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Perfectionism and the Law Student

Colourful highlighters

Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” – Salvador Dalí

Are you in the habit of setting yourself unattainable goals? You probably persist unwaveringly to achieve them too, right? Too critical of your own work? Let me guess: you spent hours crying over that Constitutional Law essay? If you’re nodding, chances are you’re a law student, a perfectionist or both.

A law degree is filled with opportunities that lead straight into the arms of perfectionism. Hardly surprising when you consider how demanding and technical the degree actually is. But surely some perfectionism isn’t all that bad, right?

While some perfectionism won’t hurt, it becomes a problem when it starts to affect your productivity. Here are some of my own struggles with perfectionism that I have faced/continue to face at law school…

Edit. Edit. Edit.

It’s all too easy to get carried away when writing essays: I haven’t got enough articles – more research! Ibid this, ibid that… I hope I didn’t plagiarise! Is the formatting right? Arial or Calibri?

It’s important to submit a succinct, fully referenced and well-formatted assignment, but there does come a point where you need to ask whether you’re using your time effectively. Of course working towards a more concise piece of writing is ideal, but rather than continually editing, why not save yourself some time and anxiety and ask someone to have a read of it?

Better still, ask a friend who has already completed the subject to review it! If you’re really stuck, organise a session with your law library’s learning skills adviser for some feedback. Don’t forget that every lecturer will have different expectations with essays, despite what marking guides might recommend. Most lecturers are more than happy to discuss essay topics and give you some direction – it can’t hurt to ask, especially if it saves you from needless obsession!

Highlighting and Knowing are not the same thing... Oops.

Perfecting your exam notes has to be the biggest trap a law student can fall into. I’ve fallen in many times. I recall one subject for which I spent weeks producing the perfect set of notes: printed, bound, flagged and colour-coded to perfection: case law in yellow, legislation in green and general discussion in orange. Well, they weren’t really much use during the exam were they? Yes, I had neglected to spend sufficient time actually applying them. Needless to say, I learnt my lesson.

I’m not suggesting that having concise notes is a waste of time or that colour coding is lame, but you should be spending most of your exam preparation time using your notes, not writing them.

Of course this depends on how organised you’ve been during the semester. And no, starting a new season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills at the start of the semester is NOT a good idea. It is fun though.

I’m still the biggest advocate for getting creative with your highlighting though: not only is it aesthetically pleasing, it has a calming effect during an exam. At least I think it does. I recently sat next to one student who literally changed highlighter colour every 3 seconds. Now that, is definitely taking it too far.

Finally my learned friend, remember this: if equity isn’t too concerned with perfecting the imperfect, why should you be? After all, it’s a law degree… and you’re already so cool and smart for getting this far! Just be all like ‘what of it?’ and the rest will fall into place.

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