Month: April 2021

Working during Law School, is it possible?

August 3, 2018, I had a huge decision to make. The owner of the dance studio I taught at was retiring and looking to close down shop. Not only would I be left without a job, but kids would lose their second homes, and my dance career would officially come to an end. At that moment, I was left with a choice. Take the studio into my own hands and continue the legacy of YDE or let the studio close and keep only the memories. The reason I say all of this is because I didn’t think it was possible. I didn’t think I could sustain a dance studio with the future I had planned for myself. That future was law school. The many attorneys I turned to for advice said there would be no time for extracurriculars, “law school was going to be hard enough without distractions, let alone a whole dance studio to take care of.” Well, I am here to say it is possible. It is possible to be in law school full-time with a part-time job. Are there days where I wish I wouldn’t have taken on a dance studio while furthering my education? Of course. But in the end, it is worth it.

The responsibility of working while in law school is no easy task, but having a part-time job has taught me some extremly important lessons. The first is that time management is essential. The readings we are assigned can pile up if you don’t stay on top of it, so keeping a schedule and sticking to it is critical. The second thing is communication. Being open and honest with my professors and the faculty about my other commitments has been a massive part of staying successful during this first year. The last thing I learned is how to prioritize. Sometimes I can’t get everything done. I add too many things to my schedule and am overly ambitious. Once I take a realistic look at the list and start prioritizing what needs to be done immediately and what can wait a few days, I instantly feel better. With dedication, hard work, and perseverance, what once seemed impossible has become my daily routine. I thought that having a part-time job during my first year of law school was going to be the most challenging thing I have ever done. While there are days that feel like years, I can honestly say it is one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Law School is a whirlwind. One minute you are laughing with one of your classmates about your epic fail during your first cold call of the semester, and the next, you’re studying for finals. To say it goes by fast is not an exaggeration. I blinked, and I was here, studying for finals that will be over in 10 days. This semester has been like no other: zoom classes, remote testing, online study groups, and a whole bunch of facetime calls. But I wouldn’t change it for a thing. Widener Commonwealth has done everything it could to set its students up for success this year, and I have nothing but great things to say about my first year. To anyone who is considering law school but still wants to work, I encourage you to take the leap and do it. While it may seem impossible at first, it is not. With the supportive environment Widener has created for its students, you can be successful inside and outside the classroom. This first year in law school has been immensely more enjoyable than I could have ever imagined, and I have Widener to thank for that.

From Out of State to… Out of State.

When Widener University decided to move classes online for the fall semester of 2021, I was beyond stressed. I couldn’t image beginning my first year in law school over Zoom. I feared it would be hard to pay attention, I wouldn’t keep myself accountable, and, as a kinaesthetic learner, I wouldn’t learn as well as I would in a classroom. Additionally, I was supposed to move to Harrisburg from Denver three days after the news was delivered. Luckily, my lease hadn’t started in Harrisburg yet so I decided to stay here in Colorado. With that decision made, I started to stress that being so far removed from campus and other students would make me feel like an outsider, exactly what I did not want my law school career to look like.

When classes began, I was relieved for a variety of reasons. I quickly realized everyone else was in the same boat; they feared online classes, too. Many people stressed about not having a thorough, authentic first year experience, learning remotely, Zoom fatigue, not connecting with fellow class mates, and not having professors be as accessible as they would in person. Everyone was worried about everything.

Turns out, there was no reason to be worried. I cannot speak highly enough of Widener University’s professors, advisors, and selected student body. As a first year student who has still never visited Harrisburg, let alone met my professors or stepped into a classroom, I feel part of the student body. My professors have routinely gone out of their way to check on the class as a whole, to ask me personally how I am doing with remote learning, and to encourage me to just sit and chat with them, even if it isn’t about school. My advisors continuously reach out to touch base and offer time for questions or to offer themselves as outlets for stress and other concerns. The student body is encouraging, supportive, and welcoming. There is such a strong sense of community Widener facilitates which has transcended all the way across five states to me, here, in Denver. I contribute a successful first year to Widener and its excellence in managing classes and relationships for all students, in state and out of state.

I say these words in pursuit of relieving future students’ stress of their first year of law school, regardless of what that may look like. Widener has a unique community which offers individual support to each of its students and that selects a student body with similar, supportive attitudes. The works is hard and draining, don’t get me wrong. But with a supportive environment, it has made the ride significantly more enjoyable than I ever could have imaged.

How to Zoom Through Your First Year

Hello, my name is Kaitlyn Smearcheck and I am a 1L at Widener Commonwealth. Even though I am almost done with my first year of law courses, I have never met one of my professors in person, sat within a law school classroom, or even been inside Widener Commonwealth’s law building. My law school experience is most definitely unprecedented; however, I am thankful for all the opportunities and challenges Widener Commonwealth Law has provided me with.

When the news broke out that Widener was going online for the year, I was crushed. After speaking with a few lawyers I worked with and older law students, I was told, “Don’t start law school this fall. You’ll be missing out on the REAL 1L experience.” Many of the people that I spoke with suggested that I hold off on going to law school until the pandemic would be “over.” But like many of you reading this, I was ready to start law school after watching my first episode of Law and Order: SVU. Despite everyone’s advice, I knew I was ready for law school whether I would experience my education in person or over Zoom. 

For this fall, Widener Commonwealth Law will resume holding its courses in person. But unless anything changes, I wanted to let all of you know what are some of the best practices when taking law courses online. 

 Invest in two screens.

Prior to this school year, I have owned the same Macbook Air since I was a freshman in college back in 2015. My computer has proved to be very liable; however, one screen was not enough. Law school is unlike any college course you may have taken where you may have had the chance to just sit back and watch your professor lecture. In law school, you need to have read your assigned materials, brief the materials prior to class, and be ready to answer any question that may be thrown at you, all the while taking effective notes of the day’s lecture. For me, I join a zoom class on my iPad, have my case briefs pulled up in a document on my computer, and I take notes in my notebook. For me, this method has proved successful. Many of my classmates use different styles of learning. It took me a long time last semester to realize that I needed to change what I was doing. But once you find something that works for you, stick with it!

After your first class, make an OUTLINE!

Outlining is one of the most important skills for a 1L. I recommend you start those as early as you can. More often than not, students will go the whole semester without outlining prior to finals. And then right before finals, the chase is on to construct and finish those outlines, while studying the material. Make your outlines right after the first class of each of your courses. And after every class, add the most important material from that day’s lecture to the outline right after you are done with class. By doing it that way, you will get the chance to review the material right after your class concludes and you won’t be stressing out before finals. 

Another suggestion is to have two outlines for each course. One BIG outline and one SKINNY outline. Your big outline will be used to hold all of your class’s notes and hypotheticals. Your skinny outline will be used to hold the most important concepts, terms, and definitions of your big outline. The whole idea of the skinny outline is for you to be able to compartmentalize all the material from your big outline. Always add to your big outline right after each class. And for your skinny outline, update it after like two to four weeks.

After you speak in class, be sure to check you turned your zoom mic OFF!

Last fall, I fell victim to this zoom curse. The story is pretty funny; however, it could have all been prevented if I would have shut my mic off. Be very proactive when it comes to zoom etiquette. Even when you are on zoom, behave exactly like you would if you were in a classroom filled with fifty students and your professor.

When having class, be sure that your pet is PREOCCUPIED.

During the first week of law school, an abandoned puppy showed up at my doorstep. After discovering that he had no owner, I took him in. Even though he is the cutest and sweetest little pup ever, he loves to squeak his toys at me or nibble at my elbows while I am in class, especially when I am answering a cold call or participating in a discussion. My best advice is to pick up all the noisy toys before class time as well as ensuring your dog has a busy bone.

Get out of your comfort zone!

While taking zoom courses online, it is very easy to not interact with other students in your class. Most of the time, you get onto class, your professor will lecture, and then you will leave the zoom room. I recommend breaking that habit as early as you can. Because of Widener, I have met the most intelligent, hardworking, and considerate people I know. Even though I have never met most of my friends in person, I have still gotten to know a lot about them by reaching out to them outside of class. I highly recommend that if no one reaches out to you first, then you should most definitely reach out to others. You will find your best friends that way and I know the person that you will reach out to will be very grateful that you did. 

Sign up for events, clubs, and leadership roles!

In the beginning of each semester, every club/organization holds an interest meeting. Go to as many interest meetings as you can and discover what clubs really interest you or any clubs that you believe will enhance your legal education. Your law courses will prepare you how to study the law, but joining clubs and organizations will help you get practice ready. And they are awesome resume builders and opportunities to show your potential employers that you are willing to go the extra mile beyond your courses. For me, I joined Phi Alpha Delta law fraternity and I participated as an attorney and a witness for its mock trial team. For the competition, I was on a team of four people and we versed other law school teams. For one round, one person and I got to compete as attorneys and the other two people competed as our witnesses. For the next round, we switched roles. But we all competed with the same case and were judged by actual practicing attorneys and judges that gave us constructive criticism on our performances. Coming from someone that has never been a part of a mock trial team, it was a lot of work, but the experience was very rewarding. I learned how to deliver an opening statement, cross-examine a witness, how to enter evidence and submit it to a jury, and how to make objections. You will not learn any of those things during your first year of law school, so it is really cool to be ahead of the game and feel like you’re an actual attorney. 

Reach out to your professors!

The professors at Widener Commonwealth Law truly have your best interests at heart and will always make time for you. When your professors host office hours, you should definitely just pop in and say hello or ask them about their legal journey. Or even just staying online at the end of a zoom lecture. Utilize that chance as an opportunity for a professor to get to know you more. By making the effort to see and talk with them, it will truly benefit you in the end and you learn about practical things that law books just can’t teach you. 

As of now, many federal and state trials, hearings, conferences, or arguments are being held over Zoom. After the pandemic is “over,” Zoom will be here to stay and many of you may have to use it for your legal practices one day. The legal world is constantly evolving and we all have to keep up with it.  

With that being said, I am so glad that I decided to start law school during a pandemic. Your “1L law school experience” is truly what you make it. Don’t worry about whether you got to experience something or not. If anything I learned about law school, it is that you have to run your OWN race. Don’t mind what anyone else is doing or how they are performing. Focus on you and how you can get yourself across that finish line. If you need help along the way, seek it out. And there is always someone at Widener Commonwealth Law that will help you out.