Dispatches from Law School: Choosing Your Study Group

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Study groups are probably one aspect of law school you didn’t even know you needed to worry about (and you shouldn’t worry), but reflecting on my 1L year so far, I’ve had a great study group experience that I attribute to being very lucky, rather than to being prepared. I need to leave the bigger questions about “finding your law school community” and “acing law school exams” for another day (whenever I master those for myself), but I nonetheless have a fresh perspective on study groups to share with all the future 1L’s.

I never considered myself a “group study-er” in undergrad or any other learning environment (being that I’m a unique individual who shouldn’t be constrained by anybody else’s rules). But law school has been a different story. I would recommend that anyone going into law school strongly consider forming a study group. No matter how brilliant you are, you really do need to see others’ perspectives on the material in order to learn how to effectively address all of the relevant points in your exam answers.

As I mentioned, I’m really happy with my experience in a law school study group, but I think someone starting law school would benefit from being more proactive than I was. You don’t want to be the kid at the prom waiting to be asked to dance and finding yourself increasingly desperate until you realize that basically everyone else has already split off, leaving you to go alone or with the other oddball stragglers left on their own … not that I would know. The point being, rather than counting on the right people taking the lead and including you in a great group, that person taking the lead might as well be you.

When it comes to the criteria for choosing people to study with, I believe that the “right” people are foremost the ones you’d be happy to spend a lot of time around, rather than the people who seem to have the strongest grasp of the material. Since you’re going to be spending extra time around the people in the study group, a kind and supportive group will make all the difference to your experience of studying and taking finals.

While you’re also benefitting from the knowledge of your group-mates, my take is that it’s pretty much impossible to know which student out of your class has the best mastery of the material, and that student’s knowledge isn’t going to give you a particular edge anyway. I have one set of law school friends who formed a study group that happened to include the guy who aced all of our fall semester classes (received the highest grade in multiple class, had his exam answer used by professors as a future model answer, etc.). But that student who performed the best across the board never participated during class, and he was so humble even within his study group that no one suspected that he was understanding the material any better than anyone else.

Finally, while you’re thinking about what NOT to do in forming a study group, learn from the student in my first year section who decided to interview — that’s right, interview — other law students to be a part of his study group. Don’t be that guy. He will forever be known to me as “The Guy Who Tried to Interview People to Be in His Study Group” and its awfully hard to take a lawyer seriously with a name like that.

In sum, my experience throughout the first year of law school has taught me that it’s important to form a study group, to be proactive, and to find people that you like. With that approach, even law school finals won’t be too painful.

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