By Nikki Laubenstein, Senior Consultant at the Spivey Consulting Group
Whether you’ve determined which law school you’ll be attending in the fall or are still finalizing that decision, it’s likely that you are feeling a bit anxious, overwhelmed, or unsure of what to expect once orientation and classes begin in August. You’ve focused a lot of your time and energy up until now on honing your logic, analytical reasoning, and writing skills, so now let’s talk about a few other skills that will help you both throughout law school and practice.
If you are trying to find productive ways to prepare for law school this summer, maybe now is a good time to put some stress relief techniques into regular practice and see what works best for you. Or, if you already employ some healthy tools, your routine could require an open-minded shift during law school — but remember not to give it up.
Some of the most successful law students I met over many years in law school admissions were those who treated law school as a job. Meaning, they came in to the law school at the same time each day, kept a regular meal schedule, and utilized time in between classes very wisely. They tried to leave around the same time each day and followed a schedule for class preparation and studying that helped maintain efficiency. They knew which and how many extracurriculars they could realistically handle. I found it helped students greatly when they understood that law school is professional school, not an extension of undergrad, and tailored their social and study habits accordingly. Finding time management and self-care techniques that work for you can be extremely important to sustain you through 3 years of law school and beyond.
My school’s orientation program used to include a formal opening convocation ceremony with a program book that listed each incoming 1L, and where s/he attended undergrad, graduate school, and their majors. I once had a student stop by my office and mention that he had spent the ceremony counting up how many of his new classmates had attended Ivy League schools, had masters degrees or PhDs, and how many had majors more “difficult” than his own. I think back to this to remind myself that 1) it’s likely that many are “sizing up” their competition from day one, and 2) that stress over this competition can continually grow if you aren’t able to manage it.
Competition is a very real thing in law school, and you’ll need to understand it, accept it, and find a way to make it work for you. This could be a source of stress for you, or something that pushes you. Recognize where your stress comes from so that you can tackle it.
I once had a co-worker who used a daily planner. It was leather bound and very professional looking. She maintained this calendar with various highlighters (I think 7 different colors), and at first glance it seemed she was so organized. After observing her for a longer period of time, however, it became clear that she was spending so much time highlighting in different colors that she wasn’t actually getting more work done or doing it any better. It was a completely inefficient organizational system. I feel this way about some online tools, apps, or organizational products that are out there. Many are great, but others take more time to work through than is worth the organizational and efficiency outcome.
If you don’t yet feel you have a good “system” for managing your time, try out some new things to see if a process or new app might work for you. Ask your Spivey consultant for ideas. Talk to people you see as highly efficient, and adapt for what works best for you.
A few time management/productivity apps you might want to try include:
- Habitica (a good one if you’re motivated by video games)
- Remember the Milk
I have a two-page document from my former counseling office that provides tips for “keeping stress at bay.” You’ve all seen self-care and stress management tips before — especially the more commonly known tips like “get enough sleep” and “engage in physical activity” — but I’ve found some tips to be different and truly helpful to me. So, I’m sharing my top 10 from the list…maybe you’ll find a few of these helpful as you begin your law school journey.
- Learn to say no.
- Do mundane and difficult tasks first.
- Give thanks daily — have a thankful heart — stop complaining.
- Choose your friends wisely. Three will do.
- Always do what’s right. No lying, or lame excuses. That’s integrity.
- Listen to other people without a need for rebuttal or to win your point. (Okay, unless you are in a Moot Court competition.)
- Don’t let your reactions to stressors be worse than the stress itself — I encourage you to watch one of my favorite TED Talks here if you have 14 minutes to spare!
- Look for ways you can demonstrate kindness.
- Try not to think of things solely in terms of end-of-year reviews/exams. Set goals year-round.
- Find a way to release your emotions. Don’t internalize.
“Quality is not an act, it’s a habit.”
This is one of my favorite quotes because it makes me think of those law students, co-workers, and mentors who seemed to be consistently hard workers — and consistently successful. Waiting and cramming for an exam might have worked for you in the past, but if you don’t find a way to stay on top of your reading, class preparation, outlining, etc. in law school, you may quickly see disappointing results. Many law school classes will only have a midterm (if you’re lucky) and a final exam that account for your entire grade. If you’re not a student who is used to taking advantage of professor’s office hours — get used to it. Professors are there to teach you, and you will need to stay motivated and check in with them to make sure you are understanding and absorbing what they are teaching in class. They and your classmates can be a useful source of support and motivation if you let them.
And, remember to look back at the Spivey group’s favorite quotes if you need something to put on your bulletin board!