Knowing When to Say Yes

Sometimes door open for you

[ Stephanie Baldwin, 2L at the University of Arizona ]

A few weeks ago, I wrote about when to say no to opportunities. It focused on the fact that sometimes, as law students we feel like we have to do everything, and sometimes we need to say no. But sometimes, we need to say “yes,” or at least throw our hat in the ring, even when the timing doesn’t seem great.

The week before Thanksgiving, I knew that I needed to be outlining. Or at least that was the plan from the beginning of the semester. But in October, I saw that Ms. JD was accepting applications to be a part of their Class of 2019 Leadership Academy. It was a competitive process, and they were accepting, at most, 30 law student applicants from across the country. It was also being hosted the weekend before Thanksgiving at Harvard Law School.

Bad timing, but an amazing opportunity. One that I knew that I had to say “yes” to by applying. I knew this opportunity was not something that I had planned for, but I also knew that if I did not apply, the answer was already “no.” I applied and was accepted into this prestigious program!

It was an amazing experience, and I was able to spend time with 29 other amazing up and rising 2 & 3L women students from across the country and a distinguished set of mentors and speakers.

As we head into finals, I want to share a few of the meaningful quotes and lessons I learned from my weekend.

“Great lawyers are grown, not born.”

~ Allison Turner

This quote came from the panel on women and men working together to improve diversity within the legal field. And while this quote applies well to diversity within law firms, it resonated with me as a great quote for law students. We all enter law school with different levels of knowledge, but if you look at each class, every networking opportunity, and view law school activities as an opportunity to grow, you give yourself the best opportunity to become a great lawyer. You are a collection of all of your experiences, choose ones that “feed your soul.”

“Sometimes you do things because that is where you have landed, and that can be fine… but ask yourself why you keep doing it.”

~Hazel-Ann Mayers

It can often be easy to take the path of least resistance in law school. It is rare that someone comes to law school knowing exactly what they want to do, and follows that exact path for the duration of their career. Sometimes you might want to be a public interest lawyer, but realize that you should accept that firm job you have been offered because of student loans. That can be fine, even smart. But ask yourself why you keep doing it once the loans are paid back. You owe yourself that. Do you do it because its what you love? Or because it is “safe” and what you know.  This can apply to many other career paths as well. Sometimes, when a door opens, it feels like it is the only opportunity, and we take it. It can be great, but check in with yourself throughout your legal career, and ask yourself why you keep doing it.

“Put yourself into safe places to make mistakes.”

~ Jodi Flynn

You do not learn how to drive a stick shift in a Lamborghini, and your first lesson is not on the freeway.  There is a reason why we learn to drive in a parking lot, and law school in many ways is our version of a parking lot. Now is the time to experiment, take a clinic, or take a class that might challenge your abilities. Take chances. I’ve seen people in school drop a class because they were worried about the grading curve, even though they believed the class would have been insanely valuable to them in their career. Wouldn’t you rather make mistakes in the safety of a clinic or the classroom than while working with your first client? I know law school might not feel like it, but it really is a safe place to make mistakes, take advantage of this.


“Do not self-select out because you are trying too hard to be perfect.”

~ Debbie Epstein Henry

The search for perfection in Law School

We all have an idea of what we think is perfection, what we think is “great.” It is good to have a goal to strive for, but as another one of my favorite quotes says, “Do not let the fear of striking out, prevent you from playing the game.” If you are always comparing yourself to others, always thinking you need to improve before attempting to do something, you are never going to reach your goals. Did I think I was going to be accepted into this academy? No. Did I apply anyway? Yes.  Should you apply next year? Absolutely.

If you would like to learn more about my experiences at the Ms. JD NWLSO leadership academy, feel free to reach out to me, @The2LLife, on Instagram and Twitter.

Semester Review

Semester review while sitting at favorite coffee house

[ Mara Masters, 1L at Emory Law ]

One of my favorite things that I learned during my teaching days of long ago is the value of doing a semester review. At the end of every semester, I would schedule an hour to sit at my favorite coffee shop, order my favorite drink, put on my favorite non-study music (thank you, Harry Styles), and write out an inventory of the positives and negatives of the semester with goals for moving forward.

The Negativity Bias

I love this exercise for so many reasons, the least of which are caffeine and British pop music. First, it helps combat negativity bias, which is the idea that our brains remember negative experiences more acutely than positive ones. In law school, when exams loom so large and are the very last memory of the semester, I think this is especially true. Even in the toughest of tough semesters, though, there are always positive things: involvement in an organization, volunteer work, a good friend or two, a system that worked for you.

Here are the questions that I ask:


  1. Who are you thankful for this semester?
  2. What are you proud of? Consider 3-4 challenges and how you worked through them.
  3. How did you grow? Be specific.
  4. What systems worked?


  1. What was the most difficult obstacle you faced? How did you respond to it? How could you improve your ability to respond to it in the future?
  2. What balls did you drop? How can you prevent similar mistakes in the future?
  3. What systems didn’t work?

After writing out responses to each of the seven questions above, I make a list of goals for the following semester starting with reaching out to the people I am thankful for and letting them know why. Often I’ll just send a text or an email, but I love to send snail mail if I can, because who doesn’t love getting real mail.

The key to the list of goals is making sure they are manageable. It is easy for me to get carried away and want to redo my whole system, and improve in every area that I am deficient, but that defeats the purpose. Small, measurable goals are key.

Do you have any end-of-semester rituals? I’d love to hear about them! Shoot me a message on Twitter or Instagram at @the1lLife!

Extending Your Legal Education

[ Makenzie Way, 3L at the University of Pennsylvania ]

For most, three years of law school is more than enough. By the time 3L rolls around we’re ready to kick down the educational door and begin our careers – or at least start making money, instead of just spending it.

But some want – or need – more than a “simple” JD. In which case, extending your legal education requires thoughtful consideration, after all, we can’t stay in school forever … can we?

The Business Path

Commonly, those seeking jobs in business require, or benefit from a combined JD/MBA program. If you’re a 1L you can likely apply for the joint MBA program through your school and graduate on time. However, if you’re a 2L or 3L you’ll have to stick around for at least an extra year if not two.

Thankfully, many firms that push for the joint degree are open to letting law students defer job offers for a year while they complete the program; just make sure to talk to someone in recruiting early.

Explore International Qualification

Did you know that U.S. qualified attorneys are eligible to qualify as a Solicitor in England and Wales? If you completed your JD in the USA, passed a bar exam and have the dream to work abroad, you can pursue dual qualification by taking the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS) and become a Solicitor in less than a year!

The English legal profession is relatively open to international lawyers seeking to qualify as a solicitor and it does not impose restrictions to admission on grounds of nationality or residence. This might be a great opportunity to internationalize your career, broaden your options, and increase your employability in the U.S. market and abroad.

Note, however, that the QLTS will be replaced by the SQE in 2021. It doesn’t mean that U.S. qualified attorneys will not be able to pursue this path. Instead, the SQE will be a harder and longer exam.

Legal Specialties

Contrary to popular belief, LL.M. programs are not just for foreigners. Select universities offer targeted LL.M. programs that allow students to specialize in specific areas of the law. The most common area in this regard is tax law.

LL.M. aside, if you’re planning to work in an area of law that draws heavily on certain advance fields (i.e. accounting; biology; chemistry; engineering; etc.), and do not already have a degree in the area, then you may want to pursue a secondary bachelor’s degree, a master’s program, or a certificate program to ensure you have the required knowledge, and to appease employers.

If you’re interested in a niche area of the law you may want to reach out to mid-level associates and partners at your firm, or contact your student employment office to see if a specialty LL.M. program or secondary degree/certificate will benefit you.

Teaching Route

Finally, if you always loved school and want to make a career out of it – i.e. want to teach – then you’ll likely need to pursue a Ph.D. and fellowship. Notably, Ph.D. programs are often completed on a part-time basis, so you may be able to continue working throughout your studies. If you plan to teach in the legal field, then some experience in practice is likely beneficial anyway.

Self-Care During Finals

Take Care of Yourself During Law School Finals

[ Stephanie Baldwin, 2L at the University of Arizona ]

Finals have arrived *insert panicked screams here* Likely, you’re reading this during your school’s reading period, or you might already be into your first weeks of finals. Last year I wrote about self-care tips to help you prepare for finals. All of these recommendations still apply, but here are some self-care tips you can use as you study during finals and as you sit for your exams.

Give yourself permission to take a break

Research has shown that taking a short break every 50-90 minutes will actually increase your productivity. How long should these breaks be? 15-17 minutes seems to be the recommended consensus. During these breaks, you should do anything but work. Eliminate screen time (put away those phones), get up, and move.  The goal is to distract yourself and stop concentrating. By giving your brain a short break, it will actually be able to retain more information and be better prepared for finals. If you are not sure what to do, Mackenzie from the The3LLife wrote something great this week that features a variety of short self-care breaks… basically things you can do in 1, 5, 15, and 60 minutes. Longer breaks can also be helpful, but if you only take 15 minutes… maybe use those breaks to meal prep!

During a final → Take a minute before you begin just to breathe

Remind yourself that you’ve got this. Before you start your exam, take a moment to breathe in for 4 seconds… hold it for 7 seconds and breathe out for 8 seconds.  This helps calm your nerves and allow you to concentrate on the question at hand. This is also a good thing to do as you move between final exam essay questions or each turn of the page for multiple-choice tests.

Meal prep

Meal prepping during your study breaks can be a form of self-care. You can use one study break to prep the food and the next break to cook. You can also take some time this weekend to meal prep for the rest of the week. Create some healthy meals to feed your brain or cook some comfort food. Your choice! Last week Mackenzie posted some great multiple-choice and quick recipes that take 15 min or less to prepare!

If you’re like me, and cooking isn’t really your thing (other than what I learned to cook during spring break as part of my self-care routine, head to the store and grab enough food to last you for finals. For me, I am going to head to Trader Joes to stock up on some easy to cook already prepared meals!

During a final → Don’t forget snacks!

Be sure to pick up some blueberry’s, almonds, or walnuts to snack on during your finals. During a 3-hour final, your brain begins to run out of fuel, so it is smart to have a small snack pack to have available during your final.

Take time to laugh

Legally Blonde's ElleLet’s be honest, finals are miserable, stressful, and unpredictable. Taking time to have a good laugh breaks the tension and can be an excellent form of self-care, according to Mayo Clinic. Laughter provides both short-term and long-term benefits. Not only can it relieve stress, but laughter also helps with oxygen intake and allows your brain to release endorphins…

Plus…. Laughter also helps to improve your immune system, improves your mood, and can relieve pain. One of my favorite ways to get a good, quick laugh is to read the posts on the Law School Memes for Edgy T14 facebook page… Yes… this brings in screen time… but… it is important to have balance, AND we need our phones to reach out to friends…

Meet Up with your friends

Take time to surround yourself with people. Studying for finals can be extremely solitary, and it is important to be around people too! Your law school friends also know what you’re going through. Sure it can be helpful to study with others, but take a moment to just check in with each other too. Enjoy a coffee break or meal together. Perhaps meeting up at the gym for a quick game of pick up or yoga is more your speed, but check in with your friends! You will all benefit from the break!

Take advantage of any programs your school offers during finals

Some schools bring in puppies, others host yoga classes, or cook breakfast for their students. Whatever it is, take the time to attend one of these events. It will help you see that you’re not alone and is a great way to use school resources for self-care!

Best of luck with finals! You’ve got this! Let me know what you like to do for self-care during finals week over @The2LLife on Instagram or Twitter!

Breakfast and Other Important Last Minute Exam Prep

Breakfast is Important

[ Mara Masters, 1L at Emory Law ]

Well folks, here we are at the end of the semester. You have read and read until you thought you could read no more, but you did it. Now, it’s time for some last-minute suggestions to read. 

The week before:

1. Get your flu shot

Ok, this is only tangentially related to taking exams, but the flu is no joke and law school is a germ cesspool with everyone in close quarters and stress-compromised immune systems. Chances are you can get it at school for practically or literally nothing. Please, I beg of you. Get your flu shot.

I digress.

Time to Get Your Flue Shot

2. Stop Comparing yourself

We all want to know if our outline is adequate and to gauge if we know as much as our peers, but this strategy tends to be counterproductive. We all work at different paces and with different methods, so the data you gather and use for comparison will inevitably be misleading.

Everything about law school is built to tell you that your success is relative to your peers’ success. As problematic as that system is, and as gross of a culture as it creates, it likely isn’t going to change in the near future. So it’s up to you to take steps to guard yourself against the anxiety inherent in the system.

Do some research on how to ace exams. Set goals for yourself in terms of what you would like to accomplish leading up to the exam, and trust that your preparation will serve you well.

3. Get Some Rest

I know this is my schtick, but only because it’s true. Make sure you are getting enough sleep not only the night before your exams, but the weeks leading up as well. Your brain needs it. Really. It does.

On exam day:

All of our school’s exams are at 2:00 pm, which is awesome for me because that is my most alert time of the day. I feel for those of you who are in your afternoon slump at 2:00 pm though, so here is my fifth-grade-EOG advice for you:

1. Eat a complex breakfast and HYDRATE

I’ve written before about what a huge fan of rituals I am. I am also a huge fan of food, so this semester I am going to experiment with an exam day breakfast ritual – something that feels festive, but still has a little bit of protein, some carbs, and a lot of water. If you choose something festive, let me know!

2. Deep breathe

Diaphragmatic breathing lowers your heart rate and blood pressure and can flip your anxious lizard brain back into a human brain. To do it, sit with both feet on the floor, one hand on your chest, and one on your belly. While you are breathing in, imagine that you are blowing up a balloon under the hand that’s on your belly. Breathe in for three, hold for one, breathe out for three.

3. If you have a study ritual, implement it.

You obviously won’t be able to implement every facet of it, but any memory trigger you can activate will help spark those deep archives in your marvelous brain.

Most importantly, remember that you are a whole and magnificent being regardless of how you do on exams. You may not do as well as you hope, and that may force you to reassess your goals, but your grade on an exam is not actually an indicator of your future ability as a lawyer, nor is it an indicator of your worth as a human.

Not feeling super prepared? Check out some outlining tips here and some self-care tips here!

The Law Student’s Guide to Self-Care

Open the Windows to Self Care

[ Makenzie Way, 3L at the University of Pennsylvania ]

Law school is busy, but that doesn’t mean you have to completely let yourself go. Self-care can take any form, it can take a few seconds or it can take a few days. As the driver of this thing called life, you get to decide what you have time for, but word from the wise (my grandma, not me) make sure to work it in!

After all, caring for yourself is a great way to ensure you thrive during law school – and beyond. We’re not machines, sometimes we just need a break from all things school-related.

Under 60-Seconds Ideas

  • Light a candle and breathe in the fresh scent
  • Open a window to air your apartment out
  • Drink a glass of water – hydration is key
  • Text someone who has the ability to make you smile

5-Minute Ideas

  • Apply a face mask
  • Listen to your favorite song(s)
  • Make yourself a tea, coffee or hot chocolate
  • Give yourself a foot, hand or shoulder massage – bonus points if you invest in one of those little massage devices
  • Meditate or do some focused breathing
  • Write down 10+ things you’re grateful for
  • Write down 5+ things you love about yourself
  • Have a mini dance party
  • Clean some small part of your house (i.e. sweep the floors, wipe the counters, clean the bathroom)
  • Clip and file your nails

15-Minute Ideas

  • Have a relaxing shower or bath
  • Go for a short walk
  • Stretch or do some yoga
  • Have a nap
  • Call someone who makes you happy
  • Watch a short YouTube video or scroll through social media
  • Fold your laundry and/or put it away
  • Make a snack
  • Read a chapter of a non-assigned book

An Hour Plus Ideas

  • Watch a TV show or movie
  • Go out with friends or family
  • Hit the gym
  • Splurge and get a massage or pamper yourself some other way
  • Listen to an engaging podcast
  • Read a book
  • Go to a nearby park and enjoy nature
  • Do a yoga or exercise class
  • Do your laundry and/or household chores
  • Buy groceries
  • Cook a fantastic meal or go out to your favorite restaurant
  • Go to the movie theatre or see a live play
  • Listen to music at a live concert
  • Volunteer at an animal shelter

Outlining Season Has Arrived…

The Beginning of Outlining season and Starbucks red Cups

[ Stephanie Baldwin, 2L at the University of Arizona ]

While everyone else is excited for Starbucks Red Cups… it is a signal that law school finals are coming… this means one thing… it’s time to outline. As 2Ls, we likely have our system set, and we know what we need… but I remember last year as a 1L feeling lost, even though I knew best practices from my law preview class. When it came to outlining, there were somethings that I just did not understand how to do effectively my first semester. I learned a lot from my first experience, and I did much better during my second semester. So 1Ls this blog is for you, and maybe it can help some 2Ls as well. Here are 4 tips to help you outline effectively.


Yes folks, if you are reading this and you haven’t started your outline, you need to. Last year, Thanksgiving was this week, so we had a nice buffer to start working on completing our outlines. My school had midterms, so many of us already had outlines that just needed to be updated. Thanksgiving was a great time to work on updating these… Or starting them… cough… So… if you haven’t started, do it this weekend!!

Don't wait to start working on your outlines

2 → Understand HOW to use your outline

When I was a 1L… I saw my outline as a security blanket rather than a tool. I put so much on my outline that it was hard to use effectively. Part of this was because I did not practice with my outline enough, but really I didn’t fully comprehend that my outline was a tool to help me memorize the material and allow me to be very familiar with it. When I did use my outline on practice tests, my practice focused on how to use my outline efficiently, rather than how to answer the questions effectively.  It sounds silly now, but It was so easy to get caught up in the process of answering, rather than mastering the material to create a good answer.

3 → Create an attack outline

This was perhaps the biggest difference between my first and second semesters. My outlines second semester all had an effective attack outline that had only the key components on them. Rather than using my big outline, I for the most part exclusively used an attack outline. The attack outline had just enough information to trigger my memory which enabled me to be able to write what I needed. An attack outline might just be a flowchart, the elements, or a bullet point of the needed cases per topic. It really is up to you, and you discover this through practice. Click here to view BARBRI’s suggested outlines.

4 → Practice with your outline

Here, practice tests can be your best friend. Most schools have a database of tests and if they do not, a quick google search will provide some examples. ALWAYS try to get practice exams from your professor. Practicing with your outline is good for a few reasons. It helps you learn the material, and this will allow you to go faster on test day. Additionally, practicing will help you decide what to have on your attack outline. Do you forget elements? Do you need a checklist to make sure you hit all of the cases? Has your professor walked you through the way they want questions answered? Practicing will help you see what you overlook and these are all great elements to include on your attack outline!

Best of luck! Remember to keep it simple, aim for understanding with a goal of mastery, and keep it simple! Do you have any recommendations for outlining? If so, let me know over @The2LLife on Instagram or Twitter.

The Productive Art Of Study Rituals

Listening to Music while studying

[ Mara Masters, 1L at Emory Law ]

I have been listening to the same album for almost every single study session for the past two years. I know this sounds boring but hear me out. I am the kind of person who struggles to transition from the outer world where life happens, and where shiny things distract me, into the inner mental world where productive studying happens. It took me almost 18 years of education to realize this, but when I finally did, my study life was revolutionized.

Here’s what it looks like:

Noise-canceling headphones

I prefer over-ear ones because, for whatever reason, having my ears covered distances me from the outer world in a kind of perplexing way. I prefer headphones, but if I don’t have them, a hoodie sometimes does the trick. (Is this weird? Anyone else like this?)


My go-to study music for a very long while has been Sleeping At Last’s Atlas: Space Deluxe, the second half of which is all instrumental.

Recently though, I have branched out a little bit and started listening to Yo-Yo Ma’s Six Evolutions – Bach: Cello Suites.

And, this one is a little weird, but it has been working for me: The Monks of the Abbey of Notre Dame Gregorian Chants. I have no idea how I started with these, but they make everything feel a little magical.

Organize work surface

I lose focus pretty easily when I am studying, especially if I am tired. If I get distracted for something even as simple as finding a pen, it sometimes takes me 20 minutes to get back into focus mode. So, I lay out writing utensils, my book, and my clipboard with fresh notepaper on the table and cross my fingers that I didn’t forget anything that I might have to go hunting for later.

Set Tree

After everything is laid out and my Gregorian Chants are playing, I set a tree. (Check out this post if you have no idea what I’m talking about)!

Scents to study by


Gregorian chants are weird, but the olfactory/memory connection is definitely weirder. I have a tiny roller of essential oils that are supposedly meant to help you with focus, but really I just think they smell nice and I have been using the same one for so long that every time I smell it, I get a boost of study-adrenaline. Before that, I would chew spearmint gum a spearmint mint, which had the same effect.

Obviously this gangly, kind of unwieldy ritual isn’t always possible, but I try to implement as much of it as possible, as frequently as possible if I need to get deep work done. I’m pretty sure I listened to Atlas: Space two hundred and fifty times while I was finalizing my memo draft.

Do you have any unique study rituals? I’d love to hear about them. Reach out at @the1lLife on Twitter and Instagram!

5 Tips to Writing Top-Notch Law School Essay Exams

Tips and advice on Writing Essays

[ Juliana Del Pesco, BARBRI International Legal Manager, Americas ]

A semester of reading, briefing cases and preparing outlines all culminates in one final act: Writing law school final exams. Most law school exams call for essay-type responses as a test of your ability to analyze and resolve legal problems.

You will be required to demonstrate your grasp of the materials you studied throughout the semester, along with your ability to provide lawyer-like solutions to precise legal issues. Your class grade will be largely, if not exclusively, based on your final exam performance, so be sure you are properly prepared with these exam-writing tips.


Read the entire problem through once rather quickly to get a general understanding. Focus on the question you are being asked to respond to at the end of the problem. Then, read through the scenario again, slowly and carefully. This time, evaluate every word and phrase to identify all potential issues. Always keep in mind the specific question you are actually being asked to answer.


Organization is critical to writing a strong essay answer. After all, if the professor cannot follow your analysis, how can they grade it fairly and appropriately?

Before you start writing, chart the issues in the manner in which you will resolve them. Again,  make sure the issues are related to the actual question you are being asked to answer. Arrange the issues in the sequence in which you would expect a court to address them (i.e., normally, jurisdictional issues first, then liability, then remedies). Capture the points you will discuss in sufficient detail to prompt you to think the problem through to a fair and practical solution.

BARBRI has developed a quick outlining system called Issue T to help students organize their thoughts for essay writing. In the Issue T, you state the rule implicated at the top, list the elements that comprise that rule on the left side of the “T”, and list all of the supporting, relevant facts on the right side of the “T”:


You may find that you devote a solid one-fourth of the time allocated to reading, analyzing the problem and organizing your answer. That’s okay. A logical organization and clear expression of ideas will strengthen your answer. This purposeful approach may even bolster an answer that’s somewhat weak.


Issue. First, state the issue in precise legal terms (e.g., “Did the defendant’s mistake in computing his bid prevent the formation of an enforceable contract?”). Be careful to avoid generalizations or oversimplification of the issue.

Rule. Next, state the applicable law. Be sure to define the pertinent elements of a rule as well as any terms of art. Consider and discuss ALL relevant views, making certain that you express the underlying rationale behind each divergent view or rule of law.

Application. Then, apply the rules to the facts using arguments. Avoid the common error of stating a rule and then jumping straight to the conclusion.. Your professor will not infer a supporting argument for you—you must spell it out. Remember to use the Issue T you created earlier to remind you to discuss  which facts in the fact pattern support (or prevent) application of the rule. Discuss and weigh each fact given and the logical inference to be drawn from it. Be sure to include counterarguments where possible.

Conclusion. Finally, come to a straightforward conclusion on each issue. Make sure you have clearly answered the question asked, and you have not left an issue hanging. If a number of outcomes are possible, discuss the merits of each, but always select one position as your conclusion and state why. In close cases, it is generally best to select the most practical and fair conclusion. Just don’t consider yourself bound by the “general rule” or “majority view” in answering an exam unless the question clearly calls for such.


Budget your time, but don’t be concerned if you notice that others begin writing before you do. Law professors are usually focused more on the quality rather than the length of a student’s answer. They will appreciate that you stick to the issues and emphasize what counts to provide the most succinct, yet appropriate, exam response.

Last but certainly not least, make sure your answer is legible. If your school gives you the option to handwrite or type your exams, I recommend typing your exam. Your professor won’t be impressed by the logic of an answer that cannot be easily read.

For effective 1L school resources, learn about the BARBRI 1L Mastery Package.

For more law school tips specifically for LL.M.s, download the free BARBRI LL.M. Guide.


BARBRI has helped more than 1.3 million lawyers around the world pass a U.S. bar exam. The company also provides online J.D., post-J.D., and international programs for U.S. law schools and specialized ongoing training and certifications in areas such as financial crime prevention and eDiscovery.

To help LL.M. students determine which BARBRI course may be best to pass a U.S. state bar exam, check out our blog: BARBRI EXTENDED BAR PREP AND 8-WEEK BARBRI BAR REVIEW: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

Brain Breaks

[ Mara Masters, 1L at Emory Law ]

Something happened to me last week that has only happened to me a couple of times before.

After many days of 10+ straight hours of deep mental work, my brain just collapsed from exhaustion. I tried to push through it. I drank more coffee. I drank so much coffee. I worked on the less intellectually-demanding tasks while I waited for my brain health gauge to replenish, but the truth was that I had overdone it. The inner-workings of my mind resembled what my house looks like on weeks that I have multiple events at school: absolute disarray. The longer I delayed taking a break, the worse the mess got and the more difficult even the simplest tasks became.

It’s a vicious and inefficient cycle, really. I work slower and less efficiently instead of taking a break, which makes me even slower and less efficient. On and on it goes until the pace is really more like standing still. The time and work would have been better off if I had just stared at the wall for thirty minutes, or better yet – watched some 30 Rock.

We’ve talked before about how learning new information and processes creates and repaves your neurological pathways. The more new information you are taking in, the more “paving” work your brain is doing. As you are paving and repaving these neural pathways, your brain is simultaneously engaged in sorting and organizing all of the new information to relate to the pre-existing information. The more you repeat those same processes and that same information, the more well-trod those pathways become, but only to a point.


Because brains, like bodies, get tired. We all know this from our primary school days, right? Eat a healthy diet to give your brain energy. Exercise regularly to give your brain energy. Get enough sleep to give your brain energy.

Here’s the law school addition to that: give your brain breaks so that it can do all of that work without turning into a puddle of mush. I am finding that this is harder work than I care to admit. Even when I am not doing school work, my brain is still in on mode – somewhere in my mind I am rehearsing the definition of proximate cause. I am afraid that if I stop rehearsing it to myself, I will lose it.

In a sense, that’s true.

But if I give my brain actual breaks, it will take the definition of proximate cause and organize it. And I might lose it for a bit. But then when I find it again, I will be able to see what folder my brain put it in and then finding it will be that much easier next time.

This is especially important with exams coming up when the temptation to cram study is very high. We study more, sleep less, and retain less.

It’s very difficult for me to take real brain breaks, but here’s what I have found that helps me: boxing, running, and cycling; listening to really loud, fun music; watching trashy sitcoms; reading an engrossing novel; going on a hike with my camera; eating really good food without any other distractions.

I’d love to hear what you do to give your brain a break! Reach out on twitter and Instagram @the1lLife!