What’s more important to a successful legal education and career than brains, drive or love for the law? If you ask Professor Carly Wolf at WMU-Cooley’s Tampa Bay campus, it’s planning, pure and simple.
From the day you are accepted to law school to the day of your retirement party, planning is essential to good grades, passing the bar, serving your clients, and becoming the lawyer you want to be. While it may seem tedious and require painstaking attention to detail, Wolf offers a few tips to help smooth the way.
1) Understand from the get go that without planning, law school and a legal career will be much more difficult, if not impossible, so accepting planning as an integral part of your life is a great place to start. By nurturing a planning mind set, you will reap the benefits many times over for years to come.
2) The earlier you start planning, the better. You should literally plan your entire law school career as early as possible to ensure you have scheduled time for all of the things you want to accomplish, like study abroad or an extended externship, as well as the things you have to accomplish, like classes and exams.
3) Be open to different planning tools; try them and decide early which one is right for you. For example, paper calendars or planners are preferred by some, but computerized calendars also offer things like real-time updates and alerts and are tied to your phone and email. The same goes for daily to-do lists. You can keep your stack of sticky notes, or you can put your list in your electronic calendar and get reminders as often as you need them.
4) Accept the reality that law school requires a lot more time than your undergrad program did. It just does. Typically, in law school, students need about nine hours outside of class to prep for every three hours in class. So if you are taking three classes, that’s roughly a full-time job; you’ve got 27 hours outside the classroom and nine hours inside and probably not much unplanned free time in which to maneuver.
5) While planning, students must consider how they will cover all three stages of their education: learning the material, memorizing the material, and applying the material. This requires planning well in advance to ensure that you have enough time to get your homework done and to make it to class without being late. It may seem like a no brainer, but just setting a time to be somewhere or do something is not the same as scheduling a time period and associated deadlines so that you avoid being late or running out of time.
6) Long before you graduate, create a plan for studying for and taking the Bar exam. Keep in mind that the Bar is two days of testing, 12 hours total, usually covering about 20 topics that students have just under two months to study for. You might call it the marathon of your life, and it will be a hard race to win without a solid plan. But even if you do have a great plan at this point, if you have not been planning all along and managed to do well on exams and gain a firm grasp of the material, you are not likely to do well on the Bar. That’s why planning from day one is so essential.
7) Once you’ve graduated and passed the Bar, you should have well-honed planning skills that should be applied similarly to your legal career. If you’re not planning, you’re going to miss meetings, and you’re not going to have enough time to do the substantive legal work. You will need time to answer all the emails filling your inbox and the phone calls that went to voicemail. In fact, a major source of Bar complaints is that lawyers don’t get back to clients quickly enough, so avoiding that is key to your practice of law.
If you’re already overwhelmed by the breadth and depth of planning needed to succeed, here’s a bit of good news: it is much easier to manage if it’s broken up into smaller bites. Start at the daily level, build out to a week, then a month, then a term, year, and so on. This is especially applicable to staying on track with your commercial Bar prep course so that you can make it past the point where you say, “This is not doable,” because it absolutely is if you laid out a plan and laid out a strategy.