Greetings fellow law students, soon-to-be law students, and all other dreamers. Its meeeee – I’m still heeeeere! And now as a 2L.
So I’m 3 weeks into 2L year. And let me just make one observation. I – Have – Been – Misled – to – Think – 2L – Was – “EASIER.”
It’s a conspiracy. The 2Ls and 3Ls told me last year – don’t worry, 1L is tough, but 2L is way easier. Bull. The only difference thus far is that instead of having just classes to worry about, I now have “OCI” (on-campus interviewing) and all other things related to the job search AND in addition to taking 5 classes (yes, I was delusional when I registered for classes), I also have commitments related to the journal that I worked so hard to be on (as though it was a badge of
honor horror to become intimately familiar with the BlueBook and editing “scholarly” works consisting of citations to newspaper articles dating back to the 70′s).
But in all seriousness, I’m really happy to be back at school. My summer was intense and I learned a lot but I found some comfort in getting back into the grind of law school. Granted, I felt that 1L taught me all I needed to know to become an attorney (and I still feel that way), but quite frankly, I like getting “out of” having to do the dishes, laundry, etc. because I can use “I’m studying” as an excuse (even if the excuse is only to myself). Now – let me clear one thing up here – I am not a gunner. But I do enjoy the intellectual rigors of law school. Plus, the best thing about 2L year is I’m taking the classes I want to take – and therefore only can blame myself (not the ABA) for any developing disdain for any particular subject – say, Ambulance Chasing 101.
I’ve had a few rambling thoughts jumbling around in my head that I wanted to share – none of which are fully developed enough to create stand alone blog posts – so while the following may seem random, well, just take it for what it is:
Random Thought #1
OCI is fun. It’s like speed dating. As long as you have more than 3-4 interviews scheduled, otherwise, you don’t have the luxury of chilling-out because every interview must matter. Not that some don’t, but it’s nice to have a few backups. Some of the interviews I’ve had are actually a lot of fun – the interviewers are extremely personable and like to throw a few jokes around to lighten the mood (and of course test the personality of the interviewee as well). On the other hand, I’ve had interviewers that are so shy, they seemed more nervous than I – in which case, I had to learn to really sell myself without being prompted to and take charge of the interview. Lastly, I had an interviewer who talked about himself for 20 mins – everything from his kid, to his dog, to his passion for rock collecting – seriously. 10 minutes-in, I had already mentally declared I would never want to work with this person even if it was my only offer. Which leads me to this important point – you are interviewing the firm/agency/whatever just as much as they are interviewing you.
Random Thought #2
Why, why, why are my classmate wearing really dark nail polish colors during interviews, half of which has chipped off? Puhl-eeze. I know that we are all very busy bees but either don’t wear polish at all (or just wear clear) or actually make sure you’re wearing an appropriate shade (nude or pale pink) with the lacquer fully intact. Granted, most interviewers tend to be male (and I won’t even get into my long rant about the need for more women on the hiring committee) but even though they are male – they still notice your appearance and are still aware of what is considered appropriate. And in case its not obvious, black polish = not appropriate.
Random Thought #3
Sell yourself. Sell. Your. Self. I am naturally a very modest non-braggy person. Perhaps this comes from the fact I’m unapologetically feminine. But this is something I have to get over. It’s an interview – you have permission to (tactfully) share your accomplishments and the many reasons why you are best suited for the job. I’m beating myself up because I’ve been given many opportunities to elaborate on something in my resume or something that the interviewer may not even otherwise know about me and yet I tend to diminish my accomplishments or prior experiences. I’ve literally said, “Oh, I was just a secretary for five years.” Doh! Not “JUST” – no no no – I was a “legal assistant to three busy partners in x areas of law, which allowed me to develop a good understanding of the inner workings and business side of private practice.” Work it!
Random Thought #4
Similar to #3, when a firm offers to pay you to come back for a second interview – don’t be sheepish in allowing the firms to cover your expenses. In my case, the cost of gas for me driving to a callback was around $45, but because the firm paid $.050 per mile, I was entitled to nearly $150. Because I tend to be financially conservative and am not oblivious to the fact the economy is rough and firms are cutting costs, I insisted that I be reimbursed only for my actual expenses. The response I received wasn’t at all what I had expected. Instead of appreciating my gesture, it was (inadvertently) assumed that I had become less interested in the position after my callback and that my offer was in guilt for feeling that I would not accept – which isn’t true at all. Perhaps someone with more expertise could weigh in here – but I had clearly not contemplated this type of reaction.
Random Thought #5
Callbacks that include a meal (lunch or dinner – or heck, maybe breakfast too) involve alcohol. It’s part of the culture – but it’s also a way to gauge how you can handle yourself in situations where your maturity and business savvy is tested. My top – one glass of wine, and sip slooooowly. Make it last the entire evening. My less fortunate peers who consumed their first glass too early encountered a particularly unique problem (ie their glasses refilled before they could even object) – three glasses in, they were feeling pretty good – all (I mean ALL) inhibitions went to the wayside. And now we see what drunken 2Ls look like at a callback interview. Not. pretty.
That’s all I have for now – I hope to check back in as time permits. And please keep the comments and emails coming – I love hearing from you and since law school is no walk in the park, I love the encouragement!
I’m 6 weeks-in at my summer internship and I am absolutely amazed at how much I’ve learned! I’m convinced that I haven’t used any knowledge acquired from my entire first year of law school. I didn’t expect to be able to think back to Pennoyer v. Neff or International Shoe or that-crazy-quail-hunting case (the name of which has totally escaped me). But I figured that I would at least be throwing around words like “collateral estoppel” or “adverse possession.” So far, nada. And believe me, it’s not due to lack of work or experiences at my summer job! I have done A LOT.
I’m spending my summer at the Legal Aid Clinic and I am so grateful that I’ve chosen to work in an environment where summer associates are handed a stack of files and told to “have at it.” From the very first day, I was given an enormous amount of responsibility with very little oversight. I have guidance available to me when needed, but only after I’ve exhausted my own abilities and have run out of avenues to search. The idea is that we are responsible for the clients so we ought to do everything we can to effectively advocate on their behalf. The Clinic’s philosophy (for which I’m utterly thankful) is that if we throw you in the water, you’ll learn to swim on your own. There’s no hand-holding – these clients are my responsibility. I’ve drafted mediation memos, attended settlement conferences, worked on discovery requests, and have met with my clients to discuss their concerns and goals. Thank God I had some preliminary exposure to the various documents I’m working with as a legal secretary and then later as a paralegal.
In all seriousness, law school is solely academic – as a law student, we aren’t really learning the law per se, but rather, we are pushed to develop the skill of “thinking like a lawyer.” Yes – the cliche´actually has some merit. The 1L skills I’ve put to use are all about critical thinking, analysis, reasoning, etc. I’m ascertaining the legal question at issue, figuring out what has to be answered before I can move forward, researching the law to resolve my issue, etc. This is all really important stuff. But even more than this, I am constantly amazed how much my prior paralegal experiences has played a role in my success (and comfort) this summer. For example, as a paralegal I’ve sat-in on numerous client meetings, have gotten a feel for how my supervising attorneys handle difficult or tense situations, how one of my former boss/attorneys would track down a form they’ve never used before, or how to contact the court (and treat the staff). I find myself frequently asking myself “How would Attorney Rockstar handle this situation?” or “What would Mr. Micromanager say?” I would say 75% of my job has been all about contacting and dealing with opposing counsel, the court staff, my clients, etc. I am so thankful to my prior experiences which have made me feel more comfortable doing these things, now, in an attorney capacity. The other 1L intern does not have any experience working in the legal profession and while he is doing an amazing job this summer, I do sense a lack of confidence and sureness about his work. He is often asking me to read his letters or he seems more apt to second guess his intuition. I think that’s to be expected for anyone who has not yet been exposed to this crazy world. But it’s far less painless to have had that introduction as a secretary or paralegal, when no one is judging or expecting you to know what to do.
Notably – I’ve been granted a wide array of discretion and responsibility because I’m working in a resource-constrained environment. I ran into a few classmates this summer who snickered at my decision to work at the Clinic (as they accepted “prestigious” firm jobs) and they have informed me that so far they’ve learned how to copy, scan, and google. While I am really fortunate to earn a paycheck this summer, I know it’s about 50% of what my firm-working classmates are earning (I know this because I was also offered a position with the same firm). And I’m happy with the trade off – it was really important to me that this summer represent a clear transition from paralegal to advocate and I’m happy that my goals are certainly being achieved. Best of all, my clients are so grateful for the smallest of things. It’s been really eye-opening and I’ve developed a keen sense of awareness for the needs of the underserved. I really feel that we all have a moral obligation as advocates to open our eyes to those in need and lend assistance to those in need.
In this post I will share some of my tips for organizing the ridiculous amount of information you are learning as a law student so that it may be easily reviewed throughout the semester, for exam prep, and quickly accessed under pressure during an exam.
I feel that I can say, with confidence, that I was THE most organized law student at my school last semester. Some of my classmates poked fun, but on exam day, when I knew exactly how and where to find the information I needed, I was the object of envy.
Prior to law school, I hadn’t thought much about my organization skills and how they would help me achieve success as a law student. I had the benefit of developing these skills as a professional (paralegal to three very unorganized lawyers) and though organization impacts many aspects of our lives, I certainly didn’t expect it would give me much of an advantage in law school. Wrong! It made a huge difference come exam time.
I previously wrote about my “course summary” that I prepare as a handbook throughout the semester. It’s essentially my pre-class/reading notes combined with my in-class notes, with a light sprinkling of any supplement/hornbook/commercial outline tips. For criminal law, I spent a lot of time creating comparison charts between the common law and the MPC and that sort of thing was also included in my course summary. Any other helpful graphs or “mind maps” that helped me process the information was also included in my course summary – it was my how-to manual. As I said before, it becomes quite lengthy but contains every bit of information that one would need to Ace their exams. How devastating it would be, however, if that information is somewhere in your hands, but not at your fingertips? That information is not helpful at all unless you know how to find it and can quickly access it . . . under the stress of exam pressure.
What you need:
- A 1 inch binder.
- Note Tabs (those versatile tabs that you can write on to label things but go on paper to serve as dividers).
- Knowledge of creating a Table of Contents and/or an Index and a Table of Authorities in whatever word processing program you use (I use Word for Mac).
- Ability to print out your course summary in duplex (using both sides of the sheet of paper) and in color (I found it was cheaper to do it at home, but sometimes Staples or Office Max will run deals where it costs $0.25 per page).
Preparation Time: a few extra minutes while taking pre-class reading notes and 1-2 hours at the end of the semester.
Step 1 – Preparing the Table of Contents
During the semester, I combined my pre-class/reading notes with my class notes. Once I did this all semester long, the finished product was my “course summary.” In other words, rather than having three documents to work with all semester (the reading notes, class notes, and then course summary) I used my reading notes as the base of the course summary and supplemented/added in my class notes. It’s easier to do it this way instead of creating a new document because a lot of the required formatting can be done as you go along. The formatting I’m talking about is the use of “headings” to create a Table of Contents. For every topic, subtopic, case, list of elements to a particular area of law (ex. for torts it’s duty, breach, causation, harm), for every rule (like in Civ Pro, a Rule 59), I would format the case name, rule name, topic, subtopic, whatever as a “heading” in Word. You can essentially create your own by formatting the text the way you like it, and then under styles, click “new style.” Then, when you create a Table of Contents (Insert > Table of Contents) you can select the hierarchy each heading that you have used will appear in the Table of Contents.
The Table of Contents is clickable, which is extremely convenient for reviewing a course summary electronically. However, most schools utilize a special exam taking software that locks the hard drive on your computer, thereby preventing you from accessing anything other than the exam software – so the course summary has to be printed and taken in paper-form. Although some of the convenience in the Table of Contents is lost, you still have the page numbers to use, plus the benefit of tabbing each topic and subtopic.
Here is a copy of what my Table of Contents looked like for Contracts:
Your notes should be organized around topics (or rules) – not around case names. In fact, the name of a case is rarely relevant. Most of my professors said it didn’t matter at all if we knew the names of cases and we certainly did not have to cite them on the exam. It’s important to keep in perspective the role of the case in learning the law. Accordingly, your course summary and all other notes will be organized and structured in a way that sort of hides the cases (because it’s the rules that really matter). However, in the unlikely event that you would need to refer to a specific case by name (rather than by topic), it’s helpful to have the case listed in a Table of Authorities, which would list the cases alphabetically and like the Table of Contents, provide a page number for where that case can be found. This is a little more tricky than creating a Table of Contents, but it is still very worthwhile to know – not only for notes organization, but also for the “1L brief” that most law students have to submit for their legal writing classes. There are tutorials available on YouTube that can be helpful if you need guidance in doing this.
Step 2 – Color Coding
So, all semester long, you’ve been combining your in-class notes with your reading notes – a comprehensive “course summary” of all that you have learned throughout the semester and everything that you may need to know for the exam. While creating this throughout the semester, you have worked on entries that will go into the Table of Contents and Table of Authorities. Another key organizational tool is to color-code some of the important parts of the course summary. For example, the names of cases are in purple and I include the page number from the casebook in the unlikely event I have to crack my book open during an exam. For each case, I have the rules in red. My one or two sentence of facts are in green. If there are elements that must be satisfied for this particular rule to apply, I put those in blue. If the court’s opinion nicely runs through the step by step analysis, I also have that in blue. If the court talks about public policy, that goes in pink.
Here are a few examples:
Step 3 – Print
Once you have the Table of Contents and Table of Authorities completed and everything is color-coded to highlight the most important items, then it is time to color print the course summary (and I prefer duplex printing).
Step 4 – Three-Hole Punch and Place in Binder
A 1″ binder should be sufficient. Also, I placed my page numbers on the “outside” corners of the pages because I thought it would be a little more convenient when flipping through.
Step 5 – Tabs
Either use the traditional divider-style tabs or use the “Note Tabs” that are essentially sticky-flags but more durable. You want to flag/divide each main topic (ex. negligence) and then each subtopic (ex. duty, breach, causation, harm). I like to use larger tabs for the main topics and then smaller tabs for the subtopics. If there were a few items that the professor seemed to refer to a lot during the semester (ex. Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad) then I would put a small flag on that case. You have to find the right balance between flagging what is important and cluttering up the document with too many flags.
And Voila! You’ve organized everything you’ve learned into one handy manual. An added bonus: bring this to exam day and your classmates will freak! (Just kidding, sort of).
- BUT – in terms of exam preparation you are not done! The course summary is everything you learned. Half of which you won’t even use on the exam. You can’t flip through all of it, no matter how organized it is, when you are issue spotting – there is a more efficient way! (Two, actually!). In addition to the course summary, you need to create 1: an Attack Outline; and 2) an Issue Spotter Checklist.
The Attack Outline
It sounds aggressive, right? Well, it will help you “attack” the exam in a way more efficient than your lengthy course summary. Basically, the attack outline is a skeletal, bare-bones outline (yes! This is the “real” outline you’ve heard so much about) that contains only the topic, subtopic, and rule. Rarely would you include a case (unless the professor always brought up a particular case when referring to a specific subtopic or rule). While your course summary would be 200-250 pages, this quick and dirty lifeline is less than 20. It’s extremely useful for reviewing in the days up to the exam and provides a little more information than just the one page issue spotter/checklist while still being a quick/usable document.
To make the attack outline:
- Begin the attack outline using an outline form (either bullet points or number/letters) and note only the topics and subtopics you learned this semester. Ideally, the professor’s syllabus will list the topics and subtopics covered – use the same ones, in the same order, to create a “shell” for the attack outline.
- Next, turn to your course summary and usually, just by looking at the Table of Contents, you can get the page numbers for each topic and subtopic that you have included as the shell of your attack outline. So basically, you are cross referencing to your long course summary (see example from mine, below).
- Read through the lengthy course summary and extract only the rules. The idea is to have enough information to alert you to a particular possible issue on the exam, but not so much that you are slowed down by too much information.
- Once you have identified a short, concise, rule from the course summary copy only the rule and paste it into the attack outline.
- If there are elements that must be satisfied, or other tests that serve as a guide, those should be included as well. I made elements and tests blue. However, I didn’t put the rules in red for the attack outline like I did the course summary because the attack outline is essentially all rules.
Here is my example:
The Issue Spotter/Checklist
Lastly, you need a one-page issue spotter. All on this one page, you will list every theory of recovery/tort/crime/etc. you learned this semester and list the page number for which it appears in your course summary. While taking your final exam, you will place a check mark by every issue you have found. Once you have actually written about that issue on your exam, then cross out the entire issue that you checked. While reviewing your exam at the end, go over the checklist one last time – what’s left? Should any of that have been mentioned? Even if not all the elements would be satisfied, are enough elements satisfied that you should at least address it on the exam? For example, if duty, breach, and harm are satisfied, but causation isn’t – you better still spot the “negligence” issue on the exam. If you’re just one issue short, that’s close enough to merit your attention. Furthermore, you can rack up points by arguing why an element is or isn’t satisfied. If you disregard it altogether then you’ve lost a lot of points. (As a side note, if you are taking a torts exam and haven’t mentioned negligence, then something is wrong – negligence is always an issue on a torts exam).
Here’s my example:
In sum, I know this seems like a lot of work. Perhaps work that would be better spent simply reviewing your notes – but while doing this, you are reviewing your notes. And I have found that it didn’t matter how much time I spent committing this stuff to memory, the stress of taking a law school exam completely wiped my memory. Having the ability to quickly run through the available issues and find any additional information was calming and helped build my confidence.
Last Step – Practice Using Your Material
It isn’t enough to now have this material – now you have to practice using it. Do this by taking practice exams. Most law schools have old practice exams available online or in paper form at the library. Practice exams are important, perhaps even more important than organizing all of this material. All semester long you have been inputing this information – now you have to take what you know and apply it. Don’t take a law school exam without first practicing the skill of taking a law school exam. It’s unlike any other exam, I assure you. Taking the practice exam with your newly organized material will also help acquaint you with where to find what you want.
In this post, I discuss my method of “pre-class” notetaking, as well as the pros and cons and whether this is something that might be helpful for you.
Most of what you learn in law school is first encountered while reading and studying the material assigned before class. Law school is sort of a guided, but self-directed study. In a lot of ways, the law student is independently responsible for learning the law. You are expected to come to class with already having been introduced to the topic and have a fairly good understanding of it. The role of the lecture is then, to supplement your understanding, expand upon it, and either confirm your understanding or expose your misunderstanding.
Given the emphasis on pre-class preparations, it always made sense to me to devout a lot of time to my pre-class preparation: reading and note-taking. Though not an exhaustive list, I believe there are four ways in which a law student can spend their pre-class time working through the material:
- Read the material and take pre-class notes based on the assigned reading. Flag anything in the pre-class notes that is not understood. Then supplement the pre-class notes with in-class notes. If what was not understood before is still sketchy or my questions were not answered in-class, then consult a supplement (hornbook or commercial outline) and/or see the professor. (This is what I do, and though it is the most thorough option, it is time consuming and may not be the most efficient).
- Read, but don’t take pre-class notes. At the least, mark-up the book (i.e., “book brief” and write notes in the margin). Take notes while in-class. Then, either go with the mindset that if the professor didnt mention it, then it wasn’t important, or (probably the more sound decision) go back through the reading material and supplement the class notes.(This is probably a decent balance between efficient and thorough note taking).
- Read, but only take class notes, never again looking at the book. (Not ideal).
- Don’t read before class, take what you think are really good in-class notes, then, and only then, would you go back to the book and try to make sense of something that you didn’t understand. (This is a bad idea).
I will openly admit, I am not the best “processor” when it comes to extremely dense, difficult, and boring reading material. I have to try to stay engaged, make sense of difficult material, and understand the structure of what is being said in the material (ex. in a torts case, involving breach, duty, causation, and harm, maybe breach and duty are satisfied, causation “might” be satisfied, and harm is definitely satisfied, what is the implication for this party/client/case? What would help me determine whether causation is satisfied or not? and so on).
One thing that has helped me through some of these difficult problems and has improved my reading comprehension is to take “reading notes” a/k/a “pre-class” notes from the reading material (as I described in Option 1, above). This is SO time consuming. BUT not only does it help me understand the material, it also dramatically decreases the amount of notetaking I have to take during class (thereby allowing me to sit back and “process” some more by just taking it all in), it also helps me easily and quickly review prior to class, and it makes end-of-semester outlining a breeze (because rather than inserting the information into my outline, I’m condensing what I already have which is so much faster than hunting down info, typing it, etc.)
Having to first read the material, highlight or use different colors of pen (see blog post on technicolor reading soon), then type the important stuff into my word document keeps me engaged in the reading material and also strengthens reading comprehension (especially the typing part – because I have to really look at each word and then type it – rather than just skim and inadvertently walk away from the reading with only a “gist” of what it said).
Law school reading is like having a ton of information thrown at you without a lot of context for how to sort the information and how the information relates to this specific reading material or other material previously read. Since it naturally comes from a book, there’s little structure to it – and I find this problematic. For me to process it, I basically extract the important points from the reading, insert it into my own word processing document (last semester I used Circus Ponies, this semester I’m just using Microsoft Word), and convert it into a format that makes more sense. Most commonly, that “format” is an outline. Don’t confuse this for the “outline” that is used for exam prep and exam taking. Rather, this version (which I tend to call a “course summary”) is much more lengthy. It contains all of my briefs for every case that I read and includes any notes from sections of the casebook that are explanatory in nature (usually appearing before or after the cases).
This is all organized in either bullet-point or numbered and lettered format (thus forming an “outline” style of organization). I prefer bullet-points because the numbers and letters tend to get distracting, especially if you are also referring to a statute that has numbers (common in civil procedure). For example, I would hate to have a numbered/lettered bullet point “b.” describing Rule 60(a). But I’m a little OCD, so do whatever you like and what fits you best.
Here is an example to more thoroughly illustrate what I’m talking about, and again, remember this is all just for my pre-class/reading notes:
- Topic (usually the chapter title from the book or the topic provided by the professor in the syllabus).
- Subtopic (usually the section of the chapter or a subtopic provided by the professor in the syllabus).
- Introductory notes for this particular topic which the casebook editor provided prior to a case or at the beginning of the chapter.
- John Smith v. Doe Smith (2000) – p. 232 (notice that I’ve listed the case name, the year the case was decided, and the page number for which it appears in the book).
- Holding/Disposition: (very short statement of what this means for the parties in this case – I don’t spend a lot of time on this because it is not very meaningful in terms of knowledge of this particular rule).
- Rationale: (this is the important one – you have to know why the court chose this particular result – why the rule applied in this particular situation given the facts of this case – this is vital to understanding the rule and to applying it in the future).
- Dissent/Concurrence: (if applicable)
- Rule: (a short, few sentence summary of the rule).
- Analysis: - this won’t work for every case, but when the opinion clearly lays out a step by step process for analyzing this particular issue, I always include it – it can work as a boilerplate to sort through a similar issue in the future on an exam!
- Susie Q v. John Q (2005) – p. 349
- Any notes which follow the case (casebook editors will often follow an opinion/case with “Notes and Questions” which provide the majority/minor rule or even better, summarize the rule in a neat one or two sentence format that is super convenient and can be placed into the brief, above under the “rule” bullet point).
- Subtopic (usually the section of the chapter or a subtopic provided by the professor in the syllabus).
In doing this, I have provided a structure for which to analyze the material. For example, two cases might illustrate two different outcomes of the same rule. In the casebook, the two cases might be 20 pages a part, but in my notes, I have them together (often on the same page).
Again, this can be extremely time consuming, but I am convinced this is the best method for me. It’s heavily “front-loaded” but when it comes time to outline at the end of the semester, most of the heavy lifting is already done. Plus, as you go along, you get much more skilled at the process and it becomes faster and like second nature.
5-10 minutes prior to class, rather than skimming through the book for the important points of the reading (which could mean flipping through 30+ pages) I can just read through my condensed notes in a few minutes.
During class, I have one side of my screen taken up with my pre-class/reading notes and the other side with my document for class notes. Most professors tend to follow the flow of book/assigned reading without jumping around too much. Since I re-read through my condensed reading notes, everything is fresh in mind; so while the professor is lecturing, I can listen intently without scurrying to write every word. Most of what he is telling me is already in my notes. Usually, the only time that I type anything at all is when we are going through an assigned case. Though I already have the “basics” (facts, issue, holding, rule, rationale, analysis, etc.) the professor almost always expands on the case by posing several “hypotheticals” that stretch the rule – it defines the rule – whether it encompasses this new set of facts set forth in the hypo, or whether the rule falls just shy of applying to this new set of facts. This is so important because it allows me to see the rule “in action,” being applied to new facts – it increases my understanding of the rule, it’s purpose, and why/why not it works in other situations. This is just like what I have to do on the exam!
Ideally, while in-class, I am able to easily annotate my reading notes with the professor’s lecture. However, if the professor has gone off on a tangent (which is valuable material, of course) or if he has skipped around and I am not able to quickly find where to insert this new in-class information into my reading notes, then I refer to the other document I have on my screen that is dedicated entirely to in-class notes.
Ideally, at the end of every class, I would spend a few minutes incorporating whatever is in my class notes, into my reading notes. But for me, this has been rarely possible because I have classes back-to-back. So, I reserve Friday afternoons specifically for reviewing and reconciling my in-class notes with my reading notes. In doing this, I am seeing the material again (good for memory) and getting feedback (yes, my pre-class understanding was correct per the lecture – or – crap, I’m confused, get help).
Once I have integrated/reconciled my class-notes into my pre-class/reading notes, I have what I call a “course summary.” This is essentially all of the information that I found important in the course – it’s way too long for use on an exam (though I have it with me just in case). Last semester, these “course summaries” were 200-250 pages for each subject. It’s important to organize it in such a way that it can serve as a useful “how-to manual” for the exam. I share share my tips on organizing the course summary, creating an “attack outline,” and a one-page issuer spotter for the exam in this post.
I am disappointed I didn’t make as much time as I would have liked to blog throughout my first semester of law school. However, I did make it a point to create a list of all the things I’d like to touch on when I finally had time. This post is a collective list of those items which are indirectly related to life as a law student. For more specific information on performing well in law school, see my posts on note taking and organizing for success on the law school exam. I’ve organized this post, of random/indirect items by headings, so feel free to skip to the ones you are more interested in.
On Being Married in Law School
It’s been a blessing. Luckily, my husband is my biggest cheerleader and doesn’t mind taking care of literally all of the household chores (cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc.) I grocery shopped maybe once during my first semester and cooked no more than twice. Plus, having a non-law “roommate” is a major plus. My unmarried classmates have ended up competing with their law-student roommates, are sick of talking about the law at the end of the day, and found it difficult to maintain perspective.
I also appreciate being immune from a lot of the “who’s hooking up with who” drama that runs rampant in law school. Even more devastating, two of my classmates worked hard to come to the same law school, sacrificing other offers – their 6 year relationship ended this semester after he cheated on her – she then cheated on him – the entire 1L class is well aware of the entire fiasco. I can’t imagine going through this awful, mortifying experience on top of dealing with law school stress.
Prior to attending law school (at my uber traditional institution) I thought how I would fit in (being several years older than the median, and yes – married). Turns out, married students are seen as the ones who “wreck” the curve for everyone else because we are so serious and mature – opting to stay in and study or spend precious time with our loved ones rather than partying at night and nursing hang overs the next morning.
However, one someone downfall in being married seems to be that there is a presumption that the married student would not be interested in socializing with the single-persons circles. I have found several single female classmates that I really have enjoyed getting to know – we’ve developed a close friendship, but when it comes time to Friday night movie dates or Sunday brunches, my single friends seem to forget that I too, though married, would enjoy such outings.
Of the 6 married students in my class, I am the only wife/student. I don’t mind, I take it in stride and have become good friends with my married student classmates as well as their wives. But it is often a reminder of how different my law school experience has been (but in a positive way).
That said, here are some of my tips for maintaining a happy marriage during what will likely be one of the most stressful times in your life:
1. Don’t shut your spouse out. They are your teammate – you both are in this together. But your spouse can’t support you or understand what you are going through unless you tell them. It only takes 5ish minutes out of your busy schedule to include them on your life. As earlier as the phase of making the decision to attend law school and which law school to attend, it is so important to involve the spouse. Remember, their life is going to change too! Especially if attending law school means one or both of you are relocating. There are a lot of things to think about (will my spouse be happy living in this particular area, will he/she find work, will he/she be near things that he/she needs to be happy/make a living/have a life). The spouse doesn’t need only be able to have a life while you are in law school – but one that he/she is happy with even when it means a life that is less involved with the student.
2.Designate “us” time and “study” time. For my husband and I, “Us” time has always been Friday night date night. To continue this tradition during law school has meant having to schedule my studying accordingly so that I could completely take Friday nights off. Beginning at 5:00, I could no longer be a stressed, crazy, emotional law student – I had to try to be my normal self. It was a time to unwind and reconnect with my husband. I made it a point to not obsess about law school and really only talk about it if it came up naturally in the conversation (but it always did – my husband always makes it a point to ask me how it’s going). This is good for not only the couple, but the law student too. It definitely kept me sane and maintained perspective. On the other hand, you have to let your spouse know what law school is a full time + job. If you set a schedule and stick to it, your spouse will respect that your “study time” is the equivalent of being away at the office, even if your “office” is your own study space in the home, a few rooms away.
3. Let your spouse help you. Assuming your spouse isn’t a lawyer or also a law student, don’t assume your spouse cannot possibly help you. It’s amazing how helpful it can be to attempt to explain a case or concept to someone who has no knowledge on the subject. I found that if you are able to articulate a concept verbally in an explanatory way, then you’ve mastered the subject. The non-law student spouse can then respond with questions, pointing out what didn’t come across as clear. As a law student, I tend to become so absorbed into what I’m doing, that I forget the “outsider” knowledge (i.e., usually common sense!) that is what got me into law school in the first place. By talking to my spouse, I get the “common sense” point of view too.
4.Find ways to communicate throughout the day. I know this sounds awful, but my husband and I have this semester had to rely more on emails and text messages to keep in touch throughout the day. Though this isn’t a good replacement for face to face contact, it’s better than nothing.
5. Ultimately, it is about having reasonable expectations – you both have to come to an understanding. The decision to attend law school is one that necessarily impacts you (the student) individually, your spouse individually, and the two of you as a couple – in other words, it is one that has to be made together. I often catch myself saying “we” are in law school or law school stresses “us” out. Because law school changes so much of your life, like how you spend your time, the things you talk about, the amount of stress you endure, etc. it can have the ability to completely change who you are – and thus change the dynamic of the couple. When the spouse knows ahead of time that this particular change is likely to occur, I think it is more likely that the spouse will be more accepting when it happens.
Law school as a married person is a blessing. But it does mean there are additional factors to think about when making the decision to attend law school and in thinking about how your lives will be once in law school. Though I didn’t read this book pre-law school (nor did my spouse), I did hear from one of the spouses of my classmates that the book “The Companion Text to Law School” was extremely helpful.
I’ve never pulled an all-nighter. Never. I don’t function when I am tired and there’s no amount of coffee that is going to keep me awake when my body decides to shut down for sleep. That said, I admit my sleep schedule fluctuated a lot during the first semester. I was usually in bed by midnight but would wake up to begin studying again somewhere between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. (usually 5 a.m.). I am a firm believer in getting plenty of sleep. So much so that if it means spending one additional hour of studying versus getting an extra hour of sleep, I will really try to get the hour of sleep (unless my brain refuses to turn off because I feel so stressed about studying).
I am a believer in the phrase “diminishing returns.” On the weekends, when I get most of my uninterrupted studying in, I would go 6 hours, take a short break for a meal, and then go back at it again for another 6-7 hours. But I started to realize that toward the end of the day, I was just getting frustrated and confused. So while it’s important to take studying seriously, it’s equally important to assess whether studying is being done detrimentally.
Surprisingly, I got plenty of sleep and had no trouble sleeping the night before exams. I thought my anxiousness would keep me awake, but I was uncharacteristically calm. I know several of my classmates pulled all nighters before exams – even if they didn’t do so the night before the exam, it still messed with their ability to process and focus. It’s just not worth it to skimp on the basics.
Toward the end of the semester, I was pretty lucky to shower everyday. Seriously. I started thinking about which was a better use of time – studying or showering. Studying always won. However, I am the type of person that literally feels better and more confident in myself if I feel that I look good. So at times I felt like it was worthwhile to do my hair and makeup just for the sake of making myself feel my best -even for final exams. Some of my female classmates even dressed up for exams – including skirts and heels! I didn’t go that far, but I think that means I’m not the only one who pays attention to this confidence-boosting trick.
That said, even though I was sleeping and followed for the most part my normal beauty regimen, I looked like hell. I noticed about mid-way through the semester that I had bags under my eyes, more wrinkles than usual, dull skin, and I just plain looked tired - even though I was getting plenty of sleep. I think it was a product of stress and being in doors all day. The upside is that a week after my last final, my skin is looking more vibrant and my eyes less tired. I’m also making it a point to drink as much water as possible. I knew I had to be dehydrated due to my higher-than-ever coffee consumption. When I worked at an office, with my own desk, and my own cubicle, which I was stationed at all day, I would bring a huge liter bottle of water and make sure I drank the whole thing by noon and again by 5. Now that I’m always on the go and moving around from class to class, it’s been more difficult to maintain such a high water intake.
Naturally, this piggy-backs to getting enough sleep. But additional factors include eating healthfully, getting exercise, and avoiding sickness.
I’ve never been good at eating healthfully. Largely because I am such a picky eater and my life has always been so chaotic that it’s hard to plan ahead so that I can have healthy choices available to me whenever I have a quick second to eat. So while I am certainly no expert, here are a few things that I have done to at least try to eat well:
- Bring Lean Cuisines and Healthy Choice style meals to school. Of course, this requires some pre-planning which I’m terrible at. With foods that need to be frozen, my law school has a bank of refrigerators in the basement to keep foods cold. So if you trust that your food won’t get taken, you could bring a weeks-supply to tap into as needed. Alternatively, there are some Healthy Choice meals that don’t need to be frozen at all – just add water and heat-up. Those can obviously be stored for weeks at a time in a locker. I also relied on “Soup at Hand” by Campbell’s soup, yet another item that does not require refrigeration and is easy to keep around.
- Granolla or Protein Bars. I keep a box handy in my backpack. It’s a major help when I don’t even have time to heat up anything that I’ve brought for lunch.
- Bring a sandwich bag of carrots, celery, or whatever quick-snack vegetable you prefer.
- Try to find good options at the law school’s cafe. This can be pretty difficult and of course, the food tends to be pretty pricey.
Exercise – yet another area I am not at all qualified to speak to, but I will try:
- I have never been disciplined enough to stay on a good exercise routine. I will have a few months where I will walk every day but then will be out of the habit twice-as long. Nevertheless, I tried to get in extra walking (even not as a workout regimen) however I could, including: parking farthest away, walking laps around the law school (even indoors on bad-weather days), or if all else fails, justifying that I really am “working out” from the simple fact I’m walking everywhere with 30 lbs of books on my back!
- If exercise is important to you, then don’t sacrifice it for law school. There are a lot of benefits in it that will transfer directly to your law school performance like increased stamina, maintained mental energy, ability to process difficult material, etc. Plus, it helps ease stress!
- Remember in elementary school where if one kid in the class was sick, a wave of sickness then loomed over the entire class? One week out, 5 kids would be sick, the second week 10 more would fall victim, and so on. Well, law school is exactly like that!
- Drink lots of fluids – including Vitamin-C rich drinks like Orange Juice.
- I chose to try “Emergen-C” (my favorite flavor is Rasberry) and I do think it helped a lot.
- Consider taking a multi-vitamin.
- Wash your hands – a lot! I have a habit of while I’m studying, placing my hands all over my face – even near my mouth! If I’ve touched something that was also touched by someone with a cold, then I’ve put myself at high risk of getting the cold! And in law school, there’s 400-900 people all in one building, touching many of the same things.
Sorry for leaving everybody hanging. My break completely dissipated in front of my eyes and the first three weeks of law school have completely consumed my life (plus, I’ve been suffering from total exhaustion – it’s all I can do to keep up with the bare minimum requirements of my life).
Anyway . . . I wanted to wait to post the results of my first semester hard work (or, slavery) until I had all of my grades. One professor kept us all in suspense and I ended up starting the semester not completely knowing where I stood. In other words, it wasn’t until just last week that I got my last/final grade!
So, without further delay . . . I’m quite happy with my above-the-curve 3.5 GPA. Not too shabby. Sure, given the amount of work and effort I put in my first semester, I personally think I deserve a 4.0, but hey, that’s just not how law school works. Plus, I am competing with a ton of extremely brilliant people!
In all seriousness, this was extremely validating. Just two years ago I was questioning whether I was capable of even getting in to law school, much less succeeding (and thriving). Granted, I had to work harder (maybe harder than most of my classmates) than the average law student to earn my reward, but it was worth it – even though I have to do it for another 5 semesters. A friend of mine told me that law school is like a pie eating contest. The reward is . . .more pie. Sadly, this is a pretty good analogy for what law school is like.
Now that I have my results and have a better idea of whether my approach to law school was worthwhile, I feel qualified to reflect on what I did and share some advice. . . . soon.
I know, I know, I’ve already been slacking.
But please understand that law school is the busiest time in anyone’s life and it is already hard enough just to find time to eat and shower every day (well, sort of every day).
I promise I will write a stupendous post on exam prep and success in law school very soon. In fact, I have a draft started now and I will slooooowly work on it over the next several days (weeks?)
But it’s back to 1800′s property cases for now.
Thanks for your patience and support!
It’s been 3 weeks since my last final exam and I’m a little over a week away from starting my spring semester – so where the heck are my grades!?
I was warned the wait for grades would be even more painful than waiting for my LSAT results and for the first 2 weeks of waiting, I was patient and kept my mind occupied.
I’m done waiting.
Give me my grades!!!
I get that this isn’t like undergrad where professors enter in their own grades as soon as they are available. What is the hold up? I assume it is because all law school exams are graded anonymously – the professor only has access to a code for each student (the student, in lieu of using their name, used a code given to them by the school’s registrar). Then, the professors have to turn in the exam grades which correspond only to the anonymous codes and another person matches up the codes with the law student’s true identity and then plugs them in to whatever arcane system they use. At my law school, only one person matches up the codes and inputs grades – and it takes FOREVER.
Meanwhile, I’m passing the time cleaning my house, getting organized for next semester, and checking legalryangosling.tumblr.com – yum.
I’ve just completed my first semester of law school – that makes me 1/6th of a lawyer, right? Or 5/6th a normal person?
Wow – I’ve really come a long way. It seems not that long ago I was dreaming of being a law student, questioning whether I was capable to even get in. I had to make giant leaps of faith along the way.
Grades won’t be in for 3-4 weeks but even without knowing the “real” result of my hard work, I would say this semester has been a huge success. I worked harder than I ever have in my life and have grown not only intellectually, but emotionally (by learning to trust myself, believing I could do this).
I wish I had updated this blog more regularly throughout the semester but over the next 4 weeks of winter break I hope to update more regularly on my thoughts of the first semester. I have lots of advice I hope to share as well.
In the mean time, please let me know what you would like to hear! Either comment to this post, send me a message on the blog, or email me at lawschooldreamer [at] gmail dot com and I will address your inquiries in a post.
1. Assuming you didn’t, you now wish you had taken advantage of the “opportunity” to slack off in undergrad. How nice it would’ve been to push back a reading assignment or two with little repercussions.
2. You read an “article” (which is now a “fact pattern”) about a fun opportunity to have wild animals come to your home (sort of like a petting zoo coming to you) and instead of thinking about how great it would be, all you can think about is the various legal issues.
3. When someone babbles-on, taking forever to get to the point, your first instinct is to “brief” the dialogue into a short, concise, compartmentalized document in your head. Your second instinct is to calculate the time wasted which could have been better spent studying.
4. Your non-law family and friends avoid you and you realize you have nothing interesting to tell them. You aren’t just alienated, you are literally, an alien.
5. When someone talks about an “unconscionable” act you try to figure out what part of the “contract” they are talking about . . . only to find they meant someone did something really heinous.
6. You LUST over sleep. And feel guilty for giving-in.
7. Everything you thought you knew before . . . is now questionable.
8. Everything has now the potential suddenly to become tortious conduct.
9. When class is cancelled your first thought is “Yes, I have time to shower today!”
10. You either love what you are doing or you hate it. There’s no in between. . .
. . . . and FYI – I still LOVE it. Every-minute-of-it.
Writing this, I’m reminded of Oprah’s infamous “Favorite Things” episodes in which she surprises her audience with announcing (and gifting) her favorite things . . . sorry, no giveaways here – but I am announcing my favorite law school gear/swag/tools, without which, my life would be slightly less organized/sane/happy.
- Gel Highlighters by Sharpie. Law school casebook pages are super thin and even the dullest, most dried-out highlighters bleed through. I am too OCD to handle that anxiety-inducing ickiness. These highlighters are amaaazing! Because they aren’t liquid, they don’t bleed through the page. Two drawbacks: 1) They aren’t super accurate and they take some getting used to and though they have a chiseled-tip, it dulls (which makes it even less accurate); and 2) They are gel, so its sort of like laying a residue on the page, which feels kind of funky.
- Pens by Sharpie. Okay, Sharpie is in no way a sponsor of this post nor am I a paid spokesperson (BTW, you will likely find cheaper prices at your local office supply store – the Sharpie website sells these items outrageously overpriced!). BUT it just so happens my second favorite thing are these amaaaaazing pens which do not bleed through thin pages, come in a variety of colors (good for book-briefing in technicolor which makes it easier to type up briefs later), the pens are retractable so I can extend the life and not keep track of a cap, and the tip is super fine! Also, I’m a lefty so I have to be careful about the “wetness” of ink pens because they tend to smear – but never fear! The ink dries fast enough it doesn’t smear. Hey! A Rhyme!
- A Sturdy Adjustable Bookstand. Seriously. I even have a friend that brings a collapsable/travel one to class and props her book up next to her laptop. Mine (which I’ve linked to) is not as portable, but it is super sturdy and since I do most of my studying at home, it is perfect for me. Just make sure it is wide-enough for ginormous casebooks.
- Hall’s Mocha-Flavored Cough Drops. Okay, I admit, this is random, but I’m getting over a cold and happened to come across these (my husband actually found them!) They are delicious and I am convinced the mocha-flavoring (which is my favorite coffee flavor) creates a placebo effect for me; so I trick myself into thinking I’m getting some much needed caffeine!
- Crunchtime Outlines. I am preparing my outlines for my classes now (yikes!) and am absolutely amazed by the usefulness of the Crunchtime books. Not only do they provide the black letter law, but they also provide flow charts (which I love, because I’m a visual learner) AND exam tips with a few sample questions and answers! I’ve linked to the publisher’s website but I strongly recommend looking at Amazon.com or another online bookstore to purchase them much more cheaply.
- General on-the-go essentials like instant coffee packets, granola bars, etc. Time is limited and when I’m in study mode between classes and don’t want to spend time running down sustenance, it is super handy to just grab what I need out of my backpack. GASP! Yes, I said backpack.
- My backpack. Seriously, I’m so glad I opted to go with a backpack rather than my usual mode of book-transportation which consisted of a) oversized handbags; b) professional-looking laptop totes; c) messenger bags. Honestly, I’m carrying 20+ pounds everywhere I go every day. Had I opted for a one-sided option I think my back would be totally out of wack. Plus, I really appreciate being able to navigate the stairs and halls of my law school without worrying about swinging a bag into something, etc. A backpack really is super convenient, even though it isn’t my usual style.
- Halloween Candy. Hey, it is not my fault I’m a stress eater.
- Law Students who are even crazier than me. It makes me feel more normal, seriously. Okay so the article I linked to (about an anxious 1L seeking advice from his/her upperclassmen peers) isn’t maybe that crazy. But this one (Mercer law student who heinously murders another classmate) is seriously insane (and NOT one of my favorite things).
- Law Students requesting therapy dogs to lighten spirits. Additional law schools are following Yale’s “Lead” (get it? “lead” haha) by incorporating therapy dogs as stress relievers for students. I am fortunate enough to have my own but believe all should be so lucky to have this benefit!