Time Use

Using Time Efficiently and Effectively

How much should a law student study? If your goals include performing at your highest levels throughout law school, thoroughly preparing for your career, and passing the bar exam the first time you take it, you need to study quite a bit. Keep in mind, however, that duration is not the only factor—you need to study efficiently.

To do that, you need to attend to what I refer to as the Components of Assessment-Targeted Study each week for each subject. But the question remains—how long should a student study? As you would expect, the answer varies from student to student, from institution to institution, and from week to week. Professors and academic support professionals at schools across the country recommend no less than three hours of out-of-class study for every class hour.

Can you study less and still pass? For most students, the answer is clearly “yes.” (Caveats: (a) some students will need to study this much or more to earn passing grades; (b) because there is practically no feedback during the first semester of law school, students can’t be sure how much they need to study to pass.)

A student with excellent predictors (LSAT score, college undergraduate performance) who aims for mediocrity may be able to hit that target with half the recommended study.

But it’s more than just the grades, isn’t it? Because this is the start of your practice of law, consider practicing now what lawyers do daily: work at their highest levels of capability, rather than at their lower levels.

Something to think about…

If a wealthy woman were to give fifty penniless people $50,000 each, some would parlay that into much more by the end of a year, and some would have nothing left after only a few months. Although we all have the same amount of time at the start of each week, some of us use it very efficiently, others use it well but not optimally, and many squander it.

Only you can determine how much of your time is reasonable to spend on each facet of your life outside of the study of law, and how much of your life you intend to devote to practicing to be a lawyer.

Plan for Your Exams

Energetic, effective studying during the entire semester ought to bring you to the point where you are ready to begin the most intensive aspect of final exam preparation—the last six weeks of the semester. Yes, you still have classes to attend and class material to work through…but during this time of the year, there’s so much more to do! Consider the second semester of law school, when first-year students earn half their total first-year grades. A 2.8 GPA, for example, can leap to 3.3. This phenomenon—one set of exams with such potential impact on a student’s overall grades—never occurs again in law school. A 1L can move from the lower third of the class to an upper tier! So, if you’re a lL, take advantage of it.

Here are my top tips for students in all years of law school.

Regardless of how you do it, focus on your physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. For some students, this means committing to or continuing an exercise program, getting enough sleep and eating right, or spending quality time with friends and family. Attending religious services or participating in other contemplative practices can be part of your plan. Maintain or increase control over your life with an eye toward achieving balance. Hardy, healthy law students are best prepared to buckle down for the final push at semester’s end.

The most obvious experts are those who stand at the front of your classrooms each day. Before you begin your spring exam study regimen, gather as much information as you can about what’s in store for you. Will your exams be open book, take home, or in class with no notes? Will you be answering multiple-choice questions, “policy” essay questions, or “issue spotters”? Does your professor expect you to refer to particular cases in your exam answer analyses?

Although it’s tempting to seek answers to questions like these from classmates, your professor is the only one who knows the correct and current answers. If you need clarification on anything, visit your professor immediately after class or during office hours.

Use your computer’s search engine to find other expert advice from academic support directors and law professors from reputable law schools across the country.

Another place to turn for expert advice is your law school library. You may find “secret weapons,” for example, in Professor Joseph Glannon’s Torts volume in Aspen’s Examples and Explanations series.

Another book offering deep insight into the mysteries of answering law school essay exams is Getting to Maybe, by University of Connecticut law professors Richard Fischl and Jeremy Paul.

While some components of a study plan are universal, you may need to add, delete, emphasize, or deemphasize others from your routine. By now you should be aware of your most effective study methods. For example, some students memorize the basics (rules, exceptions, definitions, and important case holdings) by using mnemonic devices. Others use flash cards. Still others internalize the relevant “terms of art” through repeated use.

To gain a better understanding of the type of learner you are (visual, auditory, or tactile/kinesthetic), take this quick survey presented by Diablo Valley College. Many students report that the results of this brief exercise have enlightened them, and that the suggested study modifications have improved their efficiency. Awareness of your learning style is important as you allocate your time to reading, preparing summaries, engaging in group study sessions, and practicing verbalizing and writing answers to exam questions.

Some students create extraordinarily detailed outlines, while others make conciseness their guiding principle. Either style can work. There is no “one-size-fits-all” rule for outline length.

But remember: The power of your outlines lies in their creation. Once you have written them (and become very familiar with the contents), your outlines should recede in importance. Toward the end of the semester, create lean versions of your outlines. You ought not to need all those words anymore.

However, if you will be allowed to use your outlines during exams, it’s not a bad idea to produce skeletal versions and keep the complete outlines for reference.

Planning and practicing for law students is the same as it is for lawyers before they begin a trial, argue an appeal, or advise a corporate client: Prepare the plan and stick to it, making adjustments only as necessary. Create your detailed study plan more than six weeks prior to the beginning of your exam period, so that you can hit the ground running, working through the specific daily components weeks before your first exam.

All students have access to an endless supply of practice materials. For essay questions, two practice levels are available for 1Ls and 2Ls. The first level includes the short single issue hypothetical questions found in publications such as Aspen’s Examples and Explanations series. The second level includes full-length exam questions that your professor may have filed with your school’s library or online at your school’s website. If these resources are unavailable, use a search engine to browse for sample exams in your subject.

For the six subjects covered by the Multistate Bar Exam, turn to materials published by commercial bar preparation courses. For example, a fine paperback source for practice questions and strategic advice is Strategies & Tactics for the Finz Multistate Method. Ask your academic support professional for other suggestions.

Finally, whether you’re a lL, about to graduate, or somewhere between, take a relaxed moment to do this simple inspirational exercise: Remember why it was important for you to go to law school. Discuss this with your friends, write it in your journal, or spend some time alone to remember why you are where you are. Doing so is an excellent motivational tool.

It’s not about luck. It’s about planning, preparation, and practice!