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How to get the book award: Tips and strategies for law students


During my 1L year of law school, I remember walking into the library a week before final exams.  I saw a friend from my section.  He looked stressed and tired.  Normally, he was cool and confident and always had something to say during class.  What happened?

He looked at me and said, “I don’t think I’m going to make it.”  His fear of failure was palpable.  I asked him what was going on.  “I haven’t been studying” he said.  Part of me felt bad for him.  But the truth is, at the same time, I felt good.  I felt good because I didn’t feel the way he felt.

By that point in the year, I was prepared for anything the professors could throw at me.  In the days leading up to the exam, when my friend was staying up all night, I was sound asleep.  On the day before the exam, while my friend was searching for new careers on Google, I was out surfing.   I used that time to visualize the exam and think about different fact patterns and legal issues that might come up.  In several cases, I received the book award.  Please don’t think it’s because I’m naturally smart or a good test taker.  I promise, I’m not.  In fact, far from it.  But I put together a basic system which stacked the odds in my favor.

Here are a few tips and strategies to help you do the same:

How do you eat an elephant?

One thing law school taught me was how to be prepared.  Preparation in all aspects of life is a game changer.  There is an old saying, “How do you eat an elephant?”  The answer, “one bite at a time.”

The information you receive in the first year of law school is enormous.  By the end of the first half of the year, you will have consumed more law then 99.5% of the population will learn in a lifetime.  For many, this can be overwhelming and devastating to success.  By taking things one day at a time (small bites) you will not only be able to digest the material, but you will master the issues in time for finals.  It seems straightforward, but for some reason, many law students do not follow this basic rule.

If you look at any top performer within a specific field, they all prepare extensively for their respective “main event.”  For instance, athletes train in preparation for the next game.  Musicians practice in countless sessions before taking the stage.  Our military elite relentlessly train for the mission.

The concept is not complicated but requires discipline.  Preparation is key.

Here is the basic strategy:  Go to class.  Listen to your professors.  Spend a few hours each day studying the material you just learned and preparing for your next class.  Keep following this routine throughout the semester.

Once you have enough information for the specific course you are taking, obtain copies of old examinations used by your professor and other professors. Then, practice reading, analyzing, and writing law school exam answers.  Time yourself as if it was the real exam.  Do this over and over again.  Remember, the idea is to train for the main event.  If you stick to this basic system; I promise when you get to the final exams (the main event), you will be confident, relaxed, and fully prepared.

How to manage technology in law school

Laptop computers, tablets, and the internet are modern day necessities.  These are all amazing devices that have fundamentally changed the way our society operates.  Information is everywhere and immediately available. The benefits are infinite.  However, this technology has developed at a tremendous pace and drastically changed the way we work and study.  Although I graduated from law school about ten years ago this discussion is not outdated.  Every student in my law school class was required to have a laptop computer.  All classrooms had wireless internet connections.  Most people type faster than they write, including myself.  Everyone in my class used their laptops during class.  Everyone except me. 

Here is the tip:  Do not use your computer or internet during class.  If you are going to use a computer, turn off the internet and emails.  This seems harsh and there will be critics.  Remember, these are strategies I used that worked for me and may not work for you.  So take what you want and leave the rest.  In my opinion (and experience), if you want higher grades, or to just do better, give it a shot.  If you are critical, ask yourself how many times you checked the internet or looked at emails during class.

Today I receive dozens of emails and text messages every day.  Each email and text counts as one distraction.  If I’m working on a task, and continually check my email.  I will lose focus on the task.  In turn, the task takes much longer to get complete.

During law school, I used a pen and legal pad during class.  I listened to the professor and took notes on important issues.  I also noticed many students were surfing the internet, shopping for clothes, looking at emails or instant messaging each other.

At that point I realized I had an advantage.  They were distracted.  I was paying attention and they weren’t.

Like I said, I was never the smartest kid in the class so any advantage helps, right?  And this ties into the first section about preparing.  If you are disciplined, focus during class, and take things one step at a time, you will out-prepare your classmates.

Interesting fact:  I handwrote every law school examination (except where I was required to use a laptop).  Every other student used computers for final examinations.

Take a long lunch

Lastly, incorporate balance in your law school studies.  For instance, I made a deal with myself that I would take two to three-hour breaks for lunch each day.  This gave me time to relax or workout and clear my mind before going back to the library.  Saturdays were spent studying in the library (same lunch schedule).  Sundays were full days off.  I found it helpful to do something completely unrelated to law school.  For instance, movies, surfing, gym, etc.

If you follow this system, by the time you get to final exams, you will be ready for anything.  You will reduce stress and exponentially increase your chances of top scores on final examinations.

Eric Rosen Eric Rosen is a partner with Kelley Uustal PLC in Fort Lauderdale. He has obtained over $44 million dollars in jury verdicts as lead trial counsel for his clients. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from Nova Southeastern University, Shepard Broad Law Center. He represents plaintiffs in personal injury and wrongful death cases.