If your study group is not working for you, you must break up with it! Law school is the start of your professional career and you should handle ALL matters with this in mind. The reputation that you earn in law school will follow you into your legal career. So, what do you do when a study group is not effective? We have three recommendations:
1) Take a leadership role: If your study group is ineffective, it could be because there is no structure for the group. Without structure, most groups will fail. Someone must take a leadership role (not a dictator role). Before you “break up” with your study group, try taking a leadership role by asking the group to complete something concrete during the next session. For example, suggest that the group finalize a portion of an outline, complete a sample answer to an essay question, or complete 10 multiple choice questions together in the next session. Having a concrete task to complete may help the group focus and become more effective. You also could create an “agenda” with time limits for certain discussions or activities and hand it out to the group as a suggestion for spending your time together. With some leadership, the group may turn around. Give the group another two or three sessions to adjust to your leadership.
2) Give the study group session a time limit and communicate that time limit to your group: Study group sessions should not be indefinite because the session usually will “suck up” more time than is needed to accomplish effective group learning. The group will end up wasting too much time. You should limit study group time, for the most part, to 2 hours per course and no more than 4 hours in one day. Let your group know that you only have 2 hours to give to the group and stick to the time limit. Eventually, the group will learn that if it does not get started and get “on-task” the session will end (because you will leave) before anything is accomplished.
3) Communicate a respectful and courteous need to study differently: If the two ideas above do not work, then you do need to “break up” with your study group. As difficult as it may be, as a professional, you should communicate your needs to the members of your group in person. When you have this conversation with the group, you should use the word “I” often and focus on your needs and your learning. Do not accuse the group of being a waste of time. Do not “call out” any one member of the group. Do not allege that members are unprepared or unproductive in the group. Simply tell them in a brief manner that you need to study in a different way. Be careful of stating that you “need to study alone” because you may want to join another person or group in the near future. Be honest and be kind, but be firm that you are no longer going to be a part of the study group.
For all three of these recommendations, remember to keep your professional demeanor and do not let the stress of law school cause you to react in a manner that will harm your relationships with your classmates. Good luck!