The Paper Chase

Six semesters. That’s all the time we have in law school. Of those six semesters, we only get to choose our classes in four of them, which means that we have four opportunities to pick the courses that will set the baseline for our legal careers. In such a limited time, it has been impossible for me to take all the classes I’ve wanted to take, so course selection has been a careful and methodical ritual to try and determine how I could make the most of my time here. For some students, it sounds like they have everything picked out ahead of time. They know they are going to take corporate tax law or something along those lines, so their interests are narrowly focused and they just have to make the schedule work. I am not that person; I came to law school with little idea of what kind of law I wanted to practice, so the course selection process started by casting a broad net and only in this past year have I started honing my interests.

My first step in choosing classes has always been a quick skim of the course selection guide, circling the classes that sound interesting and relevant to me. From there, I build a calendar that shows what a typical week would look like, and start inserting the classes and their times to see where conflicts arise. The paring down begins, and usually six or seven options emerge. At that point, I try to make sure my course load is balanced. For example, Climate Change and Energy Law might cover similar topics in a given semester, so it might be better to spread those classes out over two semesters instead of taking them all at once. Double check the conflicts, make sure I have all the credits you need for the semester, and voila, I’ve got my semester planned out.

That’s how I have done my semester planning so far, but even in my final semester, I am still learning that there is room for improvement in my method. The one thing I never really paid attention to was the how the class was evaluated—is it a paper, or an exam? And if it’s an exam, is it scheduled back-to-back with another? It might seem minor, but during finals period, planning ahead for such things can pay off in a final grade. I had been lucky so far, with exams and papers adequately spaced to avoid the stress bomb that comes when finals are too close together. But this semester, I seemed to have walked into a paper problem.

Of the four classes I am taking, all four require papers for the final evaluation. So does the environmental law practicum. This was probably not the best idea. I am sure that the constant research and writing and keeping track of due dates is good preparation for whatever the next step may be—plus I am finding all of my topics interesting— but this is a far cry from the mythic “3LOL” I had heard of once or twice before.

I suppose now that I am done almost done with law school, I am finally a well-rounded course selector. Perhaps you are reading this and still have a few semesters ahead of you. If you are, learn from those that went before you; take a look at those final evaluations, and don’t try to write four final papers.

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