Whether you chose to take online courses or COVID-19 chose for you, here are some tips to help you stay sane during your online law school courses.
Abraham Lincoln University’s juris doctor students are immersed in a 100% online law school from day one. But for some students online law school is a brand new experience. Colleges and law schools certainly weren’t planning for a global pandemic to break out in the 2019-2020 school year.
The good news is that you can use these pointers to help you survive online school at all times.
1. Set a schedule
Students, especially those unused to online courses, should adapt to a new routine. One of the best ways to help do that is by making a schedule for yourself to stay on track and create consistency. Thankfully, there’s more than one method, and students can pick and choose according to individual preferences.
If you’re fond of your phone, use the calendar app to remind you when class starts and what assignments are due each week. Set reminders for yourself 15 minutes before class is scheduled to start so that you’re ready to go when the professor begins their online lecture.
If you like to have a creative outlet, bullet journals are widely popular and give you the flexibility to organize your time that best suits your needs (not to mention the fun of using washi tape). Color code and use stickers to your heart’s content!
2. Eat healthy
In times of crisis, it’s common for many of us to turn to junk food to help us cope. We know it’s hard but choosing to eat steamed vegetables instead of French fries will go a long way towards your overall health and focus. Brain “superfoods” such as blueberries, avocados, kale, fish and whole grains are packed with nutrients your brain will love and you will appreciate.
Citrus fruits are also good for the brain, and they have the added benefit of being good for the immune system — which we could all use a boost of right about now. Oranges are an especially good source of Vitamins C and D and are the perfect snack before your online lecture.
3. Treat online as in-class
It’s a great feeling to roll out of bed 5 minutes before class starts, isn’t it?
Unless, of course, you’re having a video conference with your classmates and professor. You probably wouldn’t go to class with a bedhead, so don’t do it for online class either. By treating your online classes the same way you think of on-ground classes, you’ll be much more prepared and attentive.
Some professors will record their lectures, leaving you free to watch them at any given time. While this flexibility might be greatly appreciated during this difficult and hectic time, consider trying to keep to your normal schedule as much as possible. So, if you signed up for a class that normally begins at 8 a.m., be sitting and ready in front of your computer by that time.
4. Engage with the course
Logging in only on days when the class is scheduled may not be the best path for success. Go into your e-learning platform and email and check every day for updates and new materials, you’ll be more attentive and prepared for the class. Read all of the materials and supplementary readings provided by your professor and annotate as much as possible.
Because you’re not in the classroom, it’s wise to use every other tool at your disposal to learn the material. It’s easy to start down the slippery slope of procrastination when you’re not being held accountable by time and the physical space of a classroom, which means putting forth the extra effort to pass is not only highly recommended — it’s necessary.
5. Remove distractions
While you’re sipping your coffee and watching or listening to the recorded lecture at the regularly scheduled time, don’t pause it to get up and do unnecessary activities if you can help it. Of course, there will inevitably be distractions that are out of your control like needy pets, children or even partners. The advantage of online school is that you may be able to pause the lecture and handle those issues. However, do what you can to be as distraction-free as possible.
For instance, silence your phone, turn it face-down so you’re not tempted to text a friend, close any tabs on your web browser open to YouTube or social media, and treat that time as if you were physically in the room with your professor and other students.
This will be much easier to do if you can create a dedicated workspace in your home. If you don’t have a spare room, consider using a corner in your kitchen or living room that’s not being used and set up a small desk or work station. Hang up a calendar so you don’t forget what day it is and use that space to condition your mind to focus.
Whether you’re attending an online video lecture, doing homework, studying for a test or meeting with an online study group, this space should only be used for school. The idea is that you’ll be more focused and productive when you’re sitting in this space.
6. Form online study groups
Law students tend to agree that a good study group makes the difference between passing a class or failing. Even as you practice social distancing, reach out to your classmates online and get a study group going. Technology makes it easier than ever to create online study guides, share notes and gather via video chat for brainstorming sessions.
Ideally, your study group should at least meet once a week. Even if there’s no test coming up or a big project due, the more you can come together with your classmates, the better. Studying with a group lets you discuss strategies, prepare for exams and go over questions you or others might have concerning a particular lecture.
Many groups will divide up the syllabus at the beginning of the semester and create an online file so that the rest of the group can have access to it. Even if your professor doesn’t cover the material until the middle of the semester, by putting forth a little extra work now, you can get ahead and hold yourself accountable.
7. Video conferencing
Use this as an opportunity to build the skills you need for your future job as a lawyer. Video conferencing is being utilized more and more by legal firms (even before coronavirus), and online classes are a great way to practice. Even before you land that future job, you may need practice to ace those virtual interviews.
Just remember to dress appropriately, speak clearly and concisely, and remain professional. Don’t wake up 5 minutes before class starts and show up in your pajamas.
8. Get some sleep
Speaking of rolling out of bed, sleeping for a minimum of 7-8 hours every night will make your brain and body happy. Rest has been proven to increase the likelihood of retaining information, which makes it a key studying technique.
Pulling all-nighters before the big test is tempting but try to avoid it if possible. After all, that’s why you’ve been meeting with your study group once or twice a week, right? If you’re suffering from depression and anxiety, this can affect your sleep schedule and even keep you from sleeping well.
Lack of sleep has worsened for many people because of the pandemic. In a recent NPR interview, sleep experts and psychologists offer their insights that could help you get a better night’s rest during COVID-19 that can also be applied to fatigued and worn out law students.
9. Communicate with your professor
As in marriage, communication is key to succeeding in law classes online. Find out the best way to contact each of your professors (by phone, email, online chat, etc.), and use their preferred form of communication to discuss questions and concerns.
When getting ready for class, some professors like to use different forms of technology to post assignments or lectures. Some might stream on platforms like Zoom or post their notes to eLearn, so make sure to keep up with those. Check your email and the announcements page on your school platform frequently for any changes or updates.
These tips for online law school are tried and true, and we encourage students to adopt as many as possible, especially if your law school went online due to the pandemic. Remember to stay safe, wash your hands and take care of each other!
About the Author
Tom Murphy, founder of Murphy Law Firm, graduated from the University of Montana Law School in 1985. Since then, Tom has represented thousands of injured workers and personal injury claimants for over 34 years and frequently practices before both state and federal courts, including the United States Supreme Court. He has been awarded MTLA’s Appellate Advocacy Award, is recognized as one of WILG’s top 100 lawyers, and was the first Montana lawyer to be inducted into the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers.