How to Become a Better Law Student

When I started law school, I knew it was going to be hard and require a lot from me, but I didn’t know exactly what I had to do to succeed. I was spending so much time reading and rereading, dedicating so many hours of unfocused attention hoping that it would result in good grades. Did I get good grades? No! And I was also not absorbing the material. So I did my research, asked professors for their studying tips, and started my second semester with a different approach. The list below are the steps I have been taking since then. My grades have improved immensely and I am actually learning the material. I hope this list will help you as well!

Create a Study Area

This is a fundamental part of studying. You will need a quiet area to study in your house (or the library). And the interesting part of having a specific place to study is that you will condition yourself to study mode whenever you sit on that desk.

I have mentioned before that I share an office space with my boyfriend, who is actually working and playing music in the same area as me, which means that the study room is not so quiet. My solution? Sound blocking headphones! And you can take your headphones with you if you need a change of air and decide to study outside, in a park, coffee shop, or another loud environment.

An interesting tip I learned from a psychology professor was to use a specific desk lamp only for studying. In the same way you can condition yourself to think that it’s time to study when you sit in a desk in your house, you can condition your brain to think that it’s time to study when you turn on that desk lamp. After a while, you’ll get used to the idea that you need to focus whenever that desk lamp is on.

Take Breaks

If you decide you want to spend 5 hours studying non-stop, eventually, you will get tired and lose focus. Your reading will not be effective and your grades/learning won’t improve. So what’s the secret? Read for as long as your attention spam allows. For some people, that may be 15 minutes, 20 minutes or 30 minutes.

When you are taking a break, look outside, play with your pet, talk to your family members, do something to get your mind out of the books. With time, you will notice that your attention spam will also improve and you will be able to focus for longer periods of time.

Take Notes in Class – Review Your Notes After Class

That’s a difficult one to get used to because that is the last thing anyone wants to do when class is over, but it’s important! After class, review your notes and expand on keywords you jotted down or ideas that need clarification. If you get into the habit of doing this, you will notice how much more you will be able to take from your notes when you start outlining. Also, if there is something that you didn’t quite understand, you can look it up or ask your professor to clarify the issue.

Solidify Information

One method to solidify information is to look away after reading something and explaining it in your own words. Another method is to explain it to someone else. Preferably someone who does not know about the law. If there is no one you can do this with, explain it to an empty chair, to your dog, or just imagine that your grandparents want to know about that particular topic. How would you break it down for them?

Get Some Sleep!

There have been plenty of studies showing that sleep allows our body to rest and restore its energies. However, that is not the only reason why sleeping is important for us. Sleeping actually allows for information that was learned to be solidified in our brains! So make sure to get those daily 8 hours of sleep!

SQ3R

SQ3R stands for Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review. It is a method to a better and more efficient approach to study textbooks. That was a novel idea for me, so here’s a little visual aid:

Feedback

I hope this list will be helpful to you! Let me know in the comments section down below if there is anything else you do that’s been a great resource for you.

Law School: Should You Join a Student Association?

Ok, so you started law school and now you are hearing about all of these student organizations, Environmental Law Association, Latino Law Student Association, Military Law Student Association, Criminal Law Society, and SO many others. You have tons of reading to do and you have already met some people and connected with them in your section, so should you join a group too?

Here is what your options are.

First, there are different ways to join a group. You can be a Member and receive email updates with the events these groups are organizing. You can choose to be a Representative for your section and so, actually be a part of the executive board. Or you can choose to have an even more substantial presence and run to be a Secretary, Treasurer, Vice-president or President.

My advice is that if you are not sure of how much time you can spend dedicating yourself to one of these groups, then be a Member or a Rep.

Being a Member just means you are interested in the group but puts no pressure in actually participating of the events.

Being a Rep requires you to advertise events to your friends and the section you represent (lots of social media posts too). A Rep is the most low-key position in the group, but gives you the benefit to show future employers you were involved (resume booster alert!).

Those positions sound pretty good, right? Then why give yourself even more work by running for one of the other positions in the executive board?

For one, it’s a huge resume booster. Yes, being a Rep already gives you the chance to add that activity on your resume, but employers love seeing that you were dedicated to a cause, specially if the group is related to their field.

Another reason is the experience. I am from a different country and law school was the first time I actually studied in the United States, so I had no prior experience of how schools worked here (it was quite a learning experience–but back to the point). I chose to be a Rep for two different groups on my first year. Then, on my second year I became the President of one of these groups and I have learned so much! Organizing events, delegating tasks, reaching out to lawyers I never met before, using school resources to give back to students… this has been an amazing experience and one I will never forget.

Third, connections! By being in the executive board you will get in touch with many different people, new students, alumni, lawyers, judges, professors, employers! I got a really good internship because I was representing my group on my first year and got a card during dinner. That was really lucky, but it would never have happened if I hadn’t put myself out there to meet different people and connect with professionals in my area.

That is all amazing, but what’s the downside?

Work! A lot of work. The higher the position you choose to run for, the more work you will have. The success of your group depends on you and how much time you dedicate to it.

As the president of a group during Covid times, I had quite a few challenges. Previously, organizing events meant getting speakers to come to school and ordering different foods to serve on these events. Starving law students are always up for events such as these, there is really nothing to lose for them to participate. But since Covid, all events are online and students are Zoom fatigued. So, that meant we had to be creative and organize events students actually made time for. I can write a whole different post on this, so for now, I’ll just say that, yes, it can be a lot of work.

So is it worth it? My honest opinion is: yes!

I suggest starting as a Rep for one group you identify yourself with on your first year. Observe the executive board, see what they are doing right and what you would do differently.

Run for an executive board position such as Secretary, Treasurer, Vice or President on your second year. You have a better understanding of how law school works now, and you know how much time you can dedicate yourself to other activities on your second year.

Third year, feel free to go back to being a Rep or a member. I intend to pass the presidency torch and focus on the Bar on my last year, but who knows? Maybe I’ll continue on the executive board in a different position next year.

The Best Planner/Calendar for Online Law School [on a budget]

There are so many choices for paper planners out there. From weekly, monthly or daily to thematic, such as for student, for self-care, zodiac or even blog planning. As much as I love paper and I’ve used paper planners in the past, the best version for online law school for me has been the digital Calendar from Apple.

This is my schedule for last semester

I like to color code my appointments. As you can see, I use purple for classes and blue for appointments related to school or studying. Orange is for personal appointments and green is for workouts/yoga, but I don’t need to add the green anymore because I don’t need to remind myself to go to a specific yoga class or such since I’ve been doing it all from home through YouTube (MadFit is one of my favorites) or Sweat. I didn’t have any personal events scheduled for that week, but I usually use them for doctor or dentist appointments (not many personal appointments since law school and Covid happened).

Classes

I set alerts for all of my classes for 10 or 15 minutes prior. That gives me time to pull up the materials I need, like books and notes, to get my water bottle and have a bathroom break before class. I also saved the zoom address for each class on the event, this way all I have to do is click when I am ready to join.

Sometimes professors will send you the invitation with all of this information to save it on your personal digital calendar.

Apple Calendar vs. Google Calendar

I use Apple Calendar because I have Apple products, iPhone, MacBook Air and iPad. All of my devices use the Apple Calendar and that makes things more convenient for me. But there are others who prefer using Google Calendar, specially if their school email is Gmail, which is also my case.

Google Calendar has a more approachable design and decorates your events with little banners. Even though this is much cuter, I personally prefer the efficient approach of Apple Calendars.

If you want more information on which calendar to choose, I suggest reading this article from Business Insider.

Other Digital Planners

If you have read my Online Law School Essentials [on a budget] article, you already know I use GoodNotes for my handwritten notes, specially when doing my quick outlines, but this app also offers pages for planners.

The planner on this image is from Liz Kohler Brown. She has a 2020-2021 Dated Digital Planner you can download and use its many features. She also teaches how to use the planner with videos.

There are other apps you can also check out. Click on the links to visit their pages:

Microsoft Calendar

Fantastical

Zoho

Calendly

Paper Planners

There’s nothing stopping you from using a paper planner, decorating it and making the best out of it. I used paper planners on my first year of law school and there were many other students who also used them.

However, my experience since going fully remote is that the Apple Calendar is more practical for my current lifestyle. Also, it saves me money from buying yet another school supply. It saves me time too, since I found out you can run out of time pretty quickly in law school if you don’t have good time-management skills.

Feedback

I would love to know if this article was helpful to you or if you prefer other apps or planners. Let me know by commenting below.

Online Law Student Essentials [on a budget]

Congrats! You are a 1L! That is fantastic and I am so happy for you! This will be quite a journey, so take your time and do some research about studying online as a law student. This post will give some guidance and tips while taking into consideration your finances because we all know how expensive being a law student is. So what do you NEED for the next three years of your life?

You may find out that what worked for you before in high school or college won’t work for law school and that’s ok. There is also the fact that now you are studying remotely, so you may have to go by trial and error until you find what is best for you.

Supplies

Textbooks: The most expensive of all, but there are some options regarding how to get your textbooks. You can buy new or used, rent or buy a digital version. It all depends on how you like to study.

For my first year of law school, I purchased new and used books from websites. Now, I am renting because I don’t want to lose money when trying to resell them. Keep in mind that sometimes different professors teach using different materials, so you may not even be able to resell your books to other students on the following year.

Highlighters: If you are not renting your book, then highlighting will be your best friend. On my first year, I also wrote keywords on the margins to know what the cases were about. Trust me, that can be really useful on a cold call.

Notebooks: Some professor won’t allow you to use computers in their classroom, but if you are studying remotely that won’t be an issue.

I personally prefer to use my computer and iPad with Apple Pencil for handwritten notes, but more on that later.

Sticky Notes and Flags: Another best friend. I use so many sticky notes and flags to mark pages, specially because I don’t want to permanently mark my textbooks. I also use sticky notes on my outlines now, which is something I’ve only thought of doing after opting to study online full-time. More on that later in Outlining.

Noise-cancelling headphones: (optional) My boyfriend gave me really good headphones this year, and I have to say, I can’t study without them anymore. For one, the headphones cancel outside noise that would otherwise distract me while studying. However, I also use them for podcasts, music, and just silence when I need it. If you are like me, then you might find it useful to invest in good headphones too.

Taking Notes

I found that studying online is a whole other game. I set up a small TV as my monitor, connected my computer and bought a keyboard too. If there is anything that can make the long hours you will spend in front of the computer more comfortable, do it! You will spend the entire next semester there and it’s worth the investment.

Because I have a nice big screen, there is no issue in splitting my screen to fit different programs. I usually divide my screen on zoom and OneNote. Sometimes I use a third part of the screen for a digital version of the textbook if I have it. On OneNote, I have my briefed cases in black, while the notes I am taking during class are in a different color, like blue.

I usually use GoodNotes on my iPad with the Apple Pencil for a quick outlining, which I will explain on the next section. The iPad and Apple Pencil are fantastic tools to cut on printing when you need to download cases and make notes there. For that I use a free version of AdobeReader to read in PDF, download the cases from Westlaw, and make notes on the digital documents. A much more eco-friendly option.

Outlining

Outlining is the most important thing you will be doing for exams. And it is even more important that you outline during the semester, making sure you understand each section of the course and take essay questions to practice your writing skills and knowledge.

I mentioned before that I’ve been using GoodNotes for quick outlines. What I mean by that is that after making my full typed outline, I write much shorter outlines for each course so I can make sure I understand the basic concepts. It looks like this:

Evidence Notes (2L course)

Another hack I learned this year after taking online exams is that you should use flags on your outline just in case you need to reference something while on the exam. It’s also convenient while you’re studying. So, for example, use flags and sticky-notes to mark Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Personal Jurisdiction, Venue, and so on and so forth on your outlines.

Lastly, create a Plan of Attack, attach it to your outline and flag it too! Creating a plan of attach for each course looks a little something like this:

  1. Is there a principal-agent relationship?
    • Restatement of the law (third) agency ยง1.01Gordon v. Doty
    • There must be some form of agreement [not necessarily a contract]
    • What did the parties say, what they did, how they acted, and their course of dealing over time
  2. Who are the players?
    • Principal
    • Agent
    • Third party
  3. Contract or Torts?

A Plan of Attack are the questions and answers you must evaluate when answering an essay question on your exam. Also, don’t worry about the content on this example because this is from my Business Organization class and you won’t learn this on your first year.

A Room of One’s Own

Points for you if you got the Virginia Wolf reference.

It is very important that you have a space to study and take your exams. Make sure you point your camera to a background that is not too distracting to your classmates and professors. Organize yourself as best as you can and keep as little distractions to yourself as possible.

If you need to share your study space with others (like I do), then it might be a good idea to invest in noise-cancelling headphones. I am one of those people who can only study with silence, so I invested in good noise-cancelling headphones and they have been essential to my routine (specially when my boyfriend decides to practice his guitar lessons in the same room as me).