that criticism is not meant to be a personal attack is the first step in learning how to handle criticism.

Don’t immediately react–instead, listen. Resist the urge to react defensively when you first receive criticism. Instead, listen to what the other person is saying. When we immediately start thinking of our response to what someone else is saying, we quit listening. If you listen, you will identify more opportunities for growth.

Reframe criticism as something positive. If you make the conscious choice to reframe criticism as a tool for further improvement, you will take away some of its sting. Changing how you think about criticism may not be easy, but, if you reframe how you think about it every time you catch yourself having a negative response, you will be open to those opportunities for growth.

View criticism as a communication of the other person’s needs. When you receive criticism, it may be because what you have provided to the other person doesn’t entirely meet their requirements or needs. If you listen closely to criticism in those situations, you will be able to tailor your responses to the situation in a way that is most helpful to that other person.

Learning how to handle criticism in the right way helps you to not make the same mistakes twice. When you begin to view criticism as an opportunity for growth rather than a negative experience, you will change how others view you as well. You will gain a reputation for being a good listener (a critical skill in the legal profession), and your professors, supervisors, and bosses will come to rely on your positive responses when they give you feedback. Truly, learning how to handle criticism in one of the keys to success in law school–and in the legal profession!

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Time Management and Law School Success

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One quality that successful law students have is effective time management skills. Time management is important not only because you have to be able to manage your time in order to get everything done in law school but also because it can help to reduce your stress and keep your priorities (both academic and personal) in focus.

Regardless of whether you are a full-time or part-time student, you should approach law school as a job with regular hours. Create a schedule for yourself. The schedule should allow you to see what you need to be doing hour by hour, day by day, week by week, and month by month, throughout the entire semester. Some students choose to keep an electronic planner, accessible on a smartphone, tablet, or computer. Others use hardbound organizer or academic calendar.

Whether you choose an electronic calendar or hard copy organizer, here are some things to keep in mind as you create your schedule:

  • Set aside time for everything you need to do during the day: your classes, work schedule, and any other commitments that you have outside of law school. Don’t forget about time traveling to and from school as well, especially if you have a significant commute.
  • Block out study time for each of your classes. The general rule of thumb is that you should spend approximately three hours outside of class studying for each hour that you spend in class. For example, if you have Torts on Mondays for one and a half hours, you will then need to schedule at least four and a half hours to read and brief cases for that class. As a new law student, you may find that it takes you even longer at first to get through your assignments, as you are still learning some of the foundational things you need to be successful in each of your classes. This is very different from most students’ experience in undergrad, where assignments could usually be completed in much less time. If you do not schedule enough time to prepare for each of your classes, you will fall behind in your studies, and it will be difficult to catch back up.
  • As you schedule time to study, ask yourself: “When is my brain most alert? Do I remember things better first thing in the morning, or am I rejuvenated and ready to tackle difficult reading for several hours in the evening after I go running or go to the gym?” Schedule your most difficult tasks for the times that you are freshest, and you will maximize your use of your time.
  • Don’t forget to set aside time in your schedule to take good care of yourself. Set aside time for meals, exercise, and breaks. You will come back to your studies refreshed and much more ready to tackle the difficult cases if you schedule this type of time into your day.

Make sure that you periodically reassess your schedule. You may find that your reading in certain classes goes faster than others, or that there are weeks when you need to schedule in more time to work on a Legal Writing assignment. Tweaking your schedule will maximize its effectiveness.

 

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Motivation Techniques for Studying for the Bar Exam

Although the time that you spend studying for the bar exam is not that long when compared to many other things you have done as a law student, it is an intensive, stressful, and often monotonous process. In the first days and weeks of bar prep, it can be relatively easy to stay focused on what you need to accomplish, but, as time goes on, it may be harder and harder to motivate yourself to spend the amount of time studying that is really required for success on the bar exam. At this point in the summer, it may be time to add some motivational techniques to your study plan.

Reward System

One way to motivate yourself as you study is to create a reward system. For example, some law students have already developed a reward system that is easily adapted to studying for the bar. In this system, the student chooses some type of snack system—it could be M&Ms, gummy bears, pistachios, blueberries, or something else that is small and appealing to you. One item is placed next to each paragraph, page, section, etc. of the study materials, depending upon how often you want to reward yourself. As you finish that part of your reading, you then get to eat your snack reward.

Another way to approach the reward system is to think of something that you really enjoy doing. Some examples might include: going to a movie; playing a video game; getting a pedicure; or going to the zoo or a museum. Set a “price” for that experience, in the form of points. Then determine how many points you can earn for various study activities. Study away and start racking up the points! Once you have earned enough points, you can “cash” them in for a little study break.

Giving yourself something to look forward to, however small, can be a great way of infusing new purpose into your studies.

Improved Study Environment

Another way to motivate yourself is to figure out a way to improve your study environment. Once again, this is a technique that gives you something to look forward to as you study. Maybe you love coffee—you might get yourself a gourmet bean that you only allow yourself to brew when you are studying for the bar exam. If tea is your thing, you might splurge on a special loose leaf tea and even make the brewing process part of your de-stress routine. It might be a special snack, or a lunch item that you look forward to. Or maybe it is a particular pen that is more expensive, but the smooth flow of the ink, or maybe its color, satisfies something inside of you. (Some people adopt inexpensive fountain pens, for example.)

Whatever it is, knowing that you have something special that you like but only get when you are studying can provide additional motivation for bar studies.

Accountability System

Finally, as we’ve discussed previously, creating accountability can be a great way of motivating yourself as you study for the bar. Approach a friend who is also in the midst of bar prep, and create a system with that person so that you check in each day and see how things are going. It’s amazing how, when you set goals and articulate them to someone else, you are inspired to accomplish what you’ve set out to do.

Whatever approach you decide to take, focus on motivating yourself to work hard at your bar studies. I’ve never heard bar takers say that they regretted studying hard for the bar, but I have heard those who failed the bar exam say that they wished they’d pushed harder.

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