Chapter 03: The Power of Mindset in Law School – Part 2

Last month we began our discussion about maintaining a positive mindset in law school and the importance of knowing the true purpose of law school. That first tip was a doozy.1So much so that I pushed the word limit on my post. Today we focus on a few tips that you can implement while you are in your first year of law school to help refocus your mindset and get the most out of your studying.

  1. See last post 
  2. There is more than one way to learn, so find your preferred learning style: Up until recently, the predominant belief in law school was that the best way to study is to make an outline2An outline is a shortened version of the law that you create over a semester by using the cases you read to synthesize the rules that come from each case for any given class. It is very personal and unique to you, so not every outline will look alike or have the same exact detail. of the black letter law,3Black letter laws are the general legal rules that you painstakingly try to decipher from all the cases you read in each class. For example, you will learn in Torts that Negligence is made up of 4 basic elements: Duty, Breach of Duty, Actual and Proximate Causation, and Damages. That is the black letter law or the standard rule of Negligence. However, a professor will not just come out and say this, you will have to learn this simple black letter law from reading several cases that may take a few readings to understand then develop this yourself. You then put this black letter law into an outline so that you can study for final exams. sit down and try to memorize that outline, then try to remember that outline and apply that law as you read through a completely different set of facts on your final exam. But that is not the only way to study and may not be the most effective way to study for law exams (or any exams for that matter). There are many of you that may find it hard to sit down and just read something over and over in the hopes that it will stick and you will memorize it. That is because type of studying will usually work for a student who prefers to learn through reading and writing, but that may not be your preferred learning style. Instead of reading/writing, you may be a visual learner (ie-you learn by seeing). Or an auditory learner (you learn by hearing or talking through a topic). Or a kinesthetic learner (you learn by actively doing something while studying). Or you may even be a mix of several learning styles. The point is that you may not have been studying to your potential or as effective as you can because you are not studying in your preferred style.
    Not sure what your preferred learning style is? Now is the time to figure it out so you can tailor your studying in law school to this style. A great place to start is by taking a learning styles quiz. A learning styles quiz is a short survey you can take online that will help define your preferred learning style.4We like to use the VARK test which can be found here: Find that out now so you can start to use it in law school. I will get into more of the specifics of how to use your scores on this test in law school to effectively outline and study the law in future posts.
  3. Take breaks: Raise your hand if you do not think you will have time for a break in law school because you barely have time now. All hands raised? I figured. Well, you are the exact people that will NEED to make a conscious effort to take a break. Despite what you may hear, no human is built to go to class, then study for 10-12 hours a day, then sleep 1-3 hours every night, then wake up and do it all again. This can lead to a very real thing called “law school burn out.” If you reach that point, no matter how well you know the law, how much you studied, or how good your outlines are, you may not be able to physically handle your final exam. 

If you want to do well in law school, that means you must also know your limitations. I promise you that there will be enough time for a break and you must work that break into your daily schedule. Even give yourself a night out to have fun. Yes, you may feel guilty because you think you should be studying, but that is normal. Most law students feel like they need to be studying 24/7 in order to stay ahead of the curve, but you will not physically be able to handle that. So take a break and enjoy the break. Go out for a walk. Do yoga. Watch a crappy TV show. Sit and stare at a wall. But whatever you do, try not to think about the law at all during this break.  That being said, you should not be taking extensive breaks all day and getting no work done. There has to be a happy balance between the breaks and studying. But the ability to give yourself the permission to take that break, that is a game changer. 


More to come next month…


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    Meet the Author
    Stephen Iannacone is Director of Academic Success at Cardozo School of Law and a Bar Exam Coach at Vinco. Prior to joining Cardozo School of Law, Stephen was a trial attorney at the law firm of Spiegel & Barbato, LLP. He specialized in civil litigation in all New York venues and argued several appeals in the First Department. He was also an adjunct professor at Pace Law School where he taught classes to third-year students preparing for the Bar Exam as well as classes to second-year students focusing on legal writing and analysis. Read more about Stephen >