Law school is a big time commitment, whether you’re entering right out of college or attending later on in life. If you’re someone who has to balance both work and law school, you’ll need good time management skills. Going in without a plan, especially during your first year, can make finding this balance much more difficult.
It’s important to employ the right strategies at the start to help you reduce stress and stay on top of the many critical tasks of a first year law student.
At St. Francis, we know that adult learners have a lot on their plates. We’ve also seen what helps law school students succeed in their academic journey. Before you enter your first year, check out our tips on how you can balance your work and law school.
#1: Create clear time boundaries and set a routine.
If you’re already working, then your job is probably a top priority. However, you should try to keep working hours separate from study hours. For example, if your core hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., then stick to that schedule. Don’t check work email outside of that time as it could interfere with your study time. Use your lunch break to get small errands done so that you don’t have to worry about those cutting into study time after work.
“You really need to set good routines, and not just law school routines, but life routines because it’s very challenging,” says Frederick Chernoff, a St. Francis graduate.
Once you’ve set your routine, stick to it. This way, you’re getting used to a specific pattern of behaviors. It takes discipline, but honing discipline can only help you in your journey. In fact, you’ll need it to succeed. According to Chernoff, self-discipline is a key motivator, one he acknowledged every morning during his studies in order to stay on track as a top student and graduate.
#2: Adopt a time management strategy that works for you.
Setting up a routine is vital. Once you’ve established those boundaries, you’ll also need to figure out the best way to manage your time within them. Setting aside time for studying won’t do much good if you approach it without a plan of action or the proper tools to help you focus. For example, without a clear agenda for your study time, you may be tempted to pick up your phone to browse, not study.
“It takes the average brain 20-25 minutes to dial up to full focus,” Chernoff explains. “So if you’ve got music playing or if your phone goes off, you reset that focus timer. Learning that early in law school made the journey a lot easier for me.”
One way to prepare better is to research and download a time management app that can help you stay on track, like
- RescueTime, an app for iOS, Android, and desktop. It tracks how you spend your time and also offers distraction blocking.
- Remember the Milk, an app that can sync across all of your devices and helps you manage your task list. You can also share your list with others, which could help you stay accountable.
- Focus Keeper, a great tool if you have trouble staying focused on one task or if you’re prone to procrastination. It uses the Pomodoro technique to assist you in increasing your focus.
- Focus@Will, an app that draws on neuroscience and uses music to help you increase your focus and productivity.
It may take you some time to discover and test what works best for you, especially if you’ve been out of school for a while. Don’t let that discourage you, though. By trying things out at the outset, you’ll be able to determine the best tools and strategies early on.
Staying focused outside of class is important, but you’ll need sharp concentration in class too, adds Gregory Brandes, St. Francis’ Dean.
“You’ll want to learn a really efficient way of keeping track of what’s going on in class, then afterwards, use a little time to tighten up your notes and review key topics. Research suggests a timely review after class can increase both comprehension and recollection. Both are essential to success in the law school world.”
#3: Give yourself time for self-care.
Even with all of the law school work on your to-do list, it’s important to schedule some mental breaks, too. Law school is challenging, and the best way to stay on target is to take care of yourself. Schedule some breaks into your studying so that you know when they’re coming and have something to look forward to. You may want to leave your Friday nights open for a movie night or dinner with friends to blow off steam. Maybe give yourself a Saturday morning to binge a few episodes of your favorite show. But keep it on a schedule and plan, so you can stay focused when studying.
Burnout is real. Without allowing for things like sleep, meals and mental breaks, you could get there – and fast. This could be detrimental to both your work life and school life. So treat yourself to occasional refreshing activities.
#4: Set up a spot in your home that you can use for studying.
When you’re finally off the clock, it’s easy to slip into relaxation mode and put off studying. To counteract that impulse, create a space in your home for studying – and only studying.
“I got myself an empty room and a good chair with good back support,” says Chernoff. “Law school books are so heavy I actually bought a thing that holds the books so you can read on your back to help with the neck. That allowed me to sit there in silence and study for three hours. That’s how I could prepare for class.”
A dedicated physical space gets you into the right headspace for your law school work. Leave the living room for TV and fun, but devote a corner of your office area to studying. No matter what, you’ll want to create opportunities for optimal focus.
#5: Develop a support system around you.
Working full-time is already a lot. Add law school in the mix and you’re more likely to feel overwhelmed at times. That’s why you’ll need a strong support system around you to help in any way they can. Recruit a family member to help watch your kids while you cram for a big test, or have some friends who you can reach out to when you’re feeling stressed or lose your motivation.
Along with your friends and family, you’ll want to try to find some fellow students and professors who can help or advise you along the way. In any school, it can be hard to find that sense of community or belonging unless you put in the effort to meet and interact with others. The support for you exists, but you’ll have to reach out and ask for that help sometimes. For instance, you could invite your fellow students to a study group with you. You can schedule meetings or attend office hours with your professors to ask questions or receive guidance.
“It certainly takes grit to be successful, as well as good time management and study skills, but those are all things that we can work on and develop together,” says Brandes.
How many hours a day should you study at St. Francis?
Generally speaking, you can estimate your study time based on your class hours. If you’re taking a typical part time credit load, you likely will be studying for about 20 or 25 hours each week. You’ll need to find the rhythm that works best for you to effectively absorb all the material you’re learning, and to make it through all of the assigned class readings. Keep in mind that your professors will help you along the way and work with you whenever you have questions or need assistance.
“One of the best things is that we tend to organize the material for you pretty well. There’s a nice rhythm you can get into if you manage your schedule and make sure you’ve got the time it takes and use that time effectively. We spend a good amount of time helping you learn how to do that,” Brandes explains.
St. Francis’ law curriculum is designed for working professionals.
Here at St. Francis, we know how difficult it can be to work a full-time job and also balance law school and work. That’s why our curriculum was designed with working professionals in mind. We offer you the flexibility of a 100% online program so you can earn a JD degree on your own time. We have a passion here for lifelong learning and can give you the tools and knowledge you need to pass the bar exam and begin a career in law. Give our representatives a call today, and we can walk you through the application process or get you started on your academic journey toward a new career.