Tag Archives: prelaw

6 Ways that Law School is Different than Undergrad

Most students find the transition from undergraduate student to law student challenging because law school is unlike anything they have previously experienced. Today, I want to talk about some of the ways that law school is different than undergrad. In all, there are 6 major differences related to your academic success as a law student.

1. Your law professor is not just going to stand up in front of the class and lecture while you take notes. It’s rare that law professors lecture to their classes. Instead, most law school classes do not. Instead, many use Socratic method—the professor asks you questions about the assigned cases, and you must be prepared to answer. Many of the questions are in the form of hypotheticals that require you to think about what you have read and apply it to new fact patterns. There’s a lot to be learned in class, but you must be an active participant in the learning process. Even if you aren’t the one the professor is calling on, you need to be thinking through what your answers to the questions would be, and identifying the things you don’t understand and need to explore further.

2. Reading 20 pages may take 3 hours, not 30 minutes. In fact, during your first several weeks of law school, it may take even longer to complete your reading! One reason for this difference is that the language of law is different from that of other disciplines, and it takes a while to learn it. You will have to look up a lot of words and phrases in your Black’s Law Dictionary, and many cases may take three (or even more) reads before you understand the important stuff. You cannot skim what you read in law school; instead, you must think about the meaning behind everything that you read to make sure that you understand enough to be able to answer those questions during class and apply what you are learning to solve new legal problems.

3. Many course grades in law school are based upon a single assignment or exam. Unlike undergraduate courses, where you often have multiple midterm exams, quizzes, graded homework assignments, or individual lab assignment grades, many law school grades are based upon a single exam! What is the potential problem with this? If you do not adopt other methods for self-assessment of your understanding of course materials, you may not realize that you don’t understand until you’ve already received your final grade. This is one reason why students find law school so stressful. But if you pay attention to the strategies I discuss in this blog, you will develop tools for self-assessment that help you take control over your learning process and reduce those feelings of stress.

4. In law school, you are in charge of your own learning. For the most part, if you are not called on during class, no one will know if you don’t do the reading on any given day. In many cases, if you skip class no one will follow up to make sure you are OK or if you have caught up on the material. No one forces you to review material after class is over, and your professors won’t follow up to make sure that you are outlining course materials in preparation for final exams. Instead, it will be up to you to motivate yourself and remain disciplined in your approach to your studies and classes. If you don’t, you will find yourself in academic danger by the end of the course. If you slack off for a few weeks during the semester, you may never get caught back up again—and that is your responsibility, no one else’s.

5. In law school, professional expectations begin the first day of Orientation. These expectations actually contribute to your academic success, but they also contribute to your professional reputation as a future lawyer. What am I talking about here? As a law student, you are expected to be timely (both in terms of your presence and completion of assignments), prepared for class, willing to contribute to class discussions, and respectful (even when you disagree with someone else). In reality, these are not necessarily different expectations than existed in your undergraduate classes, but the consequences of not meeting those expectations can be much greater in law school.

6. Everyone is smart, and they are used to getting good grades. People who choose to go to law school have usually been pretty successful in undergrad. The result: law schools are filled with smart students who are accustomed to getting good grades. Many students find it hard to adjust to this difference, as they go from being praised by their undergraduate professors, earning the top grades, and generally being successful in everything they do, to being the “average” student in law school. Moreover, many law schools have mandatory grade distributions, which means that only a small percentage of each class will earn an A for the course. Your identity as a successful may be challenged by this new environment, and it may take some time to figure out who you are as a law student and future lawyer.

Although these six differences mean that the first weeks and months of law school are a challenging transition period, there are things that you can do to take control of your learning process in this new environment and set yourself up for academic and professional success. In the next several weeks, I’ll be posting more articles about what new students can expect in their first several weeks in law school, as well as strategies for success.

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Filed under General, Grades, Pre-Law

Leveraging Your Preferred Learning Style in Law School

Although there is some debate on this subject, many people believe that understanding your preferred learning style can help you to make better use of your time—your studying will be more effective, which will also make it more efficient. Not everyone agrees that there is a direct link between maximizing your learning style and achieving academic success, but thinking about your preferred learning style—as well as other learning styles—may introduce you to different study techniques that you might not have otherwise thought about.

It is also important to understand that, regardless of your learning preferences, you will encounter circumstances during class and while you study when the information is not presented in the way that you prefer. In those circumstances, you will have to find the way past your own learning preferences to learn the material anyhow, and your understanding of various learning techniques may help you to do that.

One of the most popular learning preference assessments, the Vark assessment, identifies five key types of learning preferences: (1) visual; (2) aural; (3) reading and writing; (4) kinesthetic; and (5) multimodal.

Image courtesy of Pakorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Pakorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Visual learners prefer to learn by seeing. They may prefer professors to use powerpoint slides in class, and they like to read books with diagrams, pictures, flow charts, and graphs. A visual learner may use different colored ink or type to label particular parts of their notes or case briefs, or may use highlighter markers when they read. They may also convert their notes into flow charts or mind maps to visualize how various concepts that they’ve studied relate to each other.

Image courtesy of Chaiwat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Chaiwat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Aural learners prefer to learn by hearing information. They remember more by listening to lectures, and may find it helpful to make audio recordings of information that they want to study. Some aural learners use text to audio software to convert reading assignments into aural information that they can listen to as they read. Because aural learners are focused on listening in class, their notes from class may not be as helpful, and it may require more work to expand their notes after class by incorporating other materials from readings. Aural learners may also find it helpful to talk through legal concepts aloud, either by themselves or in a study group.

Image courtesy of Suat Eman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Suat Eman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Reading and writing learners prefer to learn through text. They may prefer reading information for themselves, whether through reading assignments or class powerpoints and handouts. This type of learner also tends to take extensive notes. They may study by reading and writing information from their notes over and over again, and they like to turn flow charts, diagrams, and charts into words instead of visual images.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Kinesthetic learners, sometimes referred to as tactile learners, learn best by touching and doing things. They may prefer role-play exercises or situations that allow them to act things out. They also like to practice doing things in order to learn them.

Finally, there are multimodal learners. Most learners are actually multimodal learners, and their learning preferences depend on the situation. As a result, multimodal learners may use any of the strategies that I’ve described.

If you would like more information about your preferred learning styles, take the Vark assessment today (the basic assessment is free, although the website offers more extensive analysis for a fee). There is also this Index of Learning Styles, which is categorized a little differently from what I’ve described here. Regardless of what year you are in law school, thinking about how you learn and exploring other study techniques can contribute to your academic success.

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What is a First-Day Assignment?

For new law students, the next several weeks will introduce new ways of thinking and learning, new friends and colleagues, and new mentors and teachers. We’ve already explored some of these new things, like the Socratic Method and law school grading systems, and we will continue to explore many others in the coming weeks. Today I want to focus on one specific new requirement for law students: the first-day assignment.

Many of you may have already received a letter or email from your law school that includes a first-day assignment or directs you to a first-day assignment link on the law school website. On the surface, the first-day assignment seems pretty self-explanatory: it’s an assignment for the first day of class. In reality, there are some things you should know about first-day assignments that will set you up for success in your first week of class.

(1) You should read the first-day assignment before you go to class. In undergrad, the first day of class was often a really light day, with no real stress. Your professors probably went over the syllabus, their expectations, and what assignments and exams would be like, but often there is no substantive material covered on the first day. In law school, you will hit the ground running on the first day of class. You professors expect that you have done the reading before coming to class, and what happens in class builds upon that reading. If you don’t do the reading before class, you will be unprepared if the professor calls on you, and you will not have a foundation for anything that is covered during that class. Don’t fall behind in the very first week—come prepared!

(2) Make sure that you allow enough time to read each assignment. As I’ve mentioned before, law school reading assignments take much longer to read than most undergraduate assignments. You might have budgeted half an hour to an hour to read one assignment in undergrad, but that same number of pages could take your three hours (or even more) in law school. Don’t wait until the Sunday afternoon before your first day of classes to get started on your reading. If you wait until the last minute, you’ll run out of time before you’re finished.

(3) “Read” means something different in law school than it means in most undergraduate classes. Don’t just skim your assignments. Read them closely. Look up words and phrases that you don’t understand. For most assignments, you will need to read the assignment a second time, and even a third time. If it’s a really difficult case, you may read it over even more. Especially during your first semester of law school, you will have to read your assignments multiple times to understand everything you need to know before going into class.

(4) Brief the case—don’t just read, but take notes of important information from the case. We will spend more time talking about how to brief cases in the next couple of weeks, but one of the key aspects of being prepared for class is knowing how to take the right notes from what you read. Your case briefs will be an essential foundation to your classroom learning and later synthesis of course materials (commonly known as outlining).

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Taking Charge of Your Own Learning in Law School

Image courtesy of lamnee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of lamnee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve mentioned before that one of the most empowering aspects of law school—as well as one of the scariest—is that you are in control of your own learning. So what does that mean? What can you do to take charge of your own learning in law school?

Law school puts you in the driver’s seat.

For example, you will have reading assignments for each class meeting—often those assignments take several hours to complete. For the most part, if you are not called on during class, no one will know if you don’t do the reading on any given day. You make the choice—you stay on top of your assignments each and every day, or you don’t do the reading and do something else instead, such as go to the movies or watch that TV show that you love. Doing the reading is the first step on the path to understanding the law. In contrast, skipping even one day’s reading makes it even harder to understand what is going on in class, and getting multiple days behind decreases your ability to be successful on later assignments and exams. You often won’t feel the consequences of your decisions immediately, but your choices will affect your long-term chances of academic success.

As the semester goes on, you will have additional choices to make about your studies. Will you devote the time to synthesizing course materials to further develop your understanding of the law and its applications, creating outlines, mind maps, flow charts, and flashcards? Or will you attempt to take a shortcut through that process, relying on a past student’s outline or a commercial outlines instead of creating your own study aids? Once again, your choices will have long-term consequences for your understanding of the law you are studying, your grades, and your ability to recall what you have learned after the course has ended (an important consideration, since many of the subjects you will study will reappear on the bar exam in a few years!).

Successful students make conscious, positive choices about their own learning.

Understanding that their choices affect their academic success and long-term goals of being an attorney, successive students are not passive in their approach to legal education. Instead, successful students take positive actions to improve their educational opportunities—establishing regular study schedules, avoiding procrastination, taking advantage of opportunities to improve their academic and legal skills, and keeping their academic, professional, and personal priorities in focus. They avoid taking shortcuts that make things easy in the short term but don’t improve their understanding of the law. They develop their own methods of holding themselves accountable for what they learn. Successful students aren’t perfect, but they learn from their mistakes and don’t repeat them. In short, successful students don’t just focus on learning the law—through their efforts they learn to be better learners as well. These traits help them to become better students . . . and also better future attorneys.

Stay tuned for related posts about how successful law students approach these topics—I will be blogging more about things that you can do to take control over your learning in law school over the next few months.

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Transferable Skills: Leveraging Your Undergraduate Education for Success in Law School (Guest Post)

One of the interesting things about law school is that anyone with a four-year degree can attend. There’s no specialized undergraduate training required for admission, and law schools end up with an eclectic grouping of all sorts of majors: English, History, Political Science, Engineering, Math, Business—the list could go on and on. Keep in mind, though, once you cross the threshold into law school you are expected to be responsible for your own education. In other words, don’t expect to receive explicit instructions on how to transfer your individual background in the context of your nascent legal education because that’s part of what you are supposed to figure out. In the midst of so much new stuff, it’s normal to end up feeling like you are lost at sea and disconnected from everything you thought you knew. But connections between your earlier education experiences and your new legal studies do exist, and you can use the knowledge and skills you already possess to achieve success in law school.

It might seem that some undergraduate disciplines offer significant advantages over others, at least as they relate to law school. I’ve often heard complaints that the political science majors have an edge because they understand the federal and state governmental systems really well. Or perhaps English majors have it made because they are used to reading and writing. The reality, though, is that each discipline has strengths, and each has weaknesses. I once taught an engineer who was worried about his writing course because he had not been required to write papers in undergrad. He ended up being one of the top students in the class, though, because his analytical mind knew just how to distill a complicated legal theory down to its essential core.

As a law student, you can ease your transition into legal studies by building on the inherent strengths of your undergraduate education and improving upon the intrinsic weaknesses. Consider the strengths and weaknesses of some undergraduate majors commonly found amongst law students:

Business Majors:

  • Strengths: Experience with some legal concepts like contracts; knowledge of business practices; creation of practical solutions.
  • Weaknesses: Less experience with expository writing; preference for clear answers

Engineering Majors:

  • Strengths: Experience in problem-solving; linear/methodological thinking; logical/systematic thought processes
  • Weaknesses: Less experience with expository writing; preference for clear answers

English Majors:

  • Strengths: Experience with varied writing assignments; research experience; knowledge of citation systems.
  • Weaknesses: Tendency toward wordiness; tendency to overinclude information

History Majors:

  • Strengths: Knowledge of ancient legal systems; understanding of cultures and societies; research and writing experience
  • Weaknesses: Little experience in analytical problem-solving; tendency to memorize facts and regurgitate information

Math Majors:

  • Strengths: Experience in problem-solving; linear/methodological thinking; logical/systematic thought processes
  • Weaknesses: Less experience with expository writing; preference for measurable outcomes

Political Science Majors:

  • Strengths: Knowledge of the court system; familiarity with foundational documents (like the Constitution); experience with long reading and writing assignments
  • Weaknesses: Little experience in analytical problem-solving; tendency to memorize facts and regurgitate information

Because our brains process and comprehend new and abstract information by relating it to existing knowledge and life experiences, finding connections between undergraduate and law school experiences is essential for success, especially in the first year. The above descriptions represent just the tip of the iceberg with regard to potential connections between law school and your past educational experiences. For more on this topic, check out Teri McMurtry-Chubb’s book, Legal Writing in the Disciplines. This book is especially helpful to students enrolled in legal writing, but its concepts easily relate to all law classes, making it an easy-to-follow guide for students who are interested in pushing their legal education to the next level.

*This guest blog post was authored by Elizabeth Megale, Associate Professor and Director of the Legal Skills & Professionalism Program, Savannah Law School.

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Filed under General, Legal Writing and Oral Arguments, Pre-Law

An Introduction to Law School Grades for New Law Students

In a previous post, I mentioned that the law school grading system is very different from the one that students experienced in undergrad. In reality, one of the least understood and most feared aspects of the law school experience is the grading system. Misunderstandings and fear primarily occur for 3 reasons: (1) law school grades are calculated much differently than your grades were in undergrad; (2) students expect that the same amount of work that it took to get an “A” in undergrad will work to get an “A” in law school; and (3) many law students believe that the only acceptable grade in any course is an “A.”

The Grading System: Let’s start with a discussion of how the grading system works at many law schools. Although not all law schools follow this approach to grades, the majority take an approach similar to what I will describe. Many law schools have a policy for how grades are distributed in each course—in other words, how many As, Bs, Cs, Ds, and Fs that a professor should assign, and what the median grade should be for each course. For example, the grading policy at Law School X might direct the professor to assign approximately 15-20% As, 35-40% Bs, 30-35% Cs, and 5-10% Ds and Fs. Not all law schools have the same grade distribution, and the policy may be different for 1L classes than it is for upper-level classes. Regardless, the end result is that not everyone will get an “A”—or even a “B”—in each law school class.

Student Expectations: New law students’ expectations about grades are generally based upon their experiences in undergrad. If you’ve been successful in the past and earned high grades, you generally expect that you will earn similar grades in law school. Some law students view the grade system I’ve just described as unfair because they believe that they’re being penalized by the limits on how many high grades can be earned in a particular class. In reality, the requirements for earning an “A” are much greater in law school, and the same amount of work—or quality of work—that you did in undergrad to get an “A” does not get you as far in law school. It is much more difficult to perform at an “A” level in law school classes, and the grade distribution is usually a pretty fair estimate of how students actually perform. The end result: you will have to recalibrate your expectations about what is required of you for “A” work as a law student.

Although High Grades Have Value, They Should Not Be Your Most Important Goal in Law School: Don’t get me wrong. Grades are important. There are certain types of jobs that require high grades, like judicial clerkships and associate attorney positions at BigLaw firms. But even the people who ultimately obtain those positions have generally not made straight As, and the vast majority of legal jobs do not require that you graduate in the top 10 percent of your class. Instead of obsessing over grades, you will be better served by focusing your attention on learning the law to become the best lawyer you can be. (In fact, there are studies that show that people who have these kinds of internal motivations tend to be more successful than those who are motivated by external goals such as grades, money, and fame.)

Finally, You’re Not Defined by the First Grades You Earn in Law School: Sometimes, students believe that if they earn a “C” in a law school class their first semester, they’re just not cut out to be a lawyer and should quit law school. Although a “C” may indicate that you don’t understand the material as well as you should or don’t yet have exam skills required for long-term success, a “C” grade does not usually signal that you can’t be successful in law school and the practice of law. As I’ve discussed before here and here, grades provide helpful information that you can use to improve your performance in law school in the future. Even if you don’t earn the grades you hope to receive in your first semester, you can improve your performance in subsequent semesters, especially if you work with the academic support professionals at your law school. Sometimes it just takes students longer to perfect their personal approach to learning in law school—if you’re disciplined in your approach to your studies in the long-term and strive to constantly improve, you have the ability to reach your full potential as a law student and future lawyer.

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Introduction to Socratic Method for New Law Students

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Last week we explored some ways that law school is different than undergrad. In that post, I explained that what happens in the law school classroom can be different than a new student’s previous learning experiences. Today, I want to talk more about Socratic Method, one of the most common (and most feared!) approaches to teaching in law school.

So what is so different about Socratic Method? In most undergraduate classes, here’s what happens: The professor stands in front of the class and lectures. He may use powerpoint slides to keep the lecture focused and provide important information for students, or maybe he writes ideas on a blackboard or whiteboard. Most students sit in their seats and take notes, either by hand or on a computer. A few students may be texting, talking to a classmate, or reading the school newspaper. If a student has a question, she may raise her hand to get the professor’s attention. In most classes, students don’t face much pressure to absorb assigned readings before coming to class; the classroom is not a stressful environment until it’s time to take an exam.

This type of description does not apply to most law school classes. Instead of lecturing, the law professor often will use Socratic Method. Students complete assigned readings before coming to each class. Once class begins, the law professor asks students questions about the law, and the students answer. Often, the professor asks students to apply what they have learned from one case to a new hypothetical situation. This question and answer process creates a dialogue about the law at issue in that particular class. So why is this approach so scary and stressful for law students?

First, many professors who use Socratic Method “cold call” on students. A cold call is where the student does not know in advance that she will be on the hot seat. The professor calls on students in a random order, and you must be prepared to answer any question if your name is called. This can be stressful for students who are shy and do not feel comfortable speaking in front of the class. If you didn’t understand that day’s reading assignment, you may particularly dread being called on by the professor. On the flip side, being called on can build your confidence as you learn to articulate your understanding of the law, and it can help you to develop strategies to manage your fear of public speaking. It also makes students feel more accountable for the reading, as you never know when you may be called on and need to come to class prepared.

Second, Socratic Method does not necessarily create bright-line answers to legal questions. A professor who uses Socratic Method may not resolve legal issues or tell students what the “right answer” is at the end of class. In fact, sometimes students feel more confused by the class dialogue than they did going into class that day. Although students may find this approach frustrating, it helps them to understand that the answers to legal questions often depend on specific factual circumstances. As you continue to process the course materials and think about what was discussed during class, you will begin to synthesize that information and create your own understanding of the law.

Third, some students feel humiliated if they don’t know the answer to the professor’s questions. There is nothing worse than that feeling of dread and humiliation when you are called upon and don’t know the answer to the professor’s questions. You may be accused of not doing the reading, or the professor may be able to talk you in circles because you don’t have confidence in your answers. Every law student has had those days when, even if she has read the assigned reading three or four times, she just doesn’t quite understand the material yet. Having the professor call on you can be stressful in those circumstances.

Fourth, students often don’t know how to take good notes in classes that use Socratic Method. How do you keep from creating a transcript of what happens in class and instead focus on distilling the important information out of a class discussion? This is something that is difficult to do at first, and the uncertainty can leave students either writing way too much down or missing important information from class.

Law students can find classes taught by Socratic Method stressful, but there are things that you can do to reduce the stress and get the most out of this type of learning experience. Stay tuned over the next several weeks as I talk more about this topic and other topics for new and returning law students!

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Learning the Language of Law: Tips for Incoming Law Students

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The first weeks of law school can feel a lot like traveling to a foreign country where you don’t know the language. As you read your course assignments, there will be many words you don’t understand. Additionally, much of the law that you will study has a context that you won’t have learned yet. Even the culture of law school is different from what you’ve experienced in the past—many courses taught by Socratic method, with the professor asking you questions rather than lecturing; new expectations for professional behavior; and class assignments that require much more time and effort than you likely have experience with.

Like learning a foreign language, learning the language of law will require significant time and effort during your years in law school. You will read cases multiple times, learning to “translate” each case into usable information for class and exam purposes. You will look up countless legal words and phrases in your law dictionary. You may create flashcards to help you memorize the key vocabulary and legal tests (the “grammar” of law), much as you approached taking Spanish, French, or Chinese in high school and college.

Although it really isn’t possible to learn most of the language of law until you are immersed in it during your 1L year, it is possible to develop some of the context for that language now, during the summer before you begin your life as a law student. As I’ve described previously, there are a number of books out there that provide good information about what to expect in law school, and many of those books provide some context for the legal language you will learn. There are also some great websites, such as the Federal Judicial Center’s “Inside the Federal Courts” website, created to educate federal court employees but useful for incoming law students as well. Often state and federal court websites provide helpful information as well. Sometimes your law school will provide specific suggestions of things you should read prior to your 1L year—check with your law school’s Admissions staff or Academic Support professionals for additional guidance.

So what types of information would be helpful to know before the first day of law school? Here’s a nonexclusive list of suggested topics to learn more about this summer:

(1) the differences between civil law and criminal law;

(2) the meaning of words and phrases such as “case law,” “common law,” and “statutory law”;

(3) the federal court system and federal appellate process;

(4) the state court system and state appellate process for the state in which your law school is located in;

(5) how the U.S. Supreme Court functions and who the current Supreme Court Justices are; and

(6) basic information about the types of law you will be studying during your first year of law school, which, depending on the law school, might include subjects such as Torts, Property Law, Civil Procedure, Contracts, Criminal Law, and Constitutional Law.

Remember, you don’t have to be a legal expert before you go to law school; you are just creating a context for what you will learn as a 1L. But a little research before the first day will make you feel less like an alien wandering in a foreign land.

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Keeping Priorities in Focus When Starting Law School

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In only a couple more months, many of you will be heading off to law school for the first time. As we have discussed previously, your first semester of law school will be an intense, demanding experience. When we are extremely busy, it can be easy to lose sight of the things that are our greatest priorities—especially if we have not made conscious decisions regarding what our priorities actually are. Regardless of your background and experiences, the summer before you start law school can be a great time to evaluate your priorities and make sure that they are front and foremost in your mind as law school begins.

So what do I mean when I talk about “priorities”? Priorities are the things that we value the most. They can include personal goals we have, such as financial goals, educational goals, or other things we want to achieve. They can include relationships—friendships, romantic relationships, and family relationships. Priorities may include things like our physical and mental health, religious beliefs, or other tangible or intangible things that have value to us. Priorities are very personal—the things that are most important to you may not be the same for someone else.

While we may have a number of general priorities, usually there are four or five priorities that are most important to us. Moreover, sometimes priorities change over time, and it is a good idea to evaluate priorities periodically to make sure that they still reflect what is most important to you. This summer, take the time to decide what your highest priorities are.

Once you have made deliberate decisions about what your priorities are, keep them in mind as you start law school. When you are creating a schedule of what you want to accomplish, make sure that your highest priorities are not edged out by activities that don’t contribute to those priorities or are less important. When you are deciding whether you should commit to something else in your busy day, such as a club or other extracurricular activity, measure it against your priorities to see if it will support them. Make sure that one priority does not eclipse other things that are important in your life.

If you have consciously identified your most important priorities, you can use them as a compass to keep you on the right path when life gets busy. Keep your priorities in focus as you get ready for law school in the fall!

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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