Take a Step Back and Reflect on Your Skills

Vol. 42 No. 9

By

Amy L. Jarmon, assistant dean for academic success programs at Texas Tech University School of Law, is a professor and coeditor of the Law School Academic Support Blog. She is the author of Time and Workplace Management for Lawyers which is published by the American Bar Association.

As another semester winds down, some law students will graduate and begin bar review. Rising 2L and 3L students will head for summer jobs, summer school, or study abroad. Now is an ideal time to step back from your academics and consider the important skills that you have learned. Those skills will assist you this summer.

Bar studiers can maximize the skills they already have. Graduates who took law school learning seriously should have the necessary skills to pass the bar on the first attempt. If they continue to work diligently in the coming weeks as they review legal concepts and complete practice opportunities, they will use their previously acquired skills to increase their scores and decrease their stress.

Much of the legal knowledge for the bar subjects will already be stored in long-term memory for those graduates who actively pursued understanding and application of the law during their coursework. Concepts should return quickly with review for these bar studiers. Graduates who crammed and, as a result, did not retain information will have to relearn concepts. If they carefully distribute their studying throughout the entire bar review, they should find the extra time for this relearning.

A poor grade in a law school course is an indicator that more time should be spent reviewing for the corresponding bar exam subject. By evaluating strengths and honestly assessing weaknesses, bar studiers can focus on correcting specific deficiencies rather than become paralyzed by a past bad experience. Graduates may have never taken a law school course for some subjects. They need to recognize that their successful study skills from prior courses will translate to success in learning the new bar subjects even with the short timeframe.

In law school, students regularly condensed massive amounts of information to the essentials for solving new legal problems. Applying that information through practice questions cemented the concepts and increased exam-taking skills. It taught you important skills like how to approach questions, conduct in-depth analysis, draft concise essay answers, and choose the best multiple-choice answers. These same skills can be modified for the bar exam’s specific multiple-choice and essay formats. The bar review courses will help graduates apply their prior skills to these testing situations.

Law students who practiced good time management during law school will now use their self-discipline to maximize learning and alleviate stress during bar review. Each bar review course provides a general study schedule. Law students accustomed to distributing their time among multiple courses and a variety of study tasks will easily modify the general schedule to account for their own unique study needs in the various subject areas. The skill of pacing one’s learning throughout a semester translates to pacing one’s study throughout bar review. Graduates who practiced good sleep, exercise, and nutrition routines during law school will carry those advantages into bar study. Stress management skills from three years of law study can be relied on again in bar review.

Rising 2L and 3L students can use their skills in their summer workplaces. Summer legal employment will provide many opportunities to use and improve law school skills. Prior time management skills will be used to juggle assignments from more than one attorney at a time. Among assigning attorneys there may be different requirements or formats for the same type of assignment. Varying levels of guidance during projects and competing deadlines will hone skills further.

Those students who learned to research efficiently and effectively will adapt easily to new research challenges. Students will not have had prior coursework for some of the legal specialties in their research. Research assignments will require sources totally unfamiliar to the student. Some firms may expect manual research rather than electronic research. Students will need to use their prior research experiences to guide them and to learn quickly when to seek assistance.

Students who have honed their skills in reading and briefing cases will handle the extensive amount of research material effectively as they analyze each case. They will also depend on their skills in interpreting and applying code sections. Their synthesis skills from law school will assist them in condensing potential materials to those that pertain directly to the research question. If you think that your synthesis and research skills need help, then you should review legal research and writing texts. Statutory interpretation skills can be reinforced through study aids that summarize the basic tenets.

These employed students will expand their basic writing skills to new types of legal work through a variety of drafting and writing assignments: motions, affidavits, interrogatories, memoranda, and client letters. Skills carried over from law school writing assignments will assist them in organizing these new writing projects. Their editing skills will also be put to the test. Students who feel weak in these areas will want to reference legal writing texts and style manuals for lawyers.

Professionalism will be essential to summer success. Students who have practiced professional communications with faculty and staff, met their assignment deadlines, known when to ask professors questions, and managed their school and personal responsibilities competently will have little trouble adapting to the workplace. Their employers expect professional telephone and e-mail communication, assignment prioritization, diligence in meeting deadlines, respectful behavior toward staff, and good organizational skills.

Study abroad and summer school also offer opportunities to hone skills. Study abroad is much more than a travel experience. Law students transfer their reading and briefing skills to cases and statutes in a different legal tradition. Study abroad reinforces a law student’s ability to synthesize legal concepts by comparing those concepts across legal systems to study inter-relationships, similarities, and differences. For example, those differences could be code-based civil systems, legal systems with multiple types of legal professionals, and countries with a separate career track for professional judges. Successful students will use their abilities for objective analysis to evaluate cultural, historical, economic, legal, and political information rather than assuming that an American perspective is superior.

Summer school courses allow students to focus in depth on one or two courses. Because most summer courses meet daily for an abbreviated number of weeks, they provide the perfect opportunity for a student to hone skills. The student can focus intentionally without the distractions of the regular semester on improving study skills: reading and briefing, outlining, applying concepts to practice questions, working with the professor during office hours, and exam-taking approaches.

Graduates and students benefit when they recognize the relationship between law school and legal practice. Legal education and the legal profession have faced major challenges and criticism recently. Many law schools over the last decade have made concerted efforts to connect legal education directly with skills needed in legal employment. Students still need to learn basic legal reasoning, research, and writing skills in their courses as a foundation for legal practice. Graduates will feel better prepared for the bar exam if they realize that they have skills for passing on the first attempt. Students will flourish in positive ways academically if they realize during their summer endeavors that their law school skills are also practical skills. 

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