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Tips to law students on how to effectively manage time

published September 15, 2004

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Here are some time management tips, by and for law students, on how to manage the pace and style of school in a way that keeps your sanity and schedule intact:

Stay Balanced. Try not to change your lifestyle from your pre-law days any more than you have to. If you have some sort of activity outside of the law school, don't drop it. If you work out regularly, still do. If you like to read, and still want to like to read, read outside books. Make time for the things you enjoy, even if it means skimping on some "required" reading, or (gasp) missing a class.

"My time management tip is to not go to class," said Matt George, a rising 3L at Michigan Law. "That way you get all the free time you want! And you can study at your leisure."

Sarah Rosenberg, a rising 2L at New York University College of Law, has more responsible advice. "Use a planner, and share outlines with your friends," she said. "It's cheesy, but it works. Also, drink lots of caffeine."

"I just make sure I have enough time blocked for everything," said Brian Jaye, a rising 3L at The University of Detroit Law School. "And I still make sure I go to the gym and go out drinking. I feel comfortable studying for 12 hours then going out for a few more hours… but maybe I'm crazy."

He's not. But he has a good point. Which is:

When You Work, Actually Do Work. It's important to follow the old gym axiom "When you play, play hard. And when you work, don't play." Prioritize your errands and school assignments and focus as much on your work as possible as you're doing it. Take care of little tasks as soon as they come up. Pay your bills the same day they come in, reply to e-mails as you see them. Keep your room clean. Think of this time in your life as one in which your time and attention are scarce, valuable resources. Don't waste them.

Warn Your Friends. If you're the kind of person who has a cell phone full of numbers and minutes, you're going to want to let people know that you're going away for a while. Do this as positively as possible. You are going to have your nose buried in a book and your cell phone won't go over so well in the library - to say nothing of the new friends you're going to make and see on a daily basis. Tell your friends it's not quantity, but quality. Find new ways to communicate that take up less time and give you the most bang for your buck. Start a blog. Send out mass e-mails with how you're doing. But don't forget to call your mother, still. She misses you.

Get Help. Most of you in law school are smarties who've been tutors but never been tutored. You used to be the master; guess what, Obi-Wan, now you're the student. Don't waste five hours re-reading your Contracts assignments in an attempt to master the material. Most schools offer it at little or no cost. Just do it. Feel no shame in that game. Trust us. We know. Contracts is hard! And your pride is another one of those things you don't have time for anymore.

R-E-L-A-X. "Everyone tells you, in law school, that if you don't get 'X' grade or end up on 'Y' student organization, you'll never get 'Z' job," said Peter Cunniffe, a recent Michigan Law grad. "It's not true, but everyone tells you that."

What Peter means is: don't believe the hype. It's easy to compare yourself with the other students in your section (you have the same classes at the same times, hang out at the same places, and so on) but it's a mistake to compare yourself to anyone else too closely. Play your own game. Pay attention to the study habits and schedule-managing behavior of the people around you - learn from them - but don't get too caught up in the battle-of-who-works-hardest. Absorb the material at your own pace, manage your social and scholastic life in a way that makes you feel comfortable, and you'll get the results you want. Don't look over your shoulder so much you lose sight of where you're going or how to get there. Its advice that's obvious to the point of being rhetorical, but it's also very easy to forget.

And Finally: It's Going to be Okay. Law school isn't easy, but thousands of people do it each year. Most of them make it through with sanity intact. Don't take it too seriously. You may be spending a frightening amount of time in the library… but it's not that bad. Right?