A Fresh Start…Getting Ready for a New Beginning Second Semester

A Fresh Start…Getting Ready for a New Beginning Second SemesterPlease welcome back guest writer and 3L Mark Livingston to talk about coming back fresh for a new semester and making the most of your preparation for it!

Law school is not easy. As a father, husband, and non-traditional law student, the pain of late-night study sessions, hours at the library, classes, copious amounts of reading, and the perpetual preparation for finals are all hurdles for both me and my family to overcome. Nothing leaves a worse taste in a law student’s mouth than a mediocre, or even bad, semester. It seems to me that you have two options: 1) you can blame everyone but yourself and play the victim; or 2) spend some time confronting yourself and choose to take steps to start fresh second semester. The great thing about law school is this: although material in a single class may be cumulative, the many classes you will take each semester are not collectively cumulative. This means that you have the opportunity to make adjustments and become a qualitatively different law student each and every semester of law school. How amazing is this?

Self-Confrontation Stings

There is nothing so painful as looking in the mirror and acknowledging that the person looking back at you is responsible for your mediocre or poor performance. If you want to get a fresh start second semester, this is a necessary first step. It’s time to evaluate your performance over the last few months. What areas did you slack off in? Did you spend a little too much time socializing with friends? Maybe you spent too little time briefing your cases (this is especially common the more law school semesters you get under your belt)? Did you attend all of your lectures, come prepared to class, and actively participate in class discussions (not just when you were on call)? The key here is to honestly identify the area or areas where you know that you weren’t fully committed to your success. Once you have identified your weaknesses, you can fix them. Moving forward in a state of willful ignorance is not a recipe for a fresh start, it’s a guarantee of a repetition of your recent history.

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

Now that you have identified the areas where you went off of the rails, it’s time to develop a plan. Did you stop briefing your cases? It’s time to get back to basics. Have trouble being prepared for and participating in class? It’s time to prepare for each class like you invented the Socratic method. Did you struggle with that work-school-life balance last semester? Maybe it’s time to talk to the people that you love (and who presumably love you) about ways that you can maintain your effectiveness as a law student, while also giving some time to family and friends. Regardless of the issue, developing a plan of attack for correcting the problem is key. Once the plan is in place (e.g. I am only going to go to dollar draft night and karaoke night once a week, rather than three nights a week), it is critical to take action steps to realize the remedy.

Not Every Plan Fails at First Contact with the Enemy

You must take affirmative, genuine steps to fix whatever was broken, and enact your plan for improvement. It is really easy to say, “I’m going to start outlining for all of my classes on day one, next semester,” only to procrastinate until a week before finals, or not at all. Just like an agency relationship, you have got to manifest assent to conduct yourself in a particular, novel way. Law school is like any other activity – once you engage in a particular activity (like going to study group sessions) a few times, it will become a habit. Take a concrete, affirmative step to do the things you know you need to do to get a fresh start second semester. Do whatever it is the first two or three weeks of class and, assuming that you have worked it into you study schedule, it will become habit. Before you know it, you are an entirely new law student.

Be the Maker of Your Fate!

Law school is hard. You cannot wander through carrying your luggage full of bad habits and expect to get better or to skate through each semester. We are in a very competitive business, and your performance each semester can directly impact your marketability or brand during and after law school. Of course, even mediocre law students graduate, and some of them may even pass the bar on the first try, but chances are they are not the ones who are competitive when it comes to post-graduate clerkships or jobs in BigLaw. Only you have the power to make the change needed to give you a fresh start second semester. No one else can. Be proactive and honest with yourself. When you that happens, you will have the opportunity to reinvent yourself as an excellent and competitive law student each semester. The choice is yours. You got this!


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About Mark Livingston

Mark earned a B.Sc. in Criminology and Sociology from Ball State University, a M.Sc. in Criminology from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and a Master of Philosophy in Russia, Central, and Eastern European Studies from the University of Glasgow in Scotland. He is earning his JD at the University of Valparaiso School of Law. Mark worked for more than 10 years in state and local government in the areas of emergency management, law enforcement, and probation. Mark is a veteran of the United States Army Reserve.

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