Tag Archives: balance

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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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., Savannah Law School ’15.

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

The Spring Break Balance

For many law students, classes have dragged the last few weeks. You may find it more difficult to come up with inspiration to tackle casebooks, outlines, and writing assignments. Spring Break shines like a beacon of hope in the distance.

Students often ask what they should do during Spring Break. Should you stay home and get your outlines in order so that the rest of the semester goes smoothly? Should you vacation with your family in Florida? Should you travel with friends on that sweet all-inclusive trip to Mexico? For each student, the decision is personal. You must make the right decision for you. Regardless of that decision, the key to having Spring Break contribute to your academic success is balance.

So, what do I mean by balance? Let’s look at the student who focuses on outlines and reading during Spring Break. One approach is to continue your regular study schedule throughout Spring Break, showing up each morning to the law school library and working 8 or more hours each day. By the end of the week, you’ve accomplished a lot. Your outlines for Torts, Civil Procedure, and Contracts are up-to-date, and you’ve completed most of your reading for next week’s classes. This is a great accomplishment–don’t get me wrong. But having spent your entire Spring Break in the library, you may be tired when classes start back the following week. There are still seven weeks before finals, and it’s difficult to keep up the pace until May without a break. An alternative approach is to split your Spring Break between your studies and giving yourself a mental break. Work all day long for only part of the break, or work only half days.  In the remaining time, do something FUN! Go hiking in a state park, visit the zoo, go bowling.  Connect with friends and family, see a movie, take your dog for long walks, read a novel.  Give yourself permission to take time off as well as work during the break.  Having recharged your mental batteries, you’ll come back to your studies refreshed and inspired.

If you travel during Spring Break, balance is also key. You’ve probably heard people say that they needed another vacation to recover from their vacation. You don’t want that experience. Rather than recharging batteries, a Spring Break trip may zap your mental energy and make the second half of the semester even tougher. Consider traveling for a shorter time period (4 or 5 days) or return home at least a couple of days before classes resume. You can then rest up before school starts back, get household chores (like laundry) done, and read for those first few classes–avoid starting out behind the week after Spring Break.

If you decide to study during your travels, be realistic about what you can accomplish and don’t drag along every casebook. Instead, set one or two goals for yourself and schedule time each day to work on that goal. For example, concentrate on getting your Contracts outline in good order, and only pack materials that relate to that goal. Once you figure out that you have a couple of hours free each morning, set that time aside to work on your outline.  You’re more likely to accomplish something during Spring Break if you set realistic goals for yourself and create a plan for how to accomplish those goals.  The key is balance!

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Filed under General, Stress and Mental Health, Study Tips