How to Make Law School a 9 to 5

How to Make Law School a 9 to 5

This week we welcome back Julia Gourary to talk about how to make law school like a regular, full-time, job.

Law school is demanding. Between going to class, preparing for class, doing practice problems, outlining, extracurriculars, and applying for jobs, it seems like the work never ends. Law school can and will take up all your time if you let it, crowding out everything else in your life.

My 1L fall, I fell prey to this. I let my work take however long it took, leaving me scrambling to fit in other things like exercise, seeing friends, cleaning, and running errands in the fragments of time that were left over. I always felt like I was in work mode or should be working, even when I was supposed to be relaxing.

My 1L spring, I decided to try something different: making law school a 9 to 5(ish). I would arrive at school the same time every morning, attend class and do my readings during the “workday,” and then go home and be finished for the day. It doesn’t have to be exact—I did work a few hours over the weekend to make my week a little easier, and in the period leading up to exams I didn’t always stick to this schedule. But the general principle is this: if your plan out your time in advance, commit to efficiency during the “workday,” and set boundaries between school and home, law school does not need to be all-consuming.

Here’s how to do it:

Plan out your “workday”

First, add fixed items like class or regular meetings, as well as time to eat lunch. Then, enter blocks of time around those when you will plan to do readings or other assignments for each class. (I prefer to read two days ahead so I still have the readings done for the next day in case something comes up, but do what works for you.) Try to find large, uninterrupted chunks of time (say one and a half to two hours)— I’ve found that having a dedicated time block to do a task, rather than doing things piecemeal or multitasking, is much more efficient. If you happen to have short periods of open time, like twenty or thirty minutes between classes, those can be used for taking breaks or doing low-effort tasks that don’t require as much concentration. Blocking in dedicated times to do each class’s readings also saves time by taking the guesswork out of what you’re going to do each day and when. I also found that when I gave myself a limited time to finish a reading, I was much more efficient.

Once you have this set schedule for your regular weekly commitments, you can schedule in other variable items at the beginning of each week, like time to do research for an assignment or work through a hypothetical.

Find your workspace

Last semester I had classes every day at 11am, so I would get to school at about 9, fill up my thermos with coffee from the student lounge, and settle in at my favorite study carrell in the library to do readings until my first class started. Sitting in the same place every day got me in the work mindset—almost like going to an office and sitting at your desk. I think it’s best for school/life separation to try to do all your work at school, but for those times you end up working at home, make sure to have a dedicated home workspace (that is not also your couch).

Also make sure you have all the tools you’ll need at school, either in your locker or your backpack—for example, a book stand, your favorite snacks, or the highlighters you like. There’s nothing worse than sitting down ready to get started on your work only to realize you don’t have something you need.

Reduce distractions during the “workday”

If you want to get everything you need to accomplish done between roughly 9 and 5, you must cut out time-wasting distractions like social media and mindless Internet browsing. For this reason, I prefer paper textbooks to e-books—it’s hard to resist checking email or social media when you’re already on your laptop, and even if you do resist, knowing the Internet is at your fingertips can still be a pull on your attention. During your time blocks, make sure to turn your electronics on silent and put them away and out of sight. You might be surprised how much more you get done!

Leave your books at school

This is also specific to physical books, but leaving your books in your locker will be great for your mental (and physical) health. Keeping your books at school reinforces the boundary between work and home, forcing you to read when you’re at school and relax when home. Plus, not having to carry heavy books home is a great incentive to finish your readings!

Use the evening to unwind from the day

One of the many benefits of making law school a 9 to 5 is that you have the evening to yourself. You can finally go down all the Internet rabbit holes you avoided during the day (which I have definitely done), but I recommend using this time to unwind and restore yourself. Some ideas: stretching or doing yoga, watching a favorite TV show, cooking a yummy dinner, calling a friend, or listening to a podcast. Instead of feeling like you’re working all the time but somehow still not doing enough, you can relax knowing that you accomplished what you set out to do for the day.

This system may not work for everyone, but I found that it made law school feel a lot more manageable and less all-consuming. If you’re looking for more balance, even implementing just one or two of these strategies can help.


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About Julia Gourary

Julia is a 2L at NYU School of Law. She received her B.A. in Art History from Yale University, where she graduated magna cum laude in December 2021. In addition to writing for Law School Toolbox, she currently works as an LSAT tutor. In her spare time, she enjoys reading novels, doing yoga, and binge-watching reality TV.

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