This week we welcome back guest writer and recent law school grad Mark Livingston to discuss how to learn from your mistakes and move forward.
Fortunately, law school is only three years long. Unfortunately, law school is a long three years. Although you only have a finite amount of time to get things right while earning your JD, there is room during those three, long years to make mistakes; learn from those mistakes, regroup for the next exam, paper, or semester; and grow as a law student. When I began my law school journey as a non-traditional student, I was certain I knew how to study, what my learning style was, and that all of the things I learned from my previous career had provided me with all I needed to reign supreme in class. I was in for a painful surprise. My initial feedback was less than I had expected, but exactly what I deserved. I needed to regroup and adjust if I had any hope of avoiding failure. Here are a few tips that apply as well to life as they do to law school.
In order to learn from your mistakes, you first recognize what you are doing and and how those things aren’t working. If you don’t know yourself, how can you possibly confront yourself, or more importantly, your failures? You can’t! When failure occurs, don’t expend energy looking for the outside cause of that failure. Confront yourself, take a look at what you have been doing, and try to determine if there is another way to do it better. In my first semester, I maintained a misguided notion that I didn’t really need to brief every case. After all, I had been reading plans and reports in my former career every day, certainly it was the same (or so I thought). Unfortunately, it was not the same skill set, and it took me looking at myself and realizing that I was the problem before I could then fix the problem.
Identify the Problem
Being able to look at oneself in the mirror and admit, “I am the problem here” can be a powerful tool, but it is only phase one of the process. Once you see that you are the weakest link, you have to next figure out what mistake you are making. Is your method of study not comprehensive enough? Maybe you are briefing, but not capturing the right details in your notes. Are you struggling with memorization, because you have never before been asked to remember so much information? Whatever the issue might be, whatever mistake you are making, it can be fixed. There is a method or resource available to help you fix that particular problem. Look around the Inter-webs and use your favorite search engine to find solutions. Talk with your colleagues and especially your professors to find out what works for them. The key is identification of the mistake and then taking an active role in fixing it while there is still time.
Now Make the Adjustment
It took me weeks to make changes to how I approached learning in law school. I took an assessment to determine what type of learner I was, I spoke to law school colleagues about the methods they were using, and I took a look at blogs like Law School Toolbox for tips and ideas that could help me fix the mistakes I had been making in the first few weeks of classes. Ultimately, the adjustments I made helped me become the type of student I mistakenly believed that I was. If you look at yourself, identify the mistakes you are making and find ways to correct those mistakes, the next step is to make the necessary changes and make those changes your new normal. This takes time, organization, and persistence. In the end, it is possible to reinvent yourself as a law student with every paper, quiz, exam, or class.
You Are Not Alone
I have no idea how many people have survived law school, but I think that it is safe to say that it is millions. Millions of people have walked through the same gauntlet that you are walking through, experiencing the same issues and making the same mistakes that you are on your journey. Harness that history and have the strength to regroup in the wake of failure. It doesn’t matter how great the failure is, you can learn from it and come back smarter, better, and more prepared. Lawyers rarely create anything new. Start that practice as a law student and the process should be less painful. Confront yourself for your weaknesses, identify and find solutions for the problems that are plaguing you, and then take active, affirmative steps to change your approach, your reality, and yourself. You can do this just like the millions that have come before you.