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Tips for 2011

December 30th, 2010 1 comment

After another semester of rigorous law school coursework, I thought I would share some insights for you future law school stars. 

1.  Start studying for exams the first week of school.
It may sound outrageous, but the most successful law students are the ones who take copious notes and begin outlining as early as possible… even during the first week of classes.  Law school is unlike any other academic endeavor you have encountered thus far.  Cram sessions in college just plain do not work here.  Start studying early!

2.  Get outlines from 2Ls, 3Ls, and 4Ls.
Law school is hard enough.  Do not reinvent the wheel.  Get outlines from upperclassmen who have taken your professors.  These outlines are NOT a substitute for creating your own, but they are a good way for you to make sure you’re on the right track. 

3.  Maintain a regular sleep schedule.
Sleep is your secret weapon.  To do well in law school, you must make long-term memories of what you learn.  Research consistently shows that the only way what you study can transfer from short-term memory to long-term memory is through adequate sleep.  

4.  Maintain a regular workout schedule.
If you work out already, keep up your routine.  If you don’t work out regularly, start!  You will be sitting for hours upon hours doing your work.  Regular exercise helps battle the bulge you will likely face from your new sedentary lifestyle.  Besides, it’s a great way to reduce stress.

5.  Eat healthy.
This should be self-explanatory.  Your brain needs fuel to function at maximum capacity.  Avoid the temptation to eat junk food.  

Good habits will make law school much more doable.  These tips worked for me, and I hope they work for you, too.  Best of luck to each of you in the New Year!

You know you're a law student when…

So I wake up from a nap on the couch yesterday, and my mom says, “Jana, you were talking in your sleep again.”  What does she mean by “again”?  I talk in my sleep? I asked her, “What did I say?”  My mom responds, “Oh, the usual.  You kept saying, ‘I am almost finished the outline.  I just need to do this and this…’”

“Outlining” is that critically important skill you must learn if you want to survive your final exams.  You know you’re a law student when you dream about outlining on your summer vacation!  Unbelievable.

Avoiding red lights

Yesterday morning I was driving to my first day of my new job in downtown Wilmington.  A small-town girl at heart, I could already tell that driving in the city would not become a favorite pastime.  However, while sitting at the second of the nine red lights I would encounter that morning, I realized that sitting in traffic is metaphoric of an approach to life that makes us “hurry up and wait.” We spend a significant amount of time waiting around with other people who “hurried,” just like us, only to spend time waiting, just like us.  That waiting time can be fruitful during your law school career.  Using it to your advantage can set you apart from the rest of the traffic.

Here’s what I mean… law students have only three or four years to transition from college graduate to competent attorney.  In a field that requires excellence to succeed, those few years in school are priceless.  So, before starting your first year, make as many possible law school plans as you can.  You do not have to adhere to any of them, but the planning process will make you aware of the opportunities available to you.  Wouldn’t you like to spend the summer after your first year studying in Kenya or Australia so that the following summer you can get an internship at home and begin making a name for yourself?  By thinking of your options before you have to decide whether to use them, you give yourself the luxury of the freedom to do more with your time.  Instead of planning what to do for red light number 7 while at red light number 2, you should be planning a different route that avoids unnecessary red lights and delays.  Make a list of “things-to-do-before-I-become-a-grownup-lawyer”!

The summer before my first year at the best law school ever (Widener, of course), I began doing some research on public interest programs available at my new school.  At the club fair, I signed up at as many club and organization tables that I could.  I spent the next few weeks going to their meetings, and deciding what to commit to and what to cut from my schedule.  I asked 3Ls for their advice on how to survive my first year and thrive in all the opportunities Widener had to offer.  I’m not sharing this with you to brag.  But when listening to 2Ls, 3Ls, and 4Ls, don’t just learn from their mistakes.  Learn from their successes as well.  Learn how to make your law school lifetime as engaging as you can.

I will never be a fan of inner-city driving, but I know that using my law school time wisely has given me the opportunity to wait at a few literal traffic lights while avoiding some figurative ones as I drove to my first-choice jobs last summer and this summer.  Future law students, learn from this success.

(Oh, and I will probably share a mistake or two in a later post).  ; )

Homework already?

Hi everyone!  I hope you enjoyed the holidays as much as I did.  I just moved back on campus and finished my first assignments.  (Yes, law students have homework before classes even start).  I had to read about 90 pages worth of cases on Criminal Law, Property, and Business Organizations (aka “biz-org” for those of you seeking to expand your law student slang vocabulary).

I am sharing my 90 page assignment, not to scare you, but to encourage you.  Before the beginning of my first year, it took me days to finish my first assignments.  Now, it took only hours to finish.  Law school is tough, but it gets better.  Do not be dissuaded from joining the most noble profession out of fear of the workload.  If you stick with it, the assignments will change from burdensome to exciting.  Really, I’m serious.  Law school and the legal field are exciting–especially if you have the privilege to be a Widener law student.

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

“… With the kids jingle belling / And everyone telling you ‘Be of good cheer’ / It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

Even if you are not as enthused about final examinations as you are about, say, Aunt Gigi’s fruitcake, one thing is for sure: when exams are over, it really is the most wonderful time of the year.

This time last year, I had just woken up from a 2-day “nap” after my last final examination.  I thought back that it was just one year beforehand when I had received my acceptance letter from Widener (click here for a funny story on video).  I remember smiling that the bookends of the year (my birthday in December) marked my acceptance to my first-choice law school and my completion of what would probably be the most difficult semester of my law school career.

Predictably, the thought of months of hard work being represented by a single exam is sobering (terrifying?).  Just as predictable is the sense of relief and joy we all feel when we leave the exam room.  What you should remember if you enroll at Widener (or any of the other 200-some law schools of lesser caliber), is this: Don’t let the stress of the season of final exams take away the joy of the holiday season.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you!

November is a lifestyle

Hello Prospective Widener Law Students!  I suppose an update is in order?

Last night, I had the rare opportunity to eat out at a restaurant with a very close 1L friend (as opposed to eating a microwavable TV dinner as I read the next day’s Evidence cases).  She has been feeling the workload steadily and disproportionately increase over the last two months.  It occurred to me—that’s what every law student feels during the month of November.  In fact, when you’re in law school, November is not a month.  It is a lifestyle.  You learn that staying up to date is critical if you are to do well on the final exams.  You learn that looking great in class is far less important than having great exam scores.  You make sacrifices.

The upside is the rewards that come from those sacrifices.  Doing well my first year landed me my first-choice internship last summer.  Last week I got a call from my boss from that internship.  He wanted to know if I was “interested” in doing some research for a couple criminal cases coming up in the next few weeks.  (Jana says to self: Yes!  Whoopee!  That’s fanfrickintastic! Jana says to boss: “Yes, sir, I would be happy to help”).  Making sacrifices my first year helped me do well on my final exams, which helped me get a great internship with a great boss, who now wants me to do research for him (and his colleagues).  When you become a law student, there is no greater compliment.

So, to all of you who are wondering what law students do in November, here is the answer: we continue to work hard, sacrificing decent food and fun, so that we can get the rewards of our hard work.  We live like law students now so that we can live like lawyers later.

Transition from first year to second year

There is an old adage: “The first year, they scare you to death.  The second year, they work you to death.  The third year, they bore you to death.”  As an extended division student who will complete law school in a total of four years, I suppose that there are some necessary recalculations.   Even so, I’m not entirely sure how accurate that saying is.  My first year was a blast!  Don’t get me wrong, law school is quite an undertaking; but the challenges are rewarding.  While there were times that the workload was overwhelming, there was one thing that did not change—my love and passion for the law.
As a beginning second-year law student (aka “2L”), I can already see the changes in my approach to school work, networking, etc.  So, here are some tips from a former 1L to remember when you start your law school career.

  1. Visit your professors during their office hours.  YOU are the reason they have office hours in the first place.  Take advantage of it!
  2. Figure out your saturation point.  How long can you go, without stopping, and still be productive?  Do you need 10 minutes for every 2 hours of studying?  What about long term?  I could stay on campus for two weeks straight.  But as soon as Day 14 rolled around, I had to roll out.
  3. Make friends with the office secretaries, security guards, and other campus staff.  Their work is invaluable in keeping our campus going, not to mention that you will appreciate a smiling face when your open memo is due.
  4. Eat breakfast, wear comfortable shoes, and dress in layers.  If your professor lets you, you should bring a snack to class, too.  It will help you stay awake when discussing the relationship between personal jurisdiction, subject matter jurisdiction and venue.
  5. Make friends with 2Ls, 3Ls, and 4Ls.  They can give you the inside scoop.

If you are reading this blog, by the way, you clearly have good taste in law schools.   As someone who applied to almost every law school on the east coast, I can say with confidence that there is no school that comes close to the high standards of excellence and the friendly campus atmosphere that Widener Law embodies.  (This is why Widener was my first choice).  If you are lucky enough to be accepted, you should enroll immediately.  It will be one of the best decisions of your life.

Jana DiCosmo, 2L