Time Management

When you think about law school, you should be thinking about problem-solving and learning the legal analytic way to solve those problems. However, one of the first problems you might face is having enough time to learn legal analysis, to complete your readings, to write your assignments.

So, wouldn't it be great if we had unlimited amounts of time?

General wisdom within the law school ranks states that there is a four to one ratio of study and preparation time for every hour in a classroom in law school. While an undergraduate, you probably spent two hours for every hour in class. Now it's different - law school study and preparation should add up to sixty hours a week to your already hectic life.

Now do I mention this to make you work harder?

Well, while you will become more efficient as you continue through the year, you do need to be prepared to spend considerable amounts of time in order to succeed in school. However, my main purpose is to encourage you to think about time management - which after all really means "hands on control" - of your law school career.

So don't panic - even if you do spend 15 hours in class and 45 hours studying law - and even if you sleep 56 hours a week - you still have 52 hours a week for life!!! (which I might add is 30% more than the average work week.) However, whether you do find sufficient time to do everything you need to do, is dependent on three things:

  • Knowing when you work/study best
  • Planning ahead
  • Using your time well and committing to get the work finished

So this means schedules.

In general, schedules provided you with the specific knowledge that you are either ahead of schedule and in great shape, or on schedule and in good shape, or behind schedule and in trouble! In much the same way as the person facing large credit card debts generally gets there by small purchases - a dollar here, twenty there, a person who finds himself behind in studying and preparation generally gets there by wasting ten minutes here, an hour there, and an afternoon there. The best way to avoid that pattern is to make a schedule. So note that most days you have at least an hour between classes - take a hard look at that time and ask yourself what you do with it. As a suggestion, most of your briefing/reading should be finished b/f school begins. So why not take the time after contracts to first go back over that class' notes and review/synthesize and/or go over the briefs for the next class. Doing either or both puts you ahead of the game: you will be able to either shorten the outlining/synthesizing into rule time, or you will feel like you know what you are talking about in your next class (and therefore take better notes, which leads you to better synthesizing, etc).

So do you do relatively easy review of briefs between classes, or initial prep for the next day, or do you really get down to hard thinking during these breaks? It depends on your body clock. Ask yourself when you work the best. Decide what kind of person you are. Early person? Use those daytime hours to the full extent you can! On the other hand, if you can't study past 9 p.m. on most days, don't schedule yourself to 11 p.m. each night for "outlining and synthesizing" because it won't be worth it. Study time refers to productive preparation, reading and review - not simply staring at a book. So, for the early birds, maybe you want to get up early and study - and hit the gym later in the evening when your brain is tired.

The same applies for those who can barely make an 8:00 a.m. class - don't count on reading those cases in any meaningful way before that first class. You might like to get relatively simple tasks out of the way in the morning: do review, do preliminary LRW task, go to the gym, etc. This reflection on your body clock may require you to alter the above schedule to save your prime times for study. So you might be the person who really starts thinking well after dinner. Go with that time - but make sure you remember that you still have early classes.

Also be leery of marathon study sessions -

You may think reading, reviewing and studying from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday is a great way to go, allowing you to make up for totally blowing off Friday. Wait! Think about it. If you are finished with classes by noon or 1 p.m. on Friday, you can still do initial reading and some early drafting for your legal research and writing (which requires a decent block of time) and still have time to go to dinner and a movie. Or, you can do the LRW, followed by reviewing your notes in Contracts and Property and still have time for the 8:00 p.m. show! And let's be realistic - depending on what you did the night before, you may not be prepared to study at 10 a.m. The upshot is that you need to study productively in reasonable blocks of time.

And that means you need to know how to say "no."

If someone wants to play 18 holes of golf and you aren't ready for that study group - say "no." If you eat lunch as a group - and others want to linger until the 3:00 p.m. class - and you need to review for class - say "no." Saying "no" is not always fun - but in order to minimize stress, you need to limit your activities during these critical first semesters.

Second, you need to plan ahead. Ideally, you should review the academic calendar and record all the usual holidays, school breaks, changes of class days, etc. Note when you may be traveling home or celebrating a family birthday. Be realistic - you won't study for eight hours on your birthday if traditionally your friends or family take you out to dinner.

Then take out your exam schedule and mark all the exam dates.

Likewise look at your syllabi for all classes and check when legal writing papers are due (including drafts). Working from those dates, determine a schedule for writing the first, second, third draft, as well as factoring in meetings with teaching assistants and your professors. Realistically on weeks when you have research or writing assignments due, you will need to study and otherwise prepare for your courses differently. So get ahead during the weeks you do not have significant writing responsibilities. Likewise, note when midterms or practice exams (if any) are scheduled. You will need to make sure those course outlines are sufficiently prepared to use in your studying. Therefore you will need to perhaps start those outlines sooner - or at least work harder on them in the weeks prior to the midterm/practice exam.

This semester schedule is not filled with minutia.

Rather it is only your reference for completing a weekly schedule. The semester schedule will simply allow you to see the big picture and make sure you start projects at a reasonable point. Again the goal is to provide balance so that you recognize that one week will be considered a heavy "legal writing" week, while another may be the week to concentrate on contracts or torts. Overall, however, you will cover all courses.

Now turn you attention to this upcoming week.

Block out your classes, set appointments, meals, sleep, etc., so that you can clearly see the remaining free time. The weekly schedule is the best method for flagging important upcoming events (draft due on Friday at noon; study group discussion on adverse possession on Wednesday at 4 p.m.). Try to keep some flexibility for unexpected events - yet structured sufficiently so that you get your studying finished.

Before you go to sleep each night, ask yourself the two or three things you must accomplish the next day.

Write them down in order of importance, followed by a few more things you need to do that day. Look at your calendar, note when you can accomplish the most important tasks (and be liberal in estimating the time). Only after the critical tasks are completed should you find time for the less important tasks. Try to use your most productive times for the tasks that need the most concentration. The next day, do them as stated, completing them before moving to the less critical items. Be realistic: if you must buy a birthday present for your /spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend- do it (quickly) during the time you are least productive. Thinking you need to do something, but refusing to find time for it is a sure trip to stress, and an impediment to studying and preparing for class. Likewise block sufficient time so that you can complete the essentials - if that writing draft is due the next day, give yourself the time to do one last, concentrated edit (for we all know that you never wait until the last day to write a paper!). You may also need sufficient time to outline the section on subject matter jurisdiction - so don't try to accomplish that between contracts and property. Use short periods of time for reviewing your class notes or case briefs, setting up appointments with the professors or TA's, or otherwise dealing with specific legal questions.

Finally, time management means that your study time is actually productive. So have a goal when you study. Don't tell yourself that you are "going to study contracts for the next two hours." If you stare at that page for two hours, you can tell yourself that you accomplished your goal. Instead, try deciding what you are going to accomplish specifically and in concrete terms during that period of time. Rather than the ambiguous "study for two hours" try, "In the next two hours, I will review my notes until I can define mensrea and how certain factors effect the concept of that term." Even if you aren't finished in two hours - you will know what you know - and what you don't. And unfortunately, for some students, they don't even know what they don't know - because they never were specific about their study habits.

Ultimately, time management relies on discipline.

But discipline also requires that you allow yourself rewards. One students who sticks to a schedule to get her work done made two very good suggestions that I would like to pass on:

  1. Multitask when you can - if you decide to reward yourself with some television - organize your notes, copy some information that doesn't require your full attention, organize your address book, iron your clothes - but do a few things at a time.
  2. Reward yourself each day for getting through the tough stuff. Take a break to read the comics - or call your best friend - or have someone give you a massage. During that reward time - just enjoy.

Finally, a few of my suggestions:

  1. Routine is important - but don't be surprised if you don't always succeed. While you need to stick to schedules, and weekly and daily to-do lists, things happen. So if you fail during one day, simply start again. Remember, trying to cram all the information during the last few weeks is stressful, unhealthy, and almost always a strategic mistake. Gradual review and learning is more effective and allows you an opportunity to reflect upon what you are learning.
  2. However, to maximize your chances of success, think about engaging in weekly monitoring of your goals: Are you being efficient? What modifications do you need to make?
  3. Likewise, build in breaks - don't make your schedule so crammed that burn-out is inevitable: this is a marathon, not a sprint. So make those breaks, meaningful, energizing (the gym!) and realistic. Try to make the longer breaks coincide with your body's down time.
  4. Have focused goals so that you know where you are in understanding the law of a particular class.
  5. So remember the old adage: plan your work and work your plan! If you follow a schedule, critical thinking will then occur - and you have found the time to do it.

copyright 2009 Joyce Savio Herleth