Friday, July 26, 2019

"Must Have" Supplies for Law School

Hey, friends! Sometime during 3L, I was on the phone with my mom and said something somewhat profound and a little bit humorous:
"You know, it's funny, but I think after almost twenty years of being in school, I've finally figured out what study tools work for me. And now I'm almost done" 

The truth is, through years of college, my study habits have changed and developed, and I've really figured out what does and does not work for me. I wrote a post a couple of years ago about what supplies you should get for law school, and I stand by everything in there. I repeated some of the supplies here, but for a comprehensive look, check out that post too! And by now, I definitely have figured out what my favorite things are, especially for law school. So I thought I'd share some of those products with you! Below is my list of must-have supplies for school, with links to specific product recommendations if I have any. If you know of brands or products that you would rather use, choose those. These are just the ones I like.

Technology Products

  • Desktop Monitor
    • So this is something I actually bought during 2L, but I wish I would've bought it when I first started law school. And to be honest, I use this more than anything else. I originally got my desktop computer monitor for writing papers so I could have two screens - one for displaying my research or notes, the other screen for the actual paper. Now I love it for so much more. The bigger screen alone is a bonus, and a real keyboard and mouse makes things much more comfortable. Now I don't have to squint at a tiny screen, waste time flipping between windows, or get neck cramps from typing on a small, flat screen

  • iPad - or other Tablet
    • It's pretty obvious that you are going to need a good laptop for law school. In fact, certain schools require you to have one, and may even have certain specifications that you laptop needs to meet. So I won't bore you by telling you that you need a good laptop. You already know that. 
      • But for those of you that are curious, I have this laptop and LOVE it.
    • However, one thing I didn't realize that I really loved having is an iPad. In fact, after I bought my iPad at the beginning of 3L year, I never brought my laptop to class. This espeically makes sense if you take notes the way that I do - where you type out your reading notes but handwrite your class notes. The iPad allowed me to pull up those reading notes, without having to bring my entire laptop to class. I loved the portability and ease. The ability to check my text messages in class quickly without much distraction was also nice. Plus, I liked it for playing games, watching Netflix, or browsing Pinterest when I wasn't in class. 
  • Big, over-the-ear headphones
    • In law school, you're probably going to spend a lot of time studying in public. This might be at the library, in a coffee shop, in airports or train stations - basically anywehre you might have some down time. So you're probably going to want to have some headphones to cover up the noise around you. I spent the first semester of law school using my ear buds and after awhile, my ears started to hurt and I hated being attached by a cord. I decided to spring for some big, over-the-ear bluetooth headphones and they seriously changed my life! I loved them to drown out noises in the library, really focus in at home, and especially loved them for airplanes.

  • Extra Phone Chargers
    • I cannot recommend this enough! I literally had four chargers during law school. One by my bed, one in my car, one at my desk, and one in my backpack for school. It's nice to not lose your charger taking it to and from every location you need, and it's nice to always have a full charge if you need it.
      • For your bed, I recommend getting an extra-long charger. I have an iPhone, so I use these chargers!
      • For everywhere else, I find that the regular chargers are great - especially in the car, at your desk, or in your bag where you don't want a cord to take up a lot of space. You can even buy them in multi-packs!

Stationary and Writing Utensils

  • Highlighters
    • You will do a TON of highlighting in law school. Like way more than you actually think. I literally went through a highlighter a week in law school - no exaggeration. I have a couple of different product recommendations here.
      • For standard, yellow highlighters - my most used tool - I prefer Sharpie, thin, chisel-tip fluorescent yellow highlighters. I bought this 36-pack, because it made it so I wasn't running to the store for more every month. These are bright and thin, making it easy to highlight exactly what you want and the color is happy and stands out.
      • For colored highlighters, I recommend Sharpie Clear-View highlighters. (I really love the Sharpie brand, y'all. I love the clear view because you can see what you are highlighting through the little window. It's seriously cool. They are more expensive than the plain yellow ones, but I primarily used only yellow highlighters, so when I needed colored ones I splurged on these.
      • For gel highlighters, I actually recommend my only non-Sharpie favorite, Bible highlighters! These are a great price and are nice to use on books with thinner pages that ink highlighters bleed through. Sharpie and other brands have gel highlighters, but I've found that the bible ones are thinner and more accurate.
  • Pens
    • In my mind, pens are so personal. We all like what we like. And that's fine. Whatever you like, get a ton of your favorite kind of pen. I personally prefer the Pilot G2 Gel Pens. In fact, they're still what I use for bar prep. 
  • Notebooks
    • Some people prefer taking notes on their laptops. I personally believe that your in-class notes should be handwritten, because it helps retention and helps you focus. Thus, notebooks are SUPER important to me. However, even if you are someone who prefers to type your notes, make sure you at least have a notebook or two. You never want to be that person in class who has to ask around for a piece of paper if you need one. Plus, what if your laptop dies or something?
  • Planner
    • StudI am probably in the minority of law students who don't think you need a big, fancy planner to get by. However, you do need some sort of planner. You will have a lot on your mind, and the last thing you need to worry about is keeping all of your due dates or appointments in your head. So get an academic planner. I prefer ones with weekly views as well as monthly views for different things.
      • I prefer the Blue Sky Planners - I get these every year. They are available at Target and Amazon, usually for $10-20 so they are great!

Food & Drink Items

  • Lunchbox
    • Law school is a lot like high school. You have lockers. All of your classes are with the same people. You might even have a lunch room. Our school had a cafe, a couple fridges, a couple microwaves, and eating utensils available. This was great, because although I lived close to school, going home was sometimes a hassle. So I brought either lunch or a lot of snacks every day.
      • I bought a basic lunchbox from Walmart for like $5 during back-to-school sales. However, this one is similar to the one I bought and I am looking at ordering for my big kid job starting soon!
  • Water Bottle/Tumbler
    • I feel like on every suggested school supplies lists, the writer lists a water bottle. It's important to stay hydrated. But on top of that, whenever I was nervous about being called on in class, my throat would get SO DRY. So I was always grateful to have my water with me. And let's be real, it's 2019 and single-use plastics are lame. So get a reusable water bottle or tumbler to bring to class with you - or even for using at home!
      • A lot of people like a Hydroflask - and I agree! They're great - they literally keep ice frozen for 2 days.
        • But, I needed a cheaper option! Law school has me on a budget, y'all. I got this knockoff water bottle from Walmart, and it's seriously my favorite water bottle I've ever had. I admittedly bought it as a cheap thing to take to tailgates, that way I wouldn't care if I lost it and now I treasure it!
      • Or, if you prefer a straw, check out this totally cute tumbler! I also use straw cups every day, so you can't go wrong.
  • Reusable Food Containers
    • I mean by now, you get the point. You're going to want to bring lunch, snacks, and possibly other meals to law school with you. So save the earth and bring your food in reusable containers in you lunch box. Here are some of my favorites:
  • Locker Snacks
    • Lastly, I'm a big fan on having snacks available at all times. Keep some snacks in your locker for an emergency sugar rush, or for days you didn't plan on staying for lunch but did anyway. I recommend keeping some fruit snacks for a quick grab between classes, or some macaroni and cheese cups for emergency meals.

Study Space Supplies

  • Amazon Echo Dot
    • During my 2L year, I decided to check out what all the buzz was about, and purchase an Amazon Echo Dot. Now, I absolutely love it and could not imagine a study space without it. It's so easy to just shout out an instruction to play music on spotify, ask the weather outside right before you head to class and you're trying to pick a pair of shoes, or set a timer when you are trying to convince yourself to study for just 20 minutes. 
      • I actually also just ordered the bigger Amazon Echo so I could have a better speaker, but it is a little more expensive. So it's an option, but the Echo Dot is great for budgeting.
  • A Good Lamp
    • One thing about law school is that your eyes will suffer. You'll spend so many hours staring at a computer screen or reading books, and vision headaches might become frequent. One way to combat that is to make sure you study and read in adequate light. my desk lamp was a lifeseaver. Luckily, I lived in an apartment that was furnished with a built-in desk and desk lamp. However, I found this great option that looks plenty bright, comes in several colors, and has a USB port for charging your phone! Great for small desk spaces. 
  • Blanket
    • It's super important to be comfortable when you study. It makes things way more tolerable. I always had a blanket slung on the back of my desk chair to wrap up in when I studied. It was great for when the AC was running or just feeling cozy. If you're anything like me, you probably have a million blankets already you can use. But if you're anything like me, you never pass up on an opportunity to buy another cozy blanket. I love sweater blankets, and just ordered this one on Amazon for my new apartment!
  • Essential Oil Diffuser
    • To be honest, I always made fun of people who used essential oils. I thought they were a hippie thing. Then my grandma bought me a diffuser and I realized that they are AMAZING. It's basically an air freshener, but there's something so soothing about it. I also like mine because the diffuser itself changes colors and lightens up the space.

So those are all of my must-have supplies for law school. At least the ones I can think of right now. To be honest, the bar exam is in a few days and thinking is a little difficult at this point. Let me know what your must haves are, or if you tried any of these products!

Monday, July 15, 2019

What I Wish I Would've Known Before Law School

Two months ago I walked across the stage where I shook hands with my University's President and received a piece of paper signifying the most important accomplishment of my life thus far - my Juris Doctor degree. That's right, folks! I'm a lawyer now. While I am very thrilled to be in this new phase of life, I can't help but think about where I was just a few years ago. . .

When I started law school, I was newly 21 years old, fresh out of college, with my dreams and my cardigan - just like Miley taught me. I remember spending the summer before law school endlessly searching for blogs with any tips or advice for how to handle the brand new adventure that was waiting for me in law school. I researched diligently, and felt like I was entering law school extremely prepared. And for the most part, that was true. I generally knew what was going on and what would happen, plus I had a few good study tips ready to try out.

Unfortunately, despite my diligent research, law school had a few life lessons waiting for me. Like any big adventure, law school came with its own set of difficulties. And those difficulties taught me a few things during my three year journey to my JD. So, I thought I'd write a list of things I wish I would've known before law school, as if I were writing to my younger self.

The Biggest Key to Success is Taking Care of Yourself

I learned this lesson in the hardest way. During my 1L year, I had a full blown breakdown in January that involved me getting on a plane and flying away. Seriously. I had done extremely well during my first semester of school academically, ranking in the top 10% of my class. Unfortunately, that academic success came at the sacrifice of my own mental and physical health. Luckily, with a not-so-gently push from my family and friends, I took the time to learn about taking care of myself and fostering a postive mental health environment, and really began to thrive.

My grades weren't as top notch as they were first semester, but I ended law school in the top 25% of my class and started actually enjoying my life in law school as well. I made tons of friends that I already miss so much, got a job I'm super excited about, and made it out of law school in one piece. Had I not learned to take care of myself properly, I am 100% sure I would've dropped out of school.

Law school is hard. It's stressful. It's competitive. So, make sure you take care of yourself. Don't forget to eat. Make some friends you can trust. Set goals and explore your passions. And most importantly, don't forget to set aside some time to treat yourself. Take a vacation, take weekly bubble baths, get food you enjoy, etc. Just take care of yourself first, school second.

Grades are Important, But They Aren't Everything

One thing you will hear over and over again before law school, during orientation, and over the course of your studies is how important it is to get good grades. It's honestly super overwhelming during that first semester when all anyone tells you is that you should be studying because grades are the only thing that matters. You know what happens when you listen to that advice a little too closely? Refer back to the item above. 

So here's the truth. Grades do matter. The top jobs go to the top of the class, and getting good grades can really help you get ahead. However, here's the other half of the truth: not everyone can get the best grades. Law school grades are typically curved, meaning that as great as it is to be in the top 10% of the class, someone has to be in that bottom 10%. And guess what? That bottom 10% can still get jobs and become very successful lawyers.  

If you find yourself not getting the grades that you want, don't panic. Yes,  take it as incentive to study a little harder. But also use it as incentive to round out your law school resume. Try to get involved in organizations and maybe take on a leadership role. Think about trying to "specialize", perhaps by focusing on public interest or a certain subject area. I know plenty of people who graduate toward the bottom of the class and found wonderful jobs early on. I also know plenty of people in the top of the class still looking for work. So yes - grades are important, but they aren't the only thing that matters.

It's Okay to Not Know What You Want to Do After Law School

I mean, sort of. Obviously you came to law school to be a lawyer. That's step one. An important step. But what about step two? Figuring out what type of lawyer you want to be. That opens a whole myriad of possibilities. When I first entered law school, I told everyone I wanted to be a tax lawyer. Yes, that's a little weird but I have always loved all things tax and loved that being a lawyer was a way for me to work in the tax field. While I still do love tax law, I've backtracked a little. I'm not completely sure that I want to work in tax law. I think I could be happy doing that. I also think I could be happy doing a lot of other things. At this point, I'm even open to working in litigation. So even if you do know what you want to do when you enter law school, you might change your mind or expand your interests.

On top of that, plenty of people have no idea what type of lawyer they want to be going into law school and that's completely and totally okay. Law school is a time to explore and figure that out. 

If you are one of those people that happens to know exactly what you want, good for you! But if not, that's completely okay.

It's Your Last Three Years Before Real Life

I feel like we spend so much of our life focused on our next step. In high school, you're focused on getting into a good college. In college, you're focused on getting into a good law school. In law school, you're focused on getting a good job. And then once you get a job, you realize so much of life has passed you by. If you were anything like me in college, you probably forgot to have a typical college experience while you were hyper-focused on your law school future. 

I spent my first year of law school the same way - focused on the future. By my second year, I realized that it was also important to enjoy life. Tailgates and football games on the weekend made life a little more fun. Napping in the middle of the day is a luxury. And living off kind of gross fast food and cheap groceries can be a great way to bond with your friends. Enjoy the last few years you have of youth, before true responsibility and real life sets in. You'll have the rest of your life to be a boring lawyer. Life it up and be a student for awhile.

Yes, You're Smart. So is EVERYONE ELSE.

Most law students are acheivers - we are used to being one of the smartest people in the room. Getting into a law school is a huge accomplishment in this world. But here's the problem: when you get to law school, everyone is smart. Everyone has gotten into law school. Everyone is an achiever.

This kind of relates to the item above about grades being important, but not being everything. Most law students are used to getting As, getting the job, getting into the schools we want, etc. Well, now you're in an environment that is concentrated with equally smart and possibly smarter people. It's probably a good idea to humble yourself a little bit before starting school.

It's a Long Three Years, But it's Worth It

Lastly, yes. Law school is three years. And they are a long three years. Some of the most grueling years of your life. But they fly by faster than you think, and at the end YOU WILL BE A LAWYER. Knowing everything I know now, I truthfully would do it all again. And I mean all of it. The hard parts, the learning moments, and the rock bottoms were a big part of my growth and my journey throughout law school. And now I'm a lawyer. It is all so worth it.

To anyone getting ready to jump into law school - good luck! Feel free to drop some questions below. I love to answer them, and I might even write a post about your question if I have enough to say.

Friday, July 12, 2019

How my law school study group saved me (Guest Post!)


Oh, crud. What have I done?

It had been only two weeks and I already felt like my soul was withering away. Seemingly endless days buried in books. A competitive culture. Classrooms haunted by an Ancient Greek philosopher who was turning out not to be quite as cool as Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure had led me to believe. The Socratic Method is sometimes accused of being a law student torture apparatus. That’s because that’s exactly what it is. 

Maybe I'd made a mistake. Maybe law school was not for me. Gone were the days of being surrounded by friends and the collaborative learning environment I had once enjoyed as a corporate trainer.

It probably shouldn’t have taken me two full weeks to start to question the sanity of quitting an awesome job, selling my house, and squeezing my growing family into a small, two-bedroom cinder block apartment. There was at least one red flag by day one.

When you opened up the main doors to enter the law school I attended, you were immediately greeted by a dark brick wall. Though a reliable receptionist, the school may have well hung a sign that said, “Abandon hope, all ye that enter.” That wall could be an accurate metaphor for the experience of many law students. 

That brick wall could have been a metaphor for me. But it wasn’t. I could have emerged from law school depressed and cynical. But I didn’t. 

Week three changed everything: It gave me a killer study group.

Forming the right team

One study group strategy is to team up with gunners. Gunners sometimes get a bad rap for holding the grip too tight, brown-nosing with professors, and other socially destructive behaviors.

There’s a sliding scale between the laziest students and craziest gunners. You don’t necessarily have to be a self-absorbed, ultra-competitive freak to be a gunner. Some gunners manage to be well-prepared and engage in class without damaging their reputation or relationships. 

Good gunners can come in handy when it comes to study groups. Well-prepared students can often explain things in a more digestible way than professors. This is probably because they recently walked the bridge between ignorance and competence. Professors may have a harder time remembering just how long that bridge can be.

You may be tempted to make a gunners-only study group (or at least a group where everyone else has to be a gunner. . . ). I can see how that approach may seem at least a little appealing, but it's shortsighted.

Gunners are good, in moderation

For starters, gunners are highly competitive and a study group where everyone is aggressively competing with each other, even if they're pretty nice about it, won't be much fun. 

A more important issue is that a gunners-only study group may lack diversity of personality types and approach. During law school, you'll likely learn about the prudent investor rule. Something prudent investors almost always do is diversify. Your study group is an investment. Make sure your portfolio of study group compadres is a good mix.

That's what I lucked into when I haphazardly approached several classmates about joining my study group. A couple of us were genuine gunners (and probably took law school a little too seriously), a couple probably could have taken law school a little more seriously, and a couple were somewhere in between. 

We balanced each other out. We kept each other sane. And we opened each other's eyes to fresh perspectives. 

Formula for study group success

The traditional mid-semester study group model is pretty simple: Study the assigned reading, then come together to discuss. (When finals come around, it looks a little different, but I want to focus this post on more of the day-to-day class preparation.)

There's nothing fundamentally flawed about the traditional study group formula. If you have the time for it. The problem is many law students don't have the time to carefully read every case on their own, let alone get together to talk hypotheticals and theory after. 

Being married with children, active in the community and in my religion, I personally had a hard time keeping up with the reading. Before my study group, I found myself often resorting to online case briefs, which left me feeling less confident and less prepared for class. I didn't want my study group to make my time management challenges even worse. I wanted to find a way to use my study group to save time, be more prepared, and have more fun than I would preparing on my own. 

The formula I came up with accomplished all of those things better than I anticipated.

Divide and conquer, return and report

Each week, we rotated who would be the "experts" for a given subject. We decided to have two experts at a time for each subject to create a bit of an internal auditing system or safety net. We rotated subjects to keep us all comfortable reading and analyzing cases across all subjects. 
When you were an "expert" for a subject, you would read very carefully and take thorough notes which you would post to a shared Google Drive folder. Then about 20 minutes right before each class that you were an expert in, you and the other expert would get together with the whole group and explain anything confusing and answer any questions the group might have. 
Being an expert took more time than preparing independently, but it resulted in more critical reading and better note-taking because you knew the others in your group were relying on you. As a little aside, I found this process to be helpful in preparing me to be an effective attorney after law school because any time I read a case, I was reading carefully with a client in mind (my study group).

Though being an "expert" in a subject took more time than typical preparation, being a "non-expert" in the other subjects saved more than enough time to compensate. 
When you were a non-expert for a subject, you could skip reading the case book entirely and just read through two sets of thorough notes the night before the class. That's what I usually did. It typically took only about 20-30 minutes to read through both sets of notes. I did it before bed, so that it would be easier to remember the following day. Then right before class, I would show up to my study group to enjoy whatever else I could learn from the experts. 

I was often surprised to find that many of the questions we discussed before class specifically came up during class. I always felt prepared and my professors had no clue when I hadn't "done the reading" (at least in the conventional sense).


The folks I recruited to my study group initially only committed to a two-week trial using the above-described method. After two weeks though, everyone enthusiastically wanted to continue and we even picked up another member. Though it made an odd number, we figured out a rotation that gave each of us a week "off" every so often (which helped us make time for papers and such). We followed the formula for two semesters straight.

One nice thing about the law school I attended is that you are in the same classes with many of the same students for the entire first year, which made this model work well. However, the model didn't work as well for my second and third years because everyone was taking different classes. Our first year, with only one or two exceptions, we performed better in terms of grades than we did during our second and third years. In other words, we generally outperformed ourselves academically when we worked together using the model above. And we saved time and had fun.

Lifelong benefits

Part of the value of a study group is the friendships you create. We still do BBQs and Christmas parties together. Most of us are heading up to Canada this summer to attend the wedding of one of the guys in our group. I consider the crew among my very best friends. 

Another part of the value of a study group is the professional network it eventually creates.  And here again, the more diverse, the better. One of us went to work for a huge firm in London. Another is working for the FBI. Another is a real estate broker. Another is working for a small firm. Another is working for a legal aid organization. Another is working for a mid-size firm and beginning a pivot into politics. Another is working for a tech company. And then there's me, who did a stint as an assistant attorney general in American Samoa, before founding a revolutionary law school study aid company and returning to work for my alma mater.

Figure out something that works for you

Though a study group makes sense for most students, it may not make the most sense for you. Also, if you do form a study group, the type of study group I described may not be the Holy Grail for you, like it was for me. Your circumstances may be different than mine were. Your law school path is your own and I only hope that you walk away from reading this with some fresh ideas about study groups and how you might make the most of them.

About the author: Adam Balinski graduated summa cum laude from BYU Law and scored in the top 5% nationally on the Uniform Bar Exam. He founded Crushendo, the leading audio-based bar prep and law school study aid solution, and is currently writing a book called, “The Law School Cheat Code: Everything You Never Knew You Needed to Know About Crushing Law School.”