Everything You Need to Know About Law School Time Management

One of the more important tips for law students to master for both law school and life generally is how time is spent and managed. Often, even successful executives and similar career professionals are unsatisfied with how time is spent.

McKinsey asked nearly 1,500 executives around the world how they spent their time, and what they found was only 9% of respondents were “very satisfied” with how they spent their time. Nearly one-third were actively dissatisfied!

The takeaway, then, is that learning how to manage your time effectively in law school is a directly transferable skill you will be able to utilize as you move on to becoming a successful lawyer.

Here are five tips from a former law student’s perspective, giving you everything you need to know in order to effectively manage your time in law school (and beyond).

1. Rethink, Review and Then Master Your Study Habits

Most, if not all, law students go into their first week of classes with a study plan. I know I certainly did, after reading the popular law school book, Getting to Maybe: How to Excel on Law School Exams. Incidentally, I highly recommend including this book in your pre-law school reading list.

But, the best laid plans cannot prepare you for law school itself. What you thought would be a great study plan or efficient study habits may not gel with the reality of law school. After the first week, take the time to step back and rethink whether your study habits and time management plan truly set you up for sustained law school success.

How long does it take you, personally, to read and absorb the material? Everyone is different, especially in the first week of law school, when everyone is grappling with a new field of study for the first time. Once you have reassessed and reviewed your study habits, stick to the plan you have chosen that will best maximize your success.

Mastering law school requires mastering your study habits first since getting top grades depends almost exclusively on exam day. Effective studying, day in and day out, is the best way to enter into the exam room prepared.

2. There Are 24 Hours in a Day. How Will You Make the Most of Them?

To make the most of every hour, knowing yourself is half the battle. Listen to your body and pay attention to when you are most alert. You likely already know whether you are morning person or not, but hone in on the specifics. When does your mind start to space out in the afternoon? That isn’t the time to start studying.

Prioritize getting study sessions in during the hours when you are most active and ready to engage with law school material. To this end, it is important to point out that studying hard is not necessarily studying efficiently.

If you are mentally fatigued and have reached exhaustion, soldiering on and studying more may be admirable, but it is also foolhardy to a great extent. You are too tired to retain the material in any meaningful sense. And, to be blunt, most of the students who have to subject themselves to grueling studying late in the semester do so only because they slacked off in the early weeks.

Make the most out of each 24-hour day, and you won’t have to play catch-up and grind yourself down to exhaustion.

3. Are You Truly Studying Hard or Does It Just Feel Like It?

One of the first things I learned is that I really didn’t study efficiently during my undergraduate studies. This is not to say I did not work diligently based on my own perceptions at the time.

At the time, I believed I graduated in the top 10% of my class because I studied hard and put in the work. This was at least partly true, but it is also true that undergraduate studies are simply less demanding than law school for most majors and academic disciplines.

Attending law school forced me to quickly rethink a lifetime of accumulated study habits. Studying for an exam or writing a philosophy paper the night before it is due simply does not cut it in law school.

Just taking good notes and putting those to use right before exam time is a great way to be disappointed in your 1L grades. Be honest with yourself and ask whether your study habits are truly based on studying hard. It may simply feel like you study hard because you pulled an all-nighter at Starbucks writing a paper while also browsing social media and wasting time online.

Law school should be treated like a full-time job, but you are your own boss. Treat law school like at least a 40-hour work week, and then reconsider how much time you would spend talking on social media, playing video games or watching Netflix.

Cutting out some of the unnecessary diversions of a work day can make all the difference for 1L studying and exam performance. Of course, some relaxation time is absolutely necessary, which is why you need to be honest with yourself and stick to a time management schedule that is uniquely reflective of how you are most productive.

4. Consistency Is Key, But Always Be Ready to Reassess

Once you have made a study plan that is working, stick with it and rarely second-guess it. Note that the key word is rarely. As a general rule, the outlining strategies you create and your method of working through longer assignments and legal writing projects will be reliably consistent. You shouldn’t need to deviate from a well-formulated study and time management plan often.

That said, pay attention to the courses that you find uniquely difficult. For me, that course was Civil Procedure. I could get a great night of sleep before hitting the gym in the morning, but all that energy went out the window once I entered Civ Pro. That classroom might as well have been an energy vortex that sapped any positive feelings I had before class started.

Knowing this, I knew I had to devote more time to Civil Procedure than other courses since I couldn’t seem to stop myself from spacing out during the lectures. Additionally, I made time to visit the professor during office hours when I was more alert, using the 1-on-1 discussion with a professor to alleviate the typical Civ Pro boredom.

Given the time I spent talking to my professor during office hours, I would like to think she never noticed how much I loathed the course. Whether she noticed or not, my learning was greatly enhanced by visiting her outside of the classroom environment.

In short, stay consistent in your time management plan, but don’t worship your study routine to the point that it gets in the way of success when barriers to learning present themselves.

5. Managing Your Time Isn’t Just About Study Habits. Time Management Also Means Taking Time for Self-Care

Finally, managing your time in law school is not just about studying and succeeding on exam day. Self-care is a critical component of life generally, and your time in law school should be no exception.

If you don’t have your health, all the law school success means little. Too many students prioritize law school over their own self-care, leaving them depressed, unhappy and unfulfilled. For tens of thousands of students, attending law school can quadruple the chances of depression.

Take study breaks, but make sure the study breaks are planned. A disciplined time management approach does not mean you shouldn’t take breaks or time for yourself. Rather, it simply means your self-care time should be structured wisely.

A good time management and study routine lets you get at least seven hours of sleep each night and also makes time for your the gym and physical exercise. Also, don’t spend so much time in the library that you are not getting adequate meals each day. Your brain needs healthy fats and an overall healthy diet to function most effectively, after all, so give your body the fuel it needs to succeed in law school.

With these five time management principles in mind, you are well on your way toward mastering your time management in law school without running yourself into the ground.


David Farber is a 2015 law school graduate from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City. He enjoys writing about the law and giving practical, actionable advice to prospective and current law school students.