10 Key Habits of Successful Law Students
Getting into good habits in law school is a must, and starting those habits during your first year of law school can be incredibly beneficial. Law school is a different challenge than undergrad. We have found most students in their first year try to apply the same their same strategies that they have used throughout their education. However, law school offers a unique set of challenges and therefore, students should adopt a different set of approaches to succeed in law school. In this post, we discuss ten key habits of successful law students.
10 Key Habits of Successful Law Students
1. Create a Study Plan.
It is important to plan your semester as soon as you receive each professor’s syllabus. You may have to utilize a different process to do this than you did during your undergraduate studies. In law school, students usually receive their syllabus and first reading assignments before the start of class. Your first class during your 1L year will likely dive right into the material instead of going over the syllabus and expectations which tends to be the norm in undergraduate courses. Make sure you set aside some time before all of your classes to read and review the assigned material!
So, how do you put together a study plan? Write down reading assignments and exam dates for each class. Schedule your weekend to go over notes, complete reading assignments, outline, and study for future exams. This may seem obvious, but a lot of students fall behind because they simply aren’t organized! Use whatever organizational tools work best for you (paper planner, electronic calendar, etc.), just make sure that you are consistent. You don’t want to miss out on a reading assignment because you wrote something down in the wrong place!
2. Make Your Own Outline.
The best outline for any law school course is the outline that you create based on the course syllabus and your class notes. After all, your professor is the one who is writing the exam! It can be tempting to use another student’s or a commercial outlines because you think it will save a lot of time. Be careful, though, because those outlines do not capture specific examples and readings that your professor brings up during class. Laws change and professors change what they cover or how they teach the material.
Commercial outlines also don’t take into account how your law school divides classes. For example, a commercial constitutional law outline might spend a lot of time discussing 1st Amendment free speech while your constitutional law class might focus on separation of powers. Lastly, creating your own outline allows you to organize the material in a way that you understand it which will allow you to have better recall on exams (and make your studying easier!).
Not sure where to start? Check out our blog post on how to create (and keep up with!) your outlines!
3. Put in the Work
Law school is a three-year journey full of ups and downs. Over the course of a three (or more!) year law school career, students juggle not only classroom components, but also balance family obligations, work, grief, excitement, and the list goes on. It can be so tempting to step away from your law school obligations or put in less effort when you get a lower grade than you wanted or while covering difficult material. Sticking to a study schedule that allows for balance but where you’re committed to putting in the work can be invaluable.
Law school is more than just attending class and taking notes. There’s no way to get around doing the work to prepare for classes and exams. If you find that you are getting too overwhelmed or the law school/life balance is just too much to maintain, reach out for help! If you already work with a therapist or medical professional, let them know that you are struggling. Additionally, many law schools have resources and personnel to help students through difficult times.
4. Actively Brief Cases Assigned.
After a long week, it can be easy to skim over each case you were assigned just to complete your reading assignments for the week. When you are completing the assigned reading, do not think of it as checking a box to complete it. Be present and actively read each case. This will help with being prepared for class, cold calls, and understanding the topic.
You can also book brief cases to save time! Book briefing allows you to write your notes directly in your book so you have them to easily reference in class. It’s also a great active study technique to help ensure you are are thinking through the materials as your dad it!
5. Pay Attention in Class.
This may seem obvious, but when you have your laptop out in class it can be tempting to shop online, play games, or catch up on social media. When you are in class be present and focus on what your professor is teaching and what questions your classmates are asking. This will help when you leave class and review your notes, you will remember more details about the topic and not having to ask the professor a question that was already answered.
Speaking of notes, when you’re actively engaged in class, your notes will be more robust and incorporate more of classroom discussions! Make sure to jot down what your professor is saying, and be sure to include any examples your professor brings up in class into your notes. Many professors build their final exams off of examples they discussed in class! After class, make sure to incorporate your notes into your outline. You can include in-class examples to help you memorize and apply rule statements. By adding to your outline a little bit after each class, you’ll save yourself a bunch of work when you get to the final exam reading period.
6. Do Not Procrastinate.
Having one exam at the end of semester seems like so far away during your first week of law school. Finals week will come faster than you think, though, so it is good to be prepared and work diligently throughout the semester. Review notes from class and incorporate them into your outline regularly. Being prepared helps you avoid cramming during finals week.
Remember, you’ll be studying for all of your final exams at the end of the semester. If you leave all of your review to the end of the semester, it will be difficult to find the time to prepare for each exam. By approaching outlining in manageable chunks throughout the semester instead of waiting until the end of the semester, it might help you avoid burnout going into final exams!
7. Take Practice Exams.
Some law students have access to a professor’s previous exams. If you have access to these exams always take the opportunity to look at the exam to see how the professor write his or her test, what is tested, and what the format is. If you do not have access to old exams take practice exams in the topic from a commercial bar company to ensure you understand the material. You do not want the first exam question you see to be on exam day!
As you work your way through practice exams, try self-grading! Self-grading is an excellent active study technique that can help you identify any knowledge gaps before you sit down for your final exams!
8. Ask for Help Early.
It is important to attend professor’s office hours as soon as you realize you need a further explanation, or you need help understanding the material. The earlier you go to office hours, the fresher the topic is for both you and the professor. Going to office hours earlier in the semester also allows you to have more individual time with the professor because not as many students will be attending. Before you make an appointment for office hours, though, check with a classmate to see they can provide any clarity. Your study group might also have some insight into your question! This not only helps you get an answer earlier, but ensure that you’re using other resources available to you before making that appointment.
Many law schools offer resources to students who might need assistance adjusting to law school as a whole. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the student affairs office or academic success personnel. They can often provide you with resources to assist you in your law school journey!
9. Focus on Each Professor.
Each professor you have during your three years of law school will be different in how they conduct class, teach, ask questions, and how they test. Remember this and realize that you might have to adjust how you complete assignments in order to align with your professor’s expectations. Some professors require you to use case names in your final exam. Others want you to utilize in-class examples. Legal writing professors might want you to approach a memo differently than a bar prep professor who is helping you prepare for the MPT. Make sure to pay attention when professors list their expectations so you can be sure to adjust accordingly.
This is also true when you prepare for class. Some professors call on students to list and recall details of the reading assignments. Others want students to respond to hypotheticals posed in class. Some want you to be prepared for both. By learning your professor’s lecture style, you can go into class confident and prepared!
10. Remember Your Why.
Law school can be challenging and some days it is easy to forget why you started law school in the first place. Always remember what made you want to go to law school and who inspired you. Remember that law school is a temporary experience. Although three years can seem like eternity during the middle of your first semester of your 1L year, the time will go by faster than you think. By focusing on why you started when the going gets tough, it can sometimes help keep things in perspective.