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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Lonliness of the Long Distance Law Student: Do "Study Groups" Work or Not? - Your Call

All right, so I changed it a little 



Prior to attended Georgetown Law, I had been a high school teacher for seven years. As a teacher, I had always tried to engage students in lively discussions and dialogues. I felt that an important vehicle for learning was the exchange of ideas in a lively forum atmosphere. 

It was with this background and thinking that I entered law school. As far as the "study group" concept, I had hoped to participate in a dynamic and innovative study group that would always be "ahead of the curve" in its thinking - perhaps all four of us would reconvene as members of the U.S. Supreme Court someday in the future! . . 

Alas, that was simply not to be. Our group truly "sucked" (not to worry, I will not use that word in a brief!). The group actually spent most of the time "chit-chatting" about current events. By the time we were ready to talk about our courses, it was time to move on to the next class, or whatever. We eventually disbanded like a sports franchise with no fan base. 

Afterwards, I studied, for the most part, by myself. I did fairly well (some students can indeed do it by themselves, but it is a small group indeed). However, I was nowhere near the top tier of my class. As a 3L, I was taking a year-long Criminal Justice Clinic and did not have the full load of classes that some of the others in my class had, but still had some fairly demanding classes on my schedule: Federal Systems (with a professor that made me feel like he was speaking a foreign language); and, Family Law taught by a demanding professor and eventual law school Dean (Judith Areen for you Georgetown types).

I felt that it was time to "buckle up" and do the study group "thing" again. This time around the students in the group were actual friends that I had made since my 1L year. Moreover, we were all fairly responsible, focused, and well organized. We wasted little time and went through the material with a vengeance. It was a very productive experience for me and -- with the group's help -- I was able to win a "prize" (a summer long internship with family law attorney, Arnie Becker from "L.A. Law")  for the highest grade
in my Family Law final.

A study group eventually worked for me. . but does it work for you? Maybe, maybe not.  Here's my take: 

Law school is way different from undergraduate studies. There is an analytical component that most students have yet to see in their academic careers. A student not only has to learn difficult principles, but then need to apply said principles to a specific set of facts -- real life, if you would. 

Whether it be a formal study group like the ones I've described here that meets on a regular (or irregular) basis, or just a tried and true study partner, a student needs to sit down and exchange the very ideas that are discussed in the classroom. For me anyway, there was no way I could possibly understand everything that a professor went over in class. I always needed to grab at least one person and ask, "What was the professor talking about there?"   

Thus, I urge all law students to define the "study group" concept in a way that best works for them, but have a regular and consistent way to exchange legal concepts with other students and/or professors.

Like what? 

  • A formal study group meeting weekly, bi-weekly, or as needed (as defined by the group) that have set assignments and group presentations;
  • "Tres Amigos (o dos) - just an informal group of students that meets for specific courses and reviews and studies in a more informal manner;
  • "Buddy System" (remember those days in away-from-home camp?) - a good law school friend and/or trusted colleague who will look after you (and you him/her) when you get in "deep water" in a course and are having trouble swimming;
  • the class assigned student tutor -- meet with him/her and let them know that you need some help;
  • a trusted upperclassman who knows the ropes;
  • and yes -- never forget the PROFESSOR  
     
    No not this guy -- Lord no! I mean your classroom professor








    Your professors are there to assist you - no matter how it seems. Take advantage of their off hours expertise -- either online, or in their offices. Memorize their student hours (or have them handy). One of the professors here told a group of students at the beginning of the year: "If you wait till the end of the semester to ask for help -- it's TOO LATE!"  
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After this round of exams that's up and coming, do some personal reflection: Ask yourself if your study group (or lack thereof) helped or hindered you during the semester. Make whatever adjustments you need to make for the upcoming Spring semester and get running -- but DON'T DO IT ALONE! 


. . P.S. What other study group configurations worked  for you this semester. What are the keys to good study habits (or if you are not a law student -- what would you suggest for students). Please let me know in a comment below. 

Good studying and much success!



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