When the proctor at your last final exam calls “time,” it means the fall semester is officially over and winter break has begun. The feeling of relief that comes when the exhausting grind of finals weeks finally comes to an end is usually quickly eclipsed by the welcome realization that you now get to enjoy four whole weeks (!) away from law school. Take advantage of the break and enjoy your (temporary) freedom from regimented reading assignments, outlining, and cold calls – rest, relax, and let yourself have fun. There is no changing the results of your exams at this point, so compartmentalize any anxiety you have about your grades and allow yourself to enjoy this brief respite from law school. Don’t, however, assume that the responsibilities of being a law student and pursuing a legal career are completely put on pause between semesters. While you should decompress and enjoy a change of pace over winter break, there are also some important tasks to complete if you want to set yourself up for a successful spring semester. To make the most of winter break, make sure you invest (at least a little) time and effort into the following:
1. Evaluate the Fall Semester
It may seem counterintuitive, but the learning process does not end when you hand in your work. In fact, one of the most crucial steps in the learning process actually takes place after you’ve completed the assignment. Once a learning task is complete, whether that be taking a final, writing a paper, or giving a presentation, you should reflect on the process you went through to complete the task. Evaluating your preparation and performance is a necessary step if you want to develop your study skills and make improvements.
Self-evaluation should take place throughout the semester, but a particularly meticulous assessment is necessary at the end of each semester. Spend some time thinking about how you studied and whether the strategies you used were effective. Assess everything that impacts the quality of your study time, including when you studied, where you studied, and the strategies you employed. Then ask yourself, what worked well and what didn’t? Be detailed and honest in your assessment, and don’t skip this step! Identifying the positive and negative aspects of your semester is a prerequisite to making improvements in the spring.
2. Engage in Some Advance Planning
After reflecting, you should be ready to create a plan to make the next semester even more successful. To make the planning process more impactful, actually write down your plan, be as detailed as possible, and keep it somewhere visible during the semester.
The first part of your plan should address what you want to change and how you plan to change it. For example, if you’ve realized that studying in the common area is too distracting, identify where your new study location will be. Or, if you think that you waited too long to start your outlines, identify when you will start outlining and how frequently you will update them. Don’t just identify the problem, but also state clear solutions to address those problems. This is your opportunity to tweak your approach so that you can achieve optimal study outcomes.
The second part of your plan should include goals for the upcoming semester. Setting goals is a great way to stay focused and motivated during law school. Try to make your goals as specific as possible, and include benchmarks that you can meet along the way to help you assess your progress.
Lastly, create a weekly and long term schedule that incorporates all of the tasks you will need to complete throughout the semester, whether or not related to law school. The more detailed your schedule, the better, so replace that block of time labeled “studying” with a precise statement of what and where you will study. Don’t worry if you have to make some guesses on study time when creating your schedule – you can adjust it during the first few weeks of the semester to more accurately reflect your work load.
3. Work, Write, or Volunteer
In addition to reflecting and preparing academically, gaining legal experience over winter break is a great way to invest some of your free time, particularly if you are a 2L or 3L. If you already have a job lined up, put in some extra hours at the office. If you don’t have a job, consider volunteering at a pro-bono clinic, writing an article for your local bar journal, or completing another project that will positively impact your legal career. And don’t forget to brush up your resume! Using winter break to gain legal experience can set you apart from the crowd and shows you have a strong work ethic.
Although it’s tempting to ignore law school completely during winter break, investing some concerted effort into a few key tasks can have a big impact. Whatever you decide to do over winter break, relish the change of pace and enjoy the time away from law school.
- Podcast Episode 76: Making the Most of Your Law School Winter Break
- Surviving a Law School Winter with Indoor Hobbies
- Getting a Jump Start on the 1L Summer Job Search
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