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How do law students stay awake to study?

by Mark Miller 6 min read

Law school

Photo by Anna Sullivan on Unsplash

Some law students spend 60 hours a week studying. Those who’ve been through law school advise prospective students to leave the Xbox at home so they’re not tempted with potentially ruinous distraction. How do law students get the energy to study so much?

One thing many law school students do not do is party and socialize a lot. This has a doubly good effect because the time spent not partying is time they can spend studying. And then they are not out of sorts, hungover, or over-tired the next day from partying.

Many law school students do not sleep very much, either. Lack of sleep can affect performance negatively, and law school students really need to be in top form during their university careers.

Chapman University’s Fowler School of Law has an article [1] giving 20 time-management and study tips for its new students. No. 1 advises students to read the material assigned for their courses when they are most alert and not to read in a location where they will be distracted.

If you wait until you are drowsy to read, you will not remember the material as well.

Get the energy to study

No. 18 says:

  • MINIMIZE YOUR STRESS.  Law school can be stressful, but there are a number of steps you can take to keep stress to a minimum. Humor is a great stress reliever. Make time for exercise-carrying 100 pounds of law books every day doesn’t count. Eat fruit, vegetables, and whole grain foods on a regular basis-a diet Coke and a package of Ding-Dongs are not a balanced breakfast. Don’t overdo your caffeine intake; drink lots of water instead. Get at least seven hours of sleep per night. Maintain a life outside of law school. You don’t need to give up all of the things you enjoyed doing before you went to law school; you just won’t be able to do them as often. Finally, if you think that your stress level is getting out of control, talk about it with your significant other, a family member, a close friend, a faculty member …

Other law school tips from Chapman

The better you manage your time and studies, the more sleep you can have.

  •  Go to class, pay attention, participate in class, and take notes in class.
  • Form a study group and "review, review, review" the material. Also, review your exams to see what you did wrong and what you did right.
  • Take practice exams.
  • If a professor gives you an opportunity to review some work you've done, grab the chance.
  • Brief the cases you study. "Take notes while reading. For each assigned case, write down the legally significant facts, the holding of the case, and the rationale for the court's decision. This is what is referred to as briefing cases. Your case briefs should be just that -- brief."

Outline: the key to a successful law school career

Study about 60 hours a week

In a forum [2] on the site Top-Law-Schools.com, SpadesKnight wrote:

My first year, I believe we spent around three hours in class each day. Now, that doesn’t seem bad – but plan on also spending 3 hours studying for each hour you spend in class. Thus, I would say 60 hours per week is not a bad estimate – and you can break it up any way you want: either all during the weekdays with weekends off, or throw a lot of h/w onto the weekends (what I did) and have time to relax during the week.

Other people say you can get away with studying less, and it seems some people devote even more time to their studies in law school than 60 hours per week.

At 60 hours of study per week, you can still get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. But you might have to forego much of the partying, TV-watching, gaming, and part-time work during law school.

Law school is a full-time job

The site LawSchoolToolBox.com, in an article [3] giving time-management tips, calls law school a full-time job to which students should devote at least 40 hours a week. They say a typical week is 14 hours of class time. At 40 hours a week, that leaves 14 to prep for class and 12 hours to outline and study class materials.

The article states:

And that is just doing 40 hours of work. What if you do 45 or 50? Wow, that is a lot of study time! But why doesn’t it feel like you have this much time? Because law students waste time. It’s okay — we all do it. We check e-mail, Facebook, or shop online. We talk on the phone, walk to get burritos down the street from school — you name it. But should that count as time we are working on law school? No.

The authors’ top tip for time management in law school is to turn off the cell phone, don’t read e-mail, don’t read or post on Facebook, Twitter or any social media. Schedule breaks, which they say are important, every hour. They also say a good way to manage time in laws school is to study efficiently to get the most out of the time spent studying—a tip that would work for students in any field, at any level.


Those times of 40 to 60 hours per week of study are optimal. Princeton Law School found students at some schools spend a lot less time hitting the books. 

Writing in the comments on a page [4] giving various law school students' study times, Bo stated something telling about the quality of education:

When I was at Campbell about 1/3 of our class didn’t make it to graduation. It is tough as hell. We also have a 90%+ bar passage rate every year and that speaks volumes about the quality of our graduates (consistently beating UNC and Duke). I am surprised the number is not higher. With the top schools once you get in you are graduating no matter what. I’ve seen some of the nonsense classes they take too. It is no wonder they do not study as much. They have their careers mapped out just because of the name of their school. That is how it is and it will never change.

Students are sleep-deprived

One student told Canadian Lawyer Magazine:

With everything on my plate a full night’s sleep is only a fantasy.

It is a fact that the study load is so heavy in law schools that many students do not get enough sleep. Getting enough sleep is so important. When your mind and brain function at optimal level, you learn and remember better.

The Canadian Lawyer Magazine article about law school sleep deprivation [5] states:

The occasional all-nighter won’t ruin a semester, but an increasing number of students have a complete university experience affected by significant sleep deprivation. More students work in addition to taking classes, so it is not uncommon for a student to work a 10-hour day before taking a three-hour night class. Afterwards, they hit the books. The scholarly challenges facing law students are hard enough, and even more so for students functioning with a consistent sleep deficit.

Over the years Richard Leblanc, an adjunct at Osgoode Hall Law School and associate professor of governance law and ethics in the School of Administrative Studies at York University, has been struck by the number of students who had difficulty staying awake during class. Leblanc’s classroom presence does not lack energy, but a certain segment of his early morning students traditionally do. 

When teaching a first-year class of 350 students, Leblanc noticed several who had difficulty staying awake for the second half of his three-hour class. To add to their struggles, construction shut down the nearby coffee shop.  

So Professor Leblanc started taking extra coffee to class so students could stay awake for his lecture.

Mints with caffeine

Of course, you might not want to fill up on coffee and lattes and other caffeinated liquids, but you still want that caffeine. Try Viter Energy Mints [6], with both caffeine and B vitamins. The tasty mints perk you up and refresh your breath.

Each has 40 mg of caffeine in a sugar-free mint, equal to about one-quarter of a mug of coffee. You can take one mint per half-hour or hour to get a steady stream of caffeine into your bloodstream, or four in quick succession to equal about one mug of java.

No. 1 tip for staying awake to study

As we said on our blog Truckers Tricks To Stay Awake on the Road [8], the No. 1 trick to staying awake when you need to, is to get enough good-quality sleep.

It may sound kind of contradictory to say you need to sleep to stay awake, but it isn't. Study sleep-hygiene articles, avoid caffeine right before bed, and sleep on a regular schedule to get the most of your sleep.

We give several sleep hygiene techniques in our How Uber and Lyft Drivers Can Stay Awake article [9].


[1] https://www.chapman.edu/law/student-resources/achievement-program/20-tips-success.aspx
[2] https://www.top-law-schools.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=5922
[3] https://lawschooltoolbox.com/time-management-tip-think-of-law-school-like-a-law-job/
[4] https://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2009/10/2010-princeton-review.html
[5] https://www.canadianlawyermag.com/news/general/sleep-deprivation-is-accepted-even-expected/268259
[6] https://amzn.to/3jb7Gwg
[7] https://www.goviter.com/collections/viter-energy-mints
[8] https://www.goviter.com/blogs/viter-energy-blog/truckers-tricks-to-stay-awake-on-the-road
[9] https://www.goviter.com/blogs/viter-energy-blog/how-uber-and-lyft-drivers-can-stay-awake

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