Legal Studies: Fail to Plan and Plan to Fail

It’s a popular saying we’ve all heard, but it’s true; if you don’t plan ahead, you’re essentially planning for failure.

Below Emma Jones, senior lecturer in law and member of the Open Justice team at the Open University, talks to Lawyer Monthly about the various ways you can bets plan your legal studies and get ahead of your fellow students.

One of the key differences between success and failure in legal studies is the way students organise their studies and manage their time. Getting into good habits will make for a much smoother study experience and prepare you well for life in the legal profession. Here are five top tips to managing your legal studies effectively:

  1. Use a calendar or diary

Whether you keep it in your pocket and scribble in it, or note everything using an app on your smart phone, it is really important to note down key deadlines. This can include dates and times of lectures and seminars, meetings with fellow students and dates for submitting assignments. Make sure you set a reminder for at least one week in advance too, so that you can complete any necessary preparation.

  1. Find somewhere comfortable and quiet to study

If you’ve got your own room, make sure you have a desk and chair to use. If you’re in shared (or very noisy) accommodation, you might find it better to use the university library or a quiet corner in the Law School. If you are going to be studying away from home regularly, make sure you have a bag or backpack with everything in it you need to work – books, highlighters, laptop charger, etc.

  1. Get into a good study routine

Spend some time thinking about your schedule and deciding which times you will set aside for study. Make sure you are being realistic – if you are going to be out every Saturday night, then deciding to set aside Sunday mornings to write assignments probably isn’t going to work! Think about the times of day you work best and try to concentrate your study in those. Often, studying in shorter chunks with quick breaks in between is the most effective way to learn. Plan in some flexibility for those weeks when other commitments arise and try to give yourself more time than you think you’re going to need. Make sure you build in time for hobbies, seeing friends and relaxing too.

  1. Reward yourself

If you’ve met a deadline, or finished a piece of reading, don’t forget to build in rewards. These can be anything from a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit to a new purchase or a big night out! Having an incentive you are working towards can really help motivate you and focus your mind.

  1. Keep your work in order

If you are writing notes (and you definitely should be) make sure you are keeping them in notebooks or files that are clearly labelled and stored somewhere safe. Investing in post-its, index cards and sticky labels can all help you to keep track of key points. When storing information on your computer or laptop you also need to ensure you create files which are clearly named and easy to access. If you have different versions of the same document, it is really important to save these under different names (for example “draft 1”, “draft 2” and “final version”).

  1. If things go wrong, don’t keep it to yourself

The best laid plans will go awry on occasion. When that happens, make sure you keep your tutors, course convenors or other appropriate people updated so that they can help you. A good idea is to try and develop a strategy for how you will catch up/get back on track and explain this to them, so that it’s clear you are trying your best to sort out the problem. When you have resolved things, make sure you spend some time reflecting on what went wrong and how you handled it, to see if there is anything you can learn for next time. Remember, you often learn more from your mistakes than your success.

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