Chapter One - Assessing your Resources
To succeed in law school, students must use all the resources at their disposal:
physical, psychological, emotional, social,
financial as well as educational. Planning for law school requires a
careful assessment of your available resources and plans to use those resources
most efficiently. This chapter is designed to assist you in that
planning. The chapter covers four basic topics:
The Most Limited Resource: Time
Some resources are more critical than others to
success in law school. One way of assessing the importance of a resource
is by reference to psychological theory. Listed below are five categories
of need identifies by Abraham Maslow. Often, students who are
dismissed for academic deficiency reveal that
they were unable to study well because they lacked sufficient resources for the
necessities of life. Consider this need hierarchy and look for potential
problems you may face in law school
Realization of one's own potential
Problem-centered orientation toward life
Identification with the problems of humanity
Acceptance of self and others
As the need hierarchy demonstrates, if one is to attend to the higher-level need to realize one's own potential, the basic resources of survival must not be threatened. Think about your timing as you begin law school. I believe that a major reason many students do not succeed in law school is that they started at the wrong time: Don't start law school on the same day you are also beginning major medical treatment, a divorce, or have just had a new baby. Don't start law school without a decent plan for financial support. Do not - unless you are in a part-time program - try to "work your way through law school." There is little room for a second chance in law school. Even if you do manage to get through in these extraordinary circumstances, your education will not be the fulfilling, exciting, and truly successful experience it could be if you would just wait one more year and sort out your problems first.
Financial pressures, in particular, can play a critical role in law school success. As you are painfully aware, law school is extraordinarily expensive and many students arrive at law school with large debt burdens from prior education. These financial pressures can interfere with the ability to succeed in law school - diverting needed time and energies. Some students do not plan sufficiently to avoid financial emergencies. Every student needs to prepare a budget for their law school year. (If you have never prepared a budget, you may benefit from the resources available at a non-profit credit counseling service.) If your budget reflects financial threats, identify sources of additional assistance. One source of assistance some students look to is part-time employment. However, unless you are in a part-time law program, YOU SHOULD NOT BE WORKING DURING YOUR FIRST SEMESTER OF LAW SCHOOL ! Not only is this a violation of law school rules and American Bar Association accreditation standards , it is a short-sighted solution. Why threaten your long-term learning and earning by working during the first semester of law school?
Even if they do not interfere with your ability to succeed in law school, financial issues can pose a threat to your bar admission as well. If you have current debt problems, beware of simply ignoring obligations while in law school. As part of the bar admission process, you will need to disclose your debts and the bar examiners will investigate your credit record. Large, unmanaged debt is a red flag on bar applications. Address your debt problems before you come to law school and do not ignore debt issues while in law school. For assistance, you may wish to work with the consumer credit counseling service. The CCCS is a non-profit agency that counsels people on debt managements, budgeting, and other principles of personal finance. The NFCC (the accrediting agency for CCCS offices) Hotline is 1-800-388-2227.
Health and personal resources are the second set of resources one needs to address before coming to law school . Few of us are in the kind of physical shape that we would like to be -- imagine the results of a diet consisting heavily of coffees, donuts and Wednesday pizza, and a workout program that consists entirely of carrying 100 pounds of law books from locker to library. (It's not pretty.) The stress of law school causes many students to neglect their health. However, saving time by neglecting meals, rest and exercise will not pay off in the long run. Follow the advice your mother gave you (or should have given you). Pack a nutritious lunch -- don't make breakfast three cups of coffee and two chocolate doo-wahs out of the vending machines -- eat your vegees. Get enough sleep -- especially during the times you think you can least afford it. Get some exercise -- the Law Book Bench Press is not enough. Take twenty minutes a day to go for a walk at least.
Some students try to cope with the stress of law school through chemistry: caffeine (or stronger) to keep them up; alcohol and other substances to help them down. Not only is this strategy guaranteed to interfere with your studies, but it is a sure-fire way to guarantee that the Board of Bar Examiners will refuse your application for admission to the bar. Substance abuse and criminal records are major red flags on any application -- and yes, that little DUI ticket counts, even if you went through a diversion program and were told that your record was "clean." You need more than a "clean" record to be a lawyer -- you need a "clean" brain. If you think you may have a problem with substance abuse already, don't begin law school until you are in recovery. If you are in recovery, set up a strong network of support to keep you there. The Missouri Lawyers' Assistance Program (MOLAP) provides confidential, professional assistance to law students and members of the Missouri Bar. Their number is 1-800-688-7859.
important to your success in law school is your social support system.
Who is your "family"? What demands do they make upon your
resources? How do they feel about your going to law school? Are
there resources supports or limitations you need to address with them?
You will have less time and energy for your family and friends -- but be sure
not to neglect these important people in your life. They are your buffer
against stress -- your link to the rest of your life and self. And for
heaven's sake, when you are spending time with them, don't "lawyer"
them. Watching a football game with your friends
is not a good time to review your knowledge of the tort doctrine of
assumption of risk. Don't use an discussion with
your spouse as an opportunity to practice rephrasing the issue. Instead,
keep track of yourself and nurture the relationships that will nurture you.
Time is a most precious resource in the law. Lawyers charge for their time, often billing clients in six-minute increments at rates averaging over $100 an hour. In law school, as in the profession, you will need to make every minute count. There is always more to do -- more than can possibly be done -- in learning to practice law. Thus, effective time and study goal management is essential.
To complicate matters further, time management is a very individualized process. Some people work best in the morning, others in the evening. Some people can concentrate best on tasks by shifting back and forth between tasks for variety; others require sustained blocks of time to concentrate on one subject. Some of us require more sleep than others; some have family or community responsibilities. The bottom line is that you have to manage your time according to your needs in a way that will allow you to accomplish your goals.
You must be realistic about the intensive time demands of law school. You must recognize that you simply will not have time for many of the activities or responsibilities that you were able to carry before law school. If you fail to recognize the time demands of law school, you will set unrealistic goals and have unrealistic expectations about what you can accomplish. You will end up being unhappy, harried, sick, and you will not be able to reach your goals.
of the most common reasons for student dismissal from law school is time:
students who continued to work or continued to engage in extensive outside
activities during law school -- especially in the first year. That is not
to say that you will have no time for family, community, or other important
outside commitments. Indeed, these outside commitments are important in
reducing the overall stress caused by the time demands of law school. But
outside time demands are a double-edged sword. It is not uncommon to feel
as though you are walking, talking, and thinking nothing but law during the
first year. If you are highly motivated to achieve academic success, you
will neglect "off time." The inevitable result for all but a
few students is burn out -- often just at the crucial exam time. However,
if you view law school as "off time" -- scheduling law school around
your outside activities rather than vice versa -- you are unlikely to be using your most productive time for study and learning. Obviously,
then, the key is balance and planning. If you have never spent any
time thinking about how to manage your time, you may find the following article
useful in thinking about time management and planning.
(from "Managing Time: 10 Things Everyone Needs to
Feel pressured by time? You're not alone. We live in the most speeded-up age ever, and futurists say the trend toward acceleration will continue. By now almost all of us can relate to Henry Kissinger's famous quip: "There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full."
Like "Pay yourself first" in the realm of money, this basic time truth is usually ignored by all but the savvy few. And the consequences are just as severe. When was the last time you said something like, "I really wanted to work on my new-product proposal (or staff reviews or marketing plan) today, but I just didn't have time"? Think back. Did you use the early-morning hours to tidy your office or read and reply to your e-mail? In that case, your actions are speaking a lot louder than your words. They're saying, "My top priorities are tidying up and answering e-mail."
Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of rejection. Fear of acceptance. Like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, these primal fears gallop over the landscape of our lives, laying waste to precious hours and days. Usually we run from our fears, repressing or denying them. But this is a very short-term strategy. That's because, emotionally speaking, what we resist persists. Or, to use Henry Miller's more eloquent language, "Everything we shut our eyes to, everything we run away from, everything we deny, denigrate or despise, serves to defeat us in the end."
The evolutionary choice: Face our fears and take action anyhow. Then do it again. And again. Along the way, celebrate successes, analyze failures and never criticize, berate or otherwise punish ourselves.
Traditional time management is far too limited for today's complex, holistic
Remember classic time-management advice such as "Handle each piece of paper only once," "Have your desk clear of everything but your priority A-1 project" and "Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today"?
Turns out that's only half the story.
Old-style time management emerged in the Industrial Age. Assembly-line
efficiency became the model for productivity of all sorts. Time-and-motion
studies claimed to show the one right way to do each task. That context gave
rise to a linear, logical, left-brain approach to managing time and other
In our current Information Age, time management, like so much else, is being re-engineered. Creativity, flexibility and visual/spatial skills are coming into their own. Such right-brain traits typically thrive on paper shuffling and project juggling. And though Ben Franklin's ghost may shudder, our intuition will often tell us quite correctly that tomorrow or next week would be a better time to do something than today.
Traditional time management is still valid; it's just limited. It doesn't work best for everyone, it doesn't work best in all situations. Today's top time managers equally value and employ right-brain techniques. This creates a far greater chance that they'll respond effectively to the constantly morphing realities of the '90s.
parents have told their children, "If something's worth doing, it's worth
Convenient for parents, no doubt, who don't want their kids to trip over sloppily tied shoelaces or don't relish rewashing the dishes. Bad advice, though, for adults juggling dozens of daily duties and desires. On the contrary, those who apply a single perfectionistic standard to almost everything they do are almost always underachievers.
Successful people know how to apply a flexible standard to each task, depending on its value. When appropriate, they're not above doing a quick and dirty job. They also know when to practice "executive neglect" -- ignoring a task for long periods or forever, without guilt.
Why do so many of us put second what's first in our hearts? A teen-ager longs to excel at his studies but caves in to peers who pressure him to waste time at the beach. A talented wanna-be songwriter spends her weekends cleaning her apartment. Parents who value their families above all else work such long hours, their children hardly see them. Could it be because, deep inside, we don't feel we fully deserve to succeed, to contribute, to be loved apart from our achievements?
Whether we know it or not, most of us suffer from cracks in our self-esteem that lead us to misuse our time in a variety of ways. We choose inappropriate goals. We waste time in worry or indecision. We procrastinate from fear our efforts won't measure up. Valuing yourself is a skill you can learn. Many books, tapes and adult-education courses teach techniques for building self-esteem, such as positive self-talk, visualizing and mirror exercises. Used regularly, such techniques pay huge time dividends.
Often, we put off key actions -- ones that would result in the biggest return on our time investment -- because of "initial resistance." The feeling may range in intensity from simple balking to near-paralysis. We imagine that this resistance is going to drag at us during the whole task or project session, like a sack of stones tied around our waist. We convince ourselves that nothing worthwhile can come from such heaviness. We'd do better to wait until we feel more motivated, right? Fatal mistake. We don't realize that initial resistance is just that: initial. If we start the task anyhow, we're likely to find that heaviness falls away after the first five or 10 minutes. Momentum takes over, with its irresistible forward pull. Surprise! We may wind up working for hours, feeling plenty inspired.
"Today, even the uninformed know too much," observes futurist Roger Selbert. Other researchers agree. Richard Restak, author of several books on the brain, says that a mind crammed with factoids makes it difficult for a person to focus, set goals and keep track of time.
An inspiring vision of the future imparts direction and purpose to our personal and working lives. Fueled by a detailed plan -- a series of measurable goals, together with practical tactics and time frames for achieving them -- our vision can propel us forward like a powerful engine. Be warned, though. With the pace of life at warp speed, planning's not what it used to be. We need to be a lot better at tracking trends, anticipating change and embracing the unexpected. We need to accept that the process of creating plans and moving toward visions is as valuable as the plans and visions themselves. Otherwise, we may feel confused or discouraged when our expectations don't pan out. Or we may cling to an existing plan or vision that needs to be revised -- or scrapped altogether.
Sound too good to be true? Here's the logic. We've already cited the right brain as a crucial missing element in the old time-management paradigm. We could also call that side of the brain our "inner child." Just like a real kid, our inner child thrives on spontaneity, variety, play, humor, music, visual stimulation and the company of others. Also like a real kid, it wants our approval and encouragement.
When our inner kid feels bored, rejected or overcontrolled, watch out. It will rebel and sabotage the best-laid plans. We experience this sabotage as tiredness, inability to concentrate, lack of ideas or an urge to procrastinate. Or even as illness. For optimal productivity and satisfaction, we need to keep our right brain happy. Easy ways to do that: Work to music; break up periods of intense concentration with frequent frivolity; work with a partner or team.
as I get caught up, I'm definitely going to make a long-term career plan."
"Once the kids are in school, then I'll sort out my goals."
"I'll start setting daily priorities after I finally get my degree."
Sound familiar? Where managing time is concerned, many of us have a "wait" problem. We wait for circumstances to arrange themselves into a more convenient pattern. We wait for our energy level to rise or our stress level to drop. In short, we wait to "have" or "find" more time before we'll commit to learning and applying time-management concepts and tools.
Fill in the
calendar for the semester now. When do your classes begin and end?
When are exams? When are significant assignments due (mid-term exams, if any;
legal writing papers, etc.)
To get you started, check the law school's master calendar and fill in the dates there.
Consider that the last three weeks of the semester are generally extremely time pressured, as you struggle to maintain your class preparation and also prepare for exams. Plan now for the most intensive time demands during that period. If you have children or other family responsibilities, plan for additional child-care or other alternative arrangements now.
Next, fill in significant dates of other responsibilities. Is your cousin's wedding during the last week of classes? Do you have medical appointments during the middle of the semester? Is you child's school play during exams? Decide now how to balance or rearrange these responsibilities.
Now that you have an overview of the entire semester, look at the law school schedule. When are your classes and workshops? Block out these inflexible times. Next consider your study times. Study time should be allocated for three separate tasks: preparing for class, reviewing class, and preparing for exams. You should set aside time each week for each of these tasks for each of your classes. As a general rule, you should plan on studying four hours for every class hour. THIS IS NOT AN EXAGGERATION. What about outside responsibilities? Block out time for church, community, or family commitments. What about yourself? Block out time to sleep, to relax, and to play.
Consider that you will have fifteen hours of class time each week. Add your four to one study time ratio. That's sixty hours a week. How will you allocate that time? Consider that there are 24 hours in a day; that most people need about 8 hours to sleep and another two hours for eating, bathing, and other basic human functions. That leaves 14 hours a day (98 hours a week) to allocate between law school and life. What choices will you make? Can you work ten hours a day, six days a week so that you can have a free day? Or would your style be better served with seven days a week of eight hours? Or how about fourteen hours a day Monday thru Thursday, and five hours on Friday?
These are not easy choices and perhaps you may be saying to yourself that these are choices you can avoid. But you are risking a great deal if you proceed with any other than these assumptions about the time required during the first year.
While you are at it, think about where you will study as well. The library at school? The public library near your home? Your home? Where will you honestly be the most efficient and the least subject to distractions? Where will you have the resources at hand to study well?
One fundamental resource for success is what might be termed "spirit." This resource is more than self-knowledge and self-confidence; it also involves high motivation and the ability to act as part of a community. Overall, one's attitude toward law school can be as important in success as one's aptitude. What are the necessary attitudes you need to instill in yourself and look for in your study partners?
The first aspect of this "spirit of success" is self-knowledge and the ability to maintain your motivation. To be effective in learning, you must be motivated to learn and must have effective study habits. This is especially so when, as in law school, the demands are so rigorous and the feedback or reward so delayed. Sometimes students excel in law school simply because of extraordinarily high motivation; others fail because their motivation was lacking or insufficient to carry them through the process.
There will be
points in law school when you will lose your motivation: either because you are
bored, or tired or simply do not see any reward for
your efforts. You will need to have ready some techniques to keep your
motivation strong. What has worked for you in the past can work for
you here. How have you maintained your motivation in other long-term,
high-demand tasks? You might challenge yourself: for example, volunteer
to participate in class discussions so you will have an incentive to prepare
more fully, or set goals for outlining of subject matters by certain dates.
Break your work down into small parts and give yourself rewards for completing
each part. Make a visible reminder of your progress -- keep all your
briefs and class notes in one notebook and watch it grow, or make lists of
assignments and cross them off as you complete them. Remind yourself of
the importance of sustained effort to long-term
learning. Remind yourself of the importance of long-term learning to your
goals of completing law school and pursuing whatever career in law or elsewhere
you have set as a goal. Turn to your support system for support and
Ironically, one of the least effective methods of motivation may be one that seems most predominant in the law school environment: that is, motivating yourself by measuring yourself against your peers. Ironically, those students who are most motivated by the desire to "come out on top" or "earn all A's" -- that is, students with a competitive orientation toward study -- are less likely to "win" than are those students whose motivation comes from the pursuit of more intrinsic rewards, like the enjoyment of learning, accomplishment, or improvement. This is true, in part, because motivating yourself by focusing on grades tends to lead you to focus on strategies for short-term learning, and on finding short cuts to success. Research indicates that this approach to study is unlikely to be effective in creating long-term learning. Since law school success depends in large part on long-term learning of skills that require daily practice and deep mastery, there are no "short cuts" to success.
very competitive students also tend to isolate themselves in their
learning. Research into law school success demonstrates that a feeling of
social isolation is a fundamental variable in predicting success in law
school. Even if you generally prefer to work alone, you should at least
try to work with study partners for purposes of review and exam
preparation. One of the skills law schools develop is the
skill of generating alternative interpretations or solutions. For this
skill, two (or more) heads are definitely better than one. Study partners
can be important sources for insight into the
process of law school learning and support for flagging
confidence. When choosing study partners and working with
them, look for positive, directed people with a sense of humor and beware the
student who takes him or herself too seriously.
The successful law student is confident and positive
Just as isolation is a variable in law school success, so is self-confidence. As Maslow's need hierarchy demonstrates, one cannot realize one's potential until one has fulfilled the need for confidence. Self-confidence is a complex amalgam of prior experience, personality, and setting. You may come into law school with prior experiences of success and a personality geared toward confidence. Unfortunately, the law school setting can shake the confidence of all but the most secure. Throughout a semester, you will receive very little specific, evaluative feedback. Most faculty in the first year give mid-term exams, but few (outside of perhaps your legal writing instructors) provide the type of weekly, graded homework that you might have received in undergraduate education. The classroom process, designed to challenge and expand your learning, will not necessarily provide positive feedback or bolster your confidence. Some students are especially adept at trying to undermine the confidence of their peers. The first grades you receive in law school are very likely to be the lowest grades you have ever received in your life. And those grades count for so much -- becoming a source of considerable stress as you engage in a more competitive, explicit ranking process than many of you have faced since junior high. Law students are all highly talented and intelligent people, used to achievement. But all law students can not graduate with a 4.00 grade point average. (You can all graduate, but 90% of you will not graduate in the top 10% of the class).
How can one
maintain confidence in the face of such a situation? Focus on the
positive. Remind yourself of the successes you have had. Re-frame
your disappointments in positive directions. If you get a poor grade on
your first legal writing assignment, for example, you might frame this as
"Better now than later - at least I have a chance to find out how to
improve." Be careful about re-framing in ways that undermine your
overall motivation (e.g., "The Professor must not like me -- there's
nothing I can do to improve). Many people find affirmations or giving
themselves pep talks to be effective in boosting
confidence. Try using some of these techniques when you feel your
Successful law students are enthusiastic about their learning rather than viewing learning as an imposition. These students take personal responsibility for their learning and do not expect to be "taught." They are active in their reading and listening. To be an active learner, you must create your own organization of the materials -- not rely on the casebook, outlines, or syllabus to organize the materials for you. Law school casebooks are rarely written in the style of most undergraduate textbooks -- building from simple to complex, containing all the materials needed to master the course, or explaining concepts or organizing materials. The same can be said for many law school classes. Students can become frustrated with questions that have no answers, or no rhyme or reason for being posed. Or students can take charge of their own learning and save the time wasted in blaming the book, professor or law school.
Most undergraduate learning is based on a dualistic mode of thinking. There are "right" and "wrong" answers and the students task is to memorize as much materials as possible in order to be able to recognize or provide the "right" answer. Having found and provided that answer, no further explanation of the process is required. Law schools are based on a multiplistic and relativistic mode of thinking. Questions, interpretations, explanations and arguments are far more important to most exam performance than providing the correct conclusion. (For more insight into this aspect of law study, see the section on "the right answer" in the next chapter.) If you expect that you will be learning "THE LAW" during law school -- as a set of formula into which you can plug some client facts and get an answer -- you will not succeed. You need to recognize that attorneys are not sought for their knowledge of the law nearly so much as their ability to research, analyze, and use the law.
Just as everyone has different study habits and attitudes, so everyone uses different approaches to study. There are several ways that you can categorize your learning style. They key here is to use these tools, not to label yourself or others, or to predict success or failure. These assessments are simply ways of understanding your own preferences and strengths, so you can devise the most effective methods of study.
one useful way to assess learning style is to consider your preferred mode of perception: how do you take in information about the
world? The way people perceive reality can be broken into two
categories -- sensing and intuition.
Persons who prefer to take in information about their world through sensing use
sight, smell, sound, touch and taste. They prefer concrete
information and notice what is. In comparison, persons who prefer
intuition gather information more often in terms of feelings, thoughts and
emotions. They prefer abstractions and notice what might be. The
following chart provides some key vocabularies preferred by each of these
types. Try to identify which approach to perception you prefer.
(Remember, there is no "better" preference).
How do these preferences impact your learning? Each preference brings
strengths and weakness. For example, often persons with a sensing
preference are able to learn step by step, without the "big picture";
whereas a person who prefers intuition learns better with a global scheme in mind.
Since law school rarely provides a "big picture" up front, intuitive
learners may have to work at finding that model or develop greater
patience. On the other hand, intuitive learners are often much more
tolerant of ambiguity and complicated situations, qualities that abound in
law, whereas sensing types will need to become more patient with
complicated details or problems for which no standard solution
exists. Sensing types are better at learning applications -- they
would learn rules of law best by developing factual settings for those rules,
for example. Intuitive types are strong in developing theory -- they
would learn rules of law best by relating them to a conceptual
model. Sensing types often work more steadily, with a realistic
idea of how long things take. Intuitive types work in bursts of energy
powered by enthusiasm, with slack periods in between. Neither approach is
necessarily superior. Intuitive types do need to be aware of the dangers
of their preferences to procrastinate and flitter from project to
project. Likewise, however, sensing types need to be able to extend
themselves for flexibility in their schedules as the situation calls for.
For more information, try the taking the Solomon & Felder Index of Learning Styles
Harold Maslow (1908-1970) was an American humanistic psychologist who developed
a theory of motivation. The need hierarchy is a central premise of that
theory. His writings include: TOWARD A PSYCHOLOGY OF BEING (1962) and
FARTHER REACHES OF HUMAN NATURE (1971). They are arranged in terms of the
priority of our needs (i.e. you can't effectively fulfill your need for
knowledge if you are hungry).