Last semester, I had the privilege of sitting in a classroom and listening to some law school lectures. Now I realize that for many students that doesn’t sound like any fun. But if you teach, it is like having a lens into how your students feel listening to your lectures.
So I took my place among the students; most of them were on their laptops. And you know what I noticed?
Most of them weren’t paying attention.
Now I will be the first to admit that not all law school classes are exciting or riveting. But class is important, as it is the time when your professor (the one who will be grading your exam) is talking to you about the law. More specifically, she is talking to you about what she thinks is important about the law. And you know what? What your professor thinks is important is likely to show up on your final.
Paying attention in class will actually save you time.
If I haven’t motivated you yet, here is one other motivation. Paying attention in class will actually save you time. If you don’t pay attention in class, you aren’t learning anything. In addition, you class notes will likely be, well, completely useless. That means outside of class when you are reviewing material, you will likely be confused and need to spend more time learning the law because you didn’t learn anything in class. So save yourself time! If you are going to go to class, get something out of it.
It is a new law school year! So I encourage you to make a “new school year” resolution and try these three tips for paying attention in class.
1. Turn off the Internet.
I went to law school “gasp!” before my law school had wireless. So in order to be online during class, I had to take out my Ethernet cord and plug it in. There were two great things about this.
1) I had to actively make the decision to go online; and
2) My professor could see whether or not I was online (because I had this big cord sticking out of my computer).
During my first year these two little pieces of accountability helped keep me offline and paying attention.
With wireless, it is much harder to make the decision to turn off the Internet, but it is just as important. It is too easy to shop online, chat, or write emails during class. However, in the class I sat in on last semester that is what most of the room was doing. This made me sad—sad for the students who were paying a ton of money to sit in a law school class and then were not even paying attention.
2. Go to class with a list of questions.
Another way to stay engaged in class is to go to class with a list of questions that you want answered. These may be from the reading or questions that you had after reviewing the material the previous week. Regardless, going into class with some questions will help you stay engaged because you are trying to get your questions answered! And you may even ask new questions. This leads us to my next suggestion.
3. Participate in class.
I know you may be afraid to be identified as a gunner (but, really, if you are at all worried about this, it is unlikely that you are actually a gunner). Professors love it when you participate in class. It is very frustrating to stand in front of a room, ask a question, and have nothing but dead silence. So raise your hand! The dialogue you will have with the professor is yet another learning experience.
And you get to practice talking about the law in front of people, which is what you will do as a lawyer.
Also your professor might like the fact that you are participating, and that can lead to developing a better relationship (which in turn can lead to networking, letters of recommendation, etc.). Basically, you can’t lose. Yes, you can answer a question incorrectly, but who cares. Honestly, no one but you. Sometimes you are going to be wrong; that is just life. It is time to move past that and get actively engaged!
Try out these tips over the next few weeks and see if you feel you are getting more out of your law school experience. My guess is that you will! And you may even like class more. Multitasking is a useful skill, but there is a lot of value in doing just one thing at a time.
Also, check out these other helpful posts!
- Is handwriting your class notes a good thing or a bad thing?
- Tips on how to brief a case.
- What should go into your law school class notes? There are five critical things to include.
- When you’re sitting in class, it’s critical to think through the areas of ambiguity that may make an appearance on a later exam. Here’s one technique for keeping track of everything.
- Going through orientation? Check out Lee’s reflections on her 1L orientation experience.
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[…] Second semester is different. Well, actually one thing is the same: it’s still a rather poor choice to surf the internet during class. A fundamental step in effective listening for law school novices as well as experts is to pay attention, as law school success coach Lee Burgess has discussed. […]