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The Unexpected Challenges of Law School: Time Management

Editor's Note: This essay was submitted by Adrienne Young in response to Ms. JD's prompt, "What about law school presented an unexpected challenge? What have you done to successfully meet this challenge?"

As a former middle school teacher with Teach For America, I was keenly aware of the importance of timeliness, details-oriented short and long-term planning and the struggles of achieving a balanced lifestyle while maximizing successes in the classroom. Presumably, these skills would translate seamlessly into law school where I was again greeted with early mornings, extensive planning, and a desire for academic achievement. Even without the added responsibility of 30 impressionable 12-year-olds, time management was, and still is, the greatest challenge that I have tackled in law school.

I conceptualize time management as an overarching theme in three parts of my life: personal, educational, and professional. In each of these three areas, law school has proven to be an obstacle to effective time management.

In my personal life, law school has required that I actively take time for myself. Too often I will find myself cooking dinner with an open book on the counter and my laptop at the kitchen table. Not only is this form of multi-tasking unnecessary (and potentially dangerous depending on how closely I am watching my soup at the stove), it is an inefficient use of my time. I find that for me, closing my book, shutting down my laptop and taking 30 minutes to an hour to have a meal, catch up with my roommate (notably, a non-law student) and regenerate my mind and body has been extremely effective in maximizing my time after a long day of classes.

Integral to my personal happiness, too, has been making time for others. With my out-of-state friends and family members I set phone dates for a mutually convenient time and I stick to it. Other times, I will step out of the school on a ten minute break between classes just to call my mom with updates. I distinctly remember conversations with my mom by the law school fountain just to tell her I loved her, or to say a Professor said I had a cogent argument in class.  Even if that evening I feel so overcome with stress that I can’t imagine sparing 30 minutes to talk, a debrief with family or friends  never fails to reinvigorate my spirit.

Making time for others also includes my ties with the community. After working with children for two years, I knew that continuing my work with low-income youth would be an essential component of my time at law school, as it was ultimately my reason for attending. Unfortunately, when I first visited with an academic counselor about managing community outreach with my education, the counselor advised me to avoid volunteering for at least my first year. I knew that while the counselor was well-intentioned, I could not heed this advice to its fullest extent. Whether it be through two days of interning or one weekend night a month of mentoring, extending my time and efforts into the greater Chicago community has been arguably more personally beneficial than altruistic in nature.

Relatedly, many of these volunteer opportunities also become occasions for professional growth and networking, another important component of time management in law school. In addition to building community ties, while at school I spend my spare time building relationships with professors and peers. Luckily, at University of Chicago, our days are set up so that all students have lunch at the same time. This ensures that I can spend some lunch periods at events with friends and others getting to know professors. Each day I am awestruck by the legal experience and educational capital the University of Chicago contains. That said, I try not to let the grandeur of biographies and the great successes of my predecessors intimidate me. I take advantage of open-door policies and use lunches to share interests and experiences with these academic elite (peers and professors alike). The professors, too, put forth great effort to assist students, including forming their own public interest community consisting of former solicitor generals, current federal defenders, former global human rights activists, and current immigrant children advocates. When it comes time to look for a job or to long-term plan, it is a great relief to have professors and peers that are also a wealth of resources, support, and guidance.

Lastly, academic commitments at law school were probably most difficult for me to manage efficiently. Unlike in undergrad, or even when obtaining my Masters, in law school there is less feedback, more focus on exams, and less opportunity to personally assess growth and understanding before a major exam. This can and does lead to overwhelming finals periods and high levels of stress. Effective time management is an antidote to these common place emotions during finals. Backwards planning when outlines should be done, when practice exams should be taken, and when a run by the lakeshore can be squeezed in was essential to my well-being and academic achievement. So, too, this level of organization also serves as a necessary reminder that the work will get done (because it always has in the past) and there is time to do it.

Law school continues to be the most rewarding and challenging experience of my life. Despite the reoccurring belief that there are not enough hours in the day, I find my commitments only further my dedication to low-income youth and education reform. These professional opportunities, personal relationships, and academic experiences would not be possible without effective time management. 

Adrienne Young is a second year student at the University of Chicago Law School. Before moving to Chicago, Ms. Young attended the University of Michigan where she studied Political Science and Sociology. After graduation, Ms. Young joined the 2008 Teach For America corps in Philadelphia, PA where she taught middle school special education for two years. Continuing her career in education reform, this upcoming summer Ms. Young will be working as a law clerk in the Office of General Counsel of Detroit Public Schools. Upon graduation, Ms. Young hopes to advocate for at-risk youth through initiatives combating the school-to-prison pipeline.

1 Comments

alisonmonahan

Time management in law school is so critical! It’s easy to get sucked into the “study all the time” philosophy, and forget that law school’s about a lot more than that.
For future reference, here are a few of my best time management techniques: 3 Tips for Time Management Awesomeness. I particularly swear by The Circles during exam time!

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