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Ah, the Wonders of the Law School Study Group

One of the staples of law school life is the study group. After all, what about a study group is not to like? Eight people, sitting in a circle facing each other, doing a sort of Socratic method Q and A with each other, in their best imitation of Mr. Chips. Everyone is surrounded by piles of paper everywhere. Spent beer cans and coffee cups abound, there are half-eaten pizzas at everyone’s feet. Some guy in a college sweatshirt is in the middle with one hand holding a casebook and his university Polo® wire-rim glasses in the other, while grasping a big clump of his hair in confusion. Bafflement is on everyone’s faces, and no one seems to have any clue what is going on in the next day’s class, or the class as a whole.

Ah, the One L study group. Isn’t it glorious?

Two Ls are almost never in study groups. There is a reason for that, and One Ls should learn from them.

I don’t have any illusions here about anyone taking my advice. There is nothing more sacrosanct in the One L experience than the study group.

Still, let me take a shot at persuading you to leave study groups out of your plan. Consider this: why do you think you need a study group? To learn from others. There is too much to learn by myself. Eight brains are better than one.

Okay. I hear you. Let me ask you: do you have any clue as a One L which others you ought to be trying to learn from? Do you have any clue which of your classmates ought to be in your study group? Remember: 70% of One Ls are not going to end up where you want to be at the end of the year. Seventy percent. Math was never my thing, but I am pretty sure that includes almost everyone that is in most study groups that populate your class.

If that is the case, what exactly are you going to do in your study group? Learn from the 70%? Or is it more likely that you are going to be doing the teaching? For goodness sake, Ninjas, don’t spend your time trying to learn from someone unless you know they actually have something to teach you. If you can get in a situation where you are the learner, rather than the teacher, fine. But that is almost never the case in a typical law school study group. Why? It’s a matter of demographics. Study groups regress to the mean, and the mean is exactly where you don’t want to be.

The truth? Law school study groups aren’t about learning the material. The reason study groups are so popular in the One L year is that they respond to a felt need of the truly desperate: to avoid the feeling of loneliness that inevitably comes with people who are in the dark about what they are experiencing.

And if ultimately you need a few meetings with a study group to address that need, then by all means go to a study group. But if that is not where you are, then let others fill study groups. You will be better off for it.


  1. M.R.
    Posted April 30, 2010 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

    I disagree that study groups are to relief loneliness. Study groups can be extremely useful when they are properly organized and structured. My study group had a designated “expert” for each topic, who regularly went to the professor with questions, and reported the answers back to the group. We often took up a portion of the library in different rooms and at different tables, and only met to talk when we had an issue. Then each person would weigh in, and the group would come to a consensus on what was the most reasoned law (although no one was absolutely certain, and difficult matters were sent to the professor).

    I’m not sure if a model like that would benefit everyone, but I feel like I did significantly better this semester using that method than I did last semester, when I studied alone. Actually, there might be some amount of “loneliness” reduction going on, but that certainly helps when you’ve become crazy from the info-overload and you just need someone who can sympathize.

  2. Gary Young
    Posted May 3, 2010 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    Well, I am glad to hear it worked for you. You had an exceptional study group.

    Trouble is, very few study groups in law school work at all, let alone this well. I would be the numbers would be 1 in a 100. On the whole, people are far better off slugging through the stuff themselves and using a hornbook to find the black letter law.

    But thanks for the comment –


  3. Not a sheep
    Posted May 17, 2010 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    Seriously, IMO study group in law school is definitely a relief from loneliness for most students. I was given grief by classmates who didn’t know squat about my abilities, just because I refused to join study groups. The reason of their attitude was that I wasn’t scared or anxious about the whole law school experience and I guess that wasn’t normal to them. I needed to be fixed. I have a very smart friend who also works alone. However, she’s a free spirit who doesn’t project an image of a bright student so nobody has ever harassed or pestered her to join a study group. I bet, the minute they find out that she has great grades, they’ll jump her and accused her of not being a team player and being weird (yeah I was told that) for not wanting to help her lovely classmates

  4. Nicolas
    Posted September 4, 2010 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

    Three weeks into my 1L year and I am devoting my weekend to trying out your idea.

    1 day down, 2 to go. I will report back with the results.


  5. Gary Young
    Posted September 4, 2010 at 9:47 pm | Permalink


    What part are you trying? The sit still part?


  6. Nicolas
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    Apparently I commented on the wrong article. Yes, I did complete (mostly) the three day marathon reading session, only slightly altering it to include some of my necessary reading for class. All in all, I do see a difference in my ability to actually sit at a desk for several hours without going totally crazy. Although it is not a cure all, it has helped to keep me on track when I start to get distracted.

    I think it is generally good advice if you have or can make the time. Also I hear it is quite helpful to begin working on the stamina necessary for the lengthy law school exams and the eventual Ironman that is the Bar.

    Thanks for all the insight!

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