Friday, November 25, 2016

How I'm Spending My First Law School Thanksgiving

Hey there, everyone, and happy Thanksgiving! Boy oh boy, I have a lot to be thankful for this year. Not only do I have amazing friends and family, but this year I can add a college degree, a new place to live, a new school, and plenty of law school friends to add to the list of things I am thankful for. I am sure many of you feel the same.

Unfortunately, I go to school about 1,000 miles away from my hometown, and going home for the holiday just wasn't an option; plane tickets were too expensive, driving would take too long. So here I am in this college town, left to celebrate Thanksgiving away from home. Luckily for me, Thanksgiving is a holiday I am rather indifferent to - sure, I am very thankful for what I have, but I've never felt all that attached to the holiday. Black Friday doesn't appeal to me anymore either, after 3 years of working in retail. So, I'm not all that bummed about not going home. In fact, I'm pretty excited about my first law school Thanksgiving break!

Classes for us law students lasted until Tuesday. The undergrads here were done last Friday, so it was pretty quiet over the weekend and the beginning of the week. This was great because our memo was due, and everyone is trying to get a bunch of stuff finished up before the end of the semester. Because the weekend was so productive, I decided to take Wednesday, the first day of break, off from doing anything school related. I laid at home, watched TV, baked a pumpkin pie, and was lazy as can be. This was a much needed treat.

Thursday was turkey day. Although I didn't get to have a big Thanksgiving meal with my family, one of my friends from school who also stayed here over break cooked us an entire Thanksgiving feast with two other friends. Let me tell you, the day your friend cooks an entire turkey dinner is the day they earn your respect for life. I'm pretty sure that's what it takes to become a real adult. It was so nice to relax with friends, complain about law school, and stuff our faces with something other than take-out or macaroni and cheese.

Today is Friday, which meant my break had to be over and I needed to get back to work and study a little bit. However, there was one important life event that I had to do first. Gilmore Girls, my favorite show since the 5th grade, premiered four specials on Netflix. So I woke up at 3:00 a.m. ET to watch all 6 hours before I was off to school to study. Let me tell you, if I didn't get the opportunity to actually go home for break, this show is the closest thing to home there is for me.

When I got to school, I was devastated to find out that my ID card was not working to swipe into the law building. In fact, nobody's card was working. Myself, along with two other students and a professor, were trapped outside of the building. Professor to the rescue, though. He called the university police for us and we were let in to get our books and study away. That's where I spent most of my day. However, I did take a break in the afternoon to watch some football.

Tomorrow and Sunday will be similar. I need to study and work on school most of the day. I still have two research projects, my CORE grammar post-test, and studying for finals in the remaining seventeen days of the semester. It feels like there is a lot to do, but I am motivated and I know that I can do it.

Sometime in the rest of the weekend, I am going to clean my entire apartment, go grocery shopping to get necessary sustenance for finals, and try to find a little more time to relax. I hope all of you law students are able to do the same.

Oh yeah - and last, but not least - I want to say I am so thankful for each and every one of you that reads my blog. I have already gotten more readers than I ever thought I would, and the number grows every day. Thank you for being a part of my law school adventure!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Surviving During the "Hard Weeks" in Law School

Hey, everyone - my only class scheduled for today was cancelled, and now I am officially on Thanksgiving break. After break, I only have one day of classes left and then it is finals time! This entire semester has flown by so fast, and I am so nervous for finals, but excited to go back home and see all my friends and family for the holidays. For those of you in school right now as well - congratulations on wrapping up a semester! It's always a tough challenge, but a huge victory once you hit that home stretch.

Today, I'm going to discuss one of the not-so-fun topics about law school. The unfortunate reality of being a law student is that there are going to be a lot of hard days. Sometimes, it feels like there are going to be more hard days than good days. In reality, I know it's not that bad. But, it can be hard to see how great life is when you are drowning in memos to write, career services meetings, endless readings, and of course, going to class. There are definitely some weeks that are harder than others, and it can be difficult to know how to handle it. This last week has definitely been a hard week for me. Not only are finals approaching, but last week the workload seemed incredibly heavy, and my final writing assignment for the semester was due. To add to the school stress, my law school class was unfortunately faced with the tragic death of one of our classmates. Throughout the school, you could feel the stress, anxiety, grief, and sadness throughout the air.

So, you might be wondering, how do you get through weeks like this? To be honest, I am no expert. In fact, sometimes I think I don't handle things like this well at all. But, I will try to give you my best advice for how to survive during the hard weeks in law school

First things first - take care of yourself.
Seriously, you know what to do. Drink your water. Get enough sleep. Eat something. Take a shower. It's surprising how hard the most basic things can be when you are struggling, but these things are all essential to make you feel like a human being. So make sure you take care of yourself.

Take care of others
If you are struggling, so are you friends. Make sure that they're being kind to themselves. Offer yourself as someone to talk to. It's easier to draw strength when someone else needs you, and helping a friend may be the morale boost you need.

Talk to someone - anyone
Call your mom. Text your best friend. Meet with a professor in office hours. This week, all of the law school staff and faculty has made it so clear that they are here to support us. I have had so many professors reach out to lend an ear, offer advice, and take care of my classmates and myself as we deal with the loss of one of our law school brothers. I am so convinced now, if I wasn't before, that all of my professors and law school staff are here to help me succeed, and I am willing to bet most people would find the same at their school.

Give yourself some time away from law school
For the last fifteen days, I have not had a single day where I have not been inside the law building. I have had to spend so much time in the library studying, going to classes, and attending meetings that I can barely remember the last day I wasn't inside my school. It's important to take a break every now and then to get out. My friends and I like to do this by taking trips to get ice cream. Do something fun and mindless that doesn't involve school.

Remember your goals
When law school gets hard, it's easy to make half-serious jokes about giving up and dropping out. I know that I have made plenty. But remember your goals and why you attended law school in the first place. Use that as a motivation to do your best and get through the week.

I know that sometimes, law school feels like you're drowning, and no matter how hard you try, you can't keep your head above water. But keep kicking, keep fighting, get your head above water, and slowly - but surely - you will learn to swim.

I have a hard time too. I'm not the best at this whole "law school" thing yet. But I know that I can get through it all, and I know you can too.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Meeting with Professors During Office Hours

Have you ever heard the phrase, "Life isn't a popularity contest"? I'm sure you have - it's something that adults tend to tell kids and teenagers to encourage them when faced with adversity from their peers. Well, I have a newsflash for you - in the legal world, life is a popularity contest. The job you'll get will likely be based on whether or not people like you. Yes, your grades and school performance matter. But the opinions of future employers, as well as your references matter. Some of your most important references in law school are going to be your professors. This is one of the many reasons why it is important to connect with your professors. One of the best ways to connect is by meeting with them during office hours.

Most professors are required to have office hours once or twice a week, where they are available in their office to answer questions, help you with class, and give you school advice. This can be a great a resource if you need a little extra help in your classes. To be totally transparent, I don't always take advantage of my professors' office hours - I don't usually go in unless I have a reason. However, it's comforting to know that time is available if needed.

This week, I met with two of my professors on separate occasions. The first meeting was a writing conference with my writing professor. My school has several of these required conferences throughout the semester, as well as several optional ones. I take advantage of each and every one of these conferences. After all, how could I say no to getting personalized advice about legal writing? I've already had three or four of these conferences this semester, and the help I have gotten is invaluable. If your writing professor offers writing conferences, I highly recommend that you take advantage of the opportunity.

Another great thing that can come from these types of conferences is understanding why you get the grades you do. My conference this week was to go over my first graded writing assignment that was due a couple of weekends ago. I got a 'B' on this assignment - which is a fairly good grade for law school. Through the conference, I was able to understand why I missed the points that I did, why I earned points for things I did well, and got more tips for my next assignment. The best part of this conference was that when I was going over my paper with my professor, she commented on how her comments seemed inconsistent with the score she gave me - meaning that she's going to reevaluate and my grade might be increased. I never would've had the opportunity to earn back those points without a conference - so there's another reason to meet with your writing professor as much as possible!

I also had a conference with my Civil Procedure professor to go over my in-class, ungraded midterm that I took last month to evaluate my performance. When I got to my professor's office, we first had a personal conversation about how I feel law school is going, how I'm doing in my classes, etc. This was nice, just to know a professor cares about how I am doing overall. Then, when going over my midterm, my professor told me that if I performed similarly on the final, I would likely have one of the best grades in my class. This was amazing to hear, and gave me a boost of confidence that I am on the right track in the way I study.

After meeting with both of my professors, I ended the week feeling more confident about this whole law school thing. Finals time is approaching - it's about to be crunch time, and I'm getting nervous about taking my finals and getting my final grades. However, having two professors acknowledge the good work I'm doing makes me feel like maybe I've got this after all. I know what I'm doing well, what I need to work on, and how to approach finals coming up.

I highly recommend meeting with your professors as much as you can - you never know what will come out of a conference!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

How I Take Notes in Law School

In law school, being successful in classes obviously includes more than simply showing up to classes and listening to the professors. Not only do you have to do your reading and study outside of class, but the note-taking you do inside of class matters a lot as well. Everyone takes notes differently - some people take really thorough notes outside of class and then don't take notes in class at all, some people on take scribbles of notes while they do their readings and then take extensive notes during class, some people give equal effort both in and out of class. There's no right way to do it - just do whatever is right for you. But, despite that little piece of truth, I know that me saying that is less-than-helpful. So I'll show you how I take my notes for class and then you can decide whether or not parts of my note-taking system might work for you.

First things first, I tend to take more extensive notes outside of class than I do in class. Part of the reason for this is that the majority of the reading you will do outside of classes will be reading case law, and I tend to brief every single case that I read. I won't give you any information on how to brief cases here - I've written an entire post on that already! These case briefs tend to take up most of my notes. However, I do write down any other information the book gives me, as well as a few bullet points on the footnotes or follow-up questions also included in the book. Here's an example of what a section of my reading notes look like:

In this screenshot, you can see both bullet-point notes on information, as well as a full case-brief. You might notice that I put the page numbers of the case next to the title of the case I am reading. This helps me quickly locate the full case in the book, so I can easily find it during class for reference. I highly recommend this practice.

You might be wondering, from this screenshot, what program I use to take my notes. I use Evernote for all of my typed notes in law school. To tell you more about Evernote, I'll send you my colleague Nikki's blog - she wrote an entire post about Evernote and why she uses it. Her post is what encouraged me to use Evernote, and I definitely owe Nikki for introducing me to it. Check out her post - it includes some great note-taking tips as well!

In class, I do not type my notes. I have been told by many professors, and believe from personal experience that hand-writing notes is the best way to remember information. However, my class notes are way less-detailed and way less-organized. My goal during class is to write down main points, things I need to remember, and things my professor mentions that weren't in the reading. Overall, I really take notes in class to make sure I stay focused and pay attention. Here is what an example of my notes from in class look like:

Notice that these notes are way less detailed, a little messier, and more general. Then, at some point after class, usually after a few weeks, I will compile these notes into an outline that is a summary of all of my notes and everything I have learned in one document. Here is an example of what that outline looks like:

I like typing up my outlines in Microsoft Word, because I like the format. However, after I work on my outline I make sure to upload it to Google Drive or Evernote, because if my computer crashes mid-semester I definitely do not want to lose my notes and all of the progress I have made throughout the semester. I also recommend waiting until the end of a unit to outline, that way you know what is the most important for that particular part of the class. You don't want to waste more time on one part of your outline than necessary - you spend enough time working on your notes as is.

Overall, that is my note-taking process. I try to be as thorough as possible when I take my notes that way I have all of the information that the professor wants me to know, whether I derived it from the book or from the lecture. I always type out my notes from the reading, and handwrite my notes in class. I do have one class that does not allow laptops, but I just print out my notes for that class. I like to type my reading notes because it saves time and it is cleaner, but if you prefer handwriting then that is equally as valid.

Again, this is only one way of taking and organizing your notes. There are many method's out there. Nikki's post is a great example of one way to take notes, mine gives you another option, and there are more options than just the two of these. Bottom line - just make sure you are taking notes. Then, a style that works for you will develop on its own.