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How to be Prepared for a Law School Class

I have been so busy and I just have not had the gumption to get around to writing up posts. I finally got a little reprieve thanks to a canceled class and felt caught up on life enough to make time for a little blogging.

Today's post is all about how to properly prepare for a law school class. It is so different from how I prepared in undergrad. My class preparation in undergrad was something along the lines of skim the assigned reading, pack the book, a notebook and pencil bag in my bookbag and show up to class. That was it and it was good enough to get me through a majority of my undergrad classes. When I hit law school, class preparation took on a whole new meaning: reading the assigned reading multiple times, taking reading notes, doing additional outside research, typing case briefs, packing my bookbag until it almost burst... law school class prep was a whole new world. Now halfway through my third semester of law school, I finally feel that, through lots of trial and error, I have perfected a class preparation that works perfectly for me. It may not work for everyone but this is my method and maybe it will help you to develop your own method.



1. Choose Class Materials 
I have a binder for each class. I take all my notes on reinforced loose-leaf paper organized within the binder and I also add any additional class papers to the binder: syllabi, powerpoints, handouts, practice questions, etc. The night before class, my bookbag will be packed with my class binder, casebook, my planner, my pencil case (filled with my favorite Uniball Gel Pens), laptop and laptop charger.

      

2. Read Before Class
Something everyone thinking about law school or starting law school has heard a hundred times is always always always read for class. I will echo that- I always read before class except for the rare occasion when I am sick or crazy busy when I will still do a skim of the reading instead of reading it deeply. I never want to go into class without an inkling of what we will be covering. My process for reading for class is to read each case straight through once to get a just of it. Then I skim back through it, pulling out the important bits and I write those down in my reading notes. Sometimes, if I am really struggling to get the point out of a confusing case, I will look up a case brief online to help me identify what is important. I do that rarely but desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures. I take my reading notes on loose leaf paper in black ink, leaving space on the page to be added to later in class. I also like to get to class 10-15 minutes earlier to skim over my notes once more before class starts so that if I get called on, I am ready.

3. Prepare Your Body
This may seem a little weird but in the spirit of full disclosure... I make sure to never go to class on an empty stomach and I keep a few granola bars in my bookbag just in case I get hungry. I have trouble focusing when I am hungry so I avoid that at all costs when I am in class. Also, I make sure to have a full water bottle- it drives me nuts when people leave in the middle of class just to go fill up a water bottle. I also bring coffee to my morning classes because otherwise, I would fall asleep. I keep peppermint gum in my bookbag at all times because I think it helps me think. Additionally, I have trouble focusing if I am too cold. Our school tends to run on the cold side so I am always dressed in layers and sometimes I even carry a blanket. I refuse to let something as preventable as being cold keep me from focusing to my full potential. Also, full disclosure, I use the restroom before every class. I have a small bladder and I hate leaving in the middle of class just to use the restroom and potentially missing good information. I try to eliminate as many distractions, stressors, annoyances, etc. to ensure that I can focus and get the most out of my classes.

4. Class Set Up
When I am in class, I keep my casebook, binder, pencil case, and planner on the desktop. On our tiny little desks, that is all I have space for and that is really all I need. I do not take computer notes so I leave that in my bookbag. I always have my casebook open to the page we are covering for easy reference and I have my reading notes on one side of my binder with a blank sheet for class notes on the other side. I take all my class notes in a different color than reading notes- this way when I am looking back at my notes, I know exactly what the professor said in class in comparison to what I got out of the reading and I can ensure I am getting the correct information in my outline. I keep my bookbag and purse under the desktop by my feet and I leave my phone zipped inside my purse to avoid distractions.

5. Focus
You have seen all the actions I take to avoid any distractions that would keep me from focusing in class. Therefore, when I am in class, I try to be in it 100%. I listen, I take notes, I participate when I have something compelling to say. It is easy to zone out during class so I make a constant effort to stay engaged. I am not saying I am always perfect- I have been known to write my grocery list in my head during Constitutional Law every once in a while but I do try my hardest to avoid that and stay focused on class information.

I hope this helps new law students to form a method of preparing for class that works for them. It certainly takes a little while to determine what works for you and what is the best process. Once you get it figured out, it takes a lot of the stress out of law school because you know what to do and you just have to sit down and do it.

Happy studying! Enjoy your weekend! 

15 Questions to Ask While Visiting a Law School

It is law school application season. This is extremely apparent to me as I am working in my school law admissions department this semester giving tours and helping with events. Not only are people applying to law school, there are tons of prospective students touring the school and calling with questions. I recently had a reader write in requesting a post about questions to ask while visiting a prospective law school. This is such a great idea and I think will be so beneficial to many prospective students. So from a mix of my own experience, what I have witnessed on tours and what I wish I would have known, here are 15 questions every prospective law student should ask while visiting a prospective law school.



1. What are the scholarship opportunities?
It is important to know what opportunities are available to help finance your education and what GPA/LSAT will make those scholarships a possibility for you. 

2. What are the requirements to maintain a scholarship?
Some schools require a minimum GPA to maintain a scholarship while other schools simply require you to maintain academic good standing to retain your scholarship. This is important to know because a scholarship GPA requirement will cause added stress around finals time and also you need to understand what the chances are that you may lose your scholarship and the importance having a financial backup plan. 

3. What is the average cost of living for a student in this area?
Every city is different and when planning out finances, it is important to know the average cost of an apartment, transportation, and food for a student in that city. This helps to plan finances as well as maybe being a deciding factor between two similar schools. 

4. What is the professor-student ratio?
Will professors know who you are or will you become just another face in the crowd? No matter what your preference is (big classes or small classes) this is an important thing to know and understand so you can make an informed decision. 

5. Are the professors open to consulting with students outside of class?
I find meeting with teachers very helpful and important. Not every law school has professors with an "open door policy". Find out what the policy is and decide if that will work for you or not. 

6. What is the average retention rate of students after the first year?
The nice way of asking how many first-year students drop out and fail out.  

7. What percentage of students get jobs after graduating?
This is super important. Law school is a means to gain a J.D. to help you have a legal career. If the jobs aren't coming to graduates from this school, that is a huge consideration to keep in mind. 

8. What is the bar passage rate?
In order to get a job as a lawyer, generally, you need to pass the bar. Make sure that students from that school are adequately prepared and are largely passing the bar exam.

9. What is the school atmosphere like around finals?
Finals time is stressful. Pretty much the most stressful time in law school. Getting insight into how the school atmosphere changes during that most stressful time will really put it in perspective if the general atmosphere is more competitive or more like a community. 

10. Is there an experiential learning requirement within the curriculum?
Experiential learning is so important. Academics and learning cases and black letter law is great but hands-on experience with real-life legal work is just as important. Not every school requires experiential learning but even if they don't find out if there are opportunities for those who want it. 

11. What are the accommodations to help with academic success?
Law school is HARD. Even if you never have required a tutor or any kind of academic support in the past, this may be the time you do. It is good to know if those services are available if the need should arise.  

12. What do law students here do for fun?
Law school simply cannot be all work and no play- find out what fun things these law students do outside of class and decide if that sounds fun to you. 

13. What are the costs outside of tuition (parking, SBA fees, etc.)?
It's not just tuition and books that are expensive- there may be many other hidden fees to consider in your overall decision. 

14. What is the parking like during busy school days?
Parking can be the worst part of college campuses. It is important to know if a lack of parking is a consistent problem at this school. 

15. What exposure do law students get with local attorneys?
Networking is such a huge part of the legal field. Opportunities to network with local attorneys may lead to internships and jobs. 

I truly hope this helps all the future law students reading who may be conducting law school visits in the future. I highly highly highly suggest making an in-person visit to the schools you are considering- it is the best way to determine if that school has the feel you are looking for. I added a printable version of this list below. Best of luck to all in the midst of law school applications!


How I Have Changed My Study Habits as a Second Year Law Student

Hello friends!

I feel like I have been neglecting this little blog. School has been crazy- I am in the middle of an oral advocacy competition and I have to make new arguments and go head to head each week in addition to class, reading, writing an appellate brief for moot court and working in admissions. Blogging just got pushed down the priority list. But I am back!

Now on to today's topic... as I am a few weeks into 2L year, I have made some adjustments to my study habits. Some of my upper-level courses are structured a little differently than my 1L core classes which have forced me to adjust as well as my own shifting and evolving learning process and knowledge base. I have posts from 1L year about my note-taking and study habits and I do believe that they served me very well at that time and for those classes. The adjustments I have made are more due to changing class structures and my ever-evolving way to understand the law as best I can and as thoroughly as I can... and I have become busier so efficiency is my #1 priority now. Here are the changes to my law school study habits.


1. Class Reading/Preparation
Unlike many of my classmates, I continue to read everything for class and take notes on my reading. Many of my classmates have dropped down to just book briefing but I find that taking notes is the best way for me to truly understand the material and have the best retention of it. Unlike my 1L year, I actually take more detailed notes from the reading and I count on them more in class as I participate more. 1L year I was content to answer cold calls, sit and listen and only voluntarily talk if I truly felt confident in what I had to say. Now that I am a 2L and a lot less nervous, I raise my hand whenever I have something to contribute and therefore having good reading notes helps me to follow along with class and have insightful comments. Also, my real life experience of working in a prosecutors office has given me some real-life legal context for some of the things I am learning in class. Therefore, when reading for class, I jot down notes of real-life examples that are related to bring up in class or in office hours. I find that having some real-life context is really helping my retention of the material so far this year. Additionally, my classes are structured a little different: one of my classes has little to no case law and is based on problems... Another is based purely on statutes. It has required me to read and learn differently.

2. Class Notes
Another change I have made from 1L year to 2L year is I take all of my class notes by hand. I found that when I took computer notes last year, I more easily became distracted and I did not retain as much of the information. This is reasonable because many scientific studies have been done that prove handwriting aids in retention and better understanding. By hand writing my notes, I am forced to synthesize the professor's points because I cannot physically handwrite every word as easily as I could type every word. This is a constant practice in analysis, issue spotting big rules and synthesizing which are important legal skills. I find that I remember the information better and when I type it up later into an outline, I am working from my own synthesized words and rules, not the professor's words and it helps me to have a deeper understanding. I have found that simply word-vomiting the professor's words/phrases onto an outline does not equal full understanding and was not the most effective way for me to outline. I also color code all my class notes because bright colors are easier for me to remember long term and it distinguishes class info from reading notes; I take all reading notes in black ink and class notes in a color designated for that specific class (ex. Constitutional law is blue, criminal procedure is purple...). I also love the freedom handwriting notes provides- I can make graphs, pictures, tables, etc. Whatever I need to do to get that information, I can. Sometimes computers can hinder notetaking in my experience because of the formatting problems and having to pause during class notes to fix the bullets or margins, etc.

3. Outlining
I learned my lesson first semester of 1L year- outline as you go. I spent last Thanksgiving break frantically outlining and it was the worst. Now, my approach to outlining is to outline after finishing a section or chapter. This way, I am outlining throughout the semester and I can address questions, confusion or concerns sooner rather than later. It also helps that the information is fresher in my brain when I outline it and it helps me to formulate and synthesize it better into the outline thus creating a much more effective study aid come finals. I just finished the fourth week of the semester but I have all my outlines started and 2 are completely up to date...the others will be up to date by the end of this weekend. I refuse to stop making my own outlines- I think it is such a valuable skill and learning tool... simple printing another persons outline will not allow me the same level of understanding nor the learning provided during the outlining process. Overall, outlining no longer scares me the way it did 1L year... I just buckle down, set aside some time each week and get it done.

4. Review/Practice Problems
Kind of like outlining, I have started reviewing throughout the semester instead of just at the end. Not only is outlining itself a form of review, I make a point to review my notes after class, twice after reading and to attend office hours. I attempt to make sure that I understand everything right away instead of waiting until the end of the semester to figure something out. There just is not enough time to do it all at the end of the semester and I need excellent grades so I am putting all the extra effort in. I have started doing some of the practice problems from the casebooks and as the semester moves on, I will be completing multiple choice questions each week and practice problems that I can take to professor office hours for feedback. This is something I neglected 1L year and I think I did myself a disservice. After reviewing my past exams, I have identified a few issues I would like to work towards resolving in the future when taking exams- I am not waiting until the end of the semester; I am starting right away to do everything in my power to be as successful as possible for exams this semester. Unlike 1L year, I know exactly what I need to do to be successful... I just have to buckle down and do it.

5. Organization/Planning/Efficiency
My schedule is a little more diverse this year. I have more responsibilities beyond just reading, class, studying. One thing I haven't changed is my dependence on my planner. I would seriously go insane without it. Beyond that, I have had to be a little more inventive with my time to fit everything in. I multitask- cooking is also my Netflix time, I work in between classes to make money, I do my reading right when I get home from class so I don't procrastinate, I outline and review on Friday afternoons before 5pm so I can have Friday nights off. For my appellate brief for moot court, there is very little structure. Therefore, I set aside time each week within my planner to work on it and stay accountable. I have started to do this with everything- I plan time for cleaning, grocery shopping, outlining... everything is planned and I do my best to stick to it. I meal plan and utilize a crockpot often to make sure that we eat decently without wasting a bunch of time in the kitchen puttering around or doing the "what sounds good" or "what do we have" discussion. I record my oral advocacy competition arguments and listen to them while driving to and from class to enforce my memorization of my arguments. 2L year for me is all about efficiently and effectively using my time so I can get everything done and still have some time to relax.

For me, 2L year has been about implementing the lessons I learned 1L year and making myself a better student and a more efficient person. I do not regret the things I did 1L year... I was not the same person I am now and I am choosing to move forward to be the best I can be. 2L year is definitely different and is stressful and difficult in different ways than 1L year. However, I am confident that I will be successful and I am more confident than ever that the law is what I want to do.

The Best Bag for Law School

What kind of bag do you need for law school? I am not sure why but this question drove me nuts before starting school. Should I use a bookbag? Should it be a professional tote? I went on a mad search for the elusive "perfect law school bag". I  bought and returned about 6 from TJ Maxx (I worked there at the time) and I still wasn't pleased. I ended up with a backpack and big leather tote before starting school. I have made some adjustments through my time as a law student and now that I am a 2L, I feel fairly confident that I know what the best bags for law school are... or at least what works for me and what I see working for some of my classmates.



Bookbag
I think every law student needs a bookbag of some sort. Law school books are stupid heavy and you also need to carry around a laptop, writing utensils, notebooks, binders and all sorts of other stuff if you are type A and super prepared for any situation like me. This will not all fit in a purse so a "bookbag" of your chosen variety is a must. There are several varieties that I have seen around my law school: traditional two strap bookbags, rolling bookbags, weekender type tote bags and large tote bags. I personally carry a large two-strap bookbag and my everyday purse to law school every day. My bookbag has plenty of space for all my books as well as a special laptop pocket.

I have linked additional styles and ideas- everyone is different and you have to choose what works best for you. There is no wrong bag to carry books- if you have a bad back, get the rolling bag. Do what you need to do!



A simple, easy bookbag with plenty of space, comfortable straps and a designated laptop area is what you should look for if you chose the standard two-strap variety.



Why carry books when you could roll them? Many of my friends with back problems use a small carryon bag as a rolling bookbag. I haven't switched over yet because I prefer the freedom of a two-strap backpack but I do envy the lack of back ache that this would cause.



Plenty of space in this! A few of my friends carry this exact bag and they love it. It has tons of space and is easy to carry. It's a "weekender" style but it works for the day to day cargo you have to haul to and from school.


An extra large tote is never a bad idea... I have a few friends with this exact tote and they love it- they throw anything and everything into this cavernous bag and seem to never run out of space. 


Professional Bag
Law school is full of professional events so having a professional bag is important. I personally have a navy blue leather tote, cognac leather tote and black leather tote so that I have something that matches any outfit I wear- these are all simple, sleek leather tote bags with a zipper and enough space to carry my laptop, a notebook, my portfolio, keys and a wallet. These are perfect for job interviews, internships, etc. I also recently ordered this monogrammed beauty because my black leather tote is getting a little too worn. Isn't the monogram just adorable? I splurged for the matching wallet because life is short and I love scallops. 
Here are a few other options for a great professional tote:

This one is reversible!!! Black and Cognac for the price of one! It is a great staple for the professional wardrobe to have a simple leather bag. 

A great navy option for those who want something a little different or wear a lot of navy. 

For those like me who love the look of a Longchamp but don't like the pricetag, what a great option!

Boys, I did not forget about you. My guy friends from law school all have nice leather messenger bags for professional internships and interviews. They look very classy and trendy at the same time. Here is my suggestion based on what they carry. 



I hope this helps you to narrow down what bags to have for law school. It seems trivial but it is also important to be prepared with the right stuff. 

The Weekly Schedule of a Law Student- 2L Edition

Happy Labor Day!!!

It is a little ironic that I am posting my average weekly schedule on the Monday of a 4 day week... pssh details! Regardless, it is the beginning of my 3rd week of 2L year and I am finally feeling like I am back in law school gear. The first two weeks were a little tough just getting back into the law school groove and figuring out how my schedule needs to work. Not to mention I came down with a horrible stomach virus and was sick off and on for the entire second week and missed my first ever law school classes as a result :( I finally feel like I have life organized and a routine that works. Without further ado, here is a snapshot into a week in the life of a second-year law student, Moot Court member and student representative for law school admissions.



Monday
7:30- Wake up, Shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, play with puppies and get ready for class.
9:30- Drive to school and review reading for class
10:10- Class
11:40- Head into admissions for a bit of work while I eat lunch
1:00- Class
2:30- Back to admissions for a bit more work
4:30- Head home for the day and start reading for next day
5:30- Take a break to cook dinner while catching up on Netflix
6:15- Eat dinner and watch some TV with my husband or take the dogs for a walk
8:00- Finish reading assignments
10:00- Pack lunch for tomorrow, pack bookbag for tomorrow
10:30- Nightly beauty routine, read a few chapters of a novel
11:00- Bed time!

Tuesday
8:00- Wake up, do a quick workout of Yoga or Toneitup
8:30: Shower, get dressed and eat breakfast
9:00- Sit down at desk with my coffee to do some work while a load of laundry is in the washer/dryer
10:50- Drive to school
11:00- Head into admissions for a bit of work before class
1:00- Class
2:30- Home for a long break between classes
2:50- Start reading for next day and run the dishwasher
5:00- Cook and eat dinner while catching up on Netflix
5:40- Back to school for night class
6:00- Class
7:30- Headed home for the evening
7:45- Spend some time with my hubby and puppies watching TV
9:00- Finish reading for tomorrow if I have not already
10:00- Fold laundry, Pack lunch for tomorrow, pack bookbag for tomorrow
10:30- Nightly beauty routine, read a few chapters of a novel
11:00- Bed time!

Wednesday
7:30- Wake up, Shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, play with puppies and get ready for class.
9:30- Drive to school and review reading for class
10:10- Class
11:40- Head into admissions for a bit of work while I eat lunch
1:00- Class
2:30- Back to admissions for a bit more work
4:30- Head home for the day and start reading for next day
5:30- Take a break to cook dinner while catching up on Netflix
6:15- Eat dinner and watch some TV with my husband or take the dogs for a walk
8:00- Finish reading assignments
10:00- Pack lunch for tomorrow, pack bookbag for tomorrow
10:30- Nightly beauty routine, read a few chapters of a novel
11:00- Bed time!

Thursday
8:00- Wake up, do a quick workout of Yoga or Toneitup
8:30: Shower, get dressed and eat breakfast
9:00- Sit down at desk with my coffee to do some work while a load of laundry is in the washer/dryer
10:50- Drive to school
11:00- Head into admissions for a bit of work before class
1:00- Class
2:30- Home for a long break between classes
2:50- Do some work at my desk
5:00- Cook and eat dinner while catching up on Netflix
5:40- Back to school for night class
6:00- Class
7:30- Headed home for the evening
7:45- Spend some time with my hubby and puppies watching TV
9:00- Vacuum and scrub the floors, dust, clean the kitchen counters... general tidying up
10:00- Fold laundry, Pack Hubby's lunch for tomorrow
10:30- Nightly beauty routine, read a few chapters of a novel
11:00- Bed time!

Friday
8:00- Wake up, Shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, play with puppies and drink coffee
9:00- Drive to school to work in admissions
2:00- Head home for the day
2:15- Do some yard work
3:00- Do a light workout
3:30- Back to my desk to get some work done... usually outlining or synthesizing what I learned through the week
6:00- Make homemade Pizza
6:30- Homemade pizza and movie night with my hubby. I take the rest of the evening to just relax with my husband and forget about school for a bit
11:30- nightly beauty routine, read a few chapters of a novel
12:00- Bed time!

Saturday
Saturdays are for sleeping in around here! Usually, my husband makes us a big breakfast and we lounge around the house most of the day or go find something fun to do. I try to take most of the day as a break from law school but sometimes I have to break out the books for a few hours during busy times in the semester. Sometimes we go visit family or do something else but generally, Saturday is a day for rest, relaxation and some quality time with each other and our 3 pups.

Sunday
Sundays we usually sleep in again and then tackle the house cleaning. After that, we spend some more time together and then get started on homework and prepping for the week. I usually take a mid-afternoon break to meal prep and go grocery shopping. We cook up a nice dinner and then it's back to the books to make sure I am ready for the week and all my reading is done. The more I can get prepped and organized on Sunday, the better I feel heading into the week.

So that is a generalized outline of what my weeks look like. Obviously, life is crazy and sometimes things change but I do find that a routine helps me to stay organized so I try to stick to this roughly. This week is irregular because I have no class on Monday so I am spending it hanging out with a friend, cleaning out my closet to make room for fall clothes and getting jump started on homework for the week. I find it very important to keep a balance between school and regular life and as a 2L, it's hard but not impossible to find time for both in my weekly schedule. As finals get closer, this schedule becomes a lot more focused on studying but for now, this works.

One thing you did not see on my weekly outline is blogging. This is because I never parcel off specific time to blog- because this is a hobby and creative outlet, I simply fit it in whenever I have a little spare time, while dinner is in the oven or when I need a break from casebooks. Some weeks I have more time for it than others but it is somethign I enjoy so I try to at least make a little time for it each week.

Enjoy this short first week of September!