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Studying (and working) more effectively

Studying (and working) more effectively

Harriet Iles


As a LawCareers.Net reader, you may have already kicked off your legal career or you may be just beginning your studies. Regardless of where you’re at, learning an effective method of studying is always useful. If you’re already working, you can employ this knowledge to improve your ability to work and learn on the job.

In this post I discuss three of my top areas of focus to better your study performance as we enter the 2021/22 academic year.

Your space

Before you even sit down to engage with your work, you should ensure that your physical space is right. A balanced and positive environment will encourage your focus and may even inspire or motivate you to achieve well. Obviously, a ‘good’ or study-conducive environment is not the same for everyone.

For me, something that I’ve found necessary in my own space is lots of natural light and fresh air, a clean desk, back support, a laptop stand, and some visual inspiration. By visual inspiration, I mean a physical calendar hanging by my desk to remind me of upcoming deadlines, some inspiring quotes, notes from my friends or partner to spur me on, or other nice decorations. Houseplants have a sense of ‘freshness’ which I think can really translate into a calming headspace. 

Things that I find distracting include clocks (especially ones that tick!), my phone or other electronics, and sometimes, even a notebook! If I’m trying to listen to a presentation, having a notebook to doodle in can take my attention away from the words that I’m supposed to be absorbing.

Your time

As a law student, you’ve likely already heard of the 'Pomodoro technique'. When I was new to law, this was similar to the ‘commercial awareness’ buzzword – I could tell that it was important, but it took me a while to understand what it meant. 

The Pomodoro technique is a way of organising your time when in the throes of studying. Essentially, you pick a single task you need to complete, such as research for a university project. First, you would set a 25-minute timer during which you would work on the task before taking a five-minute break. The end of one of these cycles is one ‘Pomodoro (think of it as one tomato…), and after four Pomodoro's, you would take one longer break of 15 or 30 minutes. 

It has proven benefits, like improving your focus over a longer period and avoiding burnout. The technique is great for serial procrastinators or people who find menial distractions can derail their workday. In addition, law students or practitioners often have enormous workloads, consisting of unlimited wider reading or research tasks. Therefore, the technique can help you to set boundaries and mini-goals in pursuit of a broader aim (to succeed on your exam).

Your body

Outside of studying, you should aim to stay both mentally and physically fit. Something I have found is that people don’t connect mental and physical fitness, and can overemphasise the importance of one or the other. In my opinion, people who exercise their minds regularly but fail to exercise their bodies often aren’t operating at maximum capacity. Through physical exercise, I feel that I retain knowledge more effectively and feel mentally fitter to stretch my mind around complex tasks or areas of study that I find challenging. 

In addition, physical fitness is a way to get your mind off the task at hand and truly disengage. Really allowing yourself to gain this distance from your work is one of the best ways to maintain passion and motivation for what you’re doing. If you never take real breaks, you’re never giving yourself that opportunity to come back refreshed. A lot of law students that I know, myself included, are predisposed to taking ‘fake’ breaks – checking their emails or doing some ‘light’ school reading while they’re supposed to be relaxing with their family in the evenings. 

Another great thing about exercise is the routine that it can build. If exercise really isn’t the thing for you, replace this with another hobby – you will still benefit from the mood improvements and boosted confidence from developing a daily routine.