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One of my best friends from law school recently told me that his son had been accepted to law school, and asked me for some tips on how his son could do well in law school while still living a balanced life. Believe it or not, it can be done — here’s how. 1. Read every case twice before class. There’s no substitute for being well prepared for class. The best single piece of advice I got when I began law school was to learn each case thoroughly before class. “If you don’t do that,” my friend said, “you’ll fool yourself. You’ll think you’re learning the case during class — but while you’re learning the facts and the holding, the students who prepared before class will be learning law on a whole different level — and you won’t even know it.” I took this advice seriously. Before classes began, I bought my textbooks and began reading them. I just started at page one and went from there. By the time school started, I could spend my time reviewing instead of reading cases for the first time. (This didn’t always work, however. In Criminal Law, I got up to page 150 before classes began — but at the first class the professor said, “We’ll skip all that introductory stuff and start on page 155.” Next time I’ll ask for a syllabus.) My first class each day was not until 10 a.m., so I got to the law library when it opened and spent two hours reading and reviewing the cases. By the time I got to class, I knew the material. 2. Attend every class, take detailed notes, and review the notes after class. Being a first-year law student is a full-time job. Cutting class is not an option, any more than taking the day off is an option at an office job. But contrary to what Woody Allen said, just showing up is not 90 percent of a law student’s job. What really counts is what you do in class — especially how you take notes, and how you review them. Louis Brandeis reportedly did not take notes in class and still graduated from Harvard Law School first in his class. But if you are not Louis Brandeis, I urge you to take detailed notes in class. Write down as much as you can legibly write without losing the thread of the conversation. This is a skill. Try to pick out the important parts of the discussion (especially what the professor says), abbreviate consistently, and write compactly. One important caveat: Take down the professor’s questions, not just the professor’s answers. Under the Socratic method, many professors seldom provide any answers. They want you to learn the key questions to ask, not just rigid, unchanging “answers.” As you learn more about how to “think like a lawyer” (or at least like a law professor), these questions will make more sense — and you’ll get a lot more credit for asking the right questions on a final exam than for spewing out something you memorized from a classmate’s outline. The real magic with notes, though, comes after class. Between classes, I always sat down to review and improve my class notes. This exercise had three benefits. First, by reviewing the material right after I learned it, I fixed it in my mind much better than reviewing it the next day or the next week. Second, I filled in the gaps in my notes while my memory was still fresh, so when the time came to outline the course or study for final exams, I had a complete set of notes to study from, which was a huge advantage. (Other students sometimes asked me for “the transcript” of a class.) Third, by going over the notes shortly after class, I could identify the things I didn’t understand in time to ask questions in my study group or in class before we went on to other concepts. This gave me a solid foundation on which to build as each course progressed. As a bonus, taking detailed notes will improve your writing skills. Writing is a lot like music — you have to practice every day. If you do, you will become fluid with your pen so that the words flow onto the paper smoothly without much thought about sentence structure and punctuation. An excellent way to practice writing every day is to take lots of notes in class. That daily practice will pay off many times, because good writing skills will help you write better papers, better course outlines, and better exam answers. 3. Hang around after class. Even the most Socratic professors often explain things in plain English after class. They are off stage then, and often they will actually answer questions directly. I didn’t ask a lot of questions after class, but I stood with the crowd around the professor for five or 10 minutes after most classes to hear what other students were asking. I learned a lot that way. 4. Organize a study group early in the semester. No matter how smart you are, you are likely to learn more if you discuss your ideas with other people. If you can’t explain a case or a concept to one of your classmates orally, you won’t be able to explain it to your professor in writing on the final exam. Early in the semester, after you’ve observed other students in and out of class for a couple of weeks, approach two or three of the people you like and ask them to join a study group. Pick out people who are well-prepared for class, who listen well when others talk, and who have something to say when they talk. Then set up a regular meeting schedule (preferably where you can argue loudly), and stick to the schedule. 5. Write your own course outlines, and start them early. Sometime before exams, you need to summarize and synthesize what you have learned. The product is called an “outline.” Some students trade outlines — “I’ll do Property, you do Torts.” For most people, I think that’s a mistake. On the final exam, you’ll have to demonstrate your knowledge in writing. You’ll need to provide quick, concise descriptions of cases, rules and doctrines. Some people can learn to do this just by reading and absorbing what someone else has written, but most people learn much better by writing their own outlines. Only when you try to put something in writing do you truly discover what you don’t know. To rephrase my advice about study groups: If you can’t explain something to yourself in writing, you won’t be able to explain it to your professor on the final exam. 6. Do something to distract your mind from law every day. Law school is mentally intense, and your mind will overheat if you don’t relax your brain from time to time. Socializing with your law school friends won’t necessarily work because conversations among law students often revert to law and law school. But playing a musical instrument or sketching people or taking a long walk will distract and refresh your mind so that you can charge back into your studies after an hour or two. The same is often true of reading a novel or a history book or a magazine article. Work a hobby and some non-law reading into your schedule every day. Even if you only spend 15 or 20 minutes a day, you will feel the difference. 7. Exercise and sleep on a regular schedule. In 1972, the legendary Bobby Fisher played Russian Grandmaster Boris Spassky in Reykjavik, Iceland, in the most publicized chess championship in history. To prepare, Fisher spent a lot of time doing calisthenics. For chess? Yes, Fisher said. Playing chess required as much energy and stamina as jogging or chopping wood. The same is true of law school. You’ll need great energy and stamina to stay alert during class and to study six or eight hours every day outside of class. You’ll also need sleep. Just as I was starting law school, I read a New York Times article saying that how much sleep you need is like your shoe size — it’s unique to you, and once you are fully grown it rarely changes. So I did an experiment. I went to bed exactly at midnight every night for a week without setting an alarm. I woke up before 6:00 a.m. every morning. From then on, I kept to that schedule. About once a week I slept late, but I always went to bed on time and I never set an alarm. Whether you are a “morning person” or a “night owl,” set a bedtime and don’t set an alarm. AND FINALLY … Law school is not easy. It takes organization, self-discipline, and physical and mental energy. The seven habits of highly effective law students set out above will help you do your best. Moreover, if you can succeed in law school while leading a balanced, well-rounded life, you are likely to enjoy law school more, burn out less, and ultimately bring a broader perspective and a deeper understanding to your clients’ problems. Roy Simon graduated in 1977 from New York University School of Law, where he was editor-in-chief of the N.Y.U. Law Review . He is now a professor of law at Hofstra University School of Law, where he teaches Lawyers’ Ethics.

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