There are certain maxims of how to do law school that seem to have been passed down from generations of students through the ages. It can be scary to break what seem like ironclad conventions: why forge your own path if you can follow the well-trodden one?
I’m here to tell you that I did not follow many of these conventions of law school during my first semester, and I came out the other side. That’s not to say I broke them just for the sake of breaking them. Instead, I evaluated whether or not I thought they made sense for me, even tried out some of them, and then chose another way. If you’re considering breaking the mold, take a look at these five law school “rules” I broke and some alternatives to consider.
1. Studying at night
The archetypal law student stays up until late at night poring over her casebook. But, as a morning person, I knew doing the bulk of my reading at night would not work for me. Cases are not light bedtime reading; they demand your full attention. If I had readings for the next day I needed to finish, I preferred waking up early and getting them done in the morning before classes. I would brew a nice cup of coffee and sit down to read while my brain was at its freshest. Unsurprisingly, I was a lot more efficient at reading cases in the morning than at night when I was dragging and exhausted from a full day of classes. So if you’re not a night owl, don’t feel like you’re doing law school wrong if you’re in bed while everyone else is still in the law library.
2. Study groups
Study groups are a vital part of the law school experience, right? Without one, you’ll be facing an uphill battle while all your classmates pool their knowledge to ace the final exam. While it’s true that they can be helpful in many ways, study groups aren’t for everyone! I knew coming into law school that I learned best by wrestling with the material on my own. When I tried to study with others in college, it was either unproductive or ended up more social than scholastic. But being a lone studier doesn’t mean you’re destined for failure, if that’s how you learn best. Plus, there are ways to get the benefits of the study group without actually joining one: going to office hours, asking your TAs for help, or calling a classmate to talk through something when you’re stuck.
3. Starting outlines right after Halloween
At my school the conventional wisdom from upperclassmen was the time to start outlining was post-Halloween. While I didn’t want to wait until reading period to start, I felt that if I started reviewing at the beginning of November, I would forget everything by the time exams rolled around. Plus, I still wanted to make sure I kept up with my readings. Instead, I held off until just before Thanksgiving, when we had only a few weeks of classes left, and I was glad I did. I finished my outlines over a couple weekends, then added in the final bits of content once the semester ended.
Some people prefer to start early and slowly build an outline throughout the semester, but for me, outlining was a way to synthesize and condense everything toward the end of the classes, so it made more sense for me to start later. And it worked out fine!
4. Taking notes on your laptop
For at least the past decade, law school lectures have been a sea of students typing away on their laptops. I mostly took notes on my laptop during college, but after reading Law School Toolbox’s articles on all the benefits of handwriting your notes in law school, I decided to give it a try. I got so many comments on my handwritten notes from fellow students (and even from a random upperclassman in the library!) that I started to feel insecure. Didn’t the fact that everyone else was typing their notes mean it was the better way? But I decided I would stick out the semester with handwriting and then reevaluate. Spoiler alert: by the end of the semester, I decided I was in it for the long haul. I found the process of combing through my handwritten notes when reviewing and creating my outline really helpful. Plus, I found that I was forced to synthesize what was important from what the professor was saying, rather than just transcribing word-for-word, so I ended up with better notes and less irrelevant information to wade through come finals.
5. Briefing every case
During orientation, we had a professor give a session on how to brief a case, and she mentioned that she briefed every case throughout law school. For the first couple weeks of classes, I religiously handwrote briefs for every case. I quickly realized that briefing was doubling the time it took to do my readings, but I was terrified of cold calls, and worried that if I stopped briefing I would bomb. Eventually, about halfway through the semester, I was so tired and burnt out that I decided to stop and try book briefing instead.
I think everyone should brief a few cases at the beginning of law school, just for the exercise and learning the anatomy of an opinion. But if you feel you’re starting to get diminishing returns on briefing, don’t be afraid to stop and try book-briefing (especially if you’re a visual learner like me).
I hope reading about my rule-breaking has emboldened you to question these conventions and deviate from the beaten path when necessary. If you do these five things, and they work for you, great! But if not, or you’re not sure they’re serving you, don’t be afraid to try something new, and start your own traditions.
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