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Study skills for law students 1: How to study law effectively

If you’re a little bit like me…

At primary school, there was little need for me to study and I still aced in every single subject. There was hardly any challenge so becoming a straight-A student was a piece of cake. In my teenage hubris, I thought that I must be gifted. However, everything changed when I got accepted to a grammar school.

If you’re not familiar with this term because you live in a country with a different education system, a grammar school is a type of secondary school that is academically very selective. Essentially, it’s a school for nerds with a very strict admission procedure. If you’re serious about going to a good university, you desperately want to get in.

So you make a short-term effort, cram for that special kind of admission test they require you to pass and get in. You feel proud. I certainly did. Until I met the harsh reality of a totally different system than the one I was used to. Suddenly, I was in a class full of former straight-A students.

I didn’t feel particularly threatened, at least I wasn’t bullied for being a nerd anymore, but as the first year progressed, I started to notice a considerable change in me and my classmates. Somehow, we weren’t straight-A students anymore. In fact, we were the worst class at school. Only one girl out of my twenty-six classmates managed to retain straight As.

I would like to say that the rest of us were B students at least, but that wasn’t the case either. We became C students or even worse. For some reason, everybody was struggling and the atmosphere in the classroom got tense. We were still enjoying our newly found friendships, but, academically, we did very poorly. And nobody knew why because we were supposed to be the best of the best.

The fallacy was in our mindset. We relied too much on intelligence, but we had no study habits whatsoever. While intelligence is certainly required to understand sciences, it can only get you so far when you’re expected to study an insane volume of information, most of which has seemingly nothing to do with analytical thinking.

I found comfort in the subjects that interested me personally. I aced in English, history and ICT. As for the rest, I pretty much gave up and was happy with any grade between B and D. Originally, I was looking forward to sciences, but the teachers managed to put me off completely. Their teaching was boring, not engaging and not relatable.

Something changed within me when I became a fourth-year student, though. The prospect of finally studying at a university, which was always my dream, gave me much-needed drive. In the end and to everyone’s surprise, I graduated with honours. I studied like crazy because I chose subjects that were meaningful to me. For the very first time, I also decided to put together my own study materials. It was a compilation of my class notes, textbooks and Wikipedia.

As for university, I became a proud student of archaeology and linguistics, both of which I really wanted to pursue. However, as much as I enjoyed the freedom of university life, I inevitably found out that my current study habits, which were finally good enough for grammar school, simply weren’t good enough for a much higher level of university education.

It’s a skill

I saw many of my classmates either failing and leaving after their first year or changing majors. And I didn’t want to end up like them. I loved archaeology and linguistics. I thought to myself: “Surely, there must be something I can do to become a better student? To make my studies more effective? To enjoy the process and not suffer for four more years?”

It turns out that there was. Study skills—these two magical words resonated deep within me for several reasons. First of all, they promised that effective studying is a learned skill which means that anybody can use it. I delved into various study strategies and memory techniques and my excitement only grew. So did my disappointment and regret. How come study skills aren’t taught at schools? I wouldn’t have to struggle through the entire grammar school if I knew this existed!

How study skills helped me

I can’t say that it was an overnight success, but it must have seemed that way to my classmates. As I was learning more and more about study strategies and applying them, my grades soared. I finished my Master’s at the top of my class and I genuinely enjoyed the last two years of my university life. Study skills helped me with almost every aspect of my studies.

I learned how to take effective notes, how to read textbooks and I learned specific strategies that boost the ability to retain information like flashcards, spaced repetition and mnemonics (I’ll talk extensively about those in the upcoming articles and give you advice how to make use of Audio Law Reader for that). I also developed strategies for managing time and organising coursework. I significantly mitigated the fear of taking exams and my essays became much better structured. I found something that finally worked.

How study skills can help you, a law student

As I mentioned, I studied archaeology and linguistics, but the real power of study skills lies in their versatility. Study skills aren’t part of any specific study field, although they’re based on psychology, neuroscience and even sociology. You could have students from various majors attend a lecture on study skills and everybody would benefit from it. That’s because you can apply study skills to anything you need to study.

Some fields of study are naturally more demanding than others and while anyone can benefit from mastering a few handy techniques, study skills are especially important for students of law. Why? First of all, think about the sheer volume of information you have to study. Law studies involve reading large volumes that include cases, statutes and academic commentaries. Without any strategy, you get behind with your reading after the first month of school.

Also, don’t forget that law is not just about memorisation but understanding concepts, precedents and their application. Critical thinking and analytical skills are essential and passive reading can only get you so far. You need to master active learning techniques.

I bet that your timetable is packed. Given the workload in law school, effective time management is crucial and study skills deal with this topic as well. With proper planning and prioritization, you can allocate adequate time for reading, coursework, writing essays, internships and other extracurricular activities.

Law might not be science, but legal studies still require extensive research, be it for coursework, essays or preparation for moot courts. You need to develop efficient research skills to distinguish reliable information from less credible sources. Let’s also not disregard that being able to articulate thoughts clearly and persuasively is vital in the legal field so good communication skills are a must.

Study less, study smart

Let’s be clear on one thing: study skills are supposed to save time. It’s about studying smarter, not harder and longer hours. That one classmate of mine at grammar school who managed to retain straight-As wasn’t necessarily happier than the rest of my class. She was more successful academically, but she never found time to socialise with us outside school.

That’s NOT what this is about. The main purpose of study skills isn’t to make you an ultimate study machine. It’s about learning a handful of useful strategies that will reduce the number of hours you spend studying. As Marty Lobdell, the guru of study skills, was always saying: “Study less, study smart!”

The first giveaway

This was just a brief introduction to study skills. I know that I didn’t give you any specific strategies just yet, but I hope that I got you excited for upcoming articles at least. I do have one giveaway for you, though, coming from my personal experience: External motivation won’t make you a better student, it will just make you feel under constant pressure.

Essentially, you have to study for yourself. I know that I was boasting a bit about becoming a straight-A student at university, but that’s because I found something personally meaningful to me. I still got a C in biology and a D in French at grammar school. I almost failed maths. I became a good student only when I finally mustered intrinsic motivation and found deep meaning in what I decided to pursue.

Go. Find it for yourself. Oh, and don’t worry about your grades that much. They don’t matter in the end. Trust me, nobody has ever asked me about my grades when I applied for my first job. As James Clear in his excellent book Atomic Habits says: “Enjoy the process, don’t focus on the goal.” Ultimately, you want to become a skilled lawyer who can confidently learn anything. Being a good student is just a means to an end.

Things to consider until next time

Even though I will delve into specific study skills topics in the upcoming articles, there’s an easy way for you to take action right now. Try to think about your current study habits and ask yourself: “How are they serving me? How did I acquire them in the first place?”

Don’t think of them as inherently good or bad, everything we do serves some kind of hidden purpose or we wouldn’t be doing it at all. The point is to make your current habits more conscious, so it’s better if you make a list. Maybe you didn’t even think of them as study habits and you most probably don’t know where you acquired them.

There’s a chance some of your current study habits aren’t bad at all. Maybe you even found out something on your own just as I did when I was putting together my very first study material and discovered that it became much easier for me to remember information that way. For now, just consider how you actually study at the moment so that you can make a comparison later on.


  • Don’t be discouraged if you’re struggling academically. You just need a strategy and learn about a few handy techniques.
  • Effective studying is a learned skill. You can learn it, too.
  • Study skills are versatile and can be applied to any subject.
  • Study for yourself and find personal meaning in the things you pursue.
  • Don’t study harder, study smarter!
  • Think about your current study habits. How are they serving you?

In the next article: Understanding Before Memorising