Spreadsheets have been a good friend to me in law school. In my book, organization is key to success, and using a spreadsheet has been a great way to keep myself on track. Here are five ways to incorporate spreadsheets into your routine as a law student.
It is no secret that law school is expensive. Minimizing debt starts while maximizing savings and minimizing expenses. Using a spreadsheet to create a budget and track spending allows you to understand your inputs and outputs, and make any modifications as necessary.
Personally, I create a budget and adhere to it religiously. The first tab on my spreadsheet is my overall budget per month, as well as my short and long term goals – this page reminds me of why spending cautiously and saving generously is important to me. On another tab, I meticulously track my sources of income and expenses every month. I note the date, the amount spent or earned, the description, and method of payment. At the end of each month, I sum everything up to see if I am following my budget, or if I want to make changes.
2. Class and Activities Planning
After your 1L year, you will have many options to shape your law school experience. You can choose from a variety of classes, participate in a clinic or externship, work in a policy lab, set up a pro bono project, lead or create a student organization, go abroad, and much more. You will also need to satisfy your remaining requirements like completing a writing project, taking the professional responsibility course, and participating in experiential learning. Two years will fly by, and it is important that you not only meet all the graduation requirements, but also take classes and join projects that you are interested in and passionate about.
I use my spreadsheet to record my past classes and involvement in student groups. I also make a wish-list of future classes and activities I want to take and participate in before I graduate. As classes are not offered every semester or even every year, I note when a course has been offered in the past and build out an ideal schedule. Finally, I have a notes section where I remind myself to check back for the class schedule or application deadlines, or to contact upperclassmen and ask for advice.
As a law student, you will often find yourself in networking situations, whether a formal networking event or a casual mixer at school, a get-to-know-you event at your summer job, or simply meeting students and legal professionals through mutual friends.
Understandably, it is difficult to keep track of people’s names, where they work and what they do, and what you spoke about. To combat this dilemma, I ask for a business card (or make sure to remember their name) and after the conversation, make some quick notes on my phone about the interesting or useful comments they shared about their work, their industry, and their perspectives. I then transfer all these notes into a centralized spreadsheet.
I have found that my notes often come into use down the road. Before I interviewed with firms, I reviewed my spreadsheet to remind myself of past interactions with their attorneys and what I learned about the company’s culture and practices. At the interview, I would reference these conversations and indicate my prior interest in the firm. I have also used the pieces of knowledge I have gained as a jumping off point into researching more about a practice area, or to inform my decisions in choosing classes and extracurriculars.
4. Bluebook Rules
For the avid brief writer, or the 1L student preparing or taking the law review writing competition, or the law journal editor, familiarity with Bluebook rules is a must. I have found a spreadsheet that concisely summarizes the bluebook rules (and flags the most common ones) as a handy reference material.
5. Habit Tracking
I firmly believe that law school should not consume your life. Every student should leave time for fun activities and hobbies, and to take care of their physical and mental health. For things that you want to do, little motivation is needed. But when it comes to the habits that are more difficult to form and sustain, such as exercise, sleeping adequately, reading books, and drinking enough fluids, a visual habit tracker can serve both a positive and negative reinforcement tool. Creating incentives at certain milestones will help motivate you to keep the habit going. Leaving a cell blank (or somehow indicating that the habit was not met one day), for me at least, is a reminder that I can do better. This same system can be used to kick a bad habit or track steps to a larger goal.
A spreadsheet is but one productivity tool out of many to help you stay organized. I hope that I gave you some ideas to better manage your busy law student life!
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