Friday, September 17, 2010

success, please

I've been taking some academic success sessions offered by the school. They are very informative and I've discovered I've embraced a lot of the tips that they are giving us. In the tradition of law school blogs everywhere, here is what I think is useful to getting through the work.

1. Keep your syllabus with you at all times.
Sounds dumb? I've found that referring to my syllabus has been enormously helpful in guiding my outline. I also have two professors who have written very comprehensive notes in the syllabi. Going back to them can give you real insight into stacking your blocks.

2. Keep stacking the blocks.
Huh? No class is in a vacuum. Every one builds on the one before it and will help put up the next one. It's not a stop-and-start but a continuous flow of information that you have to assimilate, even if your professor doesn't seem to teaching that way. No exam is just going to have an essay question based on the application of one rule. They will all be ambiguous enough to discuss many.

3. Don't get carried away with what other sections are doing.
I often ask other large and small sections what they are covering in class but I try to be careful not to stress out over whether they are ahead or we are in a totally different planet. Other sections' perspectives are good, and talking about rules and issues is helpful. Just don't let it get to you. Your professor has a method to his madness. Trust it.

4. Brief.
Try to brief every case, not just the main ones, but ones in the notes as well. I don't have time to brief every citation in an opinion, but I look it up and try to pull out where the judge is coming from. Sometimes, just reading the quote the judge pulled out is not enough for me. I need to see what the facts and defenses were in order to understand why an opinion is going the way it's going. I've also learnt that opinions cam pull out just the bit they need and slant it, which might be the original intention of the case being cited. It's a lot of fun.

5. Ignore people
Everyone has an opinion, but opinions are like assholes. Everyone knows one.

6. Listen carefully to what your classmates are saying in class.
At this stage, people's comments aren't terribly insightful and some are dead stupid. But. They can be helpful in guiding your thoughts away from a bad idea or to something useful. If someone is being asked a question, make sure you can answer it.

7. Answer the question being asked.
It is so easy to just chuck it and say what you know. Don't. Listen to the question being asked. If you're in a Socratic dialog, the professor isn't going to just stick to the case. Listen to him ask you something slightly different and answer it. Not knowing or being wrong is not an issue. I've noticed that people get stuck on the original question and anything that comes after it is dead air as far as they are concerned. It's a tough situation when you're cold-called but you must focus.

8. Get proper sleep.
I've phased out in a couple of classes because I have been so sleepy that I couldn't focus. Also, don't expect anyone to feel sorry for you if you went out and then came home at some late hour and had to study for class the next morning.

9. Try to stay one class ahead of your schedule.
It doesn't always work. As the semester progresses, it's tough to maintain that pace when assignments begin to rear their ugly heads. It helps not to put things off. Schedule time for the assignment in increments rather than all at once. It helps to be able to go back to it with fresh eyes over a 3-day period that frustrating yourself by doing nothing else but that one thing all damn day. Also, it means that you aren't giving up time needed to prep for classes.

10. Do something non-law school related.
EVERY SINGLE PERSON tells you this. It's a fact of life. Don't become a workaholic or one of those people who always has his head stuck in a casebook and only takes a break to ... hopefully shower. I used to work at a newspaper and it dominated my life. It was all I ever did. I did not schedule anything into my life. I hung out with my colleagues only and spent very very little time not thinking about or doing work. Now, I take a whole day off and hang out with my kid, sleep and watch tv. On the train to and from school, I read a non-school book. Hell, I spend so many hours in school that even there I pick up my novel or watch something online just to take a break. I find these things relaxing and they take my mind off school. It's good to be indulgent every now and then, otherwise you'll begin to resent being here and nothing good will come of that.