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Balancing Law School with Life

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Be realistic about the number of hours you must study each week. Most law students will study more hours than ever before in their lives. They may need to double or triple their college study time to get A and B grades in law school. However, studying every moment without a break from law school is counter-productive.

Full-time students can complete all study tasks each week in 50 to 55 hours. Part-time students need approximately 35 to 40 hours per week for these same tasks. Students should formulate a schedule that repeats tasks for each course at the same day/time each week: reading and briefing, outlining, memory drills, review of outlines, practice questions, assignments, or papers.

By following a routine every week, the remaining downtime becomes guilt free because all tasks have been accomplished. A routine schedule also makes all-nighters unnecessary because work on papers, assignments, and presentations is distributed over many weeks rather than completed in a frantic rush near the deadlines.

Studying consistently throughout the entire semester will achieve higher grades with less stress than cramming during the last few weeks. By front-loading more work, students will spend less time relearning forgotten material, will gain deeper understanding, and will retain more information long-term.

Include time for the people and things you love in your weekly schedule. Law students should not isolate themselves. Students with families need to include family meals, bath time for their toddlers, attendance at children’s events, reading of bedtime stories, and time for their spouse/partner in their schedules. If a law student has a pet, exercise and playtimes are essential. Students of faith need time for religious services, choir practice, prayer, or other religious practices. Exercise is important to lower stress and stay healthy—150 minutes per week is the new guideline. Volunteering provides service to others and keeps law school in perspective.

Multitask during study tasks when you can do so without sacrificing learning. Multitasking is not productive when both tasks need focus (for example, listening in class and answering e-mails). However, a repetitive task that does not take much brain power can often be completed while studying. Listen to law CDs while folding the laundry or cooking dinner. Ask a family member to quiz you with flashcards while you garden or iron. Combine exercise with study tasks by reviewing an outline while working out on the stationary bike at the gym or talking with a classmate about a legal topic during a walk.

Save time on the more mundane tasks in life. Inefficiency causes chores, errands, food preparation, and other tasks to seem more onerous and diminishes time available for studies or relaxation. Schedule mundane tasks rather than scatter them randomly throughout your days: doing your laundry, cleaning your apartment, running errands, preparing food for the week, and doing other chores.

Consider how you can complete tasks in less time. Finish your grocery shopping more quickly by avoiding high-traffic times at the store. If you use the laundromat in your apartment complex, determine when it is least crowded to avoid waiting for machines. Complete errands in the same part of town together to save time and gasoline; choose services near your home or law school: pharmacy, post office, office supply store, hair salon. Use online options when they are more convenient or less costly. Deep clean your apartment once or twice a month and then just spot clean, wash dishes, and pick up during the remaining weeks.

Cut down time on food preparation during the week by completing as much as possible on the weekends. Cut up fruits and raw vegetables and store in plastic containers for quick servings of snacks throughout the week. Pack crackers, pretzels, chips, or cookies into single-serving plastic storage bags for later packed lunches. Make several large-portion entrees in the crock-pot over the weekend and store single-serving leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer for future meals.

Keep a positive outlook on law school rather than give in to negativity. Remind yourself regularly of the career goals that brought you to law school in the first place so you focus more on the end result rather than the process. If your grades are lower than you hoped, learn new study strategies to improve them rather than wallow in despair. Surround yourself with can-do people who will encourage you, support your efforts, and help you stay focused on doing well academically and graduating. Learn stress management techniques to help you cope with the workload.

Use good judgment and make wise decisions about life and law school. Pause and carefully weigh pros and cons when an academic or life decision is needed. Are there alternative courses of action available? What are the potential consequences? What will best match your values, goals, and priorities? Do procedures or policies relate to your decision?

Law students sometimes limit their options because they make decisions without sufficient information. A student takes an exam when seriously ill and receives a low grade; by notifying the dean’s office beforehand, the same student could have postponed the exam several days. A student leaves school without filing the necessary paperwork, receives all Fs, and is denied readmission; by taking an official leave of absence, the same student could have returned to school.

Use the resources at your law school to keep a balance between school and life. If you feel as though your life is out of kilter, talk to one of the deans or a faculty member to gain perspective. The academic support professional at your school can help you with time management, organizational skills, and study strategies. Most law schools provide access to counselors or doctors who will work with students on medical problems, personal issues, family issues, stress, test anxiety, and other topics.

Vol. 41 No. 7

Amy Jarmon Amy L. Jarmon, assistant dean for academic success programs at Texas Tech University School of Law, is a professor and coeditor of the Law School Academic Support Blog . She is the author of Time and Workplace Management for Lawyers, which is published by the American Bar Association. She has practiced law in the United States and the United Kingdom.