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Discipline is Key to Law School Success

Guest blogger - Professor Jeremy Counseller

I’m sure you’ve heard this maxim by now--the Best Belong at Baylor.  But what does that mean, exactly?  Well, it means different things at different times.  Right now, as a law school applicant, you’re thinking that “best” has everything to do with what law schools want to see in your application—things like your GPA, LSAT score, personal statement, work experience, community service, and undergraduate extra-curricular activities.  But once you’re in law school, the slate is wiped clean.  Your personal statement and work history become no more than fodder for get-to-know-you chit chat at a party with law school friends, and if you brag about your GPA or your LSAT score at that party, it will probably be the last party you’re invited to attend. 

So what does it mean to be the best once you’re attending Baylor Law School?  There’s no single talent or trait that explains law school success.  Intelligence and hard work are critical, of course, but, in my experience, Baylor law students are all smart and “gung-ho.”  In fact, we only admit you in the first place because we think those things are true about you.  So being an outstanding law student can’t be the result of intelligence and hard work alone. 

I think discipline is the key.  Working hard is good, but being disciplined enough to work smart will maximize the chances that you perform up to your full potential.    Here are a few tips to help you work hard and smart. 

First, make review of what you’ve already covered in class a regular feature of your study schedule.  Too many law students focus only on the next day’s assignment.  The problem with this approach is that, while you’ll always be prepared for class, you won’t be prepared for the test because, by not reviewing, you are forgetting information at a faster clip than you’re learning it.  Here’s my suggestion.  Of course you must read and brief the reading assignment for each day’s class.  But don’t stop there.  Each morning, review your notes and briefs for that day’s classes.  Each afternoon, review the notes you took in class that day.  At the end of each week (Friday afternoons are great for this), organize that week’s material into an outline.  You’ll continue adding to your outline at each week’s end throughout the quarter.  Using this method, you’ll have studied the material at least five times before you ever start studying for finals—once when you read and brief the material, again when you review your notes before class, again in class, again after class, and again at the end of the week.  The best part is that at the end of the quarter, you will have already finished constructing the most valuable tool for law school test preparation—your outline. 

Second, be fully engaged in the classroom.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen students yawning or staring up at the ceiling while I’m telling them how to solve a legal problem that I know will be on the test.  I’m giving them the answer!  And they are asleep at the switch.  Your most valuable study time is class time.  Don’t breathe a sigh of relief and put your brain on standby just because you’re not the one called on to recite a case that day.  Listen to the lecture and, when the professor asks another student a question, think about how you’d answer it. For the most part, law school instructors don’t try to hide the ball.  Don’t get me wrong.  The ball is often hard to see, but instructors try to show you the ball, not hide it.  Also, by paying attention in class, you get a good idea of what information is most important and most likely to be emphasized on a test.  The instructor tells you what’s most important, either expressly or impliedly by what he or she focuses on.  For example, if you spend three weeks on jurisdiction in Civil Procedure, I’d say it’s a pretty good bet you’ll see that topic on the exam. 

Third, use study groups wisely.  I think law students waste a lot of time in study groups. I see a lot of study group sessions devolve into nothing more than chat sessions.  Studying the law is difficult, and I think the study group is often just a tool to make everybody feel better about their grasp of the material, rather than a tool to help anybody understand the material.  Study groups can be an effective preparation tool, but only when used properly.  Study group sessions should be short (no more than an hour or so) and should be focused on a particular goal, such as comparing your answers to practice questions or making sure your understanding of the material is accurate.  There is simply no substitute for struggling with the material alone.   

If you can be disciplined enough to work smart, you will maximize your potential in law school.  Review regularly, be fully engaged in class, and don’t use study groups as a substitute for struggling with the material alone. 

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