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Scheduling Strategies, Revisited

My Dearest Wormwood:

Once again, so sorry you haven't heard from me in a while. What they tell you about 2L year is completely true, so long as what they tell you involves mind-breaking amounts of work and hellish stress. Of course, when your time comes you will have the benefit of your uncle's copious mistakes. (In)human nature being what it is, this merely guarantees you'll make new ones. Nevertheless, here's a few strategies that might make your life easier when you're choosing courses for your 2L fall term.

The joy of 2L classes is that you get to choose the particular brand of torture you will undergo over the course of the semester. Unlike the 1L year, when all students are squeezed into the same Procrustean bed (with the same Socratic pillows), you can now choose seminars, clinics, or more giant lecture rooms. This gives you a couple of strategic choices.

Strategy 1: Misery in November
You know how I've been complaining so highly about my workload, Wormwood? Well, this is because I chose the Misery in November strategy for this term, albeit without much strategic thought. This involves getting most of my credits this term from seminars and a clinic. With the exception of my Property course, I've had no "traditional" classes, and almost all of my work this term has involved the writing of a paper, the creation of a legal database, or translation of Japanese court documents.

The downside of this has been a very rough November. Trying to balance clinic work with translation, preparation for papers with job searching, or any of the other medium-term deadlines in my courses has probably done more to make my hair salt-and-pepper than any other experience. Misery in November invovles a "here a deadline, there a deadline, everywhere a deadline" life from almost the beginning to the end of the term.

The payoff to this strategy comes in December. Sure, I still have endless hours of work to do before the clinic project is finished and I've not put a word into the seminar paper yet, but for the most part these deadlines are semi-flexible. As you can tell by looking at Exam Watch, I've only one exam coming up. Due to the vagaries of Columbia exam scheduling, I even have a study week: my Property exam doesn't sit until a week after the course ends.

Strategy 2: Misery in December
I'll admit, Wormwood, that I can't tell you as much about this strategy first-hand. We each get to go through this process once, and adopting one strategy would seem to foreclose all others. Nevertheless, I think the experience of Buffalo Wings & Vodka may be typical here:

When I made myself a t-shirt that said "I Am the God of the Course Schedule--Wanna Make Out?" I felt that I was completely justified. No classes on Thursday or Friday. Nothing before 10:30 am. All efficiently located. A well-placed lunch break. Hot 2L's in every class. I did a good job. But one thing I didn't pay attention to was the finals schedule that went with that classload.

Next week, I have four finals in three days, two of which are at 8:30 am. I am a goddam fool.


Here's the catch, Wormwood: at least at Columbia, you can't really pay much attention to the Finals schedule, because during pre-registration for the next term, the schedule's not available. (I could be wrong here--comments to the contrary appreciated.) But the Misery in December option involves taking mostly lecture courses with timed exams at the end.

Again, my impression is that the payoff, and the pitfall, is the flexibility in scheduling. It's much easier to miss a lecture course for the sake of an interview than to miss a smaller clinic or seminar session. If you get behind, there aren't as many interim deadlines to catch you up. On the other hand, you can get very behind.

Meanwhile, 2L exams aren't preceded by any set study period: I know people who are facing a Monday exam following a final class the prior Thursday. This back-loads the stress.

Legal Journal Strategic Modifiers
The last thing to consider, Wormwood, is the ebb and flow of 2L workload. During August and September, a good deal of your time will be spent convincing firms to give you offers of summer employment, and then choosing from the offers you've received. Ideally you'll get most of this out of your schedule by November, but if you're like me it'll bleed over into later months. In the meantime, if your journal requires a Note, you're likely to have a number of interim deadlines during October and November. If you've chosen Strategy 1, these deadlines won't make things any easier.

So how should one decide? I can't give you any more than what I've written above, advice that I wish I'd had when I was choosing courses for this term. In addition to this, I have only one more piece of advice. The clinic work I've done this term has by far been the most fulfilling experience I've had as a 2L: it's good work in and of itself, of course, but it's also taken me outside the law school and given me things to talk about in interviews. However, if you are thinking of applying for Law Review and think you'll make it, I'd consider delaying your clinical experience until at least the 2L spring. Managing the project and the note have taken me very nearly to the limits of my time management skills.

In the end, Wormwood, it is all about borrowing time from Peter to give Paul the attention he deserves. I don't think anyone has enough to make adequate preparation for everything they're doing: it's a choice of what goes by the wayside.

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