Monthly Archives: November 2010

Exams in a week

In one week from now, I will have written my first December exam. We have all had the chance to write a few other exams, which I think will have made things a bit easier and less stressful. We had a midterm in Regulatory State, which was not bad at all. One thing about law school marks is that some of them come back quickly, while others take much, much too long. I am speaking about the Law in Context exam, which we wrote online at the start of November, and whose mark we won’t see until some indefinite time in January. But, having just had a torts class about defamation, I feel that I had better move on.

I thought I would share a few items of interest about exams. I assumed that it would be easy to listen to senior students’ advice and not worry at all about them. But that is somewhat harder when you are one week away and have a lot of studying to do to get up to scratch. I have probably mentioned before that, having read some articles about law schools in which a common premise was that professors don’t care about students’ performance on exams, I am pleasantly surprised to see that many of my professors have devoted large amounts of class time to going over sample exam questions, suggesting strategies for doing well, and generally encouraging us.

In addition to that, I’ve met with some students, including the president of the Law Students Society, to discuss, inter alia (a judicial term meaning “among other things”), exam-related matters. It also helps to be on the Academic Issues Caucus because there are lots of senior students on the committee who first went through the exam routine only a year or two ago.

Even so, Rebecca’s suggestions of ways to distance oneself from thoughts of exams are most helpful. I have spent a lot of time with other people, not necessarily law students. I find that my studying can be a lot more focused if I have other things to do. If I know that I have nothing to do but study in a single day, it is harder to stay focused than it is if I have plans to have dinner or to go for a walk with someone.

I’m also workin on a computer programming project, which, though a lot of work, succeeds in distracting me plentifully when I need to stop thinking about law. That project is coming to the point where I need to start actually marketing it, so I really do need to give it some thought. And then every so often I have visions of myself developing a database for keeping track of case law that I have read and searching through it, and of designing a tool to generate documents according to the McGill Guide to Legal Citation, the standard used at UBC.

That said, I am currently doing quite well at getting enough sleep and healthy food. I try and maintain a consistent schedule for eating and sleeping so that I am alert when I need to be. I’ve been making a lot of food ahead of time so that I can have, for instance, a nice, warm bowl of homemade coconut curry chicken and vegetable soup in under five minutes.

Almost Halfway!

Our winter exams are just around the corner, so I imagine this will be my last blog post for a little while. Lately, I’ve had my socks pulled up and my nose to the grindstone, which is not much to write home about. Since I’m short on anecdotes I thought I’d (once again) reflect on the some of the things I’ve learned over the last few months.

1)   There’s a list of recommended readings for prospective students on the UBC Law website, which I completely ignored until recently. In retrospect, I wish I had at least taken a peek at a book on law exams. This certainly isn’t necessary—as Graham mentioned, the December exams are essentially a trial run. We’re going to learn all about law exams next month! I’m just thinking it would be nice to have one less thing to get acquainted with over the next couple weeks.

2)   I highly recommend getting involved in the Law Students Legal Advice Program (LSLAP). LSLAP makes me want to be a lawyer. I go to clinics and I get my own clients. It is rewarding to be able to help people, plus I’ve learned so much about the law, procedure and file management. Our courses teach us substantive law and how to think about it; LSLAP let’s us apply it.

3)   Since September, my life has pretty much revolved around reading. It seems like I am either reading or thinking about how I ought to be reading. Like right now, there’s this pile of reading for my property class just staring at me.

4)   I’ve identified two types of law school stress. The first is the I’ve-got-a-million-things-to-do stress, which I would say is pretty much unavoidable. The pace is fast and the workload is intense. The good news is this can be pretty motivating and is usually followed by feelings of accomplishment when things get done. The second is the I’m-tired-and-crabby-and-feeling-super-unimpressive-oh-how-will-I-ever-make-it-as-a-lawyer stress. The best way I’ve found to deal with this is by doing something unrelated to law school. Hang out with friends. Watch a hockey game. Make dinner. Sometimes I just need a break. And there’s time for those breaks! Even with all that required reading.

5)   Hard work pays off.

Lunch with the Dean

Earlier this week, I was fortunate to have lunch with Dr. Mary Anne Bobinski, the Dean of UBC’s Faculty of Law. It was a great experience.

I have mentioned before that UBC Law presents no shortage of extra-curricular opportunities, often sandwiched in at lunch hours or after classes. For example, this week I also helped to run the “Health Law Careers” panel, and later participated in an environmental law negotiation competition. So when an email went out last week looking for the last few people to have lunch with the Dean, I jumped at the chance.

The lunch, held at the Sage Bistro (conveniently upstairs from where our classes are held) was attended by about a dozen students. Dean Bobinski asked what each of us liked about our law school experiences so far, and what we thought needed improvement. Most of our conversation focused on the latter, as the Dean looked for ways to address the concerns we brought to the table. Some issues, such as the students’ desire to have computer-based (as opposed to paper-based) testing, are already being explored. Others issues were new, but the Dean quickly provided initial thoughts on how they might be addressed, making notes for a detailed follow-up later. In the end, our session went nearly half an hour overtime – and the Dean’s lunch went almost untouched – because she was so focused on hearing and addressing students’ concerns.

I have been in and out of the academic system for quite some time (I come from an academic family, and was very active during both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees), and always appreciate top administrators who take the time to really sit down and listen to students. Too few do so, in my opinion. It certainly was heartening to have the Dean take time to have personal conversations with students, just another example of how UBC Law does take the time to ensure that its students have a great experience at law school.

The honeymoon is over

We have our first and only midterm tomorrow, in our “Regulatory State” class. It’s interesting to see the frustration, fear, and focus this has brought for many of us.

Stress has started to surface for many in the law class. Graham made a great point about school-life balance in his recent post, and I echo his thoughts completely.

But others are getting stressed out about the silent competition that the law school grading curve creates. 5/6 of us will get a “B” on any given paper or test, and most of us are used to getting “A”s. I have talked to many people who feel real pressure to get those very few “A”s in the class, which are statistically impossible to give to everyone.

I think it’s a real shame that we can’t have a system where excellence can lead to reward. In fact, I worry sometimes about the standard that sets for us on our future careers. But it’s also a trap of the system: most Canadian law schools have similar grading policies,  and if we change ours, an “A” from UBC will not seem as valuable as an “A” from most other schools.

The counter to this, of course, is that even with minimal effort, most students will receive “B” grades. We were told straight out during orientation week that we would all pass law school, unless we chose not to. That relief helps to take the pressure off at times. Still, my preference would be to reward excellence, as I think that sets a better habit and standard for our professional development.

And please, don’t get me wrong, we are still very social. There were some great Hallowe’en events this past weekend, and the people in law school are still amazing. But, as one of my peers put it recently,  the honeymoon is definitely over.