Sunday, October 22

Handling the strain and staying sane

Law school is time-consuming and demanding, but the benefits are substantial if students plan ahead

Nandan Padmanabhan is tired.

“Physically, it’s absolutely draining because when you’re mentally tired it impacts your body, and I’ve never felt this tired so many days in a row,” Padmanabhan, a first-year UCLA law student, said. “But for me, coming out of work, it’s kind of like a conscious choice to go back to school. It’s hard work, but it’s required to get where I want to go and to become a lawyer.”

Padmanabhan is enrolled at the UCLA School of Law, a three-year program he joined after undergraduate study at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and employment at JPMorgan Chase in Chicago.

The life of a law student is filled with full days of lectures, reading, extracurriculars and fitting in coveted free time.

“On Mondays I start class at 10:50 a.m., and our classes tend to be pretty long,” he said. “I end at 12:05 p.m.”

Quite often during the week, Padmanabhan said he has time between classes, so he gets lunch and heads to the library to read and review for the next class.

He said law schools use the Socratic Method, a method of calling on students to answer questions about cases that have been assigned. Then, the professor may pose hypothetical questions and ask the student how the judge would decide based on the cases.

After lunch, Padmanabhan has one last class from 1:40 to 2:30 p.m.

“Mondays are my lighter days,” he added. “After that I usually go to the library until 5:30 or 6 p.m.”

“The law school is on the semester system,” said Sylvie Levine, a second-year UCLA law student.

School begins in August and ends in May.

Normally, first-year law students have four classes every semester, comprised of six semester courses and one year-long course, Padmanabhan said.

This semester, he has two classes on Monday and Tuesday, three classes on Wednesday and two classes on Thursdays and Fridays, he added.

His classes include contract law, property law and criminal law, and they range from 32 to 80 students per class.

Levine said the second year becomes a little more relaxed than the first.

“And the third year of law school is the most relaxed of all,” said David Burke, a third-year UCLA law student.

“It’s usually reduced and more laid back than the other two,” he said. “I have four classes over just two days a week, and I’d say that’s pretty typical.”

Burke said many law students feel like the third year is the least important of the three, and some schools are even considering implementing a two-year program.

He said by the third year, many students have already secured jobs at firms, leading them to worry less about their grades.

“All they’re trying to do is finish the units and not screw up so badly that they lose their jobs,” said Burke.

And most of the requirements are fulfilled by the third year of law school, allowing time for other pursuits, like mock trials and moot court.

Mock trials allow law students to assess a set of facts and create simulated arguments for presentation to a jury, while moot courts typically focus mostly on simulated appellate or appeal cases argued to a judge.

“By the third year, hopefully you’ve planned well enough that you don’t have as many requirements, so you can schedule the classes you’re interested in,” he said. “So if you want to work one or two days a week, you can do that also.”

Padmanabhan said law school is unlike any other academic training he has experienced.

“It’s unlike any other school I’ve been to,” he said.

“Granted, coming from engineering, I didn’t read much, and now I do a ton of reading. But the rumor I’ve heard and my experience so far is that it’s a lot of work, but a large part of it is just time management.”

But academics are not a law student’s only focus.

“Almost every day there’s something at the school that I need to be doing,” Levine said. “A formal speaker comes pretty much every day at lunch, since that’s all of our free time.”

Speakers include professors, attorneys and guest lecturers, she said.

Padmanabhan said he applied to cite-check for the Journal of Law and Technology, another extracurricular in which many law students participate.

And besides his focus on attaining a Juris Doctorate, graduating in 2010 and passing the bar exam, Padmanabhan just tries to keep himself sane, spending time with friends and going to the gym.

“I try to balance the work with the life a little bit so I don’t go crazy,” he said.

And regardless of Padmanabhan’s tired voice, he still thinks he’s made the right decision.

“Absolutely, I think UCLA law school is a great fit for me,” he said. “The people and the atmosphere are a great fit for my personality.”

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