Category Archives: Stress and Mental Health

Managing Time in A Crisis

Photo by Aphiwat Chuangchoem on Pexels.com

Have you ever heard this quote, commonly attributed to the philosopher Voltaire: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.“? As you approach final exams, it can be a good adage to remember. Law students approaching final exams often have ideal goals in mind: I want to have the perfect outlines. … I want to complete a certain number of practice exams for each class. … I want to create flashcards for every key term for each class. … I want to go to my professors’ office hours and make sure I’ve addressed any questions I have about course materials. … I want to meet with my study group and go over what I’ve learned. … You get the picture.

These are great academic goals, and in an ideal world we would do them all. In fact, under normal circumstances, law students start out with plans to do these things and prioritize their time so that they accomplish most, if not all, of them by the end of the semester. But our current circumstances are not normal, and it’s hard to maintain a “business as usual” approach to law school studies. You’re adjusting to a new online learning environment, and some of your course requirements may have changed as your professors transitioned your class to online platforms. There are likely more distractions than normal, such as news updates about the coronavirus on TV, family members or roommates (or even pets) sharing your home space and needing your attention, or neighbors who are noisier than usual. There may be new stresses as well: financial concerns, bar exam uncertainty, fear that you or those you care about getting the virus. And it’s understandable that all of these things are going to have an effect on your study plans.

In these circumstances, attempting to stick to the “perfect” plan may paralyze you. You likely see at this point that your original goals are not fully in reach. For some, that realization can reduce your motivation to try at all. For others, the tasks ahead of you seem insurmountable. You may be struggling to just keep up with the day-to-day work in your online classes, let alone prepare for final exams.

So how can you make progress under these circumstances? I think there are five keys to managing your study time during this challenging time:

First, be realistic. Assess the available time you have each day to study, and create goals that fit within that time. Depending on how much time you have on a particular day, choose one, two, or at the most three things you intend to accomplish. The size of the task or tasks should be dependent on the time available. And budget that time so that each task has a limit and tasks don’t expand past the time you have available for them.

Second, prioritize tasks. Not everything is equal. Rank the things that you hope to accomplish based upon their level of importance, and make sure you focus first on those tasks you’ve ranked the highest. If you still have time available after that, you can tackle lower ranked tasks. But keeping your focus on your highest priorities ensures that you ultimately spend available time on the things most important to you.

Third, minimize the distractions you can control. Not all distractions are within your control. And let’s face it, some of the things (or people) that may distract you from your studies can be more important than your school work. But just as not all tasks are equal, not all distractions are either. So, to the extent possible, create a study schedule that manages distractions, reduce your connection to social media during study times, inform friends and family of the schedule you are trying to keep, and find ways to keep yourself accountable to yourself and your goals.

Fourth, take care of yourself. It’s easy in times of crisis to let go of routines and practices that keep you healthy and able to focus on your studies, but now more than ever you need to do the things that take care of you. Try to protect your sleep schedule as much as possible. Take regular breaks from your studies, so that you come back to them refreshed and able to focus. If you can, try to get some exercise every day, even if it’s just a solitary walk in your neighborhood or a yoga session that you follow online. And eat regular meals – your brain still needs fuel!

Finally, reach out for help when you need it. Sometimes it’s difficult to come up with a plan by yourself, especially when you feel isolated. But although you are studying at home, you are not alone in this. If you are struggling to come up with a study plan that works for you in these difficult circumstances, reach out to your law school’s academic support professionals, student services, or your professors for guidance. Stay connected with your study groups, or even just classmates who used to sit next to you in the classroom – you and your fellow students can be a good support system for each other, encouraging and sharing what works for you.

Ultimately, this semester may not turn out to be perfect, but it can still be good. And good still helps you make progress towards your larger personal and professional goals.

Leave a comment

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

Six Strategies for Successful Online Learning

Photo by bongkarn thanyakij on Pexels.com

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.

Leave a comment

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

Some Thoughts on Reducing Law School Stress During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under General, Stress and Mental Health, Study Tips

5 Tips for Managing the Mid-Semester Time Crunch

Photo by Jiyeon Park on Unsplash

At this point in the semester, it can feel like everything is piling up and little is being accomplished. I often talk with law students who feel overwhelmed, wondering how they will ever get everything done. The stress of your studies can feel paralyzing. If nothing changes, it’s possible to fall behind to a point where there’s not enough time to catch back up.

In reality, things are not hopeless though – there are strategies that can put you back in control of your academic work. Here are five tips for managing that mid-semester time crunch:

First, evaluate what must be done. It’s hard to come up with a plan unless you know what the plan must include. Pull out some paper and create a list. Be comprehensive and methodical. Go through each class, noting anything that you are behind on, upcoming assignments, and topics that still need to be outlined. Don’t stop with your classes, however. Are you involved in any co-curricular or extracurricular activities? Add those things to the list. Evaluate other obligations you have (outside of law school) before the end of the semester, and jot them down as well. Don’t panic if the list gets really long, as the following tips will help you manage the list.

Second, rank each task on your list in terms of priority. Use these four categories (or something similar): (a) this task must be completed; (b) this task is important, and should be completed; (c) in an ideal world, this item would be completed; and (d) I’d like to complete this item, but it isn’t really a priority. Have a hard time deciding between two categories? Don’t sweat it – assign a combo label to that item (for example, a/b or b/c). What you should start realizing is that not everything on your list fits in the highest category. In fact, there are likely tasks on the list that aren’t important after all!

Third, assign a deadline for each task on your list. When you look at a long list, it can seem overwhelming at first, but as you assign deadlines you will realize that not everything needs to be done at the same time. Notice a cluster of tasks that do have similar due dates? Your awareness of that potential conflict now will help you manage those tasks better.

Fourth, break down large projects into a series of smaller, more manageable tasks. This tip helps in two different ways. First, it is easier to understand what must be done to complete a big project, thus budgeting enough time for its completion, if you have thought about the steps involved in that process. Second, a big project (such as outlining for an entire course) can seem overwhelming, but the smaller tasks feel much more manageable.

Finally, create a task calendar for the rest of the semester. Start by dividing the tasks by month. Then divide the tasks for each month into tasks for each week of that month. At the beginning of each week, allocate the tasks by day. Generally, pull one to three tasks from the list for each day (in addition to regular class prep), depending on how much time you have that day to work on the task list and the size of the tasks involved. Have too many items on the task list to be completed that week? Consider the priority ranking I discussed in Tip #2 – allocate the highest priority items first, then work your way through the rankings. Sometimes you will realize that something on the list really isn’t important after all, and it can be removed.

As you complete the tasks on your list, you will feel a sense of accomplishment. In fact, it can help you build momentum to power through the harder things on the list! Taking this approach can ensure that you complete the things that are most important to your personal life, academic success, and professional goals. And if you develop a good system to manage projects now, you can take that with you into your life as a lawyer after graduation.

Leave a comment

Filed under Stress and Mental Health, Study Tips

Last Minute Advice for February Bar Takers

Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

It’s less than a week until the start of the February bar exam, and I’ve been having conversations with some tired, stressed-out bar studiers. I think it’s time for a pep talk, so here is my advice for the final days of bar prep:

First, assess your weaknesses and come up with a daily plan for the remaining days of bar prep. This is not the time to study all of the bar company outlines cover-to-cover. What are your weakest, actually-tested subjects? What topics within those subjects do you find most challenging? Focus your energy on those things, rather than attempting to review everything. When you review cover-to-cover, you are actually spending a lot of time on law you already know, and there’s no value to that approach in the final days.

Second, quit paying attention to your scores on your multiple choice practice sets. I always get emails from bar studiers in the last few days before the bar exam who are panicked because their scores suddenly dropped at the end. Your scores in the final days are usually not predictive of your ability to pass the bar. Instead, they may reflect the fact that you are tired, you are not taking adequate breaks from your studies, you aren’t sleeping, or you are rushing through the questions and not focusing enough on the details of each question. View practice MBE questions as an opportunity to just continue reviewing the law, regardless of whether you get the questions right or wrong.

Third, keep using essay questions in your studies. Even if you don’t have the time to fully write out your answers to the essay questions, take the time to issue spot and evaluate whether you have a plan for completing the analysis for each issue. This can be a great way to spot topics that you need to spend a little extra time on in the final days.

Fourth, run through your bar exam preparations. Have you checked the emails from the bar examiners as well as the bar examiners’ website to make sure you know what you are required to bring with you to the exam, what you are allowed to bring in the room, and what is prohibited? Get everything together so that you aren’t scrambling at the last minute. Evaluate how long it will take you to get to the bar exam location from where you are staying, and add significantly more time than that to ensure that you will have plenty of travel time regardless of emergencies. Want to know more about what to expect on the days of the exam? Most law schools send representatives from Academic Support, Student Services, or the Alumni Office to support their students on bar exam days, and they will have insight into some of the logistical concerns you may have.

Finally, and most importantly, make your health the highest priority in the final days of bar prep. Get on a sleep schedule that mirrors the timing you will need on bar exam days, and go to bed at a time that will allow you to get 8 hours of sleep (even if you don’t actually sleep that entire time). Sleep is the most important priority at this point – you will focus better if you have enough sleep, adequate sleep helps you manage stress better, and you will remember what you have studied more if you’ve protected your sleep. Eat regular meals, and make sure that they are nutritious. Your brain isn’t fed by junk food! And finally, take regular breaks. Bar studiers often don’t take enough breaks because they feel that the breaks take away from their study time, but breaks help your brain recharge so it can continue doing the hard work. If you find your attention wandering or you just can’t remember things you have known before, it often means you aren’t taking sufficient breaks.

Keep focus in these last days of bar prep, and know that your hard work will pay off in what you accomplish next week. It’s time to go out there and rock the bar!

Leave a comment

Filed under Bar Exam, Stress and Mental Health

Asking for Help in Law School

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!

Leave a comment

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

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!

Leave a comment

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under General, Grades, Stress and Mental Health

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.

Leave a comment

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!

Leave a comment

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