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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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Filed under General, Grades, Stress and Mental Health

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

Image courtesy of dan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of dan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post was authored by Amanda M. Fisher, J.D., Savannah Law School ’15.

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Filed under General, Law Student Voices