How to Track Your Bar Progress

[ Makenzie Way, 2020 Law Graduate at the University of Pennsylvania ]

BARBRI is designed to make staying on schedule easy, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still track your progress. In fact, BARBRI has some specially designed features that are made specifically for that purpose.

So what does this all mean? Well, first it means you need to figure out your schedule beyond the recommended daily hours that the BARBRI interface provides you with. Second, it means you need to be proactive in (a) ensuring that you’re staying on par with BARBRI’s target completion rate, and (b) monitoring your percentile rankings for assignments.

Easy enough, but how should you best go about that? I asked myself the same thing, so I reached out to Mike Sims, President of BARBRI, to get the answers we’ve all been looking for. Now I’m sharing them with you!

Setting a Schedule

First and foremost, you need to create a study schedule, and no, I don’t mean simply deciding how many hours to study each day – BARBRI decides that for you. When I say create a schedule, I mean figure out when and where you’re going to study each day, week, month, etc.

For instance, I know I’m more productive in the evenings so I’ve arranged my schedule so that I do a light review of my notes in the morning for approximately 30 minutes to an hour, and then I hunker down for my intensive study session at around 5 pm. I’ve also carved out a workspace in my bedroom consisting of a desk, a motivational poster, and all physical requirements (i.e. highlighters, pens, scrap paper, study books, etc.)

Having a schedule helps to ensure that you’ll find the time to complete all your required tasks each and every day. It also lends some structure to your life, which may help reduce stress.

Once you’ve made your study schedule, you’ll want to turn your eye to progress tracking.

Tracking Your Progress

Once you learn how to navigate the site, tracking your progress is easy (if you’re struggling, look to the BARBRI tutorial videos for assistance).

From the home page you can access two important progress tracking features. The first is the daily hour requirement. You’ll want to take note of that number each day to ensure it’s not increasing – if the number begins to increase that means you’ve been doing less than the required daily hours and may be at risk of falling behind.

Tracking your progress goes beyond just that simple number though. The second thing you should be looking to is the ‘My Progress’ icon in the upper right-hand corner. You’ll want to make looking at this part of your daily routine.

But what should you be looking for within the My Progress section? What do all the numbers and sliding scales mean?

You’ll notice that when you click the My Progress icon you’re immediately brought to a page that shows you your study plan progress – your progress is shown in blue, and your target progress is shown in red; both are reflected on a visual aid.

Don’t freak out if the progress number is lower than the target progress number. So long as the blue line reaches the little bubble on the visual aid and the bubble is green, you’re doing fine. If the bubble is red, then you need to start adding a few more hours onto each day until it turns green, even if you’re daily hour estimate on the home page says otherwise.

Part of the reason your progress may be lower than your target progress – and your bubble red – is because ISAAC goes off the estimated hours per task, and is calculated based on a seven day work week. Thus, if you take longer to complete certain tasks (and therefore, fail to receive the message that ‘you’ve completed today’s tasks’) or you take a rest day, then you’ll begin to fall behind progress wise.

Percentile Rankings

The next thing you’ll find under the Progress Tracker is a series of graphs depicting your performance thus far in your studies. You want to keep an eye on all of them, but the most important thing to note is your percentile ranking – this is because the bar exam is curved.

How does BARBRI determine your ranking? And where do you want to be?

Your score is determined based on your performance on the question sets and assignments provided for you – that’s why it’s so important that you complete those tasks. While you see your percentage score right away, BARBRI waits until the end of each day to provide you with your percentile score. In determining your percentile score they rank you against all other BARBRI takers to give you the best possible idea of where you’ll fall on the actual MBE curve.

The general rule of thumb is that you want to aim to be in the 30th to 40th percentile, or higher, in each subject area to ensure your success on the bar exam. But, don’t freak out if you’re scoring lower in the beginning!

BARBRI makes it easy to monitor your skill development, by breaking your percentile rankings down into weekly segments – if you ranked lower than you would have preferred in the beginning, you’ll likely see your ranking go up as you get further into the course.

If you notice that your ranking still isn’t improving, isn’t improving as fast as you’d like, or is dropping, then it’s probably time to consult your long outlines.

Generally speaking you shouldn’t feel compelled to look beyond the lectures, substantive assignments, and short outlines. The long outlines are meant to be used as reference material – similar to 1L supplements. If you’re confused or having trouble with a particular concept or subject area, consult the long outline, otherwise, avoid bogging yourself down.

The same thing can be said for studying outside the BARBRI provided materials (i.e. flashcards, etc.) Generally, it’s not recommended, especially if you’re studying under a traditional 2-month schedule … but you know yourself better than anyone else. If there’s something that’s always worked for you and makes you comfortable, then do it. But don’t invent something entirely new, now is not the time to experiment.

Course Progress

With the increased amount of time available for studying this year, many of you have messaged me with concerns about what happens if you finish the entire course with time to spare.

If that happens, you should first congratulate yourself for putting yourself in such a good position in terms of likelihood of success. Secondly, you should look to the ‘more practice tab’ on the left-hand side of your PSP.

Preparing for UBE State-Specific Tests

If you’re taking the UBE you will likely be required to take a state-specific test. There a few important things to note here:

  • BARBRI does not provide study aids for these tests, instead, the states provide them themselves. You’ll want to explore the bar administration’s webpage or contact them directly to gain access to the necessary study materials
  • The state-specific exams are, for the most part, easy. If you can pass the bar exam you can most certainly pass the state-specific portion. Take that into consideration when deciding how to balance state study prep against bar study prep.

Transferring to the February Exam

Finally, because I know it’s something that’s been on everyone’s mind – mine included, let’s discuss what happens if you end up not getting a seat for a July or September bar exam.

The most important thing to know is that you’ll retain access to your BARBRI study materials and PSP free of charge until the February exam.

In terms of studying here’s what Mike Sims recommended:

  • If you know you’ll be working during the fall and leading up to the bar exam, then aim to complete the lecture series, otherwise known as the acquisition phase of knowledge during the summer/fall. Stop before you reach the substantive phase of knowledge – i.e. the detailed tests and assignments – and come back to it in December when you begin studying ‘full time’.
  • If you won’t be working during the fall, stop studying once it’s confirmed that you will not be taking the July or September exam, and re-start in December. If you want to keep your mind active during the time off, consider doing any, or all, of the following:
  1. Complete the pre-study materials if you didn’t already.
  2. Review the long outlines for the subjects you didn’t take in law school, and the short outlines for those subjects you did take in law school to keep concepts fresh in your mind.
  3. Continue reading cases to keep your legal reading and reasoning sharp.
  4. Practice outlining, writing concisely, and typing to increase your speed and strengthen your skills.

What we Wish our Friends/Family Knew About Bar Prep

Discussion with family member

[ Makenzie Way, 2020 Law Graduate at the University of Pennsylvania ]

Most people understand that studying for the bar exam is hard, but unless they’ve studied for it themselves, or watched someone else go through the entire process, they’re likely unaware of just how difficult and time-consuming it really is. This places bar prep students in the awkward position of having to navigate the murky waters of balancing relationships against the demands of bar prep life.

If there’s someone in your life studying for the bar exam, there’s a good chance they wish you knew some of the following things:

Student working on BARBRI bar prep

  1. Don’t be surprised if we fall off the face of the earth. Studying for the bar exam is in no way comparable to studying for a high school or college exam. We don’t study for a few hours each day; we study for upwards of six or more hours, seven days a week. It’s akin to a 9-5 job.
  2. Don’t be offended if we say we can’t hang out in the evenings. Though technically, we may be ‘free’ in the evenings, that doesn’t necessarily mean we have the energy to engage socially. We want to see you, but oftentimes we need to use our free time in the evenings to rest and recharge so we can go through the whole process again tomorrow.
  3. Our weekends aren’t necessarily free. Some students take a one-day break on the weekend, others do not – it really depends on what your personal study schedule looks like. But please don’t just assume that we’re available for weekend road trips, especially during Covid and bar prep.
  4. Chances are, finances are tight during bar prep. Many bar takers recently graduated from full-time legal studies – meaning, they didn’t work steadily during the last three years; likewise, most bar takers do not work full-time, or at all, while preparing for the bar exam. Thus, we may be financially limited in what we can afford to do.
  5. Our emotions are all over the place, so if we seem moody or if we lash out, please know we’re not in our right minds at the moment. Studying for the bar exam has its ups and its downs – some days we’ll be full of energy and happy because we feel like we’re making good progress, other days we’ll be burnt out, or upset by a bad test score. It’s not you, it’s just bar prep taking its toll on us.
  6. Being flexible with your activity suggestions helps us stay socially active. The further into bar prep we get, the less we’re able to take weekends or full days off, so instead of suggesting a road trip or a time-consuming hike, suggest walking the dog for 30-minutes, watching a movie at home, grabbing lunch or coffee at a nearby café, or even just a phone/video call.
  7. Please, please, PLEASE, do not downplay what we’re going through. Yes, objectively speaking there are more important things going on in the world, but subjectively, the bar exam stands between us and gainful employment; us and our career goals; us and paying off our student debt without going bankrupt. Doing well is important to us, so please act accordingly.
  8. Even if we don’t respond, we appreciate any support thrown our way. Don’t misread our silence as indifference, your text messages and the small things you do are noticed and appreciated.
  9. Finally, with most of us working from home, please consider that we too require adequate space and relative silence when studying. To the extent it’s possible, please try to keep noise and disruptions at a minimum while we’re engaged in our studies.

Bar Applications Amidst COVID-19

The Bar Exam

[ Makenzie Way, 2020 Graduate at the University of Pennsylvania ]

Makenzie Way, 3L Graduate at the University of Pennsylvania

This was a BIG week for me.

For starters, I officially graduated from law school (goodbye forever issue spotter exams). And then to top it off, I submitted my application for the D.C. bar.

If you’ve followed my law school journey thus far you may be saying “hold up! D.C.? What happened to Boston?” Well, the short answer is COVID-19 happened, that’s what.

In early January I spent a good chunk of my school printing credits printing out the  Massachusetts bar exam application. Unlike many states, Massachusetts conducts its own Character and Fitness test, thus the lengthy application. By the beginning of March my application was complete and sitting in a sealed envelope ready to be mailed when BOOM bar exam delays.

With test dates up in the air, Massachusetts, along with many other UBE states, paused the acceptance of applications. Thus, my beautiful application packet continued to rest, waiting for the day when it could be mailed in. But wait, things got more complicated still.

In late April, Massachusetts announced that they would be giving priority status to applicants who had attended law school in-state and were sitting for their first OR second time; priority status was combined with limited seating capacity. This decision wasn’t unique to Massachusetts, many states followed suit, and I’m sure it’s a decision that has impacted a lot of you. For me personally, this caused some major panic, since of course, I had attended school out-of-state. It seemed unfair that my choice to attend a higher ranked school outside of Massachusetts was now going to impact the career path in Boston that I had spent the last five years working towards … but that’s the way the world works apparently.

After a quick descent into hysterics that my mother promptly dragged me out of, I realized that it was time to take action. I compiled a list of the UBE states whose application deadlines, or late-filing deadlines, hadn’t yet passed, as well as the requirements for each and the associated costs. I ended up with a handful of potential states, including: New Jersey, New Hampshire, District of Columbia, Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts.

Working my way through this list I realized a few important things that may be helpful to anyone else stuck in this boat:

  1. Some states, like New Hampshire, do not allow courtesy seating. What that means practically speaking is you cannot sit for the UBE in New Hampshire if you have no intention of being a registered attorney in New Hampshire. Other states, allow you to transfer your UBE score to any UBE state. Takeaway: make sure the state you register in is either the state you’re planning to work in or a state that allows score transfers.
  2. Many smaller states have limited seating, for instance, Connecticut. Practically speaking that meant my chances of receiving a seat in those states were lower, and thus my cost-benefit analysis had to shift accordingly. Takeaway: if you have a smaller budget, take into consideration the number of seats available versus your priority status when deciding where to apply.
  3. Multiple states have priority seating, for instance: Massachusetts’s priority is for local students, Connecticut’s priority is for local students and students from select Massachusetts schools, and DC’s priority is for recent ABA graduates writing the UBE for the first time. Takeaway: try to apply to states where you’re in the first tier.
  4. Each state has its own unique application process, and they vary with regard to their usage of the NCBE’s character and fitness test, recommendation letter requirements, notarization, and pro bono hours requirements. Takeaway: Make sure you meet the requirements before submitting an application – in most states, application fees are nonrefundable.
  5. Application costs vary greatly between the states. Takeaway: Create a budget and prepare for potential cost increases.

For me personally, New York got discarded because I hadn’t completed the necessary pro bono affidavits and didn’t have time to do them. New Jersey then got discarded because it seemed likely they would receive an influx of applications from worried New York applicants. Finally, Connecticut and New Hampshire got discarded because of their small size, and priority status decisions. Thus, I made the decision to apply to D.C. where I was tier one priority and to apply to Massachusetts when their application opens as a plan B if necessary.

My decision was made *small sigh of relief* but I wasn’t finished yet. Now I had to navigate the D.C. application process. The first thing I noticed is how outdated many of these websites are – it’s 2020, it seriously should not be so difficult to find the information you’re looking for. After awarding myself a Ph.D. in website navigation, I figured out that the D.C. bar application would open on May 18th, that I needed to submit the NCBE Character and Fitness application (but not receive the results) before submitting my UBE application, and that I would need to submit and receive the law school certification form from my university since unlike many states, D.C. does not accept forms submitted on behalf of students by law school officials.

Law school certificate emailed ✓

Now, for the Character and Fitness test.

If you haven’t already completed the NCBE application, be prepared to tell them every minuscule detail about your life from the time you turned 18 until the present day. It took me approximately a day and a half since I needed to track down the contact information for my supervisors from my college jobs; but alas, I clicked submit and then nearly threw up when the $400 price tag flashed in front of my eyes. I quickly reminded myself that if all went well and I got accepted then, (a) it was more than worth it, and (b) my firm would reimburse me.

Next step: UBE Application

Stress levels through the roof, I set an alarm for every hour on the hour from midnight until the application finally opened at 8 am. I expected the application to be grueling, similar to my Massachusetts application which required formatted reference letters, and an attorney signature. In a pleasant turn of events, the application was pretty straight forward. Having already completed the mind-numbing NCBE application, the D.C. UBE application took approximately 20 minutes, asking straightforward questions about when I graduate(d), where I attended law school, my academic conduct during law school, etc. The cost was also relatively low, clocking in around $230 when all was said and done.

After clicking submit and holding my breath while my subpar internet loaded the next page, I was told that my application had been successfully uploaded and would now be forwarded to the committee who would make the final acceptance decision. No real time frame was given, but the confirmation email that I later received said, if successful, I would receive my ticket number and additional information in August. Fingers crossed I hear back before then because if not, I’ll have to decide whether to eat the cost and apply for both D.C. and the Massachusetts offerings to be extra sure that get a seat for the September test.

So, in summary, the takeaway here for anyone in my shoes is this:

  • Research states with open applications: create a list and include any relevant application requirements, deadlines, and costs
  • Create a budget to determine how many states you can realistically apply to, should you want to apply to multiple to be safe.
    • Remember, UBE scores can be transferred, so if you get a seat in a state that allows courtesy seating, you can transfer the score to your desired state later on; meaning, you only need to sit for the UBE once.
  • Complete the NCBE Character and Fitness application ASAP if you’re unsure where you’re applying. They have state-specific applications and a general one for this reason. Include this cost in your budget and give yourself a full day to complete it.
  • Apply as early as possible, even if you are in the first-priority class, to maximize your chances of being accepted.
  • Update your BARBRI bar exam profile, and inform your employer of any changes to your UBE plans.
    • Don’t worry, you don’t require new BARBRI bar books if you’re taking the UBE in a different jurisdiction, the books are the same!
  • Try to stay positive!

Reflecting on the 2L Life

Reflecting on the 2L life

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

By the time you read this, I will be submitting my final project of 2L. What a ride it has been. The saying is, “1L they work you to death” (true),  “2L they work you to death… also true.” Now… a lot of my “working to death” was all of my doing. For example, I took 18 credits, both semesters. In addition to that, I also completed 300-hour externships both semesters, for no credit. In the fall, I continued working at the government agency I was at during the summer, and in the spring, I had a stipend based externship at a law firm. I was busy, but I wouldn’t change a thing!

I believe 2L is where you can begin to see yourself as a lawyer, and I am so grateful for all of the experiences that enabled me to know I was on the right path. Here are the best decisions I made during 2L.

I joined a clinic

In the fall, I was a 38d (limited practice) student for the City of Tucson. I remember the call I had with my dad when I told him I had won my first bench trial. He said, “that is so great, what did the teacher say? I knew you were nervous.” I responded that I had not told them yet. Confused, he said, “wasn’t she there, it’s a class…” I laughed and said, “No, dad, this was a real case, and an attorney supervised me, as I did the case, in front of a Judge.” I don’t think I will ever forget him going “WHAT!?!?” I learned so much during that clinic, and it solidified the fact that I should pursue litigation.

I entered a closing argument competition

Because of my clinic, I knew I wanted to get some practice making a closing argument before I had to do it in an actual courtroom. This desire inspired me to enter the closing argument competition. I did well and received an invitation to join the trial team. I wrote about this last semester, explaining that I had to turn down the invitation, because well, I just did not have time. This experience taught me to know my limits. Even though I said “no,” I knew I wanted to be on the trial team as a 3L, and I tried out again in the spring and made the team for next year!!

I focused on practical classes

It feels like there are two paths, and no, I am not talking about litigation vs. transactional, but rather to take bar classes or not to take bar classes. For me, I selected the experimental/practical course route. I do not regret this at all, and this decision has really helped me excel at work. During my summer, I realized that while knowing the law is important, knowing how to conduct effective legal research, communicate with clients effectively to build trust, and having the ability to write well is what seemed to matter most. Not only did this prepare me well for my externships, but I discovered this is where I could excel in the classroom as well. I learn best by applying what I learn in classroom simulations, and my GPA got a nice boost as a result.

Young Woman Working while in School

I worked… a lot…

Perhaps it is because I had a career before law school, but having externships during the school year has made my law school experience so much better. Each day I worked, I learned a new skill or more about my working style. I was able to be mentored by seasoned attorneys and learn from my mistakes, safely. Once we graduate, the training wheels are gone, and what we do could significantly impact a client. Working as an extern allowed me to experience many aspects of being an attorney without causing any damage to a case or client. I will be a more effective associate and attorney because of these lessons.

We all choose different paths in school, and there is no “right” or “wrong” way to complete your 2L. But my advice is to select a path that will allow you to grow and blossom within the constructs of the legal field. I loved everything I did, but I also could have hated it, and that would have been just as valuable as a lesson, and allowed me to course-correct if needed. Thank you for sharing the @The2LLife with me, and I look forward to seeing you next year in the @The3LLife!

Get a Hobby, Law Student

Bird Watching as a hobby

[ Mara Masters, 1L at Emory Law ]

One of the silver linings of quarantine has been seeing my fellow law students going back to their old hobbies and investing again in leisure. With the hectic schedule of 1L, preserving time to relax and participate in activities that bring joy can be difficult and seem impossible. Having hobbies is so crucial to wellbeing, though, not only because it provides an opportunity to think about something other than law school, but because it’s a safe space to fail and to be bad at something. Especially with so many summer internships going remote or being canceled, this is the perfect opportunity to invest in some self-care and leisure.

If given the choice, I would rather be outdoors every single moment of daylight.

This can be a difficult lifestyle to maintain in the midst of the chaos of law school and especially now, when staying inside is so crucial to public health.  My way around the need to stay inside has been to bring the outdoors in with container vegetable gardens. Fair warning about choosing a hobby: If you choose something like gardening or plants, some of them will die. It may break your heart. That is ok. If you choose something that you aren’t very good at yet, you have to consciously decide that it’s ok for you to not be good at it. I started drawing last year but got discouraged at how truly bad at it I was, so I decided it would be better to choose something that didn’t make me feel worse about myself.

Friends have told me that since the beginning of quarantine they have started reading again, playing music, painting, writing, running, and sewing. Each one of them has said it with a twinge of guilt, but mostly joy at having the opportunity to do something that makes them happy.

If you are on the market for a law-school friendly hobby, here are a few fun ones to consider!

  • Bonsai
  • Knot-tying
  • Scrabble
  • Whittling
  • Entomology
  • Bird Watching
  • Pasta making
  • Origami

And to convince you all to come to the dark side of gardening, just look at this tiny little celery sprout and the crazy growth on my potato plant!

I want to know all your weird hobbies and to hear about how you are handling this rapidly changing time! Reach out on Twitter and Instagram @the1lLife!

Reflections of a Law Student

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

My time as the BARBRI Life of a 3L blogger has come to an end, as has my time as a law student – but don’t worry, you can continue to follow my adventures as the BARBRI bar prep blogger.

As I prepare to virtually walk across the stage, I’ve found myself reflecting on my law school experience; both the good and the bad. There are memories that I wince at, and things I would have done differently if I were to revisit them now, but ultimately, I am happy with how I conducted myself in law school. To that end, I’ve put together a list of my recommendations – feel free to take them with a grain of salt, after all, I’m no expert.

Maintain a Balance

My friend group enjoying a much-needed spa night/birthday celebration in 2L

I chose to prioritize friendships and family over my academics. I lost my brother during my first semester of law school, and it radically changed my outlook on life. Prior to his death, I viewed grades as the most important thing – so important that I once broke down in tears in my university library over a poor paper grade. After his passing, I realized that there are more important things in life – when all is said and done, can you really say that getting straight A’s is what you’ll remember about your life? For me, it’s not.

That is not to say I didn’t apply myself, because I did. Like any law student, I experienced late nights studying, grueling cold calls, and an overflowing calendar. However, I am glad my outlook shifted, because funnily enough, it made me a better law student (and person) in the end.

I would urge any current or aspiring law student to take a long hard look at their work-life balance. To a large degree, I think we as law students have a tendency to buy into this notion that we need to be absolutely perfect or no one is going to want to employ us. And sure, to an extent that is true – I don’t recommend skimming through by any means. But I also think it’s important to remember that we’re only human, and it’s okay to prioritize your relationships and wellbeing over your academic pursuits from time to time; it’s okay to say spend thanksgiving not studying, and it’s okay to take a mid-day nap instead of heading to the library. You need to find a balance that works for you, or you’ll burn yourself out.

Special shout out to this girl right here: meeting you was the best part of law school. .

Foster Lasting Friendships

Without a doubt, the best part of my entire law school experience is the friendships I made. I can’t imagine what my law school experience would be like without them, but I know it would have been a struggle. These amazing people sent me care packages when my brother passed away; they made sure I had notes and study aids when I was too depressed to actually study on my own; they helped me move my belongings from state-to-state for summer jobs, and pack my apartment when, due to COVID-19, I was stuck outside the US; and so much more. These are the people that cheered me on during cold calls, inspired me to expand my research interests through their own passions, and blessed me with so many happy memories. So thank you to each and every one of you, and most especially, to my 1L roommate and legal bestie – you all amaze me.

Between orientation events, pre-assigned 1L sections, and the plethora of events, law school makes it easy for you to make friends. That said, I strongly recommend you move beyond those pre-arranged social events. Look outside of your section, and your year for friendships, join student organizations and pro bono projects, or take a trip with law students.

Develop Relationships With Your Professors

If I could go back and re-do one thing in law school, I would focus on developing deeper relationships with a wider range of professors. I came into law school with a solid idea of where I wanted my career to go, and because of that, I focused on establishing relationships with a targeted subset of the faculty. But, now that I’m beginning to look towards the bar and further graduate studies, I do wish I’d gotten to know some of the other professors at my university on the same level.

I took one course, one independent study, and formed NALSA with Professor Blackhawk (to my left). Thank you for all the support and guidance!

There’s a number of ways that you can establish lasting relationships with professors, the most obvious being course enrollment. If you’re unable to enroll in multiple courses with a professor, you can also serve as their research assistant, ask them to coffee to discuss their area of study, join the journal or group that they chair, do an independent study with them, etc. Regardless of how you do it, make sure to connect with at least a handful of professors – you’ll

need them for reference letters for jobs, the bar application, graduate school applications, etc.

Attending a conference on ADR in Tokyo, Japan, with Professor Feldman in 1L.

Make your own outlines

During the first semester of 1L, I really bought into the idea of shared outlines, passed down from previous classes. Some of my friends still swear by it, but for me, it simply did not work in my favor because I benefit from the process of re-reading and re-organizing my notes. Admittedly, I did find shared outlines useful as references – especially during cold calls – but I would recommend that all law students take the time to craft their own unique outline.

The trick I used to make outlining less of a cumbersome ordeal was to start outlining from the beginning. I made use of the table of contents feature in word, and the different headers, to organize my notes as I took them. After each section of the course came to a close I would go back through my notes and make modifications. This helped keep the contents fresh in my mind, and cut down on time when reading week rolled around.

Study how you want, not how you’re told

Similar to outlining, I realized early on that study groups were not for me – which, realistically, was not a surprise since they had never worked for me before. I think the law school environment has a way of pushing students towards certain study methods, which can be harmful to those students who benefit from alternative study methods. I tried to avoid this pressure during my years as a law student, but it was tough at times.

Penn Women’s Ice Hockey Team

Branch out From the Law School

Law students have a way of relating to one another; collectively, we all understand the legal world and the struggles associated with law school, and that can be comforting. Two of the best things I did during my time as a law student were non-law school-related; namely, joining a campus-wide event planning group, and joining the university hockey team. Each of these endeavors allowed me to meet people outside of the law school sphere, which greatly added to my overall experience.

Presenting my final paper for a course on women’s rights to UN WomenNot only is it a good idea to make friends outside of the law school for your own mental wellbeing (sometimes you just need a break from all things law-related), but it’s also a good long-term ‘strategy.’ One of my mentors once told me that the key to being a successful lawyer is being a good networker. You may not view it as networking at the time, but attending non-law school-specific events, making friends with people from other departments or schools, and generally branching out from the law school bubble is a great way to begin expanding your social network.  For instance, through my hockey team, I met a Ph.D. student who, without knowing it, inspired me to apply to a Ph.D. program of my own.

Take Courses That Inspire you

In 1L you really don’t have much choice regarding the courses you take, but in 2L and 3L it’s pretty much a free for all. When 2L course selection rolled around I struggled between enrolling in courses that would be on the bar, and enrolling in courses that were interesting to me personally. Ultimately, I elected to enroll in the courses that inspired me, which, I think was the right choice. I noticed that compared to 1L, I was more energized in 2L and 3L because I was actually excited to attend class. And, since the topics aligned with my interests, I was able to get better grades and write papers that I went on to publish. This strategy also enabled me to create more meaningful relationships with a number of professors and students.

The majority of my pro bono efforts focused on animal rights!

Do Pro Bono Early

I jumped on the pro bono bandwagon within my first months of 1L; by the time I finished 2L I had completed the requisite number of pro bono hours for my university, meaning I could enter 3L (relatively) stress-free.

In 1L I focused on small non-time consuming projects with a few select pro bono groups that interested me. Working on these projects in 1L was a great supplement to my legal writing course; it helped me hone my researching and legal writing skills, and was a great benefit during my 1L summer. Additionally, by beginning my pro bono work early, I felt like I had more freedom to pick and choose assignments that were of interest to me since I didn’t feel pressured to rack up a certain number of hours in a relatively limited time span.

Obviously, you should take things at your own pace, especially since 1L grades are some of the most important grades of your entire law school career. That said, if by the time second semester rolls around, you feel confident enough to take on a few small projects, I say go for it! Alternatively, if you don’t feel comfortable balancing pro bono and 1L courses, I know a number of my friends completed a significant portion of their pro bono hours during their 1L summer.

Budget for a Social Life

I have an irrational – or perhaps very rational – fear of debt. In college, I balanced a heavy course load with two jobs to avoid taking out loans. Unfortunately, the price tag for my law school made it impossible to avoid federal loans, so I opted to live in a cheaper part of the city and limit my outings and Uber rides.

My 1L law school schedule basically consisted of walking to-and-from university, cooking at home, and attending only the most popular events. This was a great strategy in terms of saving money, but I felt like I was missing out on the social aspect of law school. Thus, I re-configured my law school budget for 2L to allow me to attend bar reviews, and partake in a few school trips – my experience that year was SO much better. In 3L, I finally took the plunge and moved into the city, and though it was short-lived thanks to COVID-19, I have to say, I was very happy for those few months.

Looking back at my quality of life in 1L, I wish I had been a little more flexible with my budget from the start. Not only did broadening my social sphere and changing my living conditions help me to socialize more and have a more well-rounded law school experience, it also brought me more joy and helped me mentally as well.

2019 I-trek trip
Participating in the 2019 I-trek trip with a group of Penn Law students

Dear soon to be 1Ls…

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

I am just a week away from finishing up my 2L, and the time has flown by incredibly fast. I see on Facebook and LinkedIn that people are proudly announcing their seat deposits and forging ahead with their dream of law school even in this uncertain time. No matter if we are back on campus or still online, here is some advice about the things you do and don’t need as you get ready to head off to school.

Mac or PC?

It doesn’t matter. My school is half and half, so buy whichever you prefer. All that matters is that you have a reliable laptop with a good battery. Some people use Chromebooks and IPads or tablets. They work too, but make sure that they will work with the exam software that your school uses. I use a touch screen PC, and I love it. I also bought an extended warranty so that it would get me all the way through school. If you’re worried about cost, you can ask for an electronics increase on your 1L loan, just talk to your school.

Mac vs PC

Do buy a bookstand

I have these foldable ones that I could keep in my backpack. They came as a two-pack, so I left one at home and one in my backpack. They made it a lot easier to read books without straining your neck, and made the limited space you have in the classroom work better. These look small, BUT they could even handle Chemerinsky…. You don’t know what that means yet, but this will likely be your 3-pound Con law book!

Do not buy highlighters

I mean it, you do not need highlighters, because they get passed out like candy at school. Now, if we are not back on campus, you might want to pick up a few, but this is entirely up to you.

Do buy an extra power cord for your laptop

You might even want to buy 3. Ok, so I can be a bit forgetful, which often makes me seem over-prepared, but I cannot stress enough how important it was that I had an extra charger in my backpack. I even kept the third one in my locker, just to be safe.  If you have one at home and then keep one in your backpack, you’ll never be without power.

Do not by travel mugs

Seriously… LexisNexis will have you rolling in high-quality travel coffee mugs and water bottles. Trust me on this. They also give out great water bottles, so save your money!

Do buy headphones

Ideally, you’ll be able to buy some noise-canceling ones. It’s shocking how noisy the library can be, and even if you do not like listening to music while you are studying, headphones act as a great “do not disturb sign” to people around you. Ipods or other “in-ear” headphones are also great, but since they aren’t visible, they may not have the same “do not disturb” vibe, as over the ear headphones do.

Do not by earplugs

Again, a massive bowl of these will be available in the law library. Save your money!

Do you have questions about what else you should buy? Current law students, what is one thing you bought that you wish you hadn’t, and one thing you wish you had? Let me know over at the @The 2LLife on Twitter or Instagram!

My top five remote summer internship home survival tools

Working from Home

[ Mara Masters, 1L at Emory Law ]

Well folks, I hope the end of the semester is treating you well. I finally limped through the last of my exams and now have a few days to recoup after the heavy emotional toll that limping to the end took. As we all continue to adjust to this new world we live in and to working remotely, I thought I would share the five tools that have gotten me through my seasons of working from home.

1. This mug warmer

I am currently on a five- to six-cups of coffee a day habit, but I still get immersed in my work and forget that I have coffee waiting for me. Very few things are as disappointing to me as a lukewarm cup of coffee, and we don’t have a microwave for easy reheating (plus, microwaved coffee gets kind of weird, let’s be real). So we have invested in enough of these cheap mug warmers to have one in each room of the house, because we are extra extra, and I never have to think about my coffee getting cold.

2. This tiny notebook

I love, love, love these notebooks. I keep everything in them from my reading, grocery, and wish lists to phone numbers, my daily schedule, and all of my to-dos. Sometimes I jot little poems or quotes or things I am thinking down in them as well. They are small enough to stash in my back pocket if I am doing things that require movement and very, very sturdy. Look out for sales on their website and at your university bookstore (if we ever get to go back to campus), because when they go on sale they are one of the most cost-effective notebooks I have found.

3. These noise-canceling headphones

Wall of Sticky NotesI love these headphones because they block out noise like no other headphones I’ve ever had, and they customize your listening experience based on your hearing profile. Plus, they have the option to rent a pair instead of purchasing. If anything happens to your headphones while you’re renting, they will send you a new pair. I am a broke law student, so I deeply appreciate the cheaper and insured option here. I don’t know if I would have survived exams with a roommate and a dog if I didn’t have the option to go into my own little soundproof universe of focus.

4. This wall of sticky notes

This project board is much more organized than the eclectic wall of stickies I set up for exam preparation but having a color-coded system with big font and easily moveable pieces worked VERY well for me. As I’m getting ready to start my virtual summer internship, I’m going to translate what I did for exams into something a little nicer to look at.

5. This bread recipe

There have been plenty of jokes and memes about how everyone is dealing with quarantine by baking sourdough, but I feel like what better way to comfort ourselves than freshly baked carbs loaded with butter. My one recommendation if you are following this recipe, don’t ever punch your dough down. Treat it gently, as though it had feelings. You don’t want to destroy all the goodness that your yeast or sourdough starter has worked so hard to create.

Stay safe and well, fellow sojourners, and as always, feel free to reach out on Twitter and Instagram @the1lLife and let me know how you are hanging in!

Sourdough Starter

Ready for a Movie Marathon?

Legal Movie Marathon

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

I think the answer to this question 100% depends on where you are in the semester. If you’re like me and finals are still two weeks away, a movie might be a welcome distraction. If you are in the middle of finals… maybe not so much.

Just in case a social distancing watch party is in your future, and you’ve watched “Legally Blonde” a few too many times,  here are a few of my recommendations based on the classes you may be taking, and who knows you might refresh a concept or two!

Trial Advocacy

If you’re currently in Trial Advocacy or just missing the courtroom, check out “My Cousin Vinny”

Professional Responsibility

“Michael Clayton” might not seem like the obvious choice, but in this movie, a law firm brings in a “fixer” after their lawyer has a breakdown while representing a guilty chemical company in a class-action suit.

Con Law I or Con Law II

Check out “Loving,” a case you likely read, Loving V. Virginia. The Supreme court case, which struck down laws banning interracial marriage were violations of the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Environmental Law

“Erin Brockovich.” Based on a true story, not only does it touch on environmental law, but also negotiations, client counseling, and more.

Securities

If you need a spot the issue movie for your securities final, “Wall Street” is likely your best bet.

Criminal Law

You might want to check out the “Lincoln Lawyer.” Not only does it follow a criminal law issue, but it’s also full of ethics issues.

These are just a few of the suggestions I received, so if you have another one, let me know over at the @The2LLife on Twitter or Instagram.

Maintaining Studies During Uncertainty

[ Mara Masters, 1L at Emory Law ]

By now, none of us are strangers to uncertainty. Between grading shifts, bar exam postponements, the uncertainty of what the fall semester will look like, and summer internship cancelations it is totally reasonable for things to seem scary and a little out of control. Here are two things I am trying to do to make the most of this strange time.

Try to maintain your routines, both in the day-to-day and the big picture.

Full disclosure: this has been difficult for me. The first three weeks that I was house-bound due to having a fragile immune system in the age of Covid-19 were really productive. I was waking up at my favorite 5:30 am and getting more accomplished before 9:00 am than I often do the entire day if I sleep later. Around the fourth week of not leaving my house or really interacting with other humans though, I started to lose motivation and it has been difficult to get it back ever since.

I have realized in this time that I rely heavily on the anxious buzz of the classroom and the student commons to keep me focused and motivated. Even as a very introverted introvert, I need a lot of contact with my peers to remind me of the good in all of the mundane overload of case reading. One of my short-term goals is to research and brainstorm ways to cultivate that connection if classes remain online in the fall and how to leverage those connections if we are able to return to campus.

Be a good goal-setter.

As you take stock of this semester and think towards next semester, it might be helpful to have two sets of goals in mind: one for if classes return to on-campus face-to-face format, and one for if your school sticks with virtual classrooms for the fall. Depending on what classes you’ll be taking, these two sets of goals may require radically different mindsets and plans, or they may simply require a plan with a little bit more wiggle room. Either way now is the perfect time to start mapping out what those goals may look like. Here’s a very early draft of a life plan I have been working on lately. It is only half-filled out, and half of what is there has already changed, but that’s part of the fun.

If you, like me, are a natural dreamer but not a natural goal-setter, try to think in categories such as academic, social (including professional networking), health and wellness, spiritual, financial, family, and leisure. Start with your ten-year, blue skies, no obstacles dreams, and work backward down to five years, three years, one year, six months, one month, and one week. Ask yourself at each step what you need to learn and do in order to move towards those ten-year goals. Keep in mind that as you move forward those goals may change, especially in a moment as uncertain as this one. That’s ok! Flexibility is a key skill to develop to thrive in the legal profession.

Though it may seem counterintuitive to take this time of uncertainty to build your game plan, I think a time like this reminds us to make the most of the time that we have, whatever that looks like for each of us.