By Andy A. Edited by Lemon Law School
On average, first-year law students study around 30-40 hours per week for class. Law school professors may assign 30-60 pages of reading per class.
Many people argue that you should study 40+ hours per week, but based on my personal experiences and the experiences of some of my classmates, I beg to differ.
When I was a 1L in law school, I studied around 30 hours per week. I was focused on quality over quantity in terms of time spent on studying for my classes. The key is to study efficiently. Work smarter, not harder. However, a month before final exams, I definitely spent more time than usual studying.
Your schedule will obviously depend on the timing of your class schedule. Students should formulate a study schedule and stick to it consistently. Here, I’ll discuss exactly how I designed my weekly schedule during 1L
Two Types of Studying
There are two types of “studying” you should make time for in your schedule. The first is pretty basic: your assigned casebook readings (Type I Studies). Reading the casebook is necessary but not sufficient for achieving good grades. In other words, you should at least read the case book to increase your chances at scoring above median on your final exam, but reading the casebook itself without more is not sufficient to get an A- or A on your final exam.
The second type of studying (Type II Studies) reinforces your basic knowledge of the class material with an eye towards acing the exam. This includes creating your outline, reading through course supplements when you have trouble understanding your casebook or your class notes, taking practice exams, and meeting with the teaching assistant or professor with questions.
Many students will tell you that you don’t have to take practice exams or start your outline until the last two months of your semester. Don’t fall for this siren’s song. You will benefit from outlining early and looking at practice exams early in the semester to understand how to take a law school exam. Here are some detailed articles we wrote about those topics:
Most law students prefer doing their casebook readings during the week, but I preferred completing my assigned readings for each week during the weekend before. I found that this was more efficient because I could have more time to mentally consolidate the concepts I was learning from the casebook and focus my free time during the week on Type II Studies. This put me at a massive advantage over my peers. I was constantly at least 1-2 steps ahead of them throughout the semester. I found that I could free up my nights to relax or engage in light studying. This helped me pace myself and prevented me from burning out.
Also, sometimes professors may fall behind in their syllabus and end up cramming a lot of material in the last few weeks of class. If you read your casebook during the week, you’ll have much less time focusing on preparing for the impending exams. Finishing your casebook readings during the weekend frees up this time to focus on Type II Studies while your classmates are struggling to keep up with the extra workload.
However, that’s just what worked for me. Some students in my class who chose to do their casebook readings during the week instead still obtained good grades.
Building Your Weekday Study Schedule
The University of Kansas conducted a study which showed that creating dedicated time for uninterrupted work increased the level of concentration and resulted in improved learning outcomes. Thus, better grades begin with an organized, actionable study schedule. The first step of creating a study schedule that you can stick by is critically important. When you can study will be based on your course schedule.
First, look at your class schedule. Here was my class schedule:
As you can see, my Monday and Wednesday mornings were pretty much occupied. Before my Torts and Contracts classes, I would wake up and lightly review my reading notes so that I could be somewhat remotely prepared for cold-calling.
After Contracts on Monday, I would head to the undergraduate library (as opposed to our crowded, stuffy law school library) and eat lunch there while engaging in Type II Studying. After adding my class notes to my working outlines and reading through the course supplements to ensure that I understood the material, I would head to the gym for an hour, and then go home to do some light review for the rest of the day.
Remember, I didn’t have to spend two hours per class doing casebook readings during the week because I spent that time during the weekend to finish it.
Nevertheless, there were some days where I had trouble understanding certain legal concepts, so I would spend a little more time before heading home to make sure I understood the material. There were maybe 2-3 days per week where I would stay late on campus because I was having trouble understanding the material.
I basically repeated this process for the rest of the week, and for the rest of the semester. I stuck to the schedule, so I never fell behind or felt like I was cramming too much information into my brain at once. One thing many students experience is “concept fatigue.” This is when you’ve been studying for so long that your brain just stops retaining information, and you find yourself reading the same sentence over and over again. This is exactly why I chose to do my casebook readings on the weekend, rather than engaging in both Type I and Type II Studies during the week.
Around a month before final exams, I increased the amount of time I spent studying and focused on Type II Studies.
I talked about how I formulated my weekend schedule in my “How to Grade into the Top 10% of Your 1L Class” article, but I’ll repeat it again here.
You can definitely enjoy your time off on the weekends while completing your assigned casebook readings.
On Saturday, I would wake up at around 9AM and drive to a nice coffee shop with large tables with the goal of completing reading assignments for two courses. I spent around two hours per class completing the readings (maybe 2.5 or 3 hours for more difficult cases). Thus, after 3-4 hours in the coffee shop, I would then drive off to grab lunch with my non-law school friends who were living in the city. I spent the rest of Saturday doing whatever I wanted.
On Sunday, I would repeat the process with the remaining course and work on any legal research or legal writing assignments as well.
As a first-year law student, you must learn to pace yourself, so that you don’t burn out. Different things work for different people, but I hope my personal experiences provide some guidance into crafting your own study schedule. If you study efficiently, spending over 40 hours per week studying for law school should not be necessary for most students.
Nevertheless, I understand that the amount of time needed for each person will vary. I recommend you take a look at these 1L guides written by other top law students to see what worked for different people.