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How to study your way to law school survival

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Getting into law school is thrilling. You’ve been preparing for this moment a long time. After the giddiness wears off, you may start to feel a bit apprehensive. That’s because law school is an extremely competitive environment. It’s truly a jungle where the law of the land includes survival of the fittest. That’s why you need a few helpful tips and tricks to survive and thrive here.

Of course, you need studying and homework tips because law school isn’t like undergrad coursework. Legally Blonde aside, know that forming study groups with others is a great idea.

Recognize from the start that you can’t focus 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Realize that the relationships you make in law school with professors and peers can serve you well for the rest of your life. Don’t forget to have fun but do so in moderation. Consider new ways to digest the information you’re learning because, after you take the time to study, you want to retain and build on long-term memory.

Studying and Homework Tips

When you’re a young law student, the idea of studying in the library seems right. You often go to the library with friends in the beginning. As the term progresses, you might ask, “Will I study more effectively in another friendly place to call my own?” You might also tire of the friend who always wants to review homework.

  • Don’t get mad or frustrated, but do find a few places to study without the posse. A quiet coffee shop or a private office a working friend makes available can be ideal to focus on your work.
  • If you take academic honesty seriously, don’t let anyone “review” your finished work.
  • It’s okay to discuss broad concepts unless your professor restricts discussion, such as a take-home test.
  • Flashcards are popular in law school but, unless each card has just a few words on it, creating acronyms and such for each card is time-consuming and might be ineffective. Review your flashcards. Put any card aside that you can’t answer in a few seconds. Repeat the exercise each day but review the cards in a new order. (This helps you to think fast when you’re under pressure—a critical skill for taking law school exams.) And take the time to revise any card with too much written on it. If you’re struggling with an idea or concept, try explaining it a few times to another person. Use comfort as your guide.

Forming Study Groups

Form study groups with good students. In fact, consider forming study groups with others you feel are the best students in class.

Many law school students are competitive in all things, but do your best to work collaboratively within the study group. Ask questions of others. Offer your insight.

Don’t assume that everyone else in the study group will prepare as well as you. After meeting a time or two, consider dividing chapters for review—but never fail to do the reading yourself.

Take study breaks to stay sane

You’ve probably used some version of the Pomodoro Technique before. If not, law school is a great time to start:

  • Don’t work against time. Law students sometimes feel the need to race the clock to complete assignments by the due date. Try working with time instead. Work in 25-minute “all-out or high intensity” increments, just as if you’re using a timer in your mom’s kitchen. When the 25 minutes are up, take a 10-minute “pomodoro” break. Get up from the desk, take a short walk, or grab a coffee. If you prefer, get a standing desk to stay more energetic throughout the day.
  • Avoid burnout. Here’s how: take short but scheduled breaks while you’re working to eliminate that running on fumesaftermath of working too hard. For each four Pomodoro increments of 25-minutes, take a longer 20 to 30-minute break from studies.
  • Manage your distractions. For instance, if you need to take a call or decide it’s been 3,000 miles past your last oil change, your mind is probably looking for a break—but it’s possible to get distracted. Put your to-do list aside and deal with them in order of priority. Most can wait.
  • Balance the work of law school with life. You know that procrastination is a bad idea, so do the work. You don’t have to do the work all at once. If you have an occasional unproductive day, that’s okay.

Get Along

If you argue or demur about everything with everyone, you’re probably not getting along. To learn new social skills, mirror a colleague that everyone likes. Here’s what you may observe about the likable student:

  • He or she is friendly but doesn’t pander to a professor’s interests. Search deeply into the topics presented in class and discuss them with the professor during his or her office hours.
  • Identify a mentor. This individual is someone with an impeccable reputation. He or she will help you grow in law school.
  • Start in position neutral with everyone. Don’t assume anything you’ve heard from others about anyone. This is especially true of professors. While it’s okay to consider a body of student reviews on RateMyProfessors.com, don’t assume the worst of anyone. (This perspective will help you later in life as you build a law practice.)

Finally, do the work. Prepare for each class. Do the homework. Do more than you must to get as much as you can from every class. Make friends. Don’t complain. Don’t assume that any interpersonal matter is “political.” You can succeed. You’ll see that professors and peers admire the organized, friendly student that isn’t on a mission to alienate others.

Now that you have some useful and proven tips for surviving law school, get informed and stay involved. Read relevant legal blogs and stay abreast of criminal law topics.

Brett Podolsky Brett A. Podolsky is a Criminal Legal Specialist certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is the former Assistant Criminal District Attorney for the State of Texas. As a criminal defense attorney in Houston, he dedicates his entire practice to litigation. He accepts a wide variety of cases, including drug charges, federal crimes, white-collar crimes, and sex crimes.

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