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Being a Law Student Without Lectures

Woman sitting in empty lecture hall

Surviving law school basically amounts to surviving the same cycle of lectures, procrastination, assignments, more lectures, study, exams, and glorious catharsis. The idea is that, after doing this every three to six months for five or six years, you may learn a few things about the law. The major obstacles to success in this routine seem to be work and hangovers.

With 2012 posing ominously as my final year, I was starting to get bored. I chose to dramatically reduce the time I spent in lectures last semester, and the results were awesome. I don't think I've had a happier or more productive semester and my marks reflected that fact.

To be lecture-free for a semester you could just not show up, but there are ways to do it without that kind of guilt or anxiety. In my case, I chose to write a research thesis and study two intensive courses, leaving over half my semester without any class time. I needed all the time I could get for researching and writing my thesis, given that much of it would be spent pretending to research and writing witty comments on Facebook about how exhausted I was. That said, doing many intensive courses at the same time was a little hellish. There were points where sleeping in the law library stopped being a joke and started being merely a risky strategy.

If you're not a fan of covering a semester's work in a few weeks, a lecture-less semester can also be achieved with internships, clinics, and possibly even exchange. You may have to drop to a smaller course load, but as long as you stay more or less around full-time, and perhaps put a bit of work in over summer, you should be spot on to graduate on time.

If you do pull it off, there are plenty of benefits. The most important to me was a sense of ownership over my work. Doing a research thesis is research in your own time, editing on your own initiative, arguing difficult or unconvincing points at your own peril. After months of working on my thesis, even the essays and exams due at the end of semester for courses completed earlier felt more like my responsibility, and I took them more seriously. I even found myself interviewing people for quotes for an assignment that I normally would have followed footnotes in the readings to research.

There's something about not being compelled to check in with a lecturer every week that's refreshing, and working independently for most of the semester gave me an extra sense of personal investment in the work.

And because it’s all up to you to do the work, you get to decide when and how it gets done. Four to six months of choice regarding work, play, and study was pretty great. I felt like the Sterling Archer of law school. Laughing at your friends because they have to attend lectures is also quite satisfying.

But because you are the only one who can get your work done, there are also downsides. Nobody is telling you how much time to spend reading, or even what to read. You will overestimate the amount of things to do, and then underestimate the time needed to do them. If you don’t impose structure on yourself early in the piece, you will struggle to get everything done. This is particularly true for subjects where the classes are in the first half of semester but the final exams are at the end. Your friends, whom you so liberally mocked earlier, will be partying while you struggle to complete everything by the last day of the exam period. You might feel a little isolated even before this point, because you no longer have a lecturer or friends in the same course.

That said, those problems can be easily fixed with a bit of organisation, discipline, and forward planning. It’s absolutely worth giving it a go so start planning for next semester!

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