Law Student Life: Learning to Plan as a Law Student:

So I think we're all collectively happy to see 2020 in our rear view mirror.

While it's been a hairy last year, to say the least, one of the positives to come out of the blog is that we got nominated for a 'Clawbie,' or a Canadian Law Blog Award!

At the risk of sounding like the world's most annoying actor, 'it's an honour just to be nominated.'

One of the aspects we can take away from 2020, however, is the need to be organized. Have backups upon backups. Suspenders and a belt. Suspenders, a belt, and a belt upon that belt. Suspenders, a belt, and- well, you know.

One of the aspects that surprises me the most about some law students I've heard about, is their lack of adherence to a planning system. Whether it be paper or digital, one of the most important things as a future lawyer is being organized.

What are your options?

One of the ways I have for the past four-to-five years since entering the legal industry is doubling down on how much I use both my paper agenda and Google calendar.

People have opinions in the legal industry on both (yes, this is an entirely serious conversation we are having).

In terms of being an actual practicing lawyer, I'm going to be honest- you won't have time to write down actual events in your planner or appointments. Too many things happen during the day, too many events change. Gone are the days where your secretary or legal assistant dutifully notated an appointment into a gigantic logbook, and that is how that event remained for the majority of the month.

However, I like to use a paper planner in terms of organizing my life around work, as well as additional promotional work-related events. Think networking events, think positions I may hold as a Director or personal development classes that often take place at lunch or after work. It makes those aspects of my life, which are complimentary to my work, infinitely more memorable (I'd also like to note here that it's scientifically proven that you remember something five times more the more you actually write it down).

I use my Google calendar synched to an app called Timepage (by Moleskin) for actual work commitments. That way, things are easily changeable, you won't spend a fortune on whiteout, and you have a discernible difference between looking in your planner, and looking on your Google calendar-synched app. It helps divide up life for me, and it's usually evident in terms of writing down in my calendar what I'm going to be doing from 9-5 most weekdays (however, if there are a change in times, I do write that down in my calendar, and check both when I get started on work).

(An example of the Timepage interface on both a phone and a computer.)

Lastly, I use a legal pad and additional note papers that can be added into my planner for note-taking purposes, and for keeping track of to-do lists, as well as the 'Reminders' app on my phone. I usually keep the Reminders app divided into separate lists, so if a commitment is ongoing, I can track it there, and also keep that divide between my personal commitments and work commitments.

I also recommend having a place, whether digital or written, to write a to-do list for the next day of work. One of the biggest realizations you'll discover entering practice, is that, unlike most things in your life, presuming you were clever enough to get into law school, you won't be able to bomb through material like you previously were able to. There will be things left on your desk at the end of the day, and you have to be comfortable with that.

So where does that leave us?

Hopefully by this point of the post, it's obvious it's completely up to personal taste for what planning system you'd like to use in either your first law student job or practice, but it is important to have a system. Even if you're working from home, or even if you're still in law school. It creates good habits, and is something you can point to, no matter how small, of how you can be trusted with work. Here's another couple of systems and ways to organize that I've been privy to over the years through working with great lawyers, and some ways that may benefit you more than my system outlined above.

  • Consider great apps: My principal at my first law firm job swore by an app called Todoist. It basically allows you to create various 'To Do Lists,' and switch and assign dates for each of the tasks you might require to get done. It leaves guilt at the door, by simply moving dates and things around, and allows you to simply move a task to the next day if you don't complete it that day. Perfect for the lawyer running their own practice, in particular. You can also synch Todoist to your computer, phone, and smartwatch, as well as synching any notes you write on Evernote.

  • Supplement with paper planning: I've always been a fan of putting pen to paper in terms of organizing things; it really just makes things feel more solid for me. I essentially did the same thing my principal did at the end of the day in my paper planner at one of my first full-time law student jobs; I wrote down the tasks I hadn't finished at the end of the day, in order to pick things up the next day. That way, the day actually felt complete, and I could go home with those things not flicking around in my brain.

One of my favourite systems for this is The Happy Planner system, which is a disk-bound planning system that can be found at your local Michaels. They have planners that are made for specific needs (for example, if you want to supplement your physical or mental health goals for 2021, they have planners that specifically leave space in the day to write about your physical activity, or your mood for that day, and what you could have done better to leave time for yourself).

They even have recovery planners for individuals recovering from addictions, bad habits, and add-in systems for anyone balancing working from home with being a caretaker. It really leads to your whole life (plus work) being in one system, and you can easily pull pages out and put them back in, depending on where you need them (This is also a benefit as a 'leftie,' as usually coiled planners lead to me writing halfway up the page in an effort to actually fit my plans into a space!).

You can also switch out covers and coils (I have more 'official' looking, work-appropriate black coils and quilted covers, but since working from home, mine is currently a bit more joyful/cutesy and looks like this), as well as having stickers you can add in to jazz up your commitments/personal space.

As you can probably tell from this blog, I tend to be more of an aesthete, so anything that involves mundane tasks looking aesthetically pleasing leads to me being more prone to take them on. I know, but that is the way I work and have always worked.

(An example of the interior of a Happy Planner, although depending on what type you get, they can be divided like this into three sections for morning, afternoon, and night, hourly, or even monthly. They also come in different sizes for ease of travel.)

  • Bullet journaling: This is a bit more of a financially savvy option, but also good for a creative who likes to doodle when given the time.

  • Erin Condren planning system: Specifically made to look good enough and professional enough to bring into work, as an investment. As a left-handed person, I've found these sort of annoying, and not as flexible to work with as the Happy Planner system, where you can just move pages around as you please, but still may be good for some.

  • You can also get systems on Etsy for cheap that are aesthetically pleasing, that allows you to use them again and again on your iPad. Emmastudies is a great Etsy creator who particularly makes templates for students, so solid during law school, but there are also similar creators if you search 'iPad Digital Planners' on Easy. Take a look!

  • Lastly, take these considerations and head to the Dollar store or Chapters. You don't need a super-expensive planning system to be successful. Todoist has a free option, and many iPad templates for planning can be reused and found on Pinterest. Google Calendar is free, and often at the end of either calendar or six month increments in the year (usually falling in the summer), more of the expensive planning systems go on sale at Michaels (Hobby Lobby or Walmart if you're in the States). If the Happy Planner system was appealing to you, and you can remove the first few months of an older, eighteen month planner, it's definitely worth the wait.