Reflections On My First Year of Law School

I saved notes on my phone throughout the 2019-2020 school year so that I would have an easier time of writing this post, but it really didn’t make anything easier. This year was a mess. Everything went wrong. Everything went right. I wanted to write this post as a way to help others facing their first year of graduate school, but really there’s no other way to do it other than jumping in and just getting the dang thing done.

Side note: That’s what I tell myself when I have things to do, but to motivation to do them. “Just DO THE DANG THING.”

As promised, here are the notes from my phone through the 2019-2020 school year:

  • don’t buy your textbooks – rent them!
  • Jeff Bezos may be taking over the world, but the convenience of Amazon is unmatched
  • I have realized that I am not as smart as people think I am, but smarter than I give myself credit for
  • This is SO hard and SO challenging, but very easy in some respects. The easy pockets make it hard to get myself to study consistently.
  • (at the end of fall semester finals) I have no brain left and my memory is so shot and I feel like my brain is melting and I cannot remember anything
  • (at the end of second semester finals) Dear God I cannot believe I have to put up with another two years of this F@#%@~^@!$

That last note makes it seem like I hated law school. I didn’t (don’t). I do, however, hate how dead taking finals makes me feel. I sincerely have no brain power, or brain cells, left after my last final. If you asked me my name I probably would not be able to tell you. So, sitting in my room after my last final typing out a note to myself about getting through second semester was not the best idea…but it happened, and now it’s shared on the Internet. Law school can be rough, y’all.

Second semester was especially tough because of the timing of the pandemic. School shut down right after spring break. Classes were all moved online. Stores were selling out of toilet paper, food, and cleaning products. Life went from a happy hippie paradise (I was in Nashville for spring break) to being absolutely chaos to being at a complete standstill. The standstill, however, felt like watching the tide recede before a tsunami. All the seagulls are quiet. Everyone is just watching, waiting. You know something isn’t right. For those of us that know the hallmark signs of a tsunami, we wait in terror. The second half of spring semester was just like that: waiting in terror. I was so scared that my parents would get sick. I was so scared my cat would get sick. I was so scared my teachers, my classmates, my friends, my roommate, myself would get sick. I watched the death toll rise as I sat alone in my room. Studying for finals felt pointless because what if there were no finals? What if everything was going to continue to be shut down forever? I do not deal well with uncertainty, so second semester was a very difficult time for me.

Oh, and did I mention that one of my final exams (that was worth my entire letter grade!) got lost in cyberspace? Yeah. Stressful.

Speaking of – Finals are usually in person, on BlueBoard examination software, at the law school. We’re usually in a quiet classroom with a paper exam in one hand and our computer in the next. Second semester every exam was online and open book. Instead of having three hours per test, we had a full two days. Just when I thought I was comfortable with the way law school tests their students, the pandemic changed all of it. And it’s continuing to change. This semester of Fall 2020 our semester is getting cut short and our exams moved online. We’ll have a longer period than the normal three hours to complete each exam, but it certainly won’t be forty-eight hours worth.

To be perfectly honest, if I were starting law school in the fall of 2020, I would defer. I’m more comfortable with where I’m at in my second year only because I had last semester as a ‘end of the world but continue to be a law student’ trial run. If I didn’t have my friends and my section with me for that experience, I wouldn’t have made it. We were all lost, but we were all lost together. I feel for the new students I’ve met this semester. They know the twenty odd students in their section, but very few know upperclassmen or other students in general. Thankfully the shelter in place requirement is no longer being enforced, otherwise students might have gone the whole semester without seeing another law student in person. It was my section and my mentor that really helped me the most my first year, so I can’t imagine trying to have that same experience virtually.

Despite the pandemic, I did like law school. I like how it made me think, and how it changed the way I analyze the world. I mean, duh, I like it, I’m still here aren’t I? Ha. Go Bears, and good luck to the Mercer Law Class of 2020 taking the bar this week!

How I Studied for my Law School Midterms

I thought that, upon leaving undergrad, midterms would be a thing of the past. Little did I know, October is a hell month no mater what level of school you’re in.

I found that my usual way of studying no longer worked as well for the upcoming tests, so I decided to change it up a little. Here’s what worked, for me:

Podcasts

I drove to (and back from, of course) North Carolina twice during midterms. That’s four hours of being in a car staring at the road instead of some textbook (both equally as boring, I’ll give them that). I decided to use my time wisely and invest in come law school podcasts.

Remember back in high school when you’d binge watch Crash Course History the night before a test and hope for the best? This is the same thing, only “cramming” no longer beings the night before but the entire week before.

I really like listening to Law To Fact Podcast. Sure it’s not as entertaining as Missing Richard Simmons or any of the other stories I used to binge on road trips or walking around campus, but it’s hosted by a real law professor. Her guests include law professors from all over the country calling to explain the basics of what you’re studying in the class room.

I was skeptical at first because all the podcasts sounded like they were recorded phone calls with the intro music being played through a speaker into the microphone app on the iPhone, but quality of the production aside, this lady does know what she’s talking about. In fact, she and her colleagues have been teaching for so long they know exactly where most students start to get confused. This means they’ll either do a full episode on that topic to break things down slowly, or they’ll point out where people get confused and why, or they’ll joke about she she herself got confused and how long it took her to figure it all out. It’s realistic, and it makes me feel a bit better about myself when I don’t understand something the first time around.

Law To Fact has all the episodes on their website arranged by topic. You can easily go in and find what’s tripping you up the most. I’m listening to the episode called How to Avoid Common Pitfalls in Legal Analysis and Writing Classes right now! The podcast is also on Spotify and Apply podcasts so you can download them on the go.

One Sheet to Rule Them All

Yes, that is a Lord of the Rings reference. Yes, it does work.

Allow me to explain:

Every law student start writing outlines on day one of all their classes. By the time midterms roll around, the outlines are close to thirty pages long. It’s going to take you at least an hour to read through your entire thirty page outline, but I can almost guarantee that if you read through it that quickly you won’t get anything out of it. (That’s why skimming your cases before class doesn’t work, but hopefully you’ve figured that out by now ;))

When you start studying for an exam, condense your outline every time you read over it. You should start studying for an exam two weeks beforehand, without your outline completed at least a week and a half before the test. Each time you read it, take out the definitions of words you know. If there’s a concept you need to know, memorize it and get it down to two or three words that will jog your memory. Need to know a case brief? Have one word about the case to trigger your memory and then the holding of the case and why the court ruled that way. After two weeks of condensing, you’ll have your outline down to one page. The best past about this isn’t that it fits in your pocket but that because you’ve gone over it so many times you don’t even need it anything. You have the whole thing memorized because you rewrote it in your own words each day for two weeks.

Find Ways to Stay Productive

Staying productive for me during undergrad was pretty easy because I was so busy. I knew I had a finite amount of time to get things done in. Now, I feel like I have so much more time. Which means I goof off more. We’ve all heard the story of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, just wait until you read If You Give a Law Student Four Unbroken Hours and Readings They Can Do Tomorrow.

I try my best to stick my butt in the law library until 5pm each day. Sometimes I get everything done and go home to cook dinner, other days I barely get a dent into my piles of studies and end up working until 11pm. It happens. But what’s really helping me hold myself accountable at productivity apps and the screen time feature on the iPhone. The screen time feature tells me how much time I’ve spent looking at my phone that day and compares it to other days. I can also use that feature to schedule downtime, set app limits, and block content.

Another app I’ve recently rediscovered is Forest. I used it my freshman year at UGA and then promptly forgot about it when I switched from a Samsung to an iPhone. But I’m back on that hype train and loving it more every day!

I won’t talk about it much here because I’m planning on doing a round up of all my favorite apps that I use for school.

Planners!

If you don’t have any way of keeping track of your time, how are you still alive? And sane?!

My life would be over without my planner. I use my bullet journal for everything. It houses all my to do lists, things I need to research, gifts I need to buy, grocery lists, medication lists, contact information for people I need at networking events….literally everything.

If you don’t already have a planner in law school, go get one. Or even just have a little book of sticky notes or send yourself texts so you can write things down on. Law school tends to go from 0 to 60 really fast, and you never know what you’re going to miss. Heck, I use my planner, have a catch all notebook, use the stickies on my laptop, and use the notes all on my phone and there are still things I miss.

The human brain can do a lot of things, but it can’t do it all. Be kind to your mind and write a few things down here and there so it can take a sec to decompress.

Plus, the less your brain has to fight to remember about your daily life, the better it can remember important stuff, like the Grable test or minimum contacts or….I dunno, foreseeability probably.

Study Schedules

Another way I utilize my planner is to make a study schedule. My professor for Legal Process at Mercer had us set up an hourly plan for the week with all of our classes, when we wanted free time, study time, and breaks for food and sleep. Mine seems crazy, but I do allow myself to have extra free time here and there, I promise! You can click the button below to download a blank copy for yourself!

Group Study

The last thing I did when studying for midterms, which I never did this frequently in undergrad, was study with a group. My law school class is broken up into five sections. Not all of us share the same teachers, but those of us that do either have that teacher at different times or we don’t sit near each other during class. This means that each one of us takes something different out of the lectures we all sit through.

Studying with a diverse group is great because everyone has a different way of explain a concept, and sometimes that’s all it takes to make things “click.”

For our last midterm, Juris and Judgements (formerly called Civil Procedure), my group got a study room in the library. We found a huge whiteboard and condensed all of our outlines and notes onto one “page” (AKA the one whiteboard). Even though it seemed to take forever, we all walked out of that room confident about our test the next day.

Disclaimer: this is what I did to study. I’m writing about to give you an idea of how I prepared for my first set of law school midterms. If you know some of these things don’t work for you, don’t do them! Everyone’s study habits are different. Don’t go completely overhauling your study habits just because someone on the internet studies in a way that is different from you.