What "Preparing for Class" Really Means in Law School
For every other student, preparing for class means one thing. For law school students, it means something completely different. Law school is no easy feat. You’ve worked hard to get to this point in your life — and you will need to continue to work hard until you walk across that stage.
The first year of law school — or 1L as it is commonly referred to — is notoriously difficult. Reading takes a long time, writing almost takes just as long, and comprehension is primarily subjective. My sister is a pre-law student and she is getting ready to go to law school. Honestly, reading and writing take up all her time and I would expect the same from law school.
Ask any law school student how much time they spend reading, writing, or doing both for their classes, and almost all of them will say ALL the time. Does reading all the time lead to good grades? Not exactly, though some students think so. I’ll state why below.
However, you can relieve most of the anxiety about law school by developing good study habits that involve reading, writing, and comprehension and sticking to those habits consistently. Being prepared for class will do more to assuage anxiety. You know what you know — not just by rote, but in your own words. Knowing ahead of time will make class time more interesting and enjoyable.
So here is what preparing for class means in law school:
Reading: You may have been able to skip a detailed brief in pre-law but not so in law school. Do all the reading assignments for your classes. Do not get behind or you may never get caught up. Law school is one of those really intense, jam-packed programs where if you miss a little, you miss a lot.
Analyzing: Reading in law school is much more than reading; it is analyzing. Analyzing is reading into the words to figure out what the author really means. If you watch any law shows like Blue Bloods or CSI you know that lawyers can’t take everything at face value, hence, the analyzing. Identify important facts (don’t focus on details), know the legalities at stake, the resolution, and the rationale used for arriving at the resolution.
Note taking: While you read, take notes. Write down or talk into a tape recorder about the main points of what you’re reading. Speak certain points out loud. This helps to reinforce what you are reading and ensures comprehension now and later.
Briefing: This refers to case briefs. Read all briefs you receive in class, and then read them again. If you can, re-read them right before class or mock trials. This way, cases will be at the forefront of your mind and you will be able to piece together the information in the brief with what you learn in class.
Outlining: Law school requires a good deal of writing. Outlining may feel like a waste of time and if you’re a relatively good, cohesive writer, you can probably skip this part. Otherwise, prepare an outline. This helps you to determine how rules connect to each other and how they are applicable to the subject.
Participation: You won’t learn as much by being a fly on the wall as you could by being engaged in the classroom. Don’t be a spectator; be a participator. Students learn best when they are actively involved, asking questions, passing notes, brainstorming, and looking for ways to get through tangled cases with their classmates.
Feedback: Most students don’t like feedback especially when it could be negative. However, seeking feedback and taking advantage of feedback from law professors who have already walked this journey is very valuable. Ask for feedback and take heed to it; it is the only way you will grow.
Reviewing: Review everything — reading materials, writing assignments, and tests. If you don’t quite understand something, ask for an explanation. When professors post your grades, determine what you did well on and where you need to improve.
Taking breaks: Law school is stressful. However, you will need to intentionally put time on the schedule to relieve this stress. This means making time for exercise, eating healthy, drinking water, drinking caffeine moderately, sleeping regularly (7-8 hours each night), and keeping a social life. If stress is already over your head, talk to a friend, a professor, or a counselor to help you out.
Being proactive: At the end of a difficult class or entire course, you may not want to see a law professor for a while. But visit professors outside of class and have something to talk about. Law professors like to see proactive students engaged in their studies. Your professors are walking resources of knowledge and most will be glad to share it with you.
Study groups: Form study groups. Stay connected with your peers. Don’t let them get you off track with bars and parties and such, but do let them test you and you test them on what you know. Get through briefs together, ask questions, pass notes. No two people learn at the same pace or learn the same things in the same way. Sometimes going through the process with a friend who understands the struggle makes the journey less difficult.
Routines: Create a routine for class preparation and stick to it. Don’t get sidetracked by competition. You know how good you are and how good you could be. Stay focused. Maintain positivity. And get the job done.
Learn more about Kaplan’s test prep options and start building the confidence you need for Test Day.
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