Given how busy law school can get, you may be hesitant to add yet another thing to your plate, especially if it involves yet more reading. But if you have the space in your schedule and your school offers reading groups, check out the listings and see if anything catches your eye. Reading groups tend to be low commitment and low stress, while providing a lot of benefits, especially for 1L students.
What is a reading group?
Many law schools offer reading groups, often during the first year, as an optional supplement to your academic studies. They’re typically ungraded, and some schools even offer class credit for participating. You meet in a small group with other students and a professor a few times a semester to discuss assigned readings on a particular topic, legal or otherwise. It’s basically like a book club for law school!
For example, I’m in a reading group this semester focusing on Cal Newport’s book Deep Work, discussing Newport’s theories about focused, undistracted work and how it can apply to our lives as law students and, eventually, lawyers. I’ve really enjoyed the chance to step back for a moment from the craziness of law school and reflect on how I’m spending my time.
Learn in a more relaxed, less pressured environment
Law school classes can certainly be interesting and engaging, but given that you’ll be tested and graded on your understanding of the material at the end of the semester, there’s always some element of pressure. Sometimes it can be easy to lose sight of learning for the sake of learning and feel motivated by anxiety rather than curiosity. So if you’re starting to feel that way in your courses, a reading group might be just what you need to get that intellectual spark back. With no threat of a looming final exam, worries about getting a good grade, or preoccupations with impressing your professor, you can learn about a new topic or delve more deeply into a subject of interest in a more relaxed environment.
Explore an interest
If you’re a first-year student, you’re probably enrolled in a series of required doctrinal classes, like Contracts and Torts. Joining a reading group introduces an element of choice into your schedule, allowing you to explore a topic of interest to you, not just a topic that you’re required to learn. Taking the time to explore beyond the first-year curriculum can also be helpful as you look toward choosing classes for next year and beyond, or just be a fun break from your traditional doctrinal courses.
Complement your law school studies
Reading groups often cover more niche or non-legal topics, so they can be a great way to complement your coursework. For example, this year my school is offering reading groups about everything from reading legal news to Mozart’s operas to corporate fraud to artificial intelligence. Reading groups provide a great opportunity to think and talk about something either not directly law-related or outside the typical curriculum. Who knows, you might find a connection with the law you wouldn’t expect!
Get to know a professor
Joining a reading group can not only give you a chance to explore a new topic, but also to get to know a professor. Especially in the first year, when you’re typically in larger, lecture-style classes, direct interactions with professors can be rare and tend to be more formalized. Reading groups can provide an opportunity you otherwise wouldn’t get to spend time with a professor in a small, informal setting. Professors choose to lead groups on topics of particular interest to them, so you can get to see their more personal side. And if you like their style, you can always take a traditional class with them later on in school.
Meet classmates with similar interests
1Ls typically take courses with a section of other first year students, meaning all your classes are with the same group of people. Reading groups provide a rare chance to spend time with classmates outside of your section. Plus, the specialized nature of reading groups means that there’s a good chance you’ll have common interests with the other students in the group, and the regular meetings give you a chance to build new relationships.
Reading groups provide a unique law school experience, giving you a chance to slow down, explore, and get to know new people in an informal, low-pressure space. Whatever your interests and whatever you’re hoping to get out of the experience, there’s probably a reading group out there for you!
For more advice on outside-of-school activities, check these out:
- How to Get the Most Out of Law School with Extracurricular Activities
- How to Decide About Law School Extracurriculars
- The Do’s and Don’ts of Getting Involved Around Campus
Looking for some help to do your best in law school? Find out about our law school tutoring options.
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