Everyone wants to succeed in law school. While students might not know exactly what it takes to get there, we all know that watching 4 hours of Netflix per night is not going to help anyone. So, why do otherwise smart, capable law students allow themselves to slip into this kind of unproductive behavior? You know what you need to do—the reading, practicing for exams, outlining—but you just can’t bring yourself to do it. In fact, I’ve found that many students would rather do almost anything besides all the hard work it takes to get ahead.In my experience with law students and students studying for the bar exam, the reason for counter-productiveness comes down to either laziness, fear, overwhelm, or some combination thereof. People either frankly don’t care enough about the end result, or (and this is much more common) they are afraid of trying their best and still falling short. Plus, with so much work to do and unclear guidelines about where to even begin, it’s easy to spin your wheels and get burned out.
So, what do you do if you’re a procrastinator? What if you have a goal, but you seem to be getting in your own way? Time for some consequences—time for StickK.
What is StickK
StickK, although spelled weird, is actually pretty cool (the second “K” is for contract—just like you would abbreviate it in your class notes). It’s a goal-reaching program developed by a law professor, an economics professor and a student, all from Yale University. It’s based on the premise of risk-aversion: you don’t want to do your practice essays, but you also don’t want to suffer humiliation or financial loss.
As a side note, we at the Law School Toolbox don’t have any affiliation with this company, and I haven’t used the product myself, but I have recommended it to a few students who want more oversight and pressure on their goal-tracking.
How does it work?
StickK works by requiring each participant to name a goal, and then sign a contract with themselves about achieving that goal. And here’s where the fun part comes in. You can add financial stakes for yourself, such as $5 or $10 or $100—however much you want, whatever would hurt a little bit to lose. You can also include a “referee” to look over your shoulder and help police whether you’re actually being true to your plan.
My favorite part, though, is that you can designate an “anti-charity” to receive your money if you fail to live up to your own standards. How do you feel about gun control, abortion, or Manchester United vs. Liverpool? Whichever organization you don’t want your money going to, that’s the one you choose as your anti-charity. And, with any luck, you’ll be motivated by knowing that if you don’t practice one hypo every other day, or finish all your outlines on time, your hard-earned cash will go toward a cause you don’t want to support.
The concept isn’t exactly a groundbreaking one—risk-aversion is nothing new. Neither is the inability to stay on task. Even though someone might really want to lose weight, get rich, start a project, or finish their homework, in the moment everyone likes instant gratification. However, if you know that staying up an hour later to watch TV will cause your arch nemesis to get $10 of your money, you might think twice about it.
How does this apply to law school? Say for example, you’re mid-way through the semester and you really haven’t done much of the assigned reading so far. You know you should, and you’ve tried it a few times and understand just how much easier it is to follow along in class when you’re familiar with the topics being discussed, but when it comes right down to it, you get home every day and do a bunch of other stuff besides reading. You have a snack, you play around online, you watch a show—which turns into two or three episodes. Pretty soon, it’s time to go to bed. It’s an easy and common trap to fall into, but a very dangerous one as well. So, how do you break the cycle? Here are some steps using the StickK program:
- Sign up for a StickK account, it’s free
- Make a contract with yourself
- Add a referee to help you stay on track (this could be anyone, a friend, a parent, your tutor, or your grandpa)
- Put up your financial stakes (as little as $5 and as much as you want)
- Designate your anti-charity or recipient person (friend or foe) who will get the money you put up if you fail to reach your goal (StickK doesn’t get the money, even if you fail to stay on top of your goal)
- Start looking at your responsibilities differently now that you have some consequences in place
Why does this sound like a good idea for law students?
We’ve talked before about how the lack of accountability in law school can really turn into a disaster for a lot of students. There’s no one to make sure you’re doing the reading. No one quizzes you at the end of a lecture to see what you retained. At a lot of schools, you don’t even get midterms to gauge yourself against the competition. It’s all up to you. This can be tough because while every law student I’ve ever talked to has the amorphous goal of “doing well,” it can be a lot harder to break down and define what steps you need to take to get there.
The first step I would recommend to any law student is to more precisely define their end-result goal (e.g. getting better grades than last semester, staying off of social media except for one set hour every night, briefing every case—whatever it is). Then, come up with a list of actions you can take that you know would help you personally to head down the road toward that goal. Everyone is different, but for most students, the road to good grades includes steps like these:
- Doing the reading for class in a way that allows you go in feeling prepared so you could participate in discussion, or at least follow along
- Briefing cases so you can test your understanding of what you read and remember it for when you’re in class and later when you outline
- Figuring out the rule from each case you read before you get to class. That way, you can check it against whatever your prof. says the rule is in lecture
- Taking effective notes in class (noting black letter law, policy concerns, hypos, etc.)
- Creating some kind of outline of the rules using your syllabus and class notes
- Figuring out what’s expected of you on your exam. Past exams given by your prof. and office hours are a great way to do this.
- Making sure you know what your professor is looking for (should you use IRAC or C-RAC on the exam? Does your prof. want to see full rule statements? What about policy arguments? Find this stuff out now!)
- Practicing as many hypos as possible and focusing on the topics that will be on your exams
Now that you have a list of general goals, you can break it down into more concrete action items. For example, maybe you want to do all the reading on the weekends or, conversely, every night before class. Perhaps your goal is to debrief and review your notes each and every day after lecture. Why not do a hypo in each class subject per week?
I’ve found that many, if not most law students who struggle with grades find it difficult to motivate themselves and stay on task. I think setting up consequences could work really well for most people. That said, as always, this all comes down to you. How much do you want the end result? Are you going to be honest about self-reporting whether you really spent an hour each night doing practice writing, or are you going to read through a few hypos and then click “next episode” on Netflix?
Goal-setting is all about being disciplined with yourself. But hey, the good news is, if you struggle in this area, you can get help! Get a mentor, a tutor, a “referee” or a friend to help you. You’re not alone!
Again, we have no affiliation with StickK, but we think it looks interesting and potentially helpful. Have you used StickK or other similar programs for goal setting? If so, tell us about it below.
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And check out these helpful posts:
- How Being a Law Student and a Functional Human Don’t Have to Be Mutually Exclusive
- How to Organize Your To-Do List in Law School
- Need More Time? Study Smart Before Your Law School Class
- Dealing With Law School Time Regret
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