Academic Success Program
Dedicated to Your Success
The Academic Success Program is exactly what its title suggests. The program offers a variety of services for you to maximize your academic experience at Northeastern University School of Law. From study skills to bar prep, the program is dedicated to your success.
Professor Victoria McCoy, the Academic Success Program director, will work with you individually or in a small group setting on exam taking strategies.
Professor Brook Baker is a 1976 graduate of the law school. In addition to his teaching, he is an AIDS activist, working on, among other things, issues of access to medicines. He teaches Negotiation, an upper-level simulation course, and a Global AIDS policy course. Professor Baker also conducts the ASP Analytical Skills Workshop (see below).
Thriving in Law School: Time Management
One of the things you must do in law school, if you aren't already skilled at it, is learn to manage your time. You will be assigned so much reading that it is hard to imagine ever doing it all. But, if you manage your time effectively, you will maximize your opportunities to keep up on your reading.
The first thing to do is to find out how you are spending your time now. I suggest keeping a log of your activities for a week. I recommend a week so that you can see how you spend your weekend time as well as your time during the week. Write down how you spend your time and how long each activity takes. You might find it to your advantage to use a log because it allows you to see a whole week at once. You can get a copy of a log by downloading it or from the Academic Success Program. Don't forget to include:
- Classes and any meetings you attend (APALSA, BLSA, C.A.I.R., LaLSA, OWLS, Queer Caucus, etc.),
- Any additional academic activities you attend (Legal Writing Workshop, Analytical Skills Workshop, a one time workshop on Outlining, etc.),
- Time you spend on daily living activities such as meals, sleep, exercise, recreation, family obligations, commuting,
- Time you spend working at, for example, a part-time job or work study, and
- Time spent watching t.v., listening to music, talking on the phone and/or hanging out with friends.
Total up the time accounted for above. What's left is the time you have available to spend on reading for classes and/or working on written assignments. If it isn't much, you need to think about which of the above activities you can decrease or cut out. Obviously, the activities listed above are the things you will most likely look to first for cuts.
Once you have this basic information, you can plan your schedule to build in study time. Here's how:
- Print out or photocopy another log sheet.
- Write in all dates assignments are due and dates of final exams (midterms too, if any).
- Block out all class times, additional academic activities, commuting, and meetings you must attend.
- Block out time for meals, exercise, family obligations, and sleep.
- Block out times you will study, specifying which subjects you will study during each time, and the times you will spend working on written assignments.
Once you have filled in all of your necessary weekly activities, you can photocopy this log several times. This allows you to use it as a weekly "master plan" without having to write in your routine activities every week. You can also see your free times and plan other activities for those times.
Once you've planned your master weekly schedule, it may seem as though there is very little time left for fun. Law school is a very time consuming enterprise and you will likely find that there isn't much free time available to you. That's one of the reasons it is important to make the most of the time you do have and to plan it wisely.
If you find you don't have enough time to read everything and do everything you want to do, you might find some help in the Academic Success Program. Come by and let's see if we can assist you.
Thriving in Law School: Stress and What to do About It
What is Stress?
We often think of stress as a result of an event that happens to us but it is not the event that is stressful, but the way we interpret and react to an event that is stressful. Something that might be quite stressful to one person may be completely non-stressful for another. For example, writing, which you will do a lot of in law school, is very stressful for some people; others experience it as relaxing.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Stress?
There are several signs and symptoms that you may notice when you are experiencing stress. These fall into four broad categories: Feelings, Thoughts, Behavior, and Physiological. When you are under stress, you may experience one or more of the following (note: this is not an exhaustive list):
Crying for no apparent reason
Starting smoking or smoking more than usual
Using drugs and/or alcohol more
Overeating or not being able to eat at all
Inability to concentrate
Obsessing about failure (e.g. exams)
Worrying about the future
Back and/or neck pain
Overeating or not being able to eat at all
Getting lots of colds, or other illnesses
Many people say they work best under pressure - stress doesn't really get to them. And, it is true that stress is a part of day to day living, and not necessarily harmful. In fact, as you may have experienced, mild stress can act as a motivator and energizer. But, if your stress level is too high, it can take its toll on your body and your social relationships. Law school, like other graduate programs, can be stressful - and the first year especially so.
Causes of Stress
Paradoxically, not just negative events cause stress; positive events can also be stressful. Major life changes are the major source of stress for most people and they use up a lot of our coping resources. Some examples of stressful major life changes for students are:
- Moving from a familiar place
- Beginning a new phase in one's life, such as law school
- Marriage, separation, divorce
- Pregnancy, miscarriage, delivering a baby
- Experiencing the death of someone close to you
In addition, external events can add to your stress, such as:
- Financial worries
- No quiet place to study or work
- Losses or disappointments
How to Reduce Stress
Here are some ways to minimize your stress and to manage it, rather than it managing you:
- Try and figure out what is stressful to you and how you usually react to stress
- Get regular exercise
- Eat a balanced diet - eating only junk food will catch up with you sooner or later
- Find someone you trust to talk with about your problems and concerns
- Buy/get a planner and use it to maximize the time available to you
- Plan ahead to avoid last minute problems (e.g. plan to print out a paper the night before it's due; those who come to school a half hour before the paper is due and plan to print it out then usually find that the printers have gone on strike!)
- Set realistic goals and priorities
- Use relaxation techniques to decrease stress. If you don't know how to systematically relax yourself, we have resources to teach you.
- Take frequent breaks from studying, even if they're only for 10 minutes at a time. Get up, walk around, have a drink of water, give yourself permission not to study every minute.
- Remember you had a life before you came to law school. You liked to do things like go to movies, hear music, play softball, visit museums. You may not be able to do something like that every day, but you should make time to do some of what you used to love.
- Remember, too, that you have been successful in other things you have done in your life. You'll be fine here too - even though it may not feel that way on a given day.
- We have many resources to assist you. There is no reason to suffer alone — ask if you need help.
Teaching Assistants are available to help you learn to read cases, take notes, outline courses and prepare for exams. TAs—selected third-year students who have done well in courses and on co-ops—are available on a drop-in basis in 14 Cargill at specified office hours.
Visit the Academic Success Program room in 14 Cargill for materials such as: weekly planners, studying and exam writing tips, analysis flow charts and other helpful information.
Assistance in Forming Study Groups
If you’d like to be in a study group but don't have a group, the Academic Success Program will help you find compatible study partners or a study group.
Thriving in Law School: Procrastination and What to Do About It
Are you a procrastinator? If so, you will find that procrastinating does not serve you well in law school. There is an enormous amount of reading to be done, papers to be written, and endless fascinating activities in which you may want to take part. So, if you can, try to cut down on your procrastinating. In particular, if you have a paper to be written, don't wait until the day before. The tasks you will be asked to do are too new and too unfamiliar - you won't be able to produce credible work at the last minute.
Nor will it help you to leave your reading to the end. Cramming for exams in law school doesn't work. Why? Well, primarily because each case you read in a particular area of the law builds on the reading that came before. If you don't get the basics, you will be playing catch up the whole semester or quarter.
Here are some ways to decrease procrastination:
- Make a list of everything you have to do - don't make any attempt to prioritize your list right now, just get everything down on paper
- Write, for your use only, a promise to yourself about what you plan to do
- Set your goals - which tasks you plan to do and by when - be as realistic as you can
- Estimate how long you think each task will take - then double your estimate!
- For each task, break it down to its component parts. For example, rather than, "write my substantive law memo," break the task down to:
- Read the memo assignment
- Ask my TA or instructor any questions I have about the assignment
- Check my planner - set aside time to go to the library to do research
- Go to the library and begin research
- Ask a librarian if I need help
- Check for relevant statutes
- Check for relevant cases
- Read the cases that seem relevant
- Save any cases I need to have at home to read again
- Make sure my cases are still good (i.e. current) law
- Based on the law found, draft an outline of the memo, etc.
Although it may seem that breaking the task down this way makes it seem like there is much more work to do, it is often actually more helpful because you can see your progress and cross off tasks as you have completed them.
- Make sure each task is a meaningful one; if you think it's pointless, you'll have a harder time doing it
- Cross off tasks you know you're never going to do (and don't have to be done)
- Reward yourself whenever you've accomplished one of your goals
- Give yourself something you'd like - an hour off, a walk, a t.v. show or movie, etc.
- At the end of whatever your reward is, start the next task you've planned
You have probably noticed that the causes of procrastination are not addressed here. There is a great deal of research on its causes, as well as a great deal of writing on how to handle procrastination. Here we have simply tried to give you some concrete ways of dealing with the problem.
If you find that procrastination is interfering with accomplishing your goals, you may benefit from professional counseling, which you can obtain for free at the Northeastern University Health and Counseling Services. If you want to explore whether or not this might be a useful option for you, you can call the UHCS at 617.373.2722 or speak with Victoria McCoy, Director of the Academic Success Program.
The School of Law offers a comprehensive approach to the bar exam. During the last year of law school, the Bar Skills and Strategies Course is available to all graduating students during their last academic quarter. The course focuses on skills needed to approach all sections of the bar exam. This three-credit course introduces students to preparation they will undertake when studying post-graduation for the bar exam. It is not intended to replace commercial bar preparation, but rather a head start in the skills needed for success on the bar exam.
In addition to the Bar Skills and Strategies Course, the assistant dean for bar admission programs meets individually and in groups with all law students, assisting with bar admission requirements and exam information. Tutoring and group sessions are also offered to all bar candidates at the time they are sitting for the bar exam to help supplement the commercial bar courses.
Analytical Skills Workshop (ASW)
This weekly offering taught by Professor Brook Baker attempts to demystify the law school learning process and engage you in your own learning process. The workshop includes explicit discussion of study skills, conventions of legal analysis and exam preparation strategies.
To help you polish some of your most important law school skills, NUSL offers one-time workshops on topics such as case reading and briefing, course outlining, taking exams, time management and several other topics. Check the Academic Success Program bulletin board to see what’s coming up next.
Academic Success Program FAQs
What is the Academic Success Program?
Through one-to-one work, academic counseling, skills workshops, time management assistance, exam preparation materials, and links to other helpful resources the ASP is a program designed to help every student perform the best he or she can in law school.
Who is the Academic Success Program for?
Any student who wants or needs additional help or guidance.
Are any of the Academic Success Program activities required?
ASP activities are voluntary for all first year students with one exception. Any first year student who is on academic probation in the second semester of the first year, as a result of first semester exams, is required to attend Professor Baker's Analytical Skills Workshop during second semester.
Am I the only first year student who thinks most of first year doesn't make sense?
No, and you won't be the last either. Although we hate to say it because it seems so cliched, the process of "learning to think like a lawyer" is often frustrating, confusing, and exhausting. But, it will all make sense eventually!
I was successful at my career before law school. Why am I having so much trouble now?
Probably because law school requires mastering new skills and ways of thinking (see answer to previous question). Your previous career, while important in shaping the person you are today, called on knowledge and skills you already had. Think back to your first few weeks or months in your previous career. Did it seem as easy then as it did just before you left to come to law school? Probably not because you were new at that career then, just as you are new at lawyering now.
Are there things I can do to help myself?
Sure! There are plenty of things you can do. For example, you might study with a partner or a group. You can work with a course or ASP Teaching Assistant ("TA"). You can go to ASP workshops. You can talk with the professor teaching the course that is giving you trouble. You may be able to get help from an upper year student in a group with which you are affiliated such as APALSA, BLSA, LALSA, OWLS, Queer Caucus, or others. You can look into study aids (but be careful about which ones you use and don't over rely on them). You can also see the ASP Director, Victoria McCoy, for help and additional ideas.
Can anyone else help me?
Absolutely. It depends on what other kinds of help you need. For example, you may find talking to a counselor helpful, or you may need some techniques to manage your stress. Or, perhaps you are struggling with a disability, or need testing to determine if you have one. All of these services are available to you. Just see Victoria McCoy for accessing these sources.
Will the workload get any easier?
Well, yes in some ways and no in others. Studying law is time consuming and demanding. However, once you master the basics about how to think about law and what you are learning, the process becomes easier but some upper level courses are certainly more difficult than others. And, to get the most out of law school, many students take as many upper level courses as they can, which can keep a student very busy.
Where can I find information about resources to help me?
Here's a partial list, depending on what you need:
- Student Information Handbook
- Academic Success Program Handbook, website, and office
- Bulletin Boards
- Academic and Student Services
- Upper level students