Should I Join a Study Group in Law School?

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Some law students say study groups are a waste of time, such as this student. Others consider them valuable, such as this student.

I. What is a Study Group?
I would define a “law school study group” as a routine meeting of students to discuss cases or concepts covered in class. In other words, this isn’t a few friends who quietly study together—it’s a discussion. Sometimes study groups meet to discuss their readings prior to the class covering those readings. Sometimes study groups meet after class to discuss the points raised in class. Some study groups combine both functions.

II. Reasons Against Study Groups.
Students invited me to study groups, but I didn’t find them an efficient use of time. This was because most of the discussion was on 1) concepts I already understood from the reading, or 2) concepts I didn’t understand, but no other students did either (despite the fact they thought they did).

Sometimes study groups are unequal. For example, a student who hasn’t done the readings for class will have a lot of questions, and students who are prepared become bored.

Sometimes study groups confuse more than help. First year students know so little about the law, that they are not qualified to give each other advice. A much better resource is a study aid, professor, or even 2L or 3L.

III. My Approach.
I found a better use of time was to do the readings, and if I had questions, I would do the following.

If it was a simple question, I would—

  1. see if the answer was in a study aid, or
  2. ask a friend about it.

If it was a difficult question, I would—

  1. see if the answer was in a study aid, or
  2. ask a professor about it a) before class, b) during class if it seemed important enough for the entire class, c) during class break, d) right after class, or e) between classes by making an appointment with the professor.

IV. Reasons For Study Groups.
There are some benefits of study groups:

  • Study groups can build friendships. Friends make school more enjoyable. They also share tips and advice about life as a law student.
  • There may be something you totally missed in your reading of a case, so you’re not going to seek further information on the topic. A study group discussion reduces the chances you miss something.
  • Study groups can help students stay accountable to do their reading.
  • Study groups give students an opportunity to talk through the concepts. Discussing cases and their concepts can reinforce students’ knowledge of concepts. Speaking about a concept immerses a student in it, forcing the student to internalize the concept enough to communicate about it. This helps build a deeper understanding of concepts.

V. Use a Study Group to Prepare for Finals.
I recommend some form of study group to prepare for most final exams.

Group Outlines. Some students join as a group before finals to prepare an outline of concepts covered in a course. The idea of making an outline as a group has one major problem: the most beneficial part of an outline is preparing it. That is, if you don’t prepare the outline on all concepts, you won’t understand those concepts as well. Also, if you rely on an outline prepared by another student, you run the risk that the student misunderstood a concept, and your understanding will be wrong.

Outline with a Friend. The better approach is to prepare an outline yourself, but then compare it to a friend’s outline—trade outlines so you can each benefit. Your friend will undoubtedly have a different perspective. You can then add to your outline those aspects in your friend’s outline that you think are correct. The points in your friend’s outline that were not in yours may lead to additional areas of study.

An Example. In Civil Procedure, we reviewed our personal outlines orally. I met with 3-4 students and talked through each of the Rules of Civil Procedure. We went around the circle. For each rule, each person would mention important points from class or cases that they wrote in their outline. And everyone else would take notes of points they missed.

I wrote points from other students in my outline using a different color. That way I could verify questionable points before entirely relying on them.

VI. Conclusion.
Every student has their own method. Some students like study groups and others don’t. The ideas here are presented to help you identify which approach is best for you.

5 Responses to “Should I Join a Study Group in Law School?”

  1. Law School Student Resources » How to Prepare for Law School Exams - 1L, 2L, and 3L, Advice, Outlines, and Exam Tips Says:

    [...] Consider whether a study group would help you [...]

  2. Settle It Now Negotiation Blog Says:

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  3. Steve Says:

    NB: That is an evil authentication system for guest posters – AUTHENTICATION: What is 13 minus 7?

    I find studying in groups extremely helpful, the most extreme example of it helping me was when myself and a law colleague were reading over an assigned case for a contract law assignment and we kept coming across this term “ex gratia payment” that I don’t know how I’d interpreted it. I think I took my high school latin education and figured it meant something like tax free and skipped onto the question – To what extent are people bound by an intention to create legal relations – and unbeknownst to me, this word was the crux of that case. It was only when the two of us realised that neither of us knew what it meant that I said, “Can you define: search that on google just quickly please?” and we realised to our horror that it meant a non legally binding payment. I would never have realised that if I wasn’t discussing it.

    You really do need to choose your study group with great care, though.

  4. Cas Says:

    Lots of interesting remarks here. I concur with your comments in its entirety.

    I have not been fortunate to allign myself with a productive study group–thusfar I am still alive and well. As far as I am concerned the majority of study groups can be a collection of ignorant minds desperate to survive law school.

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