Monthly Archives: September 2012

Why You Procrastinate and How to Stop

Here’s a link to quite a helpful little video about the psychology of why we procrastinate and several really useful tips on how to stop. (Bonus: the video is short, so it won’t take you away from your work for long!).


Bar Associations – A Great Resource for Law Students

You may not know that you can join many bar associations before you are admitted to the bar — even while you are still a law student! National, state, and local bar associations offer many great resources for law students, including networking opportunities, committee participation, continuing legal education, orientation to the court system, membership in sections focused on legal topic areas, and much more. And most bar associations offer steeply discounted rates allowing law students to join.

As a law student here in Chicago, for example, you may want to consider joining one or more of the following:

American Bar Association. Law student dues are only $25 or three years for $60. The ABA has an entire law student division, which offers a huge number of resources and benefits for law students. These resources and benefits are described at

ABA law student division membership benefits include:

  • Subscriptions to the ABA Journal, eJournal, Student Lawyer magazine and the Division monthly eNewsletter.
  • Moot court and practical skills competitions in arbitration, client counseling, negotiation and appellate advocacy.
  • Writing competitions, many of which award monetary prizes.
  • Internships, fellowships, and clerkships in a variety of practice specialties.
  • Leadership opportunities within law schools, regions or on a national level.
  • Specialized publications and programs in 30+ specialty practice groups – 21 of which are free to law students.
  • Involvement in specialty practice groups that cover more than 30+ areas of law.
  • Opportunities to work with legal professionals on committees and advocacy issues.
  • Hotlines for answers to ethics questions (312.988.5323).
  • Career guidance, including job search information, trends, daily tips, advice and on-going access to career resources.
  • BarBri Bar Review Course Scholarships and discounts on Kaplan review courses.

Illinois State Bar Association: Membership is free for up to four years of law school (the membership year runs September to August). Law student membership benefits are described at

ISBA student membership provides these benefits:

Information and Networking


  • ADAPTIBAR is an online multistate bar examination      preparation program. Using advanced technology, ADAPTIBAR automatically      adjusts the presentation of questions based on your strengths and      weaknesses and improves your internal timing by telling you whether you      are taking too little or too much time on a question. To enroll, visit or call 877-466-1250.
  • Free admission to law school programs sponsored by      the ISBA Law Student Division
  • Law Ed CLE Programs held throughout the state
  • Seminars sponsored by the ISBA Young Lawyers      Division
  • ISBA Annual and Midyear Meeting programs


Chicago Bar Association: Student rate: $12/year. Join at

Membership in The Chicago Bar Association offers law students the opportunity to learn about the actual practice of law through committee participation, seminars, publications, and volunteer projects. Important networking opportunities are also available.

  • Committees are a way to learn about a specific practice area. Monthly committee meetings feature expert speakers, legislative updates and case law developments.
  • The CBA presents over 120 seminars each year featuring expert speakers and comprehensive written material. Topics include:


  • Tours of the state and federal courts
  • Deposition strategies and techniques
  • Starting your own practice.
  • Trying Your First Case
  • Basic Real Estate Closings
  • An Overview of Probate Practice

A Summer Opportunity for Law Students

I received this announcement of a fellowship opportunity that some of you might be interested in applying for for next summer:


FASPE (Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics) is now accepting applications for a fellowship that uses the conduct of lawyers and judges in Nazi Germany as a launching point for an intensive two-week early summer program about contemporary legal ethics.  Fellowships include an all-expense paid trip from New York to Berlin, Krakow, and Oświęcim (Auschwitz) where students will work with leading faculty to explore both legal history and the ethical issues facing lawyers today.  All program costs, including international and European travel, lodging, and food, are covered.

The tentative program dates for FASPE Law are May 26 – June 6, 2013.

Completed applications must be received by January 11, 2013.  Candidates of all religious, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds are encouraged to apply.

To apply or to learn more about FASPE, please visit:

If you have any questions, please contact Thorin Tritter, Managing Director of FASPE, at

FASPE operates under the auspices of the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

“Mise en Place”: Thriving in the First Weeks and Months of Law School (Part Two)

Part Two – Mental Preparation

In Part One of my “mis en place” post (see September 14 post), I discussed physical preparation for law school success.

Mental preparation is just as important as physical preparation in creating your “mise en place” system for law school success. Law school, particularly the first year, is a steep transition to a new discourse community  — you are actually being trained to think in a new way. This, together with the significant amount of time needed to do your course assignments, can make the experience quite stressful. But there are things you can do to maintain normalcy and balance in your life and keep the stress to a minimum.

1)     Perhaps most importantly, you need to approach law school from a “project management” perspective. The first year of law school requires a sustained period of putting in long hours of work. But careful planning and maintenance of a schedule can make this manageable. Create a detailed schedule for yourself. Write it down and put it on your bulletin board or view it electronically at the start of each week and each day. Schedule specific times for the academic pursuits of each day – class time, study time, working on long term projects like writing assignments, outlining, attending study groups or student events – but also formally schedule the times you will eat, sleep, exercise, socialize, fulfill family commitments or chores, and take time for yourself. Having a scheduled time for activities other than studying will legitimize those activities in your mind so that you actually do them, and knowing that you have scheduled exercise or a social event to look forward to will help you focus on studying when it is your scheduled study time. That is, you won’t waste time worrying about some other activity you should be doing (or not doing), because you will know that there is a scheduled time for that activity coming up.

2)     Jettison the time-waster activities. You should make time for important  leisure activities like exercise, family, and your favorite hobby. But don’t waste your leisure time on “time suck” activities that you don’t really care much about, like watching television reruns or aimlessly surfing the net. Understand that law school is demanding of your time and that some things will have to go. Make sure that the things you cut out are the things that are least important to your happiness and health.

3)     In addition to having a good schedule, the most important advice I can give you is to form a study group with some of your classmates. You are being exposed to a lot of unfamiliar and difficult material at a very fast pace in law school. The Socratic method means that much of this material is presented in disjointed ways – you read individual cases about many different legal topics and are expected to figure out how the pieces relate to each other and form a coherent whole. This is the American law school approach. It’s useful, but sometimes frustrating. But finding a small group of like-minded classmates whom you can sit down with every few days and puzzle out what you are supposed to be deriving from class can be very intellectually helpful. It’s also emotionally empowering, because you share your frustrations with each other and derive the satisfaction of reasoning through questions and figuring out the answers together. I formed a “study group” within my first few days of law school quite by accident: three other students and I started chatting after class one day about how confused we were, decided to grab lunch together to continue the conversation, and then did that again every day after our morning classes — until one day we decided to formalize that activity into a “study group.” We met once or twice a week from then on, and eventually worked on our outlines together and got together to take practice exams together and comment on each other’s exams. We taught each other the material all semester, and we all found it extremely helpful.

4)     I also strongly recommend that law students commit to participate in at least one weekly social event at a consistently scheduled time. In my first year of law school, by Friday nights I was exhausted and burned out from a week of getting up early for class, reading cases, and doing the hard mental work of trying to understand them. Early on I made a conscious choice that even if I took no other time off from studying during the week, Friday nights would be my “time off.” (My brain had stopped working by Friday night anyway, so this made sense). Every Friday night my boyfriend and I would get take-out Chinese food from a really great place in Ann Arbor and eat it in front of the TV while watching sports or a movie. I can’t tell you how much the simple act of taking those few hours off guilt-free recharged my brain and helped me to return refreshed to my studying the next day. And having my Friday nights off to look forward to all week really motivated me to study all week, since I knew a break was coming, and thus I was more motivated to “earn” it by focusing during the week.

5)     It will also help you maintain your emotional balance if you give your brain a small mental vacation from thinking about law each day. Take a few minutes each morning or evening to wind down by reading a little of a novel or other book that has nothing to do with law, to focus on listening to music, or to otherwise give your brain something else to think about besides law and law school. You will find that even this short time away from thinking about the law is mentally rejuvenating.

6)     Find a relaxation technique that works for you. Law school can be stressful. Getting called on in class – or just anticipating it – can be stressful. Trying to keep up with your reading can be stressful. Worrying about the job market. Worrying about what time you can get to bed tonight. You get the picture. The point is, you need to find ways to combat that stress. So find some relaxation techniques (no, drinking is not a “relaxation technique”) that you can incorporate into your life. Northwestern Law, like many law schools, offers regular stress management seminars. Other good techniques include massage, acupuncture, deep breathing, meditation, biofeedback, singing loudly in the shower (my personal favorite), repetitive meditative activities like knitting or painting, and group primal screaming. Try out a few techniques, find your zen, and practice it regularly. Relaxation is actually a skill that you can practice and improve, and a relaxed law student is a more productive law student. (Not to mention happier!).

7)     Finally, it’s also very important to maintain your relationships outside of law school. Visiting or talking regularly to your family and friends is crucial to maintaining your core identity – the “you” who you were before coming to law school. Make time to keep in touch with your loved ones often, even if that just means sending a quick text message each morning and having a longer conversation once a week. It’s also important to talk regularly with people who are not immersed in the same all-encompassing law school experience that you are. Maintaining these emotional connections to “the outside world” will help you keep an objective perspective on the challenging situation you are going through.

8)     Finally, please know that the first semester is the hardest because in addition to learning the material, you are also learning how to learn the material. I promise you that it will get easier – so maintain perspective and a sense of humor!

Writing for Partners: What’s Most Important to Them?

The blog “Above the Law” has a recent post,, about how associates can be most successful in writing for partners.

The post is by Ross Guberman of Legal Writing Pro, a legal writing training and consulting business. Mr. Guberman says that to write the post, he “recently surveyed thousands of law-firm partners about the writing skills they want to see associates develop.” He then organized their responses to cover five categories that the partners most emphasized: 1) Concision, 2) Clarity, 3) Structure, 4) Using Authorities, and 5) Usage and Mechanics.

Check out the post for more details on what partners look for in these categories. The points made in the post are useful ones and should sound familiar to my CLR students!

“Mise en Place”: Thriving in the First Weeks and Months of Law School (Part One)

Experienced chefs live by the concept of “mise en place” (French for “set in place”), meaning that they get their work station completely ready before beginning to cook. A chef does this by gathering all necessary cooking implements and chopping or otherwise preparing all ingredients so that they will be close to hand and ready when needed. Voila– no frustrations or unnecessary interruptions during the creative and high-pressure process of gourmet cooking.

The mise en place concept can be applied equally well (By analogy! Voila! A tie-in to the 1L experience!) to navigating the first few weeks and months of law school. Once law school revs up, it is a high-pressure process that seems to move at breakneck speed. But having your “work station” prepared can lessen the pressure you feel and allow you to completely immerse yourself in learning the law.

Mise en place of your law school work station includes both physical preparation and mental preparation.

This post will cover physical preparation. I’ll write about mental preparation in a separate post.

Physical Preparation:

The physical preparation aspect of mise en place means that as the school year launches, you gather around you all the physical “implements” that will make your study process as comfortable, and therefore, as effective as possible. You want all of this prepared ahead of time so that you don’t need to go searching for it once you are in the thick of the semester. First, find or create a good study space that allows you to focus without distractions. You should have a place that you can count on returning to every day, so that you can store all your supplies there, and so you know what the seating and lighting will be like. Try to get a reserved carrel or table in the law library. If you can’t reserve one, then create a space at home. Your study space should include the following furniture and supplies:

1)      A comfortable desk and chair.

2)      Good lighting and extra light bulbs.

3)      A reliable late-model computer with sufficient memory and a back-up method such as an extra external hard drive or electronic Cloud space. (I promise you that your computer will crash, erasing your entire hard drive, sometime during law school – it happens to one of my students almost every year. So back up all files at least weekly, or preferably nightly! I can’t emphasize this enough!).

4)      A good printer and extra ink cartridges – this is crucial if any of your classes (such as your legal research and writing class) require you to print out your assignments. You don’t want to have to rely on law school printers when all the other 1Ls are lining up to use them.

5)      Sufficient printer paper.

6)      Pillows, a light blanket or sweater, ambient music, and whatever else will make you more physically comfortable at your desk.

7)      A large supply of the office supplies you will use. Law students are typically intense consumers of highlighter pens (my boyfriend bought me a giant sized box as a holiday gift after he saw how many I used in my first semester). Other important office supplies include good pens (especially if you take notes by hand), and lots of post-its of various kinds. Law students love to tab their books and write notes on the tabs, so that they can flip to the important pages.

8)      A good legal dictionary (either hard copy or online). Get in the habit of looking up unfamiliar legal terms as soon as you encounter them during your reading for class. Knowing those words will help you understand the reading as a whole and help avoid frustration.

9)      Commercial outlines and hornbooks for overview purposes. There are many commercial law study aids. Law students should not rely heavily on commercial study aids, since reading them is a type of passive learning that is no substitute for the active learning of closely reading the case book and creating your own outline. However, commercial study aids are useful to provide the “30,000 feet” overview of a legal topic. Consider having a commercial outline, hornbook, or treatise about each of your 1L courses (contracts, torts, etc.) near at hand to give you a deeper understanding of a particular sub-topic that you’re struggling with on a certain day, or to help you understand how a detailed sub-topic fits into the larger context of the course topic as a whole. (Note: I’ll be doing a later post about my detailed thoughts on the utility of each type of commercial study aid).

10)  A large supply of healthy snacks and drinks near your work station – perhaps in a mini-fridge.  It is very important to keep yourself hydrated. You will be spending a lot of time inside dry, perhaps old, buildings, and handling a lot of paper. All of this is dehydrating. Dehydration leads to headaches and tiredness, which interfere with mental focus. It’s also important not to let yourself get too hungry, and to eat sufficient protein and vitamins (e.g. from lean meats and dairy, beans, nuts, and fruits and vegetables). Protein and vitamins are brain food. Foods full of sugar, fats, and chemicals will agitate you and then lead to an energy crash, and they don’t provide the protein your brain needs to function at its best. Eating healthy snacks will also help you avoid over-reliance on caffeine. Lay in a large supply early in the semester. When you are busy studying, if you run out of healthy snacks you may be tempted to live on candy bars from the corner convenience store. Avoid this pattern.

10) Access to regular exercise. Regular exercise is as important as healthy food in helping you avoid the ubiquitous law school cold and stay feeling well, so you can concentrate. Find a way to work exercise into your schedule, whether that means biking or walking to school each day, taking a run after your last class, or joining a gym near the law school where you can go every day or so. Your school may even have free or cheap athletic facilities.

Coming soon: Part Two: Mental Preparation!

Legal Writing Contests for Law Students

As lawyers, we often toil relatively anonymously in the fields of memo, brief, and client letter writing with only the satisfaction of a job well-done as our rewards. So I want to bring to law students’ attention a very enjoyable way to get some public recognition of the value of excellent written legal analysis.

That is – enter a legal writing contest! There are quite a number of legal writing contests that are sponsored by various organizations year-round. I recently learned that Michael Lin, who was a student last year in my Northwestern Law colleague Grace Dodier’s Communication and Legal Reasoning (“CLR”) course, won second place in the Adam A. Milani Disability Law Writing Competition, a national disability law writing competition sponsored by the Mercer University School of Law and the ABA Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law. The competition honors the work of the late Professor Adam Milani, who was an advocate for disability rights and a faculty member at Mercer University School of Law. Professor Dodier’s class was writing briefs on an issue arising under the Americans with Disabilities Act last spring, and Prof. Dodier had encouraged students who wrote top briefs in the class to submit their briefs to the Milani Competition.

I’ve found several blogs and websites that list many student legal writing competitions around the country. These include a list on the webpage of the Law Student Division section of the American Bar Association, found at, as well as a blog by Prof. Kathryn A. Sampson of the University of Arkansas School of Law, found at

Perusal of these lists reveals that there are legal writing contest on almost any legal topic you can imagine, including criminal justice, business law, antitrust law, alternative dispute resolution, GLBT legal issues, international law, domestic violence law, and many others. Some contests require submission of trial or appellate briefs, while others require documents such as essays, seminar papers, or student law review notes. And awards can include money, expense-paid trips to attend legal conferences, and publication!

And just to make sure you win, here is a blog post by law professor Eric Goldman of Santa Clara University School of Law that purports to tell you how to win a legal writing competition in three easy steps: I can’t vouch for whether his steps will guarantee you a win, but he has some interesting thoughts!