Tag Archives: learning disabilities

On Academic Probation?: Advice for Struggling Law Students

Now that the school year is over, grades are trickling in from those 1L classes. Hopefully, your hard work this past year has paid off, and you have successfully completed all of your classes. Sometimes students aren’t happy with their grades though, and they may find themselves on academic probation, or at least in the lower portion of their class, at the end of that first year. If you find yourself in this position, where do you go from here? It’s important to take law school grades seriously because they can be an important indicator of future success on the bar exam.

Law students may receive low grades for a number of reasons, as explained below. Many of these reasons may not apply to you, but it is important to honestly evaluate yourself and decide what you need to do moving forward.

First, you need to make sure that law school is where you want to be. For some students, lower grades are a sign of lack of passion. Maybe they went to law school because that’s what everyone told them they should do, or maybe they just didn’t know what else to do after they graduated from college. Others thought they wanted to be a lawyer, but the reality of law school wasn’t what they expected or wanted. Take stock of your own personal goals, and make sure that law school is really where you want to be. If you have decided that it really isn’t for you, then you should devote your energies to something that you can get excited about doing instead. If law school is really where you want to be, then consider the advice below.

Second, you need to honestly evaluate your efforts during your 1L year. Sometimes, when students are honest with themselves, they really didn’t put in the time and effort required to be successful in law school. Maybe they had other things distracting them during their first year, or they thought that their approach to college would be enough to get them by in law school as well. If you decide that you really want to be in law school but you fall into this camp, you will need to commit yourself to working harder next year. You may want to talk to a dean, academic support professional, or professor about how to create a study plan for next year that will improve your discipline and lead to greater academic success.

Third, you should evaluate whether a learning disability or other physical or mental condition is interfering with your success on exams. Some students figure out during their first year of law school that they have an undiagnosed learning disability such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). If you are concerned that you have a disability that may be affecting your ability to perform well on exams, you should talk to the academic support professionals at your law school. They may recommend that you see a medical professional for testing and diagnosis. Sometimes students who have disabilities need accommodations on exams, such as additional time or a distraction-free environment, so that they can fully show their understanding of the legal principles and skills being tested.

Finally, you may just need to work with the academic support professionals at your law school to develop your academic skills a little further. For many students, the transition to law school is just not a smooth experience. Maybe you’ve come from a degree program that has emphasized other types of skills, and you just need to work on your analytical skills or writing skills more. Maybe you have been out of school for a number of years, and you just need some help developing the type of study skills that will put you on the right track to academic success. Or maybe you are just the type of person that taken a little longer to have things click for you. There are people at your law school who can be tremendous resources in your efforts to improve your academic performance in your second year of law school, and I urge you to take advantage of their willingness to work with you.

The key to your ultimate success is to take control of your academic performance–honestly assess your position and seek help when necessary.

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Filed under General, Grades

What Should You Do the Summer Before Starting Law School?

Congratulations on being admitted to law school! The next few years will be a time of challenges, opportunities, frustrations, and successes. Law school will be hard work, but, if you approach it the right way, it will also be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. So, what should you do this summer before you enter law school? Here are a few suggestions:

Learn more about what to expect during your first year in law school. For many law students, the first semester of law school can be a real shock. Law school is like nothing you have ever experienced. Talk to current law students and lawyers about what to expect during the first week, month, and semester in law school. Ask them what they wished they had known as a new 1L. There are also a number of good books out there for new law students. These books can provide more information about what it is like to be a law student, what skills you need to develop (and even some suggestions about how to develop those skills), and what the language of law school means. You don’t need to read every book out there though—one or two is probably sufficient to get you started.

Some books that you may find helpful (in no particular order):

Starting Off Right in Law School (2nd ed.), by Carolyn J. Nygren. This book is an interesting read, as it uses a fictional case to introduce students to the vocabulary and skills of law school and legal practice.

Getting to Maybe: How to Excel on Law School Exams, by Richard Michael Fischl and Jeremy Paul. This book discusses the differences between undergrad and law school approaches to studying, explains how legal reasoning works and how to apply legal reasoning to class and exam preparation. Much of the focus is on how to perform well on law school exams, and it may be most helpful to read once you are part way through your first semester.

1L of a Ride: A Well-Traveled Professor’s Roadmap to Success in the First Year of Law School (3rd ed.), by Andrew J. McClurg. This book provides a straightforward explanation of what to expect during the first year of law school, including suggestions and comments from former law students.

Expert Learning for Law Students (2nd ed.), by Michael Hunter Schwartz. This book provides a lot of useful advice about how to tackle the various skills you need to develop and tasks that you must accomplish as a law student. It also helps you to understand more about how you learn, and how you can approach law school based upon your learning preferences.

Reading Like a Lawyer: Time-Saving Strategies for Reading Law Like an Expert (2nd ed.), by Ruth Ann McKinney. This book focuses specifically on how you can develop the reading skills you need to effectively and efficiently read for law school.

Learning Outside the Box: A Handbook for Law Students Who Learn Differently, by Leah M. Christensen. This book is a great resource for students who learn differently from the average student, including those who have diagnosed or undiagnosed learning disabilities that affect the way they learn.

This is not an exclusive list—there are certainly other books out there that may be helpful in introducing you to what to expect in your first year of law school. Ask law students you know about any books or other resources they have found particularly helpful.

Make your health a priority. There are a lot of studies out there that demonstrate links between taking good care of yourself—eating healthy foods, getting exercise, and getting enough sleep—and cognitive skills and stress management. Make lifestyle changes that improve your health even before law school begins, and continue those new habits into the school year. You will be better off for making your health a priority in the long run.

Finally, take some time to relax and recharge your batteries before law school begins this fall. Some people try to do too much during the summer before law school—reading every book about being a successful law student, trying to get a head start on first-year law school course materials, etc. Your first semester of law school will be an intense, demanding experience, and it is important to go into it feeling rested and ready to tackle the challenge. Read for fun. Go on long walks. Spend time with friends and family. Do the things that make you happy and renew your spirit!

Stay tuned to this blog over the next couple of months–I will be adding additional posts on this topic!

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Filed under General, Law School Exams, Pre-Law, Study Tips