ne way that many students set themselves up for success in law school is to form close-knit study groups early in the semester. Whether a regimented group of very disciplined students or a loose association of friends who just get together occasionally to run hypos, study groups are a core component of the law school experience for most 1Ls. But how do you know if a study group is right for you? And if so, how do you get the most from your particular group?
I’m going to share my own experience with the study groups I encountered so that you can get an idea of the vast differences between them and their ultimate effectiveness. (You can also check out this student blogger’s experience with study groups at her school.)
Group 1: The Comic Book Geeks
During the whirlwind of orientation activities, I made friends with a couple guys in my section who shared my interest in politics, comic books, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We seemed to be getting along great, so I thought it would be a good idea to form a study group with them. We planned to meet every Friday afternoon after our last class to sum up the week’s class materials and begin to create our course outlines.
Things didn’t get off to a great start. It took us a while to come to a consensus on where and when to meet. Then, once we were finally assembled, we had to determine what the purpose of the group would be. We quickly realized that none of us had any idea how to outline, what kind of information a good outline should contain, or even what the purpose of outlining was to begin with. It was also apparent that the three of us were not all equally prepared. Because we could not actually talk about what we’d learned in class that week, the conversation quickly devolved into a thorough dissection of the new series of Doctor Who and how we felt about the newest actor to portray The Doctor. Interesting, yes, but not particularly productive. This group was soon disbanded, though we did get together of a Friday night for a rousing game of Lego Star Wars.
Group 2: Mentor & Protégées
As the weeks wore on, I was approached by a couple students in my section to run hypos with them before our Contracts classes. I participated frequently in class—not because I was a gunner, but because I wanted to be able to relax for the rest of the semester—and so these students thought I had a good handle on the material. These students had yet to be on call, and were terrified that they would crumble under the pressure unless they were super prepared every day. The whole purpose of this little group was to go through each day’s reading assignment and try to anticipate the kind of questions that the professor would pose.
I was the de facto leader of the group, and because the students were very motivated to learn, this was actually a great experience. I took on the role of the “professor” and quizzed the other group members accordingly. Not only was this a great way for the other students to rehearse in case they were put on the spot, it helped me reinforce my own understanding of the material. For students who learn best by teaching the materials to others, I do recommend this approach.
Group 3: The Early Birds
By the third week of law school, I despaired of finding a group that fit my needs. Ideally, the group would be comprised of students who kept the same schedule as me, who could be counted on to be in class and have completed all the readings, and who could help me work through difficult concepts without straying off task or gossiping too much.
The group that I finally found and stuck with all that first year sprang up organically. I hit campus every day at 6 AM to review my notes from the previous class and to clean up my case briefs for that day’s lecture. The school library did not open until 8 AM, so I would find a quiet corner of the student lounge and set up shop there until I could hit the stacks. Over the course of a couple weeks, I noticed that the same two people kept showing up at the same time as me, apparently with the same study approach as mine. Gradually, one and then the other asked to join me at my table just to talk through a few cases. The next thing I knew, we had a standing daily meeting at 7 AM to go through all the day’s materials and run hypos in anticipation of final exams.
This was the group that worked largely because we all had the same learning style, kept the same schedule, were disciplined and well prepared every day, and we also liked hanging out with each other. We were even able to lighten the load of briefing each day’s cases by delegating them to each other and sharing our work. We were able to strike a balance between getting our work done and taking a few breaks for catching up on all the section gossip.
So, how do you know if study groups are right for you?
Ask yourself these questions: 1) Do I need to talk things through before I can really grasp a concept?; 2) Is it easier for me to keep up with the material if I have a support system in place to keep me accountable?; and 3) Do I have time to devote to daily or weekly meetings with the group?
Study groups are not a good fit for everyone. For those of us who learn through discussion, they can be very useful, but for those who learn more simply by reading, they can be a distraction. Some students need to have the structure of a study group to help them stay on track and to give them a reason to really be vigilant about staying caught up with the readings. It is also intimidating to approach law school without a strong network of friends and allies, so study groups can help you build those connections
Are you in a study group now? How did you find your study buddies? How does your group approach the coursework? Tell us!