The Briefcase Diaries

Self-Assessment in Law School

September is coming to an end, and it’s hard to believe that we are already over one month into the semester.  As law students, we are certainly beginning to feel the crunch of time as our readings are becoming denser and as midterms are weeks away, if not happening already.

During this time, it is important to assess how we are managing our time, how we are keeping up with our readings and writing assignments, and how we are preparing for final exams.

  1. Time Management

First, make sure all of your midterms, writing assignment due dates, and final exam dates are in your calendar.  This will help you prioritize and allocate the necessary time for preparation.  I use my iCal calendar to input all important dates, including school holidays. This gives me a monthly perspective on what is coming up month after month.

Secondly, use self-imposed deadlines and include them in your calendar.  For example, during the first week of October, begin outlining.  During the first week of November, start doing practice hypotheticals or exams.  During Thanksgiving break, make sure your outlines are up-to-date.

Third, try tracking your time.  Assess how long you are spending reading and case briefing for each class.  Calculate how long your commute is to and from school.  Track any other activities such as cooking and cleaning.  Having a sense of where your time is going each day will help you manage your time and make any necessary adjustments.  Once you know where your time is going, you will likely have greater control over your time. I like to use the bullet journal system to manage my weekly schedule, daily tasks, and to track my time.

  1. Keeping up with the demands of law school

Once you’ve assessed your time management skills, block out time weekly and daily for preparing for class, reviewing each class, and preparing for final exams.  Be mindful if your reading assignments have increased.  Review your syllabi before the start of each week to see how much reading needs to get done.

Try to multitask when you can.  For example, if you’re in the City or if you take public transportation, read and review your readings while you’re on the train or bus.  Respond to quick e-mails while waiting in line at the grocery store. These little tasks will help you tackle law school’s bigger demands.

Also, be mindful of time wasters that can drain your time and energy. Today, there are a lot of distractions are our fingertips. Spending too much time on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat can greatly impede on your ability to focus and complete your work in law school.  There are various applications available to help you focus such as Freedom and Anti-Social.

  1. Preparing for final exams

In general, you should begin outlining for each of your doctrinal courses in the beginning of October.  However, every school and professor may advise differently.  But in general, October is a great time to start.

Outlining is a process.  That being said, there are many pre-outlining steps that can help you make that process more effective.

First, make sure your notes are organized.  In fact, make an effort to organize your notes after class.  As stated above, block out time not only to prepare for class, but also to review after each class.

Second, synthesize your cases.  The process of case synthesis allows students to see how two or more cases address the same legal issue (e.g. duty under a negligence claim in Torts).  Case synthesizing allows students to compare and contrast the facts and outcomes of each case.  This process will ultimately help you outline because it will give you a better understanding of the prevailing rules the court applies to various cases.

One method I find beneficial in synthesizing cases is creating case charts.  For example, to create a case chart for the duty of care element of negligence, I will extract my case briefs for all of the cases involving duty of care and place them in columns in a table chart.

Lastly, gather resources such as commercial outlines prior can be helpful in creating your own outline.  While you should not rely solely on commercial outlines, they are helpful in providing examples for how to format your outline.  Nonetheless, remember that engaging in the process of creating your own outline is what will prepare you for success in law school.

Happy Studying!


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