Yesterday my contract professor took ten minutes to give us his so-called “fatherly” lecture. Having taught for 40 or so years, he said he knows six weeks in is the time in the semester students start to hit the peak anxiety level. I guess 40 years has really allowed him to nail this one down, because I’m definitely feeling the pressure, and I think that is the truth with a lot of my classmates. So, for the benefit of other 1Ls or prospective law students who may read this, I will pass on the advice. I found it helpful.
1) Keep in mind that law school is like learning a new language. First, you just learn some vocabulary and grammar. Most people do pretty well with reading and writing when they study language in a classroom setting. Then one day you encounter someone who speaks this foreign language, and you realize, you don’t understand anything, it doesn’t make any sense, and you feel like a failure, a let-down, an idiot, etc. And you panic. (That’s where we are now, in the analogy). But at some time during the process of learning a language, you realize you do understand, and it’s usually like a light bulb turning on. According to Prof. Contracts, that light bulb tends to flip on sometime in the month of November. So, depending on the person, you’ve got 3-7 more weeks of utter mental struggle ahead.
As an aside, I really like this analogy. I lived in China for a year, and during that year I totally had the increasing struggle, followed by the light bulb moment when I started to understand conversations in regular society. Once the light bulb came on my learning was significantly faster and much less stressful.
2) When studying, focus on quality, not quantity. Sacrificing adequate sleep for studying is not helpful. Spending 12 hours in the library, reading and reading and reading, hoping to understand – probably not going to work. At some point, you aren’t absorbing anything you are reading. If you are confused, talk through it with some classmates.
3) When outlining, don’t make a list. Prof. Contracts is really big on the outline process. He believes it is the most important learning tool for the semester. But he cautions against having a huge (like 100-page) outline for an exam. The best outlines are much, much shorter. They show how the rules work together with the principles, but they are not a restating of a semester’s worth of notes.