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Lawyering Program

Master the Middle

October 30, 2012

By Robert Doeckel

The rain. Front of the mind, and tip of the tongue for every Portlander this time of year. We aren’t yet in the grips of the steady drizzle of January, but the gradual shift to autumn is accompanied by subtle changes on campus. Classes are in full swing, first memos are in (or just coming due), and students are beginning to be regulars at the library, local coffee roaster, or vegan bakery (insert preferred study location here). Class notes are getting long, and you’ve probably covered a few major topics in all of your classes. While exams (yes, the dreaded e-word) are still a long way off, it isn’t too early to start brainstorming and organizing—the next six to eight weeks will fly! I hope to get you thinking about ways you can “master the middle” of the semester to build a bridge to a successful end of your semester.

Face time with Professors

This can be a great time to visit professors during scheduled office hours or by making an appointment. Questions and thoughts are fresher in your mind and professors’ time is much less in demand than in December. Professors will often give tips for approaching the course, or “big picture” clues you can utilize to arrange your notes and ideas. You might also ask if he or she recommends any supplements or other that might be helpful.

Finding a Supplement

You’ve probably seen or heard of a few: Examples & Explanations, Emanuel Outlines, Nutshells, CALI questions, barbri books, hornbooks etc. etc. etc. The list of supplements is endless, and everyone has an opinion about what’s useful. Not everyone uses one, but if you do, use caution: in case of a conflict between your professor says, and what a supplement says, go with your professor. However, supplements can also be incredibly helpful in understanding black letter law and giving you an opportunity to apply the rules you learn from class to hypos and practice problems. Even if you don’t use it now, you might use this time to track down a good supplement so you’ll know where to go if you decide to use one later.

Asking your professor can put you on the right path, but don’t be afraid to thumb through a few on your own to see if any more closely track your particular class or professor. Try searching the library website and asking at the circulation desk for the books on reserve.

Classes based on state law like torts can be more difficult to find a great supplement for because they cover the same fundamentals, but often emphasize slightly (or sometimes significantly) different concepts and cases. Relevant supplements for classes like Con Law or Civ Pro can be easier to find because most students across the country learn similar cases and concepts.  Most everyone reads Marbury and Worldwide Volkswagon, and there’s only one federal constitution and one set of FRCP’s, so the supplements are more consistent and more likely to apply to parts of your specific class.   

Organize & Review

This might be a good time to start printing handouts, making flash cards, or, if need be, organizing your notes. The more time you spend getting some housekeeping tasks out of the way now, the more time you’ll have during the last few weeks of class to study and practice applying the law. Also, consider starting some kind of review. Your classes have probably covered a good amount of material so far, and it can be easy to fall out of touch with the concepts introduced during classes in the semester. Whether you simply skim your notes and major rules thus far, or do some flash cards, old practice problems in the casebook, start outlining, or something else, you’ll begin to see how the law fits together. You will probably be surprised how much you already know and understand!

Study Breaks & Fun Stuff 

Make sure to take some time away from the books to give your mind a rest—you’ll actually retain more information and learn more quickly. Really smart scientists say that you can only absorb so much information at a time, and taking regular short breaks during study sessions will increase learning efficiency. Tooling and Studying: Effective Breaks, Mass. Instit. of Tech., available at http://mit.edu/uaap/learning/study/breaks.html.

Whatever you do to relax outside of school, schedule some time for it: try putting your weekly burger & beer, videogame time, or weekend hike in your schedule or calendar and stick to it through the semester. Make your relaxing activities a priority along with your studies and you’ll be less stressed, more productive, and happier about life.

You might have other ideas and priorities, and that’s good! Do what works best for you. But if you were looking for some ways to make the most out of these weeks in-between the first few weeks of fun but still far from for the rush of exam season, I hope these tips help you ‘master the middle!’

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