As many L1s have probably discovered by now, the law school curriculum is intense. There are many things competing for your attention. How do you stay in control of your learning? It’s time to review the three 'P's of performance: Prioritize, Plan, Prepare.
Prioritize. There is so much to learn that sometimes you can’t decide where to focus. If you don’t have control over the learning process, you are more prone to stress and anxiety. Having a prioritizing system in place will help you be more confident and efficient. Below are a few factors to consider when you prioritize. You may want to assign weight to each of them and rank your tasks accordingly. It is a good idea to do this in writing so that you can review and revise your priority list as needed.
- Your learning objectives. When you have a learning agenda, you can tie each task to your larger long-term learning goals. Are you reading a case to be able to answer your professor’s questions if you are called on in class? Or are you reading it to learn how to construct arguments, apply law to the facts, or understand the court’s reasoning? You want a priority system that allows you to achieve your personal learning objectives with the least amount of effort. The learning goals are your focus lenses.
- Deadlines. When are you projects due? Meeting deadlines is an important skill to develop not just for law school, but for legal practice as well. If you are not given a deadline, create it for yourself. Too many students fall behind on reading and try to catch up later when it is time to outline and review for the exams.
- Difficulty. Some prefer to tackle more complex tasks first. Others like to get the easy stuff out of the way. Whatever you strategy is, it helps to rank the difficulty of your assignments.
- People. Are there people who count on you to complete the project? How do your actions affect their performance?
- Consequences of not completing the task. What happens if you don’t do it? Can you accept the consequences?
- Benefits. Consider the benefits you gain if you accomplish the task.
Plan. Once you know the priority of the things that need to be done, it is time to figure out how you are going to do them. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Get into a habit of creating “Week-at-a-Glance” plans. Weekly plans seem to work well in law school.
- Break down your projects into smaller manageable steps.
- Make your plan specific by including deadlines, time allotments, numbers, etc.
- Plan for help. Know your resources and support systems. Where do you go if you have trouble?
- Look for the easiest and most effective ways to do things.
- Plan to measure your progress.
- Take into account your learning style, preferences, and the best studying practices. If visualizing information makes it easier for you to learn, your plan should build on it. Also, plan to review the material in multiple sessions rather than in one longer period of time because multiple reviews work best for our memory.
- Allocate extra time to each task because we tend to underestimate the amount of time it takes us to do things.
Prepare. Once you have a plan, all you need to do is to execute on it. Preparation is the key to your success. There is not a lot of academic “supervision” or feedback in law school. You are the one who has to motivate, scare, or cheer yourself along. Be prepared.
Orientation Series: 21 Steps to Becoming a Better Learner:
Step 1: Setting your learning objectives
Step 2: Taking an inventory of your skills
Step 3: Taking an Inventory of Your Learning Tools
Step 4: Finding opportunities for cognitive apprenticeship
Step 5: Determining the "IIQ" of what you read
Step 6: Choosing helpful books for law students