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How to survive law school: Zoom edition | Serena Eshaghurshan

Monday, October 19, 2020 @ 8:40 AM | By Serena Eshaghurshan

Serena Eshaghurshan %>
Serena Eshaghurshan
In my previous article, I discussed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on law students and on the legal system more broadly. Attending law school remotely is an unprecedented feat, and while it has its benefits (such as the ability to roll out of bed and attend class), it also has its challenges. In this article, I will provide some tips that will hopefully abate some of the difficulties law students are facing. While times are certainly difficult, with some preparation and planning, online law school can be made less daunting.

One of the most difficult and time-consuming aspects of law school is the reading. When I was a 1L, I was completely overwhelmed by the sheer amount of material, and the complex and headache-inducing syntax of case law. As my peers will know, reading a case versus reading and understanding a case are two very different things. Of course, I highly recommend 1Ls take the time to fully read and brief their cases. This practice is laborious but pivotal to learning how to distill the important parts of a decision and how to understand the ratio emerging from a case. However, most law students are expected to take five classes a semester, and this, coupled with networking and extracurriculars, can become unmanageable.

Once one becomes comfortable with briefing cases, I highly recommend using one of the case summary products offered by various legal publishers. Most upper year students graciously provide their junior peers with outlines. While these are incredible resources, they run the risk of containing misinterpretations of the law, or law that has become antiquated (“bad law”). The case summaries provide a high-level overview of a case in three to four paragraphs. Using this approach, it becomes easy to see why a decision contains an important contribution to the case law. Furthermore, a highly effective practice is to first read the summary to become familiarized with the case, and then to skim the full decision to see if there is anything else that is pertinent. Using this approach, I find I spend less than half the amount of time I usually do on readings.

While I have been lucky to have incredible professors at University of Calgary law, there have been times where I had difficulty understanding the black-letter law itself. This is especially common when the law becomes quite nuanced. In other words, one can’t see the forest for the trees. To counteract this, I often utilize [LexisNexis Canada-owned] Halsbury — an encyclopedia of black-letter law written in plain English that provides an overview of the state of the law, along with the seminal cases. Thus, one can gain a tangible understanding of the law quickly. I personally found it to be vital for courses such as evidence and administrative law, as it can be difficult at times to see the “big picture.” Furthermore, it is written by leading legal experts, so there is a strong assurance of accuracy.

While reading and understanding the law are key components of a legal education, there are certainly more aspects at play. Networking is crucial to finding employment. Of course, not everyone (including myself) feels comfortable with networking, but it is an essential skill to learn. To start, try to set a goal of two networking events per month. If you can’t meet this goal, no problem, but setting the expectation will make it more likely you will follow through. Contact your faculty’s career office, as they will provide invaluable networking contacts and tips for meetings.

Another crucial tip is to find a mentor early on in law school. This will provide you with someone you can reach out to throughout your law school journey for advice and guidance. Lastly, don’t be afraid to reach out to lawyers and law firms. Most lawyers enjoy chatting with law students and sharing their wisdom and guidance. While the pandemic makes in-person interactions unsuitable, you can always ask for a Zoom or phone call.  

My last tip is my most important one: don’t be afraid of failure. Law school is HARD, and there will be times where you underperform in a class, fail to secure employment, get harsh feedback, etc. While this is difficult to deal with, it happens to everyone at some point in law school. The famous proverb “Fall down seven times, stand up eight” is highly applicable to law students and our current reality. Be kind to yourself and others — you will figure it out. While this pandemic has landed us in uncharted territory, you are most certainly not alone.

Serena Eshaghurshan is 2021 JD candidate at the University of Calgary. Prior to law school, she received a bachelor of arts in psychology at the University of Calgary.

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