There can be a sharp learning curve in law school. The style of teaching and testing found in most law schools is different from other educational experiences, and it will require you to modify (or sometimes completely abandon) many of the study habits you relied on during undergrad. To do your best right from the start and give yourself a shot at the top of the curve, you not only need to quickly develop effective law school study skills, but you also have to avoid the ineffective strategies. Read on to learn about 10 common study mistakes new law students make so that you can avoid them during your 1L year.
Let me be blunt: procrastination can lead to disaster in law school. You will cover hundreds of pages of dense reading material, scores of difficult concepts, and numerous legal skills in each class. You will likely find yourself overwhelmed and underprepared if you wait until reading week to review, master, and organize all of this information. Procrastination is a tough habit to break, but it can be done. Resolve to avoid procrastinating in all areas of law school – including LRW assignments, outlining, reading, and finals prep – so that you can hand in your best work when a deadline arrives.
2. Failing to Create (and follow) a Disciplined Schedule
When you start law school, you need to treat it like a job, not like your senior year of college. Don’t get me wrong, you can still have a lot of fun in law school, but you have to prioritize your studies and remain focused while you’re working. Law school is training you to be a professional, so you should start acting like a professional now. Get up in the morning and work a full day; know what tasks need to be completed on a daily, weekly, and long term basis; and limit distractions while you’re studying, just like an employer is going to expect you to do at a job.
3. Viewing other Students only as Competition
Class rankings and mandatory grade curves shouldn’t discourage you from making friends in law school. Cultivating a strong law school community will help you make the most of this experience on a personal and academic level.
4. Rereading Cases
Reading cases is the primary homework assignment for most law school classes, so you need to find a way to be efficient and effective when you read. Many students waste time by rereading cases, drafting unnecessarily long case briefs, or briefing even short cases. Use your reading time wisely by focusing on the main rule/concept/point of each cases and don’t get too bogged down in the details. While you may need to know some factual background from the cases for the class discussion, it will ultimately be the legal rules and concepts that are tested on the final exam.
5. Believing that Reading and Attending Class is Sufficient
Reading and going to class each day is important, but it should be the first – not only – step in your learning process. You’re going to have to teach yourself many concepts and practice many skills on your own during law school. The sooner you recognize that mastering the material requires extensive independent learning, the better off you will be.
6. Not Asking Questions
Far too often, new law students are embarrassed or too shy to ask questions. Don’t be! These are very challenging concepts and it will take time to master them. If you fail to seek clarification when you are confused you will likely find yourself falling more and more behind as the course progresses. If you are not comfortable raising your hand in class, you can always visit your professor’s office hours, ask a teaching assistant, or seek out an academic support professional.
7. Taking Shortcuts
It doesn’t take long for newly minted law students to discover that there is a wealth of supplemental material at their disposal. Proper use of supplements can be extremely helpful, but using supplements as a shortcut because you failed to prepare or did not want to put the effort into creating your own study aids will rob you of a valuable learning process. Avoid taking shortcuts by always trying to complete assignments on your own before turning to outside resources for help.
8. Failing to Complete a Practice Exam
Do not let the first law school final exam you take be an actual, graded law school final exam! Law school final exams require fluency in skills that you don’t necessarily practice in class on a regular basis. Incorporate practice exam questions into your study routine so that you are fully prepared for the unique challenges posed by final exams.
9. Creating ineffective Outlines
Your outline will be your primary finals study aid, so it needs to be as helpful and accurate as possible! Students that are unclear about what to expect on a law school exam often create outlines that are ineffective study tools. You can avoid wasting time and effort on an ineffective outline by learning about the qualities of a strong outline, familiarizing yourself with what to expect on final exams, and making the legal rules (not the cases) the focus of your outline.
10. Underestimate the Time Commitment
Simply staying on top of all of your class assignments will require a large time commitment, so don’t overcommit to extracurricular activities or take on additional personal responsibilities during your 1L year.
Sometimes it takes a little trial and error to learn what works best for you, but now that you are aware of some of the common mistakes 1Ls make during law school, it should be easier for you to avoid making these same mistakes during your first year.
For more helpful advice, check out these articles:
- Surviving the First Weeks of Law School
- A Student’s Perspective: The First Week of Law School Classes
- How to be a Top Law Student
- What Most Law Students Forget to Do: Think About the Material
Looking for some help to do your best in law school? Find out about our law school tutoring options.