Thursday, August 21, 2008

What I've Learned: Brian

Hello all. We here at Citizen Kendrick are striving to provide entertaining, yet informative fodder for your blog reading/web searching needs. As the new school year rapidly approaches, we are going to implement new things to CK. You'll see them get rolled out over the course of the fall semester, but here is the first new addition: What I've Learned.

Taken from the magazine Esquire, CK's version of "What I've Learned" will attempt to give brief bits of advice on law school. We hope this installment will be the first of more contributions. I've always found the Esquire feature entertaining and enlightening. We hope you'll at least find our version entertaining.

Without further ado, here is mine-

1. It's only as hard as you make it/you can still have fun.
If you made it into USF Law School, you're obviously more than capable of strong academic achievement. You wouldn't be here without good grades at a good university, and well-above average LSAT scores. Over the last two years, I've become a firm believer in the notion that if you trust yourself, try to avoid extra stress, and learn to work diligently, law school is anything but impossible. USF has a great community--the older students (myself included) are always willing to help, the professors want to see you succeed, there are tutors for all 1L classes, and your classmates will likely be more than happy to join study groups. The close-knit community at USF also offers lots of opportunities for bonding and relaxing. We have great participation in Bar Night, the student groups are active and motivated, and the Fall and Spring parties/BBQs are terrific fun. Indulge yourself by having some fun, and I'm sure you'll find law school to be entirely manageable.

2. Your LRW professor is your best friend.
Hopefully this point was stressed during orientation, but I'll say it clearly: LRW is the most important class you'll take. LRW will help you pass your finals and the Bar, it will help you get a summer job, and it will help you be good at that job when you get there. Learn IRAC/Love IRAC/Succeed in law school. Self-confessional time: In my first year I noticed that during finals where I felt very confident I drifted from IRAC, but when I was less confident I forced myself to stick to IRAC. Lo and behold, my grades were better on the finals where I stuck to IRAC, despite having less of a grasp on the substantive material.

3. Don't be a gunner.
Ok, we all know what a gunner is--the person who practically tears their rotator cuff raising their hand, who always has to be the first to comment on EVERY topic/question/response, and who views class as an opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with the professor while the rest of the students listen. Gunners are no good. I don't like gunners. You don't like gunners. Hell, gunners don't even like gunners. I read a really hokie saying once. But, however hokie it is, it's no less true: "You have two ears and one mouth. You should listen twice as much as you talk."

4. Try to exercise. It'll help with the stress.
It's a sad fact of law school that life becomes depressingly sedentary. Combine that with a poor diet, and it's not surprising what follows--weight gain, lack of energy, even for some a lowering self-image (if your self-image happens to rely on your physical's ok, you can admit it if it does, CK won't judge you). Going to the gym helps stave off some of that. But, more importantly, it can be a great stress reliever to raise your heart rate, exert yourself physically instead of mentally, sweat a little, and just get away from the library for a while. Leaving aside any concern for physical appearances, the stress relief of a good workout can really help clear your mind, at the very least.

5. Relax already.
Law school is stressful. Ok, no big surprise there, right? The first few weeks are overwhelming. The time demands are unbelievable. It really doesn't sound like a fun prospect, and it isn't--for a while. But, as I've said already in this posting, the demands of law school become far less daunting when you have the right mental approach to school.

I speak from personal experience on this issue. More self-confession time: I felt completely lost my first semester. I hated law school, I considered dropping out more than once, and I thought I would never catch-up to everyone else. But after that first semester I joined our intramural football team, I made more friends, I became more active around campus. My grades rose. In year 2, I made a concerted effort to be even more socially active, not to view school as a life/death proposition, generally to be less obsessive and less anxious. As a result, my grades rose over those two semesters as well. Now I'm no model student, but the more I've made an effort to have a well-rounded life, the better my grades have been. I've noticed similar results from my friends.

I know as law students we're afraid of math, but think about this: there are 168 hours in every week. If you learn to be efficient with your time, you can probably do all your studying/briefing/attending class in about 60 hours a week. Add in another 40 hours or so of sleep, that leaves 68 hours a week for you. 68 hours a week to have hobbies, to relax, and to be a person, not a law school automaton. That means if you want to take a Sunday off to have a picnic in Golden Gate Park, you have the time. Friends going to a music festival? You can make the time. Even if all you want to do is spend an evening making yourself a nice dinner and drinking a bottle of wine with friends, you have the time. Obviously, you cannot let the academics slide--that's a recipe for disaster. But never-ending obsession with the demands of law school is also a recipe for disaster. Relax already, you'll find that it helps.

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