The 10 Habits of Highly Successful Law Students
At WMU-Cooley Law School, we’ve spent years paying close attention to the consistent habits shared by our most successful students, and we’ve compiled them here to help nourish the success of our future legal scholars.
These are the top ten habits we’ve identified in successful law students, with some key tips included to help manage the often overwhelming workload of legal education.
1. Plan your work
…and work your plan! This age-old adage really holds value when you’re suddenly surrounded by assignment due dates, practical exams, and a growing pile of sticky note reminders. It may seem obvious, but too many students fall behind due to a simple lack of organizational skills. Don’t let it happen to you. Invest in a traditional planner, virtual assistant, or digital scheduling platform – whatever will best help you practice good time management, organize your assignments, and track your goals.
Keep both short-term and long-term commitments and goals in mind so your planning becomes a roadmap guiding you towards your overall success. That means doing more than jotting down class times; make it a habit to plan time for studying, externships, and extracurricular commitments so everything is accounted for.
2. Get ahead in the reading
Part of your job as a law student is self-education. That means going above and beyond the reading assignments; you need to do the reading (at least two, or three times) and attempt to teach yourself how you would apply what you learned in real-world situations before you study it in class. Reading ahead helps to enforce your overall knowledge.
Here’s another great reason: when you get ahead in the reading, you can better avoid falling behind. One bout of flu or unexpected bump in the road can snowball into feeling lost the rest of the term. Eliminate the potential for falling behind and reduce potential unnecessary stress by maintaining a solid understanding one step ahead of schedule.
3. Create Their Own Outlines
Let’s say it again: great law students teach themselves the law. Creating outlines is crucial in fully understanding the huge amount of content coming your way. Manipulating and organizing the material on your own is a great way to identify what you know – and what areas might need more practice or study. Relying on a bar-prep book or, worse, another student’s old outline, might save you time in the short run but certainly won’t help you fully digest important information.
(Distinguished Professor Emeritus Otto Stockmeyer shares his thoughts about using copied notes and Canned Briefs along with offering these Law School Tips.)
4. Memorize Material Weekly
Don’t make the mistake of assuming your undergrad study habits will cut it in law school. Comprehending a large amount of material covered in a short amount of time is a whole different ball game.
Prioritize learning and memorizing material every single week as a foundational practice for your entire legal education. You’ll be much more successful on exams if you regularly memorize lessons in small increments rather than trying to cram at the last minute. You’ll also do better at recalling the knowledge when it’s time to apply it in legal debates and real-world situations. Applying what you’ve learned is a critical difference between success in law school and success in just about any other field you’ve studied. Bottom line: if you’ve thoroughly studied the law over time, you’ll be much more prepared to pass your law school exams and that pesky little test known as the Bar.
5. Go to Class
This may seem obvious, but as the saying goes, “80% of success is just showing up.” That’s true for the general public, but now you have to take it a step further if you want to venture into the realm of highly successful law students. Avoid absences. Show up, participate, and be an engaged scholar. If you find yourself tuning out the material, it’s highly likely you didn’t properly prepare before class; when you’ve done the reading, memorized the key lessons, and put thought into how you might apply what you learned, you’re much more likely to stay engaged during class.
Again, a big part of law school is about self-education; doing the pre-work should better help you focus and engage in class. Take the time and make little changes (more planned study time? A different study group?) when necessary to help you be fully present with your peers and professors.
6. Ask Questions
Your professors have an impressive collective knowledge base; if you don’t engage with them to take advantage of that knowledge, you’re missing out. Chances are, if you have a question so does at least one of your peers, so raise your hand and start a discussion. If you are a little timid or have a question that’s off-topic for that lesson, plan time to visit your professor during office hours.
Bottom line: Remember to lean on your academic-support team, from professors to peers, to mentors and more, for skills-related questions, and always be open to seeking advice about law school and your long-term career path.
7. Practice, Practice, Practice
One WMU-Cooley Law School dean often tells students that “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.” It’s a mouthful, but it’s an important message. Preparation, in law school terms, largely comes down to practice. Studying and obtaining knowledge is one thing; learning how to best apply that knowledge takes a good amount of practice.
Practice taking exams, writing persuasive arguments, even debating relevant topics; prepare yourself with focused questions that help you fully absorb the knowledge. You’ll get more comfortable more quickly and it’s a habit that will benefit you both in law school and when you embark on a legal career.
Wondering where to start? Give your academic-support team a call for great advice on preparation best practices.
8. Take Advantage of Free Resources
WMU-Cooley Law School has several departments with programs geared to support you at all stages of your legal career. If you’re not taking advantage of them, you’re missing out. Make it a habit to familiarize yourself with the many ways you can benefit from those free resources so you’re comfortable seeking help when you need it.
Your Enrollment and Student Services Coordinator will help you plan your academic path until the day you’re ready for The Career and Professional Development Office to provide résumé-writing assistance. In between those milestones you can hone your skills with seminars, mock exams, bar-prep programs, networking events, and more. WMU-Cooley offers a solid foundation for student success, so make it a habit to seek out and utilize all the free resources you can to round out your legal education.
9. Maintain a healthy perspective
Your first term as a law student can come with a strong dose of fear – and that’s okay. You’re doing something brand new while taking a big step toward your career goals. Make it a habit to transform your fear into motivation, and be patient as you learn, grow, and develop your skills.
As Les Brown said, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.” Aim high and commit to giving your best efforts, but don’t be too hard on yourself if you struggle at times. Studying law is complex and sometimes tedious, so centering your focus is key. Remind yourself that the journey will be worth it in the end.
10. Find Balance
Think of your time in law school like a marathon; if you treat it like a sprint, you’ll be out of the race pretty quickly. Finding a balance between the high demands of law school and the rest of your life can feel daunting, but it’s critical to staying healthy and engaged – and avoiding burnout.
Successful students make it a habit to practice self-care. Plan the time to connect with friends and family, maintain healthy habits (physically and mentally), and continue feeding your soul with the things you love. Law school is just one piece of a full life, and if you let the rest of your life suffer, law school will feel like a punishment rather than the exciting journey towards the career you envisioned.
Successful law students are driven, passionate, and uniquely geared towards hard work, though they tend to reach even further heights of success by utilizing tips to work smarter, not just harder. Adopting some or all of the habits above can greatly help you in your legal studies and into your career path beyond.