Stop before you shop!

As I enter my final year of law school, I reflect on the decisions I’ve made to get me here — those deep, meaningful decisions made at the cash register or, more frequently these days, in front of my laptop. That’s right, it’s time for a BU Law back-to-school shopping post!

Before you open your wallet and let the cash leak out, remember that you don’t need to buy everything in advance. These tips are to save you money and energy heading into your next (or first) semester.

Allston Christmas: You’re living in Boston. It can feel like everyone here is a student, and moving on Sept. 1 like everyone else in town can be a giant hassle, I’m sure. (One way to avoid it: Find an apartment and stick with it all 3 years, if you can manage. It’s saved my sanity twice now.) The upside? Allston, Brighton, and pretty much any other student-heavy area is full of reasonably un-stinky, frequently new or like-new “trash” on every curbside come the end of August. While I’d steer clear of couches or mattresses or anything else that can hide layers of grime or bugs, I’ve managed to outfit my apartment here with a good mix of curbside rejects, thrift-store finds, and discount store basics since moving here. And people tell me my apartment looks “grown up,” which is a compliment in (again) the land of students. I’ve gotten tons of essentials and fun extras just by cruising the streets — no Dumpster diving required!

Hot tip: Goodwill in Jamaica Plain beats Goodwill on Commonwealth Avenue any day of the week.

What’s new? What’s used? Who can tell?

Textbook rentals: Maybe students coming straight from undergrad know about this, but as a returning student after nearly a decade off, I was not aware that you could rent textbooks at all, much less from discount retailers. BU Law does make you go on the school bookstore site to find your assigned texts, but once you check out that price, head to textbookrentals.com and compare prices for buying or renting new or used textbooks all over the web. Beware, also, that Barnes & Noble will allow you to rent the book at the used price, then charge you the new price if no used copies are available. Returns aren’t hard, but the line of undergrads can take an hour to get through on a busy day early in the semester.

Hot tip: If you can’t find one book right away, don’t despair! The BU Law Library has reserve copies of all textbooks on hold, and a scanner with USB and email capabilities, so you can scan a chapter without falling behind.

Legal research freebies: The BU Law Lexis, WestLaw, Barbri and Themis reps are friendly, their visits are frequent, and their tables are usually laden with pens, highlighters, post-its, and other goodies — usually a sweet or three, sometimes coffee and pastries. So come prepared, but don’t despair if you’ve forgotten something. The reps will be there, and all you have to do is listen to some (actually helpful) tips on legal research or test prep for a free breakfast or lunch almost any week. You certainly won’t be alone if all of your outlines, come exam time, are tabbed with WestLaw tabs, highlighted with Barbri highlighters, and you’re squeezing a Lexis stress ball to un-cramp your hand.

Hot tip: Lexis points! Lexis points! Sign up for anything you can to get more Lexis points, and cash in with gift cards to common stores. Most nice things I’ve bought in the last two years have been from Lexis points, from a diamond ring to a hands-free car mount for my phone, to a cellphone case, to, yes, textbooks.

Best buys: Again, I advise you not to go all-out before school starts, but these are the things nearly everyone has or needs to have.

Ogio Soho “Backpack for Women” (AKA my back-saver)

 

  • A really sturdy backpack has saved me more than once. Save for some serious hiking packs, most won’t be able to fit four textbooks at once, and that’s OK. My “women’s” Ogio laptop fits perfectly despite my initial chagrin over buying a gendered backpack. Plus, it’s cute. (Speaking of women: Almost all of us went from hot to cold to freezing and back once a day. Stuff a cardigan on top. Trust me.)
  • Membership in at least one bar association: Get plugged in early, and keep an eye out for which groups you can get into for free. I have joined the American Bar Association (free for all), Boston Bar Association (free to BU students), Massachusetts Bar Association (free to students, I believe), Women’s Bar Association (when a WBA member offered limited free memberships), and the National Lawyers Guild Massachusetts Chapter (not free, but not expensive). Each group has something unique to offer.
  • A spare phone charger is the first step toward winning new friends and influencing people (dated joke much?). You will be asked a dozen times for one, and chances are you will need one yourself a few times, so carry it or keep it in your locker.
  • A good, easy to carry laptop is your most important school supply. I am obviously not a computer expert, but if you are, put that knowledge to good use before starting school.
  • A semester T pass will save you money over time, even if $267 sounds like a lot up front. Some students vow to ride their bikes every day and keep that promise, but this winter, nearly everyone was struggling. If you’re on the B Line (which stops in front of the law school), you’ll almost always run into a classmate or five on the ride home.
  • A spiral notebook or two: Chances are good you’ll have a professor who won’t let you use laptops in her class.

What did I miss?

Law School Essentials

I’ve come up with the top 5 material things that I think have helped me survive 1L year (two weeks left!). So if you’re heading to law school sometime in the future or have a birthday coming up (like me!) then here are some ideas—

1. Noise Cancelling Headphones

Since I came straight through from undergrad, my savings prior to law school were—put simply—non-existent so I spent a good amount of this past summer going back and forth on whether I could justify investing in a good pair of noise-canceling headphones. Let me save anyone the trouble and tell you: it’s justified. I’ve probably used my headphones every single day this past year. You can study pretty much anywhere and being free from distractions is priceless as a law student.

2. Fold-N-Stow Book Holder

All right, so when I first got this, most of my friends made fun of me for it. BUT, after a few weeks many of them were asking me for the link of where to buy one. With the amount of time that you spend reading cases, it’s important to save your neck the strain of constantly looking down. Also, after being told by one of my professors when I was “on call” that I need to “read closely,” I found it much easier to find information in my casebook when I was being cold-called if it was eye-level.

3. Tupperware

I’m not kidding when I say that I got sets of tupperware for Christmas this past year. As a 1L, I would usually bring both my lunch and dinner to school everyday. Having a good set of Tupperware was great when I would meal-prep for the week each Sunday.

4. A Good Backpack

I asked a friend for anything they think should be included in this list and they said a “North Face Backpack.” I don’t think it necessarily has to be North Face but I would agree that you should invest in a sturdy, reliable backpack. As someone who has now gone through THREE backpacks this past year, I would definitely stand behind this suggestion. Carrying around casebooks is no joke (especially our abnormally heavy con-law casebook).

5. Keurig (Coffee)

There was a point during finals last semester when I was drinking an average of nine cups of coffee a day. I remember when my doctor told me I should be limiting it to two cups a day, I thought she was insane (isn’t perpetual caffeine intake also a thing in med-school?). Now, I know nine cups is a ridiculous amount and I’ve probably unnecessarily damaged my central nervous system this past year. However, it was finals so I did feel partially justified. Either way, coffee is a big part of many law students’ lives so being able to save money as well as save time by clicking that flashing button on your Keurig is a great feeling.

2L is Not Easier than 1L

Someone told me the other day that he was told 2L was much easier than 1L. I’m not sure I would agree with that. I could imagine a scenario where you somehow picked all easy courses for the entire year, but I seriously doubt that happens often. In some respects, it is easier because you are more experienced in the system – note taking, briefing, reading, and studying – and you choose your courses. If any particular course or professor is not your cup of tea, you simply drop it and find another course. By that logic, if there are difficult classes, you did get to choose them, so your choices shape your experience. Even so, I still think 2L is harder than 1L.

First, there is much more reading. I only vaguely remember 1L, but I remember some students being scandalized at 50-60 pages of reading a night. Well in 2L, three of my four classes usually assigned 30-40 pages of reading a night, which sometimes meant 60 pages per week per class. Yes, you read smarter and more efficiently, but you still read quite a bit more. The cold calls are not as frightening but you do need to know more and retain more. Do not be surprised if cases from 1L haunt you in 2L as well. Second, if you’re not on a journal, a student organization board, or moot court, you may be doing an externship. This means in addition to your course workload, your extracurricular activities may have their own deadlines and priorities. I was on a journal so that meant tech checks and source coordination and my note sprinkled throughout the year. Third, you have the upper level writing requirement. If you choose to work on it during 2L (and if you’re on a journal, there is a strong chance you’ll use your note to meet the certification requirement), you will spend a lot of time with your paper. I did not spend as much time with my note as I did with my thesis, but it was still a lot of research, writing, and citing.

Finally, law school is a marathon. Are you tired of me saying that? Well, it is true. By the end of your second year, you’re tired, run down, and exhausted. I was burnt toast 1L but I think I am pretty close to just burnt crumbs. I was on journal, on student organization board, and in four classes each semester. It doesn’t sound like a lot on paper, but then you live it, and it is a lot. Law school classes are lot to handle alone and now add assignments and deadlines from your extracurricular activities. I don’t say this to frighten you away or even rattle your nerves, but I tell you because I realized as a first year law student you really think let’s take on the world! Even if you are the best at time management and studying, quality of life is very important in this marathon. Be sure to take a minute to think about what it will be like actually living what looks good on paper. Remember taking care of yourself is more than physical; your mental and emotional health is important in this marathon too.

Finals… Round 4….

As I sat in the reading room/library for my fourth round of final exams, I took a moment to rest my eyes and looked around the room. I saw intense eyes fixated on glowing computer screens, I heard the occasional crunching of someone refueling with a fast snack, and I heard the occasional page turn. Sometimes, if I listened hard enough, I could hear a highlighter running over a page. It is one intense atmosphere once finals start.

Sometimes, the atmosphere still gets to me. What I mean is that it stresses me out because everyone’s anxiety, stress, and intensity is trapped in one room, so inevitably you can feel it weighing on you. A third year joked with me that I must be voted most likely to be found in the library, but I realized, I am in the library quite a bit! This semester was especially crazy because snowpocalypse messed up everyone’s schedule. February was pretty much a wash, so the semester condensed down to 2 ½ months and BAM! Finals. Whoa. That was fast.

My friends and I decided that we had to take a day away from the library and study at home. I didn’t realized how much I enjoyed studying at home until I wasn’t in the library. I could breathe. I appreciated studying in the library because the distractions are more limited, and I’m forced to focus, but the intensity can be overwhelming. I also appreciate studying at home because I can be relaxed and play soft music in my own space. Both have pros and cons, but I think it’s important to figure out a balance because you do need a break from the building, other law students, and just the reminder of finals. There is life outside law school even during finals, and a reminder of that can go a long way.

In Defense of Spring

This is going to sound crazy (and I can attest to that based on the looks I get every time I verbalize this thought aloud to someone who lives here), but I kind of love the weather in Boston.

bostontrees

Not too shabby for a city that was buried in snow a month ago.

Don’t get me wrong: I complained as much as (more than, if we’re being honest) the average person during Snowpocalypse 2015. But let’s not generalize here: that was, after all, the snowiest winter in the history of the city. In general, I really do love snow and winter and all of the things that go along with that.

But I also love the spring in Boston. It’s not particularly warm, that’s true, but it’s warm enough to actually go outside in a light jacket or maybe even a dress! It’s warm enough to melt the final snow piles. It’s warm enough to study in the sun or open a window.  Trust me, after a four-month winter, a couple of 55-degree days in a row feels like absolute heaven.

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Free Cone Day at Ben & Jerry’s with my friends! This was a few weeks ago, and it was definitely warm enough for ice cream.

 

I also love spring because it symbolizes the end of another year. The April crunch – when finals, Notes, papers, course selection, taxes, and financial aid stuff all form a seemingly endless to-do list – is vastly improved by a little sun. Although I really have spent the vast majority of my life these past few weeks buried in books, I managed to enjoy a few fun, outdoors events!

Red Sox games are a must! You can't beat $9 student tickets.

Red Sox games are a must! You can’t beat $9 student tickets.

Wachusett Blueberry is my official beer at the BU Pub!

Wachusett Blueberry is my official beer at the BU Pub!

This is kind of a recurring theme in my posts, but I’ll say it again: Should I have spontaneously gone to that Red Sox games a few weekends ago when I had so much outlining to do? Obviously, rationally, no. But the only way to stay sane in law school is to find the time – somehow – to have fun and clear your head. And I just couldn’t let the beautiful April weather go to waste.