Almost there. These are the last few weeks, the final stretch, and you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Sure, it’s a red, angry light – not the warm, golden glow you were hoping for – but that’s show business. Papers are due, and exams are right around the corner. This was never going to be the fun part of the semester.
Still, when you’re done, you’ll be done. For at least a little while, there will be no impending assignments to complete or grade-points to score (and if you don’t move, the summer job application deadlines can’t see you). Winter break will be a time for seeing family, celebrating whatever holidays you observe, and most decidedly NOT reading court cases about the axioms of contract interpretation.
The 2Ls and 3Ls have run this race before. For the 1Ls, Travis pulled together a great compilation of helpful final exam advice, so I’ll not bore readers with too much more of my own. Instead, I thought I’d just offer a few quick thoughts about wrapping up the semester, and the break that follows:
When I was a 1L, my Civ Pro TA told us that Halloween was the absolute latest day to get started on outlining. What she must not have understood at the time was that I didn’t really feel like it.
I instead started outlining a few days into November instead, rebel that I am, and it worked out fine. Still, everyone runs this race at their own pace, and it’s getting to be that time – December isn’t as far away as we might like to think. For 1Ls especially, outlining can be a lengthy process when you’ve never done it before. I didn’t even know what “outlining” meant when I showed up as a 1L, let alone how to get started.
It turns out that outlining is just *checks notes* checking your notes. Essentially, it refers to the process of reviewing and reorganizing class material into a convenient document to study and use as a reference during the exam. It’s writing yourself a comprehensive study guide/cheat-sheet, synthesizing all your course content into a handy one-stop shop. At this point, that content is probably scattered across assigned readings, class recordings, presentation slides, course handouts, and your own notes. Outlining is about bringing all that stuff together, and putting it into a format that is useful for answering exam questions.
Now that I’m a 3L, endowed with the awesome wisdom a passing grade in Torts bestows, my solemn duty is to impose unsolicited and marginally-helpful-at-best advice upon you, 1L reader. Here are some outlining tips and tricks:
As we creep ever further into the month of September, new students are coming up on the one-month mark of their first semesters at BC Law. Remember back in August when no one was pestering you about what the district court ruled, or whether there really was a breach of duty? Alas, syllabus week is over, add/drop has expired, and now there is nothing but the next deadline, the next reading. 1Ls have gotten a sense of law school’s rhythm and flow – what the workload is like, where the classrooms are, how cold calling works, and so on.
They’ve also got a sense of who the gunners are.
Let’s define terms (this is law school, after all): a “gunner” is someone who takes up too many class resources for themselves – in particular, too much class time. A gunner goes beyond the scope of ordinary academic or competitive behavior in order to succeed in law school (or simply appear to be succeeding in law school), all while violating the most important rule in the unwritten student code: probably don’t behave in a way that makes all of your peers think you’re a bit annoying.
My semester ended over a week ago, so of course I already miss BC Law desperately. Final exams really just leave you wanting more. Hindered by my inability to time travel forward to the fall semester, I’ve decided to instead live vicariously through Elle Woods so that I can get back to the law school experience.
Thusly, while viewing the lauded documentary film “Legally Blonde” for the first time, I engaged in a critical analysis to see just how well it actually captures the genuine law school experience. In its totality, I would say the film is 99% accurate to what incoming students can expect from their 1L year at BC Law. However, there are a few minor inaccuracies worth mentioning. Just ten, as a matter of fact. Here they are:
Who among us doesn’t love dwelling on student debt and competitive school rankings?
U.S. News & World Report is among the many institutions that releases an annual law school ranking list. The results, unsurprisingly, matter to law school students, alumni, and faculty. I know that many prospective students are currently receiving acceptances from many great law schools and will have to make final decisions in the coming months (and I hope they all choose BC Law). Surely, those students have to be looking at such ranking lists, and I don’t blame them. I certainly did when I made my decision. To the extent that rankings accurately capture a school’s merit, naturally we all want to be members of the best educational institution possible – and of course, there’s no doubt that prestige is a useful tool to have under your belt in many walks of life.
Just this time last year, amidst the upheaval and uncertainty that Covid-19 was just beginning to render on all of our lives, Dean Rougeau wrote to the BC Law community in order to address the U.S. News 2020 rankings, noting how competitive the scoring margins are among excellent law schools but nevertheless pledging BC’s commitment “to providing the very best legal education within our mission of educating lawyers for the greater good.” BC Law’s ranking (tied at #31) is something to take pride in, but there is something more going on here than that number captures. So much of the law school experience is driven by brutal, lifeless numbers: rankings, scholarships, LSAT scores, GPAs, final exam scores, bell curves, class rankings, class percentiles, and so on. It’s a bit reductionist. Whatever it is that sets BC Law apart is intangible, but I think it lives in that commitment to the greater good.
As this year’s 1Ls have surely discovered, and as future attendees of BC Law will come to realize, going to law school is a strange and special experience best tackled alongside friends and peers. Whether it’s cramming rules of civil procedure into your head, navigating the do’s and don’t’s of law firm networking events, or just figuring out where to find a good cup of coffee, one’s time at BC Law is easier and more fulfilling when you leverage the buddy system. As students, it is important to find and leverage a support system at the school. Friendly classmates are one; the BC Law administration and its prioritization of the health and wellness of the student body is another. In this blog, I’m considering a third support system: the people with whom we choose to live.
During the past spring semester, I authored a blog post about how I missed the free coffee served by the BC Law cafeteria during the final exam period. During my 1L fall semester, I relied on that free coffee like a car relies on gas or a legislative body relies on annoying words like “heretofore.” I may have broken even on my tuition costs with the way I consumed that free coffee during 1L finals.
Of course, I was missing the free on-campus coffee last spring because I was not, in fact, on campus. No one was, due to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
During those early months, things were strange and unfamiliar. You could feel the tension in the air. No one quite knew how the virus would spread, how disruptive it would be, and how long it would rage. Here at BC Law, classes (rightfully, in my opinion) were shifted to pass/fail grading while students and professors acclimated to the remote learning format.
By the time this blog is posted, Halloween will have just passed and Election Day will be right around the corner. As I don’t want my hair to be completely grey or completely gone by the time I turn 26, in this post I am going to focus on the less frightening of the two.
This past Thursday, tax law extraordinaire Professor Oei kept the mood light by wearing a full-body Appa costume to remote-class in both the spirit of Halloween and also in light of the shared experience many of us had watching (or re-watching) Avatar: The Last Airbender when it was released on Netflix right at the start of the Covid-19 quarantine. “Appa” is a flying sky bison from the television show, pictured below, and if you needed that explained to you then (1) shame on you, but (2) go watch the show because you’re in for a real treat.
How could the Appa costume have possibly been tied into our discussion of statutory deductions for business and trade expenses in the Internal Revenue Code, you ask? With a little bit of creative lawyering, Professor Oei found a way.
We’re over a month into the fall semester here at BC Law, and things are falling into a new but familiar rhythm. Hopefully the 1Ls are feeling a little bit more on top of what law school entails now that they’re at the back-end of September. For us returning students, hopefully it feels like a return to some kind of normalcy and productivity.
But of course, this semester isn’t business as usual. We are all in a hybrid-learning model, with some classes online and some classes in-person. We track our health and take precautions like social distancing and wearing masks, all while spending most of our time bound in our homes for the sake of public health and safety. I am in a safe and secure place, so I can’t complain; especially considering all the uncertainty 1Ls must be experiencing as they start law school, and the challenges that students are facing from this economic decline, its impacts on the job market and recruiting, its implications for competitive grading among students, and the drudgery of social isolation. These days, I spend what feels like every hour of every day in my all-in-one bedroom/office/home gym/living room, just staring out a window waiting for a dog.
Studying for final exams in law school is stressful. The stakes are high, the hours are long, and the despair can…fester. I was generally aware of the pressure built into a grading system centered around distributive bell curves when I enrolled, but in my first week at Boston College the reality set in. Something terrible happened: I met my peers, and they were every kind of smart, impressive and terrifying. They were students coming from across the country and around the world, some from THOSE big name schools and others with remarkable professional experience.
Naturally I compared them to myself, the dumbest person I know. That was a bad move for my self-confidence, but sometimes you just have to keep moving forward. So, that’s what I did heading into finals season.