August 22, 2020
Destiny Williams, Esquire | Black Girls Do Law, Founder
1. I compared myself to my classmates. Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy” and in the context of law school, it is also the thief of progress and happiness. Law school is a very competitive environment and you’re going to find yourself measuring your progress and/or success to that of your classmates. Your classmates are going to understand cases and concepts that make ZERO sense to you and you will question your worth as a law student and future attorney. If you don’t understand a case or concept, try an alternative resource (supplements, Barbri lectures, Quimbee, etc.). If you are still having a difficult time understanding, ask your TA, mentor, and/or professor during their office hours. You can always discuss with your study group as well; however, I would seek confirmation from your professor as 1L study groups are just the blind leading the blind!
I also found myself “interested” in things that I actually had ZERO interest in. I had no desire to do Journal, Law Review, Trial Ad, or Moot Court. However, once I saw that all of my classmates were obsessing over these organizations, I felt like I should too. I tried out for Trial Ad when I had little to no interest. This mindset didn’t stop during my 1L year. During my 3L year, I signed up for the Criminal Justice Clinic because I felt that I needed to participate in a clinic because everyone else was (even though I was already working for two attorneys). I was miserable and quit after 4 months. Participate in extracurriculars because you have a genuine interest in it and/or because they are vital for your definition of success.
Find your definition of success and use that as your goal. Set daily, weekly, monthly, and semester goals for yourself.
2. I changed the way I studied. Another way comparing myself to my classmates had a detrimental effect on my progress, mental health, and mindset was monitoring and copying their study methods. When I got to law school, I noticed my classmates were studying in groups and starting bright and early on Saturday and Sunday mornings – so I felt like I should too! I made it through high school and undergrad studying ALONE and mainly at night (as I am an insomniac). I KNEW studying in groups and during the mornings was NOT for me. I was sleepy and lethargic, and I wasn’t retaining ANY information. I was left “re-learning” the same material during the evening. I also HATED studying in the library and coffee shops, but continued to try it because everyone else was. I am the anomaly. I enjoy studying in the comfort of my own home. I like to be comfortable. I like to control the temperature and be I preferred to be near my own bathroom and Keurig coffee maker for multiple refills.
Law school is not the time to switch up how you study and/or learn. I’m not suggesting you don’t try different methods – especially if you have taken some time off. However, if/when you realize the new method isn’t working – ditch it! Don’t cling to it because you’re trying to keep up with the Joneses.
Another study method that I realized wasn't for me was outlining. I was well into my 2L year when I realized that outlining was NOT for me. I actually learn best with flash cards, muscle memory, and mnemonic devices. However, since I heard about as it pertains to studying law school is outlining, outlining, outlining. There's like this unspoken rule that unless you have a magical outline, you will not succeed. So, I continued to do so because everyone else was doing it.
UTILIZE THE BEST LEARNING METHOD FOR YOU. I honestly cannot stress that enough.
3. I rarely went to my Professors’ office hours. To this day, I have no idea why I didn’t take advantage of office hours. I think it may have been how intimidating my professors came off in class. Many of my professors were BEASTS in class; however, during the office hours, they were teddy bears – kind, understanding, and relatable. Do not be afraid of or intimidated by your professors.
There are multiple reasons to take advantage of office hours. The obvious is discussing lectures, assignments, readings, etc. to ensure that you are correctly digesting and understanding the material. Remember, you’re not only taking the class, you’re taking the professor. That’s why it is important to seek advice from 2Ls and 3Ls who have not only succeeded in a specific subject but succeeded in that specific subject taught by that specific professor. When you’re in office hours, you need to get the specifics. You want specifics on how they prefer the wording of rule statements. You want to get specifics on the essay format they prefer. Do they want IRAC? CRAC? CREAC? Do they want you to cite cases? Professors have to read the same exams 20, 30, 40, and even 50-100 times. You want your exam to be tailored to their preferences. Listen to how they speak when they are going over your practice exams. Listen to what annoys them and avoid it.
Another important reason is building rapport and a professional relationship. Networking in the legal industry starts in law school. Your classmates are your future colleagues, judges, co-workers, employers, employees, and/or opposing counsel. Your professors are not only a source of knowledge but also an avenue to potential opportunities. Your professors can recommend you for a job. They can refer clients to you. They can serve as a reference or provide a letter of recommendation that could change the entire course of your career.
Gems are sometimes dropped during office hours. Don’t take them for granted. Don’t be intimidated. Go.
PS. Look at the supplements and books on your professors’ bookshelves. Some professors are lazy and take questions straight from supplements and switch up the names.
4. I did not take enough practice exams. To be completely honest and transparent, I may have done 1 or 2 practice exams per class my first semester 1L year - strong emphasis on “may have.” The first time you complete an exam should not be the actual exam. About 3-4 weeks prior to the final exam, you need to be in office hours at least once a week reviewing your exams with your professor. During one of your first office visits with your professor, you need to ask (1) Do you provide your students with any of your (the professor’s) past exams and the model answer and (2) if they don’t, what supplement do they suggest for the purposes of practice exams. AGAIN, look at their bookshelves. Sometimes the answer is literally right in front of you.
This should go without saying - but just in case - your practice exams should be the same format as your professors’ final exams. Some professors do all essay exams, all multiple choice questions (MCQ) exams, and some do a mixture of both. You should also take your practice exams timed - just like you did for the LSAT (or should have done). You need to get used to knocking out exams under timed constraints. Law school exams not only test knowledge but how quickly can type that knowledge when it counts (this is why I also prefer muscle memory). If you’re not a fast typer, work on your typing skills. Your knowledge is useless if you can't put it to "paper" quickly and efficiently. There are courses where I was confident in and I type 80-90WPM and I STILL wouldn’t finish my exam in time. The bar exam is also rigorously timed. Since you have approximately 1.8 minutes per MBE question on the bar, many professors also aim for the same time constraint to adequately prepare you. If your final exam is ½ essay and ½ MCQ, you should always do your essay(s) first. If you run out of time, you can always guess on MCQ and still have a 25% chance of guessing the correct answer. Always review the explanations for your practice MCQ even when you get the answer correct because you may have gotten it correct for the wrong reason.
Don’t feel like you’re getting on your professors’ nerves with your practice exams. It is their JOB to help you. You’re an adult, as are they. You are PAYING them for a service. Don’t be afraid to respectfully and professionally remind them of that.
5. Lastly, but most importantly, I did not dedicate enough "me time" for myself. Looking back at 1L year, I honestly believe that most of the stress that I experienced was based on the 1L horror stories shared on social media, movies, and TV. You’re given this impression that you will have no life and that if you attempt to have one, you will fail. People share their stories of how they stay up 18+ hours studying, end their relationships to prioritize their studies, and indulge in drugs to stay awake to get ahead. However, many neglect to share the stories of their depression, thoughts of suicide, increased drug/alcohol use/abuse, or the attempts or actual suicides of their classmates.
All work and no play is not a healthy mindset. You will crash. You will burnout. You will be exhausted, irritable, and you will stop retaining information. You will begin to resent law school and the experience. This exhaustion could lead to depression and/or anxiety which could lead to further destructive behavior. The legal industry has the 11th-highest incidence of suicide among professions. Chronic stress and depression often trigger unhealthy behaviors such as substance abuse and personal problems, which can sometimes result in suicide or suicidal ideations.
When I was a 1L, I knew a 3L who took every Sunday off. He worked his ass off Monday - Saturday, but reserved Sunday for himself. He said he started every Monday feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, and motivated because he used Sunday to unwind and restart his mind and body.
My “me time” was Saturday mornings/afternoons. I slept in and did my hair care routine. I didn’t start studying until 3PM. I only studied from 3PM - 9PM and then made a margarita and dinner and caught up on my shows from 9PM until I fell asleep. Then on Sundays, I’d go hard with small breaks for cleaning and laundry.
Take some time for yourself. Do not lose yourself. Run. Workout. Nap. Go to church. Exercise. Get your nails done. Do yoga. Paint. Go on a hike. Do something that makes you happy that has absolutely nothing to do with law school at least once a week. I promise it’ll make all the difference in your mental health and overall quality of life. Taking 3 hours per week to yourself will not detrimentally affect your grade. Please prioritize yourself before ANYTHING else. It is important that you maintain your physical AND mental health.
Law school is a haze and it's rough, but when you know better you do better. Law school requires a different set of reading and thinking skills. You won’t perfect it in the first month. You probably won’t perfect it in the same year. Law school doesn’t get easier, you just get used to the struggle.
I hope this was helpful/insightful. As always, I’m available for questions or concerns via email - email@example.com.
Please contact the National Suicide Prevention Helpline if you start have thoughts of hurting or killing yourself. Other important warning signs of include the following:
Threatening to hurt or kill oneself or talking about wanting to hurt or kill oneself
Looking for ways to kill oneself by seeking access to firearms, available pills, or other means
Feeling rage or uncontrolled anger or seeking revenge
Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities - seemingly without thinking
Feeling trapped - like there's no way out
Increasing alcohol or drug use
Withdrawing from friends, family, and society
Feeling anxious, agitated, or unable to sleep or sleeping all the time
Experiencing dramatic mood changes
Seeing no reason for living or having no sense of purpose in life