Published: Mar 10, 2009
Even if you've been a last-minute, overnight crammer your whole life, that system will not serve you well in law school. There is just too much material for that to be humanly possible. "Don't ever expect to cram," says one graduate, "or leave things to the last minute. You'll drown." Not only will you be memorizing an enormous amount of information, but you will also need to be so familiar with legal principles and reasoning as to be able to use them in a new context on exam questions. You have to work steadily from the very beginning of your first year so that you don't get overwhelmed at the end.
Set up study groups with serious students and attend them regularly. Go to your professors during their office hours with issues you don't understand. And, as scary as it is, ask questions in class and be prepared to participate. You are not merely being social. Everyone has different strengths and discussing your questions with fellow students can help you understand often complex issues. Yes, it's tempting to see classmates as rivals -- why do you want to help others when the tests are graded on a curve? "It's easy to get caught up in the competitiveness, so be careful," says one third-year lawyer. Warns another graduate, "If you're overly competitive, the other students will avoid you like a plague." In reality, a good litigator engages in discussion and a good law student will get used to this at an early stage. Furthermore, law school can be intense, lonely and isolating. A support system can help you keep your sanity in the worst moments.
Law school grades can be brought up in your second and third years. If you feel at sea in the beginning, rest assured -- the odds are that most of your classmates don't know what they're doing either. And there's no way to tell who's going to get the best grade. The student who speaks confidently in class may not have the skills to analyze issues on paper, while the quiet, insecure student who takes copious notes and studies on weekends might get the only "A" in the course. So don't spend time worrying about other students' skills -- concentrate on your own.
Make use of study guides
There are many study guides available to the first-year law student. You can listen to tapes, study from flash cards, buy professional outlines, attend lectures and even take additional courses. Find what works for you and most accurately emphasizes what your professor emphasizes (she's putting the test together, after all).
Be prepared in class
Do your reading and be prepared to answer questions. Some professors are ruthless inquisitors; others are more interested in fostering general class discussions. Either way, you'll lower your stress level if you are prepared to be called on and give intelligent answers. One litigator offers this tip: "I usually reviewed what I studied right before class, so it was fresh."
You might have done the reading for class and taken good notes, but just because you read or wrote it down once doesn't mean you know it cold. Set aside time regularly to review your notes and previous materials to build up that store of accessible knowledge you'll need to call on for the final exam. Repetition is the key.
Don't get sucked in
Try to keep up with your friends outside law school and engage in some extracurricular activities, even if it's just going to the movies occasionally or playing a game of basketball. The advantage of interacting with your fellow law students is also its disadvantage: you're all in the same boat. Talking about law 24 hours a day can be exhausting and counterproductive; you can get immersed and caught up in your fellow students' panic attacks or intense competitiveness. "I made a lot of friends in law school," says one former law student, "but I lost some friends, too, because I didn't keep in touch with all my friends from before law school." You will likely have more time and feel less pressure in your second and third years and you will be glad not to have alienated your non-law school friends. Escaping from the law once in a while will actually make you a better student in the long run, and it is an important lesson to keep in mind when you actually become an attorney.
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