So many students describe feeling lost in law school. They don’t like the Socratic-method-y learning style. They don’t feel comfortable with questions without answers. They aren’t used to the new legal language that they slog through in old cases. Nor the constant feeling of too-much-to-do-and-not-enough-time. Many students feel as though they are on a high-speed treadmill – working really hard but not getting anywhere.
So if you are feeling lost in law school you should know that you are definitely not alone! Here are some tips that have helped our law students feel more oriented and in control of their classes:
Tips to Help you feel Un-Lost in Law School:
1. Evaluate if what you’re feeling is normal. Confusion, to some degree, is very normal in law school. You might not be used to feeling confused in school − in fact, it may be a real change from your last four years of undergrad or from the consistency of a job you may have had before law school. But think about it — you are basically being forced to dive into the deep end of the pool and learn a new language and a new way of thinking. Discomfort and confusion go hand in hand with the law school learning process.
I distinctly remember expressing my frustration about my Criminal law class my first year of law school to my friends as follows: “I go to class confused. I look confused when I get called on. And I leave confused. . . every day! No matter what I do to prepare.”
So if you are feeling confused, first recognize that you might not be as off-track as you think. To determine if the amount of confusion you are feeling is normal, ask yourself: Do you have somewhat of an idea of what is going on? Are you able to copy down the law in class? Do you understand what topics you are talking about and the order you are talking about the in and why you are discussing them in that order? Or are you entirely lost? Try to be objective and get comfortable with some degree of discomfort!
2. Look at your syllabus to get a bigger picture. Reviewing your syllabus is helpful in that it can provide a roadmap for what you are learning. It can help you classify topics and group them. For example, in your Torts class, you might start talking about assault, battery, trespass, conversion, etc. . .but you might not know why you talk about all of those topics in that order. If you look at your syllabus, you might notice that they are all under the heading of “intentional torts.” Just knowing that all of these torts require the element of intent can help you to feel more organized. Next, you might discuss negligence − this does not require intent (it is the absence of being reasonable – not any intent to harm!). Reviewing your syllabus and seeing the bigger picture can help you feel more organized and on track.
3. Set aside a block of time to start your outlines. Let’s say you feel lost in your Contracts class. Set aside this Saturday to outline everything up until what you have done so far. Every student who we have recommended this to say they feel better after outlining! Outlining gives you some control and provides a semblance of organization to otherwise unorganized notes! It is essentially a fleshing out the topics in your syllabus ad creating your own detailed roadmap of the class. So sit down with your syllabus class notes, your casebook, your supplements, and a large cup of coffee and start outlining! After you have your outline, continuously review the material until you feel comfortable with it. (If you want an in-depth guide to outlining, we highly recommend that you read this post! It goes through a step-by-step process of outlining.)
4. Get a supplement. Supplements are a welcome change to the Socratic Method teaching style that your professor uses. Supplements lay out the blackletter law clearly and concisely, and many times, contain practice problems. Sometimes reading the supplement’s version of what you have learned in class can demystify difficult concepts. Sometimes your professor might recommend a supplement. If your professor does not, try the Examples and Explanations supplements or Siegel’s, or whatever highly-rated cheap supplement you can find on Amazon or eBay.
5. Talk to your professor. The sooner you talk to your professor the better! Let them know what you are having trouble with and see if they have any advice for you. Some students are intimidated by their professors. If you are considering a meeting with your professor, we recommend this post on how to make the most of the meeting with your professor. It will help ensure that you do not make the same mistakes that we did! If your professor is unhelpful, another good resource may be the Academic Success staff at your law school.
6. Consider private tutoring. Sometimes a private tutor can make all the difference between a high grade and a low grade in a class. If you are in your 1L year, we especially recommend private tutoring as you will have to know all of the material for your 1L courses not only to do well in law school but also for the bar exam. (Thus, by investing early, you save yourself a lot of time, energy, frustration, and perhaps money in the future.) We offer private tutoring services for law students both in person and online all over the country.
If you are unsure where to start or if you have tried these methods but still do not feel comfortable, please do not hesitate to email us at [email protected] or call us at 248-228-5547. We are happy to help you!
Ms. Ashley Heidemann graduated as the number 1 law student out of over 200 students in her class of 2011 at Wayne State University. She now works as a tutor for law students and the bar exam. She also offers a Law School Preparatory Course for students interested in learning the skills necessary to achieve a high GPA in law school.