Author Archives: Negar J.

Is Law School Stress a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

The topic in my Ethics and Professionalism class recently was mental health and fitness in the legal profession. The guest lectures and discussion revolved a lot around issues of alcohol and substance addictions in the profession. One student commented that in the “swag bag” given to first years during orientation, there were brochures about depression and substance abuse and related support resources. This student found the inclusion of such material helpful as a way to pre-emptively address what is an unfortunate problem in the profession, but also “weird” as some sort of odd omen of things to come, namely stress.

This comment reminded me of something I’ve been thinking on for some time now, and that is the question of to what extent, if any, the stresses of law school are a self fulfilling prophecy. For starters, here is a quoted Wikipedia definition: “A self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true, by the very terms of the prophecy itself, due to positive feedback between belief and behavior.” To me, the main thrust of a self-fulfilling prophecy is expectation. I expect X to happen; therefore, my behaviours, affects, and attitudes directly and/or indirectly make it more likely for X to happen. I expect law school to be stressful; therefore, my behaviours, affects, and attitudes make it more likely that law school is stressful.

Is this something that happens? I think it is. By no means am I suggesting all the stressors that one can come across in law school are explained by this phenomenon. But I do think part of the stress is caused this way. The relevant expectation related to stress in law school is the expectation of importance: the importance we as law students think we must place on various aspects of law school. First and foremost, the importance placed on grades: in my experience both as a student and as a peer tutor, I can see the high levels of stress caused directly by the expectation that grades are incredibly important. There is a dangerous leap a lot of us students make, often unconsciously, from seeing grades as important for creating certain opportunities to seeing grades as the sole means of creating worthwhile opportunities or even as a reflection of self-worth. When everyone talks about grades and what numbers are needed for what doors to open, the expectation is formed that grades are the be all and end all of one’s law school experience. (They are not). The same process can apply to any other aspect of law school: the importance placed on certain kinds of jobs, certain kinds of employers, the OCI process, etc.

Related to the concept of a self fulfilling prophecy and expectations is the concept of a script. In psychology, there is the concept that we learn certain scripts about how the social (and natural) world around us works, and hence we shape our behaviours, affects and attitudes according to this script. There is a script for what happens when you ring up your groceries at the cash register, about what a date looks like, about how a job interview is supposed to unfold, and etc. If our script of law school is that we are “supposed” to be stressed, then we are much more likely to act, feel and be “stressed”. The distinction I’m attempting to draw is between the script that says: law school is going to be inevitably stressful, so you should act/feel/be stressed and then combat that stress, vs a script that says: law school is not inevitably going to be stressful, but if it is, we’ll deal with the stress if and when it comes up. I think pre-empting our expectation of law school with the expectation of stress is more likely to bring about stress. This is akin to caregivers and parents telling children that they must eat their vegetables. The child, before she has had any chance to form a script about how eating vegetables is supposed to go, is being given negative signals: that vegetables are something different, something she must eat, and why must she be told to eat them unless they are somehow bad. And lo and behold, the child dislikes her vegetables. The same goes for warning children they may find math difficult and observing that they end up finding it more difficult than other subjects, having formed the expectation that it is so.

I think there is also a cultural component at play. Those who know me know that I’ve had an eclectically multicultural upbringing, and while that makes me the perpetual outsider, it also has made me an acute observer of the social world and always interested in culture, understood by me very broadly as all the stuff in a human’s mind. One spectrum on which cultures can be studied runs between the poles of individualism and collectivism. In an individualistic culture, the individual is the unit of social measurement and focus, with his or her rights, ambitions, perceptions and value more in focus than the group, community or relational bonds among individuals. One key assumption of an individualistic culture is that the individual is capable of generally controlling the world. I think as law students, we may have too much of an individualistic culture when it comes to the degree to which we can control certain outcomes. We think it is wholly in our control to achieve grade X or job Y, and so our stress comes from the fact that if we do not achieve grade X or get job Y, it must mean it is our shortcoming. We do not sufficiently account for the myriad other factors at play which affect such outcomes, like statistical realities of grading, subjective perceptions of job applicants, the breakfast we had that morning, the weather (seriously, look at the research literature on the link between hot days and murder rates). Couple this illusion of ultimate control with the expectation that grade X and job Y are supposed to be important enough to stress about incessantly, and we have a problem.

I realize I’ve discussed some incredibly complex concepts in some incredibly simplified terms, but as always with this blog, my intention is not to answer questions, but to raise them, ponder them, and ultimately leave them with the reader.  I’ll cheesily end with a favourite saying of mine which to my mind sums up the enormous power that expectations can exercise on the course of our lives. ‘Our greatest fear is that our stories tell us’.

A lawyer, a doctor, and a cop walk into a bar…

… and have a competition to see whose profession has more television shows about it. The competition is naturally abandoned when they spot a teenage vampire sitting at one of the tables.

It isn’t news to anyone that law is among those professions widely depicted in popular television and film. Jim Carrey’s funnyman unwillingly stricken by his conscience; the owner of the best catch phrase in New Mexico, Saul Goodman; Reese Witherspoon’s insufferably pink Harvard superstar; all lawyers in massively popular works. I think this type of widespread and popular use of a profession is a sign that there are many stereotypes associated with it. Stereotypes allow people to rely on patterns, popular knowledge, audience familiarity, and make it easier to tell a story. (Who wants to spend 20 minutes of a movie explaining what a radiation technologist is?) Those stories in turn strengthen stereotypes, and on it goes.

It also isn’t news to anyone that some of the stereotypes associated with lawyers are negative. Since I have started law school, the question most often asked of me by others which hints at one of these negative stereotypes is this: well, would you actually defend someone you knew murdered another person? I then usually go into a monologue of Shakespearean proportions about the structure of the justice system; the adversarial system; Charter rights; duties of lawyers as officers of the court, as advocates for their clients, as members of a professional, regulated, honourable profession with codes of conduct; access to justice issues; discretion in choosing clients; and so on. I try to give nuanced and balanced answers to what are deceptively complex questions, in the hope that certain stereotypes are dispelled, or at least softened (or gladly denounced in exchange for me stopping said monologue).

I think one aspect of legal training that may put non-legally trained people off is the use of language. The corresponding stereotype is lawyers engaging in cold, calculated logic devoid of passion, and “twisting” words. Law and language- the written and spoken word- are inseparable. What do we law students do most of the time? We read. We read and write , then read some more. But so do poets, and there are hardly as many ‘poet jokes’ as there are ‘lawyer’ ones. So what is it about the way we deal with language which isn’t as appreciated by others? We are taught to use language precisely, technically, and most often frugally. We condense our notes. Then we condense those notes. Then we make one page cheatsheets. As lawyers, we will be responsible for every word we choose to put in a contract, say to a client, or utter in a courtroom. We also know that words with everyday meanings become entirely different beasts in the legal context, and for a lot of people, our insistence on differentiating between legal and non-legal meanings of words at all times can be annoying. Especially at dinner. (“Well mum, when you say ‘reasonable’…”) Since words like adrenocorticotropic hormone test and polycystic ovary syndrome don’t have everyday meanings, doctors for example are immune from this particular phenomenon. Perhaps then it is this careful, logical, pragmatic use of language and knit picking of words which makes it easy to attach this negative stereotype to the profession.

Law students have a host of stereotypes associated with them as well. If you type in ‘Why are law students’ into Google, the search engine helpfully suggests some endings for your question. I won’t reproduce those suggested endings here, but let’s just say that if you are a law student and need a pick-me-up, you shouldn’t do the aforementioned exercise.

This blog post isn’t an exercise in listing, promoting or combating any stereotypes, but more one of raising and pondering questions which I have found keep cropping up in my life as a law student. As I learn more about the law and the profession, I hope I can have better answers to questions about both, whether they are stereotypical or not. Maybe one day I can even deliver my monologue in iambic pentameter, matched to the footsteps of my dinner guest skipping away.

Receptions. Receptions Everywhere.

We UBC law students are lucky to have a fantastic Career Services Office which gives us lectures and documents full of proper advice about all aspects of business etiquette, networking, and the job hunting process. Accordingly, I would suggest looking at those resources for actual advice. Having gone through a year and a half of networking/firm events and the formalized interview process for 2L summer articling positions in Vancouver myself, I thought I would put together a list of general observations I have made, some of which will inevitably echo the valuable advice provided by the CSO.

Networking: The word ‘networking’ sometimes throws people off because it suggests you have to come out of a networking event having built an actual viable network of contacts. Really, networking is about making new connections within the profession, whether it be with students, lawyers or professors, some of which will grow beyond the first introduction and some of which may not. I would advise going to as many networking events as possible, especially if you don’t have prior connections to the legal profession. I have learned so much about the profession, different practice areas, and different firms through talking with people, and I think there is no substitute for the experience of one-on-one contact.

Mind Your Manners: Being polite, considerate and kind is obviously always important, but it is imperative in a professional environment, like a law school networking event or a firm reception, especially during the formal interview process. There is nothing more unappealing than the student/applicant who is self-advertising through monopolizing conversation, interrupting others, and focusing all discussion on him/herself. It seems obvious that the guidelines around the art of conversation don’t stop for firm receptions, Wine and Cheeses, and Interview Week, but sometimes anxiousness and competitiveness can get the better of us. My advice is to be genuine, engaging and considerate. Include others in a group discussion if they are approaching (or hovering) around your group. Introduce them to the group and quickly tell them what the conversation is about to make them feel comfortable. This also provides others with the chance to politely leave the conversation if they need to take a break.  Change the subject of any conversation if you find it is one to which only you are contributing. And, don’t say negative things about other students, professors, or firms. Remember, your ‘fellow applicants’ were your fellow classmates before and will be your fellow colleagues soon (pardon that tautology for the sake of parallel structure). Keep in mind the long-term collegiality of the profession.

Don’t Schmooze: This is a caveat on my first point about taking advantage of as many networking opportunities as possible. In my experience, going to a networking event when I was tired, distracted, not fully invested, or a combination of the three, was rather unproductive. I love meeting new people, but I also find making genuine new connections in a short span of time to be tiring. So, I’d say don’t schmooze for the sake of schmoozing. Go if you’re actually interested.

Don’t drink too much: for all the obvious reasons.

Empathize: Always try to put yourself in the shoes of the person with whom you are networking/meeting/interviewing. Have they had  a long day at work and are spending their free time letting you get to know their firm/workplace? Are they teaching a class in 20 minutes? Have they interviewed 30 people that day? Are there 50 other people at this event? Conversations are two way streams, even job interviews, so be considerate of your conversation partner’s position, which will inform what you choose to talk about, how much of their time you will take, and what questions you will ask.

I’ll end with a note about the end of networking events. Event end times are there for a reason: abide by them. You don’t want to be the last person left taking up an extra 45 minutes of someone’s time who should have been home for dinner half an hour ago.

That reminds me…

In the summer before starting 2L, I was lucky enough to do quite a bit of traveling. One thing I was looking forward to in my travels was getting to use my law lens. I try to travel as much as I can and this was the first time I was doing so after 1L. I was curious as to whether the effects of studying law on how I perceive things would persist even when my mind was ‘on vacation’ during traveling. Of course, I couldn’t be sure beforehand because after all the law is jurisdictional, right? (My sense of humour may still be on vacation). In the spirit of legal reasoning, I will state the conclusion now so you don’t have to read the rest of the decision if you so choose: the effects of legal training do in fact cross borders.

I was struck by how I still saw legal issues everywhere, regardless of what country or continent I was in, and by how frequently I was reminded of something specific I had learned in law school. One instance occurred in a bout of jetlag that left me unable to sleep at what was 2 am in England and who knows what time/space continuum point for my circadian rhythm. I was listening to a radio show on my phone when one character happened to use the phrase ‘the most astute of you or the least un-astute’. Instead of laughing at the punch-line which followed, I immediately thought of how Chief Justice McLachlin had an issue with rephrasing the Smithers test from ‘not insignificant’ to ‘significant’. I recalled her discussion of how there is an important distinction between the phrase ‘I like him’, and ‘I don’t dislike him’, which I’m sure has been the subject of many an awkward Valentine’s day card. It’s safe to say the average listener probably didn’t have this reflexive response to what was a perfectly normal joke.

In the streets of Dublin I would see signs which had both Irish and English on them and automatically think, ‘Are they both constitutionally required to be there? I wonder if there is a leading case on this…Did someone litigate over how small the font of one language was? Is it up to the national government or the municipal government? Is the municipal government a creature of statute or does it have separate constitutional standing? Is that Guinness mug for sale?’ All these substantive legal questions trailed in my mind in one way or another during my trip.

I think the effects of legal training on the mind are similar regardless of the jurisdiction in which you study. At a friend’s house in Tehran, we were chatting about our respective fields, my friend’s being design and marketing, and he said something that really intrigued me. He told me about a good friend of his who had just started her legal career in litigation. He said he was so impressed with the way she saw real world problems and came up with a strategy for solving them and carried through in a very efficient manner. He had noticed her tendency for the organized anticipation of issues which helped her navigate the world around her. ‘She goes from court to court and case to case all over Tehran, and she is so confident.’ It was reassuring to think the mental discipline, focus and confidence that we strive to build while students of the law will shape our characters in lasting ways. So, while it may be strange for BBC radio shows and street signs to trigger thoughts of SCC decisions, it is but a by-product of a far greater training our minds are undergoing. And for those who did read beyond the ratio at the top, I will quell your undoubtedly fervent anticipation by making the following finding of fact: the mug was sadly not on sale.

Q&A with Beverly Ma

My fellow blogger, Beverly Ma, and myself wanted to do something a bit different for our next posts. We decided to ask each other some fun, and hopefully informative, questions about law school and the life of a law student. As evidenced by her previous posts, Bev is a not only smart and very helpful but also involved in the UBC Law and broader community, so don’t miss her take on first year law and beyond.

Q: What is the best or worse piece of advice you received while in law school?

A: As a law student, you will find that you will be gifted with advice from lawyers, upper year students, professors, all the time. Heck, my blog posts are kind of like advice. It’s a little obvious, but do think twice before you apply or discard advice!

Worst AdviceDecember exams don’t count so you don’t have to try.

This is wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. December exams CAN count. In the 2012-2013 academic year, they could have been worth a quarter of one’s final mark, if the final exam mark was below the December exam mark. I found that studying for December exams helped to reduce the amount of reviewing I had to do when it came to cumulative final exams. Work can snowball really easily in law school, so take every opportunity you can to learn the material and you will thank yourself later on.

Best Advice: The legal profession is a people business. Get to know people.

The things I’ve learned simply by having walked up to a lawyer or an upper year student and talking to them always surprise me. I love having the opportunity to talk to lawyers about their practice, upper year students about their courses of choice, and professors about their opinions. There are kinds of nuanced information you really can’t get from a website or pamphlet – I don’t think there’s a substitute for getting to know people, especially in person.

Q: How did you narrow your interests when in law school?

A: I’m not sure if I have completely narrowed my interests. The problem is my interest in different areas of law is a function of what I find interesting. To a certain extent, I find everything interesting. I think that a good way to go about narrowing your interests would be to talk to people! Talk to professors, talk to lawyers (practicing in different fields), and other students. This can really help you shape your interests. Another great way is to get involved in legal work in any capacity in a field of law you are curious about in a paid or volunteer capacity.

Q: What did you do besides school during the school year?

A: Law classes really did make up a huge part of my life during the school-year because I really tried to keep up with my readings and assignments. Outside of classes, I volunteered, mostly around the law school community. For example, I was a Clinician with the Law Students Legal Advice Program in Chinatown. I also tried to volunteer outside of law school with the Centre for African Affairs and Global Peace. I worked part-time as a Peer Tutor with Access and Diversity. I’m not going to lie: my social life was almost nonexistent. I found volunteering and working really helped to distance myself from the stresses of law school though.

Q: Where do you like to study?

A: I really liked getting away from Allard Hall for most of my studying, even though it is a beautiful building. I prefer a quiet space, and I did most of my studying in my room, with lots of snacks. I also loved going to the Riddington Room inside the Irving K. Barber Library, an undergraduate favorite and fondly referred to as the Harry Potter Room. Coffee shops don’t work out that well for me because I can get too distracted with people-watching.

Q: How do you de-stress?

A: I bake or cook to de-stress (and if you need to eat anyways, it kills two birds with one stone). There’s nothing like kneading dough when you’re frustrated with readings.

Q: What are 3 things you need to survive at law school or in Vancouver?

A: Oh boy.

1.    An umbrella: I almost always have an umbrella. I almost always have a spare in my locker too, which I am happy to lend out.

2.    Rain boots: Wearing damp socks is possibly one of the worst things in the world.

3.    A laptop: Seriously. Professors talk fast and Condensed Annotated Notes need to be formatted. I type much faster than I write, so I found a laptop helpful for law school exams. As a commuter, I also recommend a lightweight laptop.

Q: Favorite food/restaurant in Vancouver?

A: I eat too much. I think my favorite cuisine is Mediterranean followed by Chinese. One of my favorite Greek restaurants is Kisamos in Stevenson – it’s a little out of the way relative to UBC though. One of my favorite Chinese restaurants is Long’s Noodle House. It’s a hole-in-the-wall without the best customer service, but they make delicious food! I love sweets of course, and I highly recommend a cup of classic hot chocolate from Thomas Haas or a Marbelous cookie from Blue Chip Cookies (right on campus!).

Stress Less

I want to keep this post short seeing as how everyone is busy studying for final exams. I can’t believe how quickly this term has passed. It only seems like yesterday that I was trying to be a tree, didn’t know what a CAN was, and was a foreigner to the concept of studying on a Friday night.

But the term is over, and that means exams are coming, seemingly with an extra-large side of stress. We’ve had ‘We Love Law Students’ week with cookies, free massages and puppy therapy, which is such a wonderful effort by UBC Law’s amazing staff and faculty to take care of us. Going off of that theme, I want to use this post not just to wish everyone a good exam season, but also as a reminder not to stress out too much. This is mainly directed at 1Ls, but if you are a 2L or 3L reading a mere mortal of a 1L’s blog post, you are awesome and I am giving you a virtual hug.

Here are some of the phrases I’ve heard about law school/finals this past week or so: hell, stressful!, like being punched in the head every day, I wake up in the middle of the night because of stress, I can’t sleep, there is no time to do well!, toxic levels of studying… and other phrases which demonstrate too well the versatility of a certain expletive. Even one of our professors commented that this year the level of 1L stress seems to be higher than normal. I have friends in medical school who are learning how not to accidentally kill people who stress less than some law students.

So, even though you’ve heard this a million times, here it is in classic final-exam condensed form:

  • Your health > your marks | marks are NOT determinative/necessarily reflective of: intelligence, amount of hard work you’ve put in during the year, ambitions, or future success as a lawyer.

I may be the worst offender myself sometimes, but my best stress reduction technique is to keep things in perspective. If I feel overwhelmed, I stop and think: If I went to bed last night with a full stomach and a roof over my head, I’m better off than a massive portion of humanity, past and present, and my stresses are relatively minimal. So, take a breath and slow down. Try to balance your day of studying with breaks, physical activity, time with family, friends, pets, and don’t let stress get the better of you. We’re almost there!


I Know What You Did Last Summer

If you are a 1L, chances are you’ve been thinking about your summer plans lately. In deciding what you may want to do, considering all you’ve been through so far in first year, you have probably considered one/a combination of the Usual Suspects: a law-related job, a non-law related job, research, volunteering, traveling, switching to medical school, or simply attaining 8 daily hours of a mythical entity known as sleep.

Besides having to choose which lunch-time event to attend based on its free food’s quality (Panago v. Samosas), figuring out what I want to do after first year has been the toughest decision I’ve had to make for a while. I’m going to share some of my thoughts about the whole thing-the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly- in hopes that it may be helpful, or at least minimally impair your right to be amused by blogs.

The financial benefit of choosing to work over other options of the non-paying variety is obvious. Law school is an expensive endeavour and Vancouver is not a cheap city in which to live. Our collective debt is simply rather Big. So this first observation is nothing Earth-shattering.

My second observation from talking to past students, lawyers, and recruiters is that students are not expected to do a full time law-related job after their first year of law school. Most firms do not have specific positions for first year students, and most recruiters do not count lack of a law-related job as a fatal flaw in your application. On the other hand, some lawyers have advised me that having a law-related job is a good choice for people whose marks may not exactly be Smokin’ Aces coming out of first year.

Of course, your first summer’s plans shouldn’t be wholly dictated by whether they will help you secure a job after law school. Your interests and values should obviously play a role, too. Research, for example, is a great way to explore and develop your interest in a particular area of law, while applying some of your shiny new legal skills. Catching up on or getting involved in volunteering opportunities which first year’s busyness may have kept you from is also another great option. For some, a long break from any school or academic work may be just The Thing to de-stress from first year, while others can’t wait to further immerse themselves in the field. And of course, for those of you like me who are perpetually in a state of Wanderlust, four months of break is the perfect opportunity to globetrot.

The point is that there are many options available, and most of them are good for you. You can go down conventional paths, or do Something New. I have come to learn that the whole process of getting to and going through law school includes having to make some important decisions without having all the information you may want. It is about making the best possible choice with limited information, accepting that there is no way to know with certainty The Road which is best. Kind of like those multiple choice questions, where 5 out of 5 answers are correct, but 2 of them are just correct, 2 of them are extra correct, and one of them is slightly more correct than the extra correct ones. Be honest about what you want and try to keep as many doors open as possible. And all you have to do before getting on with your summer adventures are a few little tests. Also, The Lord of the Rings. There, I really wanted to use that one and couldn’t fit it in the dominant subject matter of this post for the life of me.

About a Moot.

As the title of this post, which should be read in a Canadian accent, suggests, it is moot week at UBC Law for 1Ls! This is the week where we get to wear robes, be called ‘Counsel’, and generally act like we are already lawyers.

I have now finished my moot and thought I would share some of my observations about the whole process, from the day the factum was assigned all the way to the judgement delivered after 2.5 hours of arguments.

1. I had fun! Like most of my fellow 1Ls, this was my first moot, and I was nervous about the whole thing. However, I found myself really enjoying the mooting and especially the questions from the bench. Interacting with the judges made me feel like I was actually arguing a case, rather than giving a prepared presentation.

2. It was a great learning experience. I learned how to write a factum, right after learning how to spell ‘factum’ (there are at least two awkward autocorrects you may encounter). I learned how to apply and distinguish cases and how to frame their application to facts in a persuasive way. Incidentally, I also learned that you are not supposed to nod along when anyone speaks in court. It’s considered to be verifying what they are saying and also too conversational. Being a habitual nodder in lectures/conversations, I’ll definitely have to work on keeping a stiff neck in court.

3. Anticipating questions is a very good skill to have. It’s great to have a solid and thorough submission, but there are always questions, and the more of them you have thought about, the more readily you will be able to answer them. Incorporating your cases sufficiently into your answers also makes your response that much more persuasive.

4. It is so much fun to be able to say ‘My Lord’ and ‘My Lady’ in real life. How often do you get to do that? ‘Not often’ is the answer if you’re a reasonable person. (We’ve pegged down what ‘reasonable person’ means already, right?)

5. The moots exemplify the giving nature of this profession. Dozens of lawyers and other members of this field took time out from their busy lives to read our factums, read the cases, come out to UBC, and listen to us moot our way through the whole evening. I’m genuinely appreciative of everyone who gives their time so we can have this fun learning experience.

6. Wearing robes is an acquired skill. They are somehow attracted to getting stuck on furniture. Multiple times.  

“Weep not for roads untraveled”

“Weep not for roads untraveled.

Weep not for paths left alone.

‘Cause beyond every bend,

is a long, blinding end,

it’s the worst kind of pain I’ve known.”

These are some wise words from a song by a wise band, singing about what I can only assume is law school. Or maybe love. Most likely law school. The first two days back from our holiday break reminded me of this song as we got our exams back and opened the floodgates of memory to go over our December efforts and figure out why we got certain things wrong and other things right. Of course, that is the main point of the December exams process: learning how to study, how to take law exams, and what to do and not do. However, whether the ‘roads untraveled’ were those extra sample exams you never got to, or the ‘paths left alone’ were the extra CANs you never looked at, it can be hard to pinpoint what it was you could have done better. I think it’s very easy to get wrapped up in thinking there were dozens of things you could have done which you missed, which leads to thinking you now have to do all of them to succeed. There’s been much discussion of people vowing to do this, that and the other come April. Many of us are, somewhat stereotypically, type A, ambitious individuals who are used to be being perfectionists. So, it’s natural for us to have a tendency to linger on any imperfections and try to ameliorate them by employing the maximum number of possible remedies.

I think a good strategy is to resist the urge to dwell on all the possible things that one could have done, and instead actively find the most effective improvements. I think it’s easy to get caught up in the techniques and technicalities of studying and CANing, allowing the focus on areas of conceptual confusion and the mastery of materials to wane. The best way to use the December practice run is as a springboard to jump forward, and not a road looking backwards. Effective, focused evaluation is good; re-questioning every step is likely going to end up being fruitless.

When the training wheels come off in April, I reckon there will be enough ‘worst kinds of pain’ known to most of us. So, there’s no need to create more out of this round. Study smarter, study better, and sprinkle in some fun in there if possible.

I’ll also take this opportunity to wish everyone a great start to the new term and a very happy new year! I hope 2013 will be one filled with happiness and success for everyone!

How I learned to stop worrying and love CANs

Give yourself two brownie points if you got that reference. I apologize if it reminded you of your age. One brownie point if you googled it before reading the rest. As the title of this blog suggests, I have just passed a very important milestone in any law student’s life: I have made my first, official CAN joke. Yes, we’ve all made many by now, but this one’s on the record. I must admit; it feels good.

Less importantly, I have officially been CANing for some time now. Some of you are thinking the following: someone must have caught the last wagon on the train ‘cause I’ve been CANing since September! Some of you are nervously smiling as you have yet to look at a single handout on CANing. Some of you are deliberately waiting to get through all the term’s material before going through CANing bootcamp right before exams, because that’s your thing. Well, you’re all wrong. Because there is no right answer! If there is one take-home point from any piece of CANing advice, it’s the fact that there is no magic way to do it. When it comes to CANing, you’ll hear the phrase, “Do what works for you” almost as much as you hear about the living tree doctrine (one brownie point!).

What I am continuing to learn is to strike a balance between adopting new study skills essential in studying law and keeping old study skills that have always worked for me. So, I’ve learned to actually brief a case, as opposed to take pages and pages of notes on it. Yet, I’ve kept my style of note-taking in class, which is taking down a running commentary of the lecture, usually in complete sentences, as opposed to strictly bullet points. I’m good at remembering conversations, so this style works for me by turning lectures into conversation-y type things. Later, taking out the main points from the conversation becomes my process of review.

I’ve been aiming for the same balancing act in CANing. I’m keeping what works in note-taking, but I’m also constantly experimenting, changing styles, and yelling at Microsoft Word to bring back Clippy the Office Assistant to format my headings for me (three brownie points for that reference because I know it made you count the years). I think the biggest hang-up I have about CANs is thinking of them as something completely alien, but they really aren’t. If they had been called Final Exam Notes, I bet we’d all stress less about them. But they’re supposed to be condensed. And annotated. So, naturally we balk at the unfamiliar. Reminding myself that at the end of the day CANs are essentially really good course/study notes definitely helps make them more manageable.

Yes, it’s frustrating as I’m getting the hang of it, and I imagine I’ll only know what the right balance is once I get my exam marks back. I have, however, discovered a rather bright silver lining to CANing and note-taking in law school generally: the satisfaction of getting to add all those new words to your software’s dictionary. Interjurisdictional. Pogg powers. Actus Reus. Promisee. None of these used to be recognizable words before you made them so. Nothing beats feeling smarter than a computer. Take that Deep Blue. (final brownie point! Now, add up your total and buy the equivalent number of real brownies to snack on while you CAN.)