Tag Archives: law school clinics

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.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under General, Grades, Stress and Mental Health

Maximizing Academic Benefits from Legal Work Experience

Recently, my posts have focused mostly on topics of interest to incoming law students or law school graduates preparing to take the bar exam. Today, I want speak to those law students who will be returning to school after spending the summer gaining some type of professional legal experience, whether working for pay in some capacity, completing an unpaid internship, or earning law school credit as an extern. This post may also be helpful to students considering an externship, clinic experience, or other practical legal experience during the upcoming school year.

So what are some of the academic benefits of legal work experience? Practical legal work experience, whether during the summer or school year, can contribute to a law student’s academic success in multiple ways:

  • Inspiration: Let’s face it—not everything about law school is exciting or glamorous. Sometimes it’s just about getting through it, whether you are mired in some complicated federal tax law or attempting to untangle the legal rules that apply to secured transactions. When you’re slogging through a class assignment that makes you feel like you will never understand the law or is just not fun to study, you can use your legal work experiences to inspire and motivate you. There is nothing like experience with the law in practice to remind you why you are putting yourself through the hard work and stress of law school. It’s worth it!
  • Context: Legal work experience can also provide helpful context for legal concepts that you are learning about in your law school classes. Classes like Civil Procedure and Evidence are especially difficult to learn if you don’t have a context for all of the rules you are studying. It’s amazing how much more sense the Erie Doctrine or the rules regarding hearsay evidence make when you are applying them in a real-world context. Legal work experience not only gives you a context for subjects you have studied in the past but can also provide a context for future classes you may take.
  • Guidance: Legal work experience can also give you guidance about what elective classes you take in law school. Maybe you had no interest in bankruptcy law until your supervisor at the law firm this summer assigned you a research project involving bankruptcy issues. You might have previously ignored the fact that Bankruptcy Law was going to be offered next Spring, but now you decide you should take the class to explore further whether it is a possible practice area for you. Maybe you always thought you wanted to be a litigator, but an experience in drafting a contract in your internship in a corporate legal department encourages you to take a Legal Drafting course. Or you may have even received guidance from a supervisor who told you that, if you are interested in going into a particular legal field once you graduate, there are specific courses that will be helpful in that endeavor.
  • Development: Finally, your legal work experience can have direct application to the academic skills that will make you a better law student. Specifically, you often become a more efficient and effective researcher, analyst, and writer as you gain more and more experience in practice. Just as the skills that you learn in law school will contribute to your success as an attorney, further development and practice of those skills will also contribute to your academic access.

Although students often view their legal work experiences as unrelated to their academic endeavors, further success in law school can be fueled, at least in part, by those work experiences. Looking for ways to connect your work to your legal education will enhance your law school experience!

Leave a comment

Filed under General, Legal Writing and Oral Arguments