Thursday, August 23, 2007

More Tips for First-Year Law Students

You asked for it, you got it! More tips from the morning brain of Law School Mama! (I am feeling very super-hero-ey today: I got a call last night informing me that I'd been awarded a very nice scholarship! Yeah, me!)

My last coverage of this issue featured 5 quick tips. Let's see if I can come up with 5 more:

1) Really listen and pay attention in class. I know that seems obvious, but you will be so surprised by how many folks are surfing the net, playing games, IM-ing and doing email. This is especially true after your first year. Try not to get sucked into this. I've seen people really scramble to catch up once they realized they were half-way through the semester and hadn't really been paying attention. Some profs make sure their finals follow what they talked about very closely, so listen!

2) Nothing is a substitute for reading a case, but if you find yourself really lost, or really behind, go to Lexis or Westlaw and read the case summary. (You probably will not get access for the first month of law school.) This will at least tell you what you should be getting out of the case. Then go back and read it and see if it makes more sense, or at least skim enough so you know the basics and where to find key facts. For me, this is sort of like reading a kid's version of Shakespeare before the real thing so you know what's being said.

3) If your prof tells you HOW they want to to take notes, do problems, prepare for X, do it. Again, should be obvious. I've been in classes where people did not, and it was obvious to the prof, and to everyone else. You will learn so much more if you take the prof's advice. Sure, if the suggestions are far too time-consuming, you may have to figure out your own shortcuts, but try it the recommended way at least for a couple weeks. You may find there is value in the process.

4) Computer vs handwritten notes? Those who are experts in learning say that taking handwritten notes and later transcribing them into your computer is the best way to learn the material. You force yourself to review and process what you learned by taking the time to do it this way. As a night student who works days, there is no way I could ever find the time to do this. I take notes on my laptop during class. During my first year, we started out with about 80% taking notes on their computers, but after the first set of finals, we were probably down to 50%. I would say most of the decline was due to disappointing grade on finals. Taking away the temptation of games and surfing was the solution for some, and others got the news about handwriting and transcribing being better for learning.

5) Think of others. Help out other students when you can (within your school's honor code, of course). Remember to talk to your partner/spouse/husband/wife about her/his life. It's not all about you. Talk about things in your life besides law school. Keep in touch with your friends that are not part of your law school life. Don't push people away by being an annoying law school geek. So you can argue well, and your logic is flawless. That won't win you points with your partner or your friends. Law school is not everything - keep some balance and perspective in your life.

Good luck and have fun. Seriously. Some people complain that law school is hard and terrible and no fun. Really? How hard did you work to get in? You wanted this. You are paying for this. It's what you wanted. It should be fun! Make it fun. As someone who had been out of school for a long time, I actually think this is fun and a privilege. Not everyone that wishes to go to law school is admitted. Enjoy this opportunity you have been granted.


Googie Baba said...

Thanks for more tips! I am especially interested in the note taking one.

And congratulations on the scholarship.

Anyway, I have tagged you for a meme if you have the time:

Casey said...

Congrats on the scholarship!!!!

And that's absolutely right, everyone - don't forget to talk, talk, talk with your partner and make it a priority to spend time with your family. As the non-law school partner in the relationship, it feels crappy to be left out and it's hard not to feel taken for granted. Staying in communication is huge - for both people.

Dakota said...

Everyone - Casey would know. She is my partner. New to law school? Go to her blog and read through our first year, which is where her blog starts. Have your partner read it, too. Not always a pleasant time for either of us - especially with two little kids (one who was only 6 months old at that time). We made it though! So can you! Everything is easier after the first year.

nikk said...

Congrats on the scholarship!! I'm proud of how you're tackling this whole school thing. You always were the smart one.

Dakota said...

Nikk - Thank you, but if I'm the smart one, then how did you graduate
Summa Cum Laude, in 2 1/2 years while working full time and raising a teenager?

nikk said...

There's a HUGE difference between being smart and refusing to fail.

Dakota said...

Nikk - ...and a HUGE difference between refusing to fail and Summa Cum Laude.

Holly said...

Congrats on the scholarship! That's awesome!

Again - wonderful tips!

I was in the camp of writing out notes, then typing them into the computer for a second stab at osmosis. However, by third year, that got harder and I got a laptop.
What did work for me was to type all my notes in class and spend 30 minutes every night going through them and scribbing important things about in a notebook.
I'm a visual person, so I usually have to write things 2x to absorb them.