Chapter One - Assessing your Resources
To succeed in law school, students must use all the resources at their
disposal: physical, psychological, emotional, social, financial as
well as educational. Planning for law school requires a careful assessment
of your available resources and plans to use those resources most efficiently.
This chapter is designed to assist you in that planning. The
chapter covers four basic topics:
The Most Limited Resource: Time
The Non-cognitive Resources: Self-knowledge and Self-esteem
II. Safety Needs
Protection from immediate or future physical harm
Protection from immediate or future threat to physical, psychological or economic well-being
III. Social needs
Love and affection
Association with others
IV. Self-esteem needs
Influence with others
V. Self-actualization needs
Realization of one's own potential
Problem-centered orientation toward life
Identification with the problems of humanity
Acceptance of self and others
Financial pressures, in particular, can play a critical role in law school success. As you are painfully aware, law school is extraordinarily expensive and many students arrive at law school with large debt burdens from prior education. These financial pressures can interfere with the ability to succeed in law school - diverting needed time and energies. Some students do not plan sufficiently to avoid financial emergencies. Every student needs to prepare a budget for their law school year. (If you have never prepared a budget, you may benefit from the resources available at a non-profit credit counseling service.) If your budget reflects financial threats, identify sources of additional assistance. One source of assistance some students look to is part-time employment. However, unless you are in a part-time law program, YOU SHOULD NOT BE WORKING DURING YOUR FIRST SEMESTER OF LAW SCHOOL ! Not only is this a violation of law school rules and American Bar Association accreditation standards , it is a short-sighted solution. Why threaten your long-term learning and earning by working during the first semester of law school?
Even if they do not interfere with your ability to succeed in law school, financial issues can pose a threat to your bar admission as well. If you have current debt problems, beware of simply ignoring obligations while in law school. As part of the bar admission process, you will need to disclose your debts and the bar examiners will investigate your credit record. Large, unmanaged debt is a red flag on bar applications. Address your debt problems before you come to law school and do not ignore debt issues while in law school. For assistance, you may wish to work with the consumer credit counseling service. The CCCS is a non-profit agency that counsels people on debt managements, budgeting, and other principles of personal finance. The NFCC (the accrediting agency for CCCS offices) Hotline is 1-800-388-2227.
Health and personal resources are the second set of resources one needs to address before coming to law school . Few of us are in the kind of physical shape that we would like to be -- imagine the results of a diet consisting heavily of coffees, donuts and Wednesday pizza, and a workout program that consists entirely of carrying 100 pounds of law books from locker to library. (It's not pretty.) The stress of law school causes many students to neglect their health. However, saving time by neglecting meals, rest and exercise will not pay off in the long run. Follow the advice your mother gave you (or should have given you). Pack a nutritious lunch -- don't make breakfast three cups of coffee and two chocolate doo-wahs out of the vending machines -- eat your vegees. Get enough sleep -- especially during the times you think you can least afford it. Get some exercise -- the Law Book Bench Press is not enough. Take twenty minutes a day to go for a walk at least.
Some students try to cope with the stress of law school through chemistry: caffeine (or stronger) to keep them up; alcohol and other substances to help them down. Not only is this strategy guaranteed to interfere with your studies, but it is a sure-fire way to guarantee that the Board of Bar Examiners will refuse your application for admission to the bar. Substance abuse and criminal records are major red flags on any application -- and yes, that little DUI ticket counts, even if you went through a diversion program and were told that your record was "clean." You need more than a "clean" record to be a lawyer -- you need a "clean" brain. If you think you may have a problem with substance abuse already, don't begin law school until you are in recovery. If you are in recovery, set up a strong network of support to keep you there. The Missouri Lawyers' Assistance Program (MOLAP) provides confidential, professional assistance to law students and members of the Missouri Bar. Their number is 1-800-688-7859.
Equally important to your success in law school is your social support
system. Who is your "family"? What demands do they make upon your
resources? How do they feel about your going to law school?
Are there resources supports or limitations you need to address with them?
You will have less time and energy for your family and friends -- but be
sure not to neglect these important people in your life. They are
your buffer against stress -- your link to the rest of your life and self.
And for heaven's sake, when you are spending time with them, don't "lawyer"
them. Watching a football game with your friends is not a good
time to review your knowledge of the tort doctrine of assumption of risk.
Don't use an discussion with your spouse as an opportunity to practice
rephrasing the issue. Instead, keep track of yourself and nurture
the relationships that will nurture you.
To complicate matters further, time management is a very individualized process. Some people work best in the morning, others in the evening. Some people can concentrate best on tasks by shifting back and forth between tasks for variety; others require sustained blocks of time to concentrate on one subject. Some of us require more sleep than others; some have family or community responsibilities. The bottom line is that you have to manage your time according to your needs in a way that will allow you to accomplish your goals.
You must be realistic about the intensive time demands of law school. You must recognize that you simply will not have time for many of the activities or responsibilities that you were able to carry before law school. If you fail to recognize the time demands of law school, you will set unrealistic goals and have unrealistic expectations about what you can accomplish. You will end up being unhappy, harried, sick, and you will not be able to reach your goals.
Probably one of the most common reasons for student dismissal from law
school is time: students who continued to work or continued to engage
in extensive outside activities during law school -- especially in the
first year. That is not to say that you will have no time for family,
community, or other important outside commitments. Indeed, these
outside commitments are important in reducing the overall stress caused
by the time demands of law school. But outside time demands are a
double-edged sword. It is not uncommon to feel as though you are
walking, talking, and thinking nothing but law during the first year.
If you are highly motivated to achieve academic success, you will neglect
"off time." The inevitable result for all but a few students is burn
out -- often just at the crucial exam time. However, if you view
law school as "off time" -- scheduling law school around your outside activities
rather than vice versa -- you are unlikely to be using your most productive
time for study and learning. Obviously, then, the key is balance
and planning. If you have never spent any time thinking about
how to manage your time, you may find the following article useful in thinking
about time management and planning.
So what do you most need to know about managing time as we count down to the millennium? Here are the Top 10:
1. There's always time for what you do first.
Like "Pay yourself first" in the realm of money, this basic time truth is usually ignored by all but the savvy few. And the consequences are just as severe. When was the last time you said something like, "I really wanted to work on my new-product proposal (or staff reviews or marketing plan) today, but I just didn't have time"? Think back. Did you use the early-morning hours to tidy your office or read and reply to your e-mail? In that case, your actions are speaking a lot louder than your words. They're saying, "My top priorities are tidying up and answering e-mail."
2. The sooner you face your fears, the less time you'll waste.
Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of rejection. Fear of acceptance. Like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, these primal fears gallop over the landscape of our lives, laying waste to precious hours and days. Usually we run from our fears, repressing or denying them. But this is a very short-term strategy. That's because, emotionally speaking, what we resist persists. Or, to use Henry Miller's more eloquent language, "Everything we shut our eyes to, everything we run away from, everything we deny, denigrate or despise, serves to defeat us in the end."
The evolutionary choice: Face our fears and take action anyhow. Then do it again. And again. Along the way, celebrate successes, analyze failures and never criticize, berate or otherwise punish ourselves.
3. Traditional time management is far too limited for today's complex,
Remember classic time-management advice such as "Handle each piece of paper only once," "Have your desk clear of everything but your priority A-1 project" and "Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today"?
Turns out that's only half the story. Old-style time management
emerged in the Industrial Age. Assembly-line efficiency became the
model for productivity of all sorts. Time-and-motion studies claimed to
show the one right way to do each task. That context gave rise to a linear,
logical, left-brain approach to managing time and other resources.
In our current Information Age, time management, like so much else, is being re-engineered. Creativity, flexibility and visual/spatial skills are coming into their own. Such right-brain traits typically thrive on paper shuffling and project juggling. And though Ben Franklin's ghost may shudder, our intuition will often tell us quite correctly that tomorrow or next week would be a better time to do something than today.
Traditional time management is still valid; it's just limited. It doesn't work best for everyone, it doesn't work best in all situations. Today's top time managers equally value and employ right-brain techniques. This creates a far greater chance that they'll respond effectively to the constantly morphing realities of the '90s.
4. Perfectionism is one of the chief blocks to peak performance.
For generations, parents have told their children, "If something's worth
doing, it's worth doing well."
Convenient for parents, no doubt, who don't want their kids to trip over sloppily tied shoelaces or don't relish rewashing the dishes. Bad advice, though, for adults juggling dozens of daily duties and desires. On the contrary, those who apply a single perfectionistic standard to almost everything they do are almost always underachievers.
Successful people know how to apply a flexible standard to each task, depending on its value. When appropriate, they're not above doing a quick and dirty job. They also know when to practice "executive neglect" -- ignoring a task for long periods or forever, without guilt.
5. The stronger your sense of self-worth, the better use you'll make of your time.
Why do so many of us put second what's first in our hearts? A teen-ager longs to excel at his studies but caves in to peers who pressure him to waste time at the beach. A talented wanna-be songwriter spends her weekends cleaning her apartment. Parents who value their families above all else work such long hours, their children hardly see them. Could it be because, deep inside, we don't feel we fully deserve to succeed, to contribute, to be loved apart from our achievements?
Whether we know it or not, most of us suffer from cracks in our self-esteem that lead us to misuse our time in a variety of ways. We choose inappropriate goals. We waste time in worry or indecision. We procrastinate from fear our efforts won't measure up. Valuing yourself is a skill you can learn. Many books, tapes and adult-education courses teach techniques for building self-esteem, such as positive self-talk, visualizing and mirror exercises. Used regularly, such techniques pay huge time dividends.
6. Never underestimate the power of momentum.
Often, we put off key actions -- ones that would result in the biggest return on our time investment -- because of "initial resistance." The feeling may range in intensity from simple balking to near-paralysis. We imagine that this resistance is going to drag at us during the whole task or project session, like a sack of stones tied around our waist. We convince ourselves that nothing worthwhile can come from such heaviness. We'd do better to wait until we feel more motivated, right? Fatal mistake. We don't realize that initial resistance is just that: initial. If we start the task anyhow, we're likely to find that heaviness falls away after the first five or 10 minutes. Momentum takes over, with its irresistible forward pull. Surprise! We may wind up working for hours, feeling plenty inspired.
7. You can't possibly keep up with all the latest information, and you'd probably be better off to stop trying.
"Today, even the uninformed know too much," observes futurist Roger Selbert. Other researchers agree. Richard Restak, author of several books on the brain, says that a mind crammed with factoids makes it difficult for a person to focus, set goals and keep track of time.
8. Having a vision and a plan are vital, but just as vital are the willingness and ability to revamp or scrap them both without regret.
An inspiring vision of the future imparts direction and purpose to our personal and working lives. Fueled by a detailed plan -- a series of measurable goals, together with practical tactics and time frames for achieving them -- our vision can propel us forward like a powerful engine. Be warned, though. With the pace of life at warp speed, planning's not what it used to be. We need to be a lot better at tracking trends, anticipating change and embracing the unexpected. We need to accept that the process of creating plans and moving toward visions is as valuable as the plans and visions themselves. Otherwise, we may feel confused or discouraged when our expectations don't pan out. Or we may cling to an existing plan or vision that needs to be revised -- or scrapped altogether.
9. The more fun you have, the more you can get done.
Sound too good to be true? Here's the logic. We've already cited the right brain as a crucial missing element in the old time-management paradigm. We could also call that side of the brain our "inner child." Just like a real kid, our inner child thrives on spontaneity, variety, play, humor, music, visual stimulation and the company of others. Also like a real kid, it wants our approval and encouragement.
When our inner kid feels bored, rejected or overcontrolled, watch out. It will rebel and sabotage the best-laid plans. We experience this sabotage as tiredness, inability to concentrate, lack of ideas or an urge to procrastinate. Or even as illness. For optimal productivity and satisfaction, we need to keep our right brain happy. Easy ways to do that: Work to music; break up periods of intense concentration with frequent frivolity; work with a partner or team.
10. The busier you are, the more important it is to invest time in managing your time.
"As soon as I get caught up, I'm definitely going to make a long-term
"Once the kids are in school, then I'll sort out my goals."
"I'll start setting daily priorities after I finally get my degree."
Sound familiar? Where managing time is concerned, many of us have a "wait" problem. We wait for circumstances to arrange themselves into a more convenient pattern. We wait for our energy level to rise or our stress level to drop. In short, we wait to "have" or "find" more time before we'll commit to learning and applying time-management concepts and tools.
Here's how it really works: You don't practice time management when you have more time -- you have more time when you practice time management.
Following the advice in this article, then, here are some tools to help you practice time management while in the first year of law school:
Consider that the last three weeks of the semester are generally extremely time pressured, as you struggle to maintain your class preparation and also prepare for exams. Plan now for the most intensive time demands during that period. If you have children or other family responsibilities, plan for additional child-care or other alternative arrangements now.
Next, fill in significant dates of other responsibilities. Is your cousin's wedding during the last week of classes? Do you have medical appointments during the middle of the semester? Is you child's school play during exams? Decide now how to balance or rearrange these responsibilities.
Consider that you will have fifteen hours of class time each week. Add your four to one study time ratio. That's sixty hours a week. How will you allocate that time? Consider that there are 24 hours in a day; that most people need about 8 hours to sleep and another two hours for eating, bathing, and other basic human functions. That leaves 14 hours a day (98 hours a week) to allocate between law school and life. What choices will you make? Can you work ten hours a day, six days a week so that you can have a free day? Or would your style be better served with seven days a week of eight hours? Or how about fourteen hours a day Monday thru Thursday, and five hours on Friday?
These are not easy choices and perhaps you may be saying to yourself that these are choices you can avoid. But you are risking a great deal if you proceed with any other than these assumptions about the time required during the first year.
While you are at it, think about where you will study as well. The library at school? The public library near your home? Your home? Where will you honestly be the most efficient and the least subject to distractions? Where will you have the resources at hand to study well?
There will be points in law school when you will lose your motivation:
either because you are bored, or tired or simply do not see any reward
for your efforts. You will need to have ready some techniques to
keep your motivation strong. What has worked for you in the
past can work for you here. How have you maintained your motivation
in other long-term, high-demand tasks? You might challenge yourself:
for example, volunteer to participate in class discussions so you will
have an incentive to prepare more fully, or set goals for outlining of
subject matters by certain dates. Break your work down into small
parts and give yourself rewards for completing each part. Make a
visible reminder of your progress -- keep all your briefs and class notes
in one notebook and watch it grow, or make lists of assignments and cross
them off as you complete them. Remind yourself of the importance
of sustained effort to long-term learning. Remind yourself of the
importance of long-term learning to your goals of completing law school
and pursuing whatever career in law or elsewhere you have set as a goal.
Turn to your support system for support and encouragement.
Moreover, very competitive students also tend to isolate themselves
in their learning. Research into law school success demonstrates
that a feeling of social isolation is a fundamental variable in predicting
success in law school. Even if you generally prefer to work alone,
you should at least try to work with study partners for purposes of review
and exam preparation. One of the skills law schools develop
is the skill of generating alternative interpretations or solutions.
For this skill, two (or more) heads are definitely better than one.
Study partners can be important sources for insight into the process
of law school learning and support for flagging confidence.
When choosing study partners and working with them, look for positive,
directed people with a sense of humor and beware the student who takes
him or herself too seriously.
The successful law student is confident and positive
Just as isolation is a variable in law school success, so is self-confidence. As Maslow's need hierarchy demonstrates, one cannot realize one's potential until one has fulfilled the need for confidence. Self-confidence is a complex amalgam of prior experience, personality, and setting. You may come into law school with prior experiences of success and a personality geared toward confidence. Unfortunately, the law school setting can shake the confidence of all but the most secure. Throughout a semester, you will receive very little specific, evaluative feedback. Most faculty in the first year give mid-term exams, but few (outside of perhaps your legal writing instructors) provide the type of weekly, graded homework that you might have received in undergraduate education. The classroom process, designed to challenge and expand your learning, will not necessarily provide positive feedback or bolster your confidence. Some students are especially adept at trying to undermine the confidence of their peers. The first grades you receive in law school are very likely to be the lowest grades you have ever received in your life. And those grades count for so much -- becoming a source of considerable stress as you engage in a more competitive, explicit ranking process than many of you have faced since junior high. Law students are all highly talented and intelligent people, used to achievement. But all law students can not graduate with a 4.00 grade point average. (You can all graduate, but 90% of you will not graduate in the top 10% of the class).
How can one maintain confidence in the face of such a situation?
Focus on the positive. Remind yourself of the successes you have
had. Re-frame your disappointments in positive directions.
If you get a poor grade on your first legal writing assignment, for example,
you might frame this as "Better now than later - at least I have a chance
to find out how to improve." Be careful about re-framing in ways
that undermine your overall motivation (e.g., "The Professor must not like
me -- there's nothing I can do to improve). Many people find affirmations
or giving themselves pep talks to be effective in boosting confidence.
Try using some of these techniques when you feel your confidence flagging.
For example, one useful way to assess learning style is to consider
your preferred mode of perception: how do you take in information
about the world? The way people perceive reality can be broken
into two categories -- sensing and intuition. Persons who prefer
to take in information about their world through sensing use sight, smell,
sound, touch and taste. They prefer concrete information and
notice what is. In comparison, persons who prefer intuition gather
information more often in terms of feelings, thoughts and emotions.
They prefer abstractions and notice what might be. The following
chart provides some key vocabularies preferred by each of these types.
Try to identify which approach to perception you prefer. (Remember, there
is no "better" preference).
|Sensing (75% of Population)||Intuition (25% of Population)|
The point here is to be aware of what works best for you and to build
on your strengths and minimize your weaknesses.
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Abraham Harold Maslow (1908-1970) was an American humanistic psychologist
who developed a theory of motivation. The need hierarchy is a central
premise of that theory. His writings include: TOWARD A PSYCHOLOGY
OF BEING (1962) and FARTHER REACHES OF HUMAN NATURE (1971). They
are arranged in terms of the priority of our needs (i.e. you can't effectively
fulfill your need for knowledge if you are hungry).
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