In law school time management is everything. Juggling studying, classes, work and an attempt at a personal life can be challenging. We’ve all been there! The Law School Toolbox experts share their tips and tricks for creating a study schedule that will stick.
Before you read the tips, meet the individuals who are sharing advice with you.
Lee Burgess is the co-founder of Law School Toolbox. She graduated cum laude from the University of San Francisco School of Law, was a TA for Contracts and Torts, and was the Managing Editor of the USF Law Review. Lee left her law firm job and became a private California bar exam tutor and law school tutor when she realized her passion for helping students succeed in law school and pass the bar.
Alison Monahan is the co-founder of Law School Toolbox. She graduated from Columbia Law School in 2006 as a Kent Scholar, a Stone Scholar, and a member of the Columbia Law Review. She was also a Civ Pro TA. After law school, Alison clerked for a federal District Court judge and worked as a patent litigator in a large law firm in San Francisco. She eventually left to start The Girl’s Guide to Law School®, which is a leading resource for individuals embarking on a legal career.
Ariel Salzer is a law school and California bar exam tutor for Law School Toolbox and Bar Exam Toolbox. She has taught everything from conjunctions to calculus on four different continents. As a student at the University of San Francisco School of Law, Ariel tutored Torts and led 1L workshops on time management, exam preparation, legal writing, and outlining. After practicing law as a product liability litigator in California for a number of years, Ariel found her way back to teaching and now enjoys helping students find success in their law school classes and on the bar exam.
Ben Nelson is a law school tutor and California and Oregon bar exam tutor for Law School Toolbox and Bar Exam Toolbox. As the oldest child of two professors, he realized from an early age that he wanted to strike out on his own. He eventually settled on law school and graduated from Columbia in 2014 as a Kent Scholar and a Stone Scholar. When he is not tutoring, Ben is a legal fellow for Earthjustice in Denver, CO where he works to protect the iconic American Southwest and Rocky Mountains from overuse.
Doretta McGinnis is a law school tutor for Law School Toolbox. After graduating from Harvard, she worked in academic publishing until a friend dared her to go to law school. Doretta earned her JD at Penn Law, where she was an editor of the University of Pennsylvania Law Review and a legal writing instructor. Eager to pay off her student loans, she practiced labor and employment law at a major Philadelphia law firm, but soon left Biglaw to pursue her interest in legal education. Doretta joined the faculty at Widener University Delaware Law School, where, over the course of nearly 20 years, she served as Associate Director of the legal writing program and taught labor law, employment discrimination, and bar exam prep. She is the co-founder of Admission Logic, LLC, an independent educational consulting practice focused on college admissions.
How Should Law Students Create a Study Schedule?
I think the most important thing to think about when creating a study schedule is being realistic. Be realistic about how much time it takes to prepare for class, how much time it takes to do your legal writing assignments and even how much time it takes to do life tasks like going grocery shopping or hitting the gym. A study schedule only works if it reflects what actually needs to be done each week.
Also, take a step back and look at the semester as a whole. When are exams? When do you want to start your outlines? When can you start taking practice exams? Sometimes I will ask a student when their final exams are, and they don’t know yet. This is a problem. Make sure these important dates are on your study schedule and on your mind throughout the semester.
Lastly, remember that study schedules need to be constantly updated. If you get sick one week and get behind, don’t say, “Well, now I am just behind.” No! Your job now is to re-work your study schedule so you can get caught up and back on track. Check in with your study schedule weekly to make sure it is still working for you.
It’s important to think about when you’re most capable of getting stuff done. I’m a night person, so I did all of my reading after dinner, typically in a three-hour chunk ending around 10 or 11 PM. This worked for me, because I find it hard to focus during the day and I’m definitely not functional early in the morning! If you work with your personal preferences, you’ll find you’re more productive (as long as you actually sit down and focus at these times – no checking email or social media).
It’s useful to have a set time for doing recurring tasks (like doing your reading for class, or making study aids), because this alleviates the cognitive overhead of “When am I going to do my reading?” Thinking about that every day is stressful and requires mental energy. Far easier to just decide that you’re going to read at night after dinner, and for half a day on the weekend.
You can also try The Circles to help with daily scheduling.
Block off your time in chunks you can actually see on the page (using a google calendar, etc.). Calendar your breaks as well. Calendar everything. Make a numbered list of tasks you need to get done and re-prioritize (re-number) it as necessary. Calendar rewards for yourself so you can stay motivated. Take one weekend afternoon off each week if you finish all of your work and studying. Cut down the time you spend reading and bump up the time you spend figuring out how all the topics you’re learning fit together and could be tested on an exam.
There are many approaches to law school, but here is what I did: I created a task list sorted by priorities. At first this list was an actual list, but pretty soon I had it memorized. I found a list less stressful than a schedule since a schedule called too much attention to the fact that my weekdays were usually booked from 8 am until 10:30 pm. I completed these tasks in order from when I woke up to when I went to sleep, taking breaks for lunch, dinner, etc. How did I decide what was a priority? After experimenting at the beginning of law school, I finally decided that it was easiest for me to do my reading right before class or the night before class because I tended to just forget the reading if I did it earlier. This made it easier to understand what was important in class and to take better notes. Within 2-3 days of the class, I would make sure to outline the material when it was still fresh in my mind, so I had a clearly organized summary of what was most important. Doing things this way allowed me to spend the least amount of time developing (and redeveloping) a baseline level of knowledge about the material and more time going in depth with it.
Law school, unlike legal practice and life in general, tends not to generate emergencies. At the start of the semester, you know when classes meet, when assignments are due, when exams are scheduled. Set up a calendar for the semester, with these known law school dates, as well as known dates from real life, like holidays, family events, etc., understanding that unforeseen circumstances may arise. That’s the big picture. Then fill in the details, breaking each course into smaller, doable tasks. Your syllabus — and the advice presented above — will help you here.
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Other helpful posts on time management in law school:
- Podcast Episode 7: Time and Life Management Basics
- How to Organize Your To-Do List in Law School
- How to Calendar Your Ways to Better Grades and More Free Time
- How to Start Law School Right
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