I Need a Drink (While Studying)

Q I’m a first-year law student facing finals and behind in studying. I’m part of a study group that gets together three times a week at a local coffee shop that also serves beer and wine. We usually start out pretty serious but within thirty minutes someone says they need a beer and we end up ordering a round, sometimes just to try something new that’s on tap. Usually, we each drink 2-3 beers, though one of us doesn’t drink anything except an occasional glass of wine toward the end of the evening. I want to say the drinking ends up being a waste of time but I really think we do better once we have a couple of beers in our systems and get going. Is there any evidence that this is true?

A You’re kidding, right? No. Think of it this way. You are at counsel table as a criminal defendant, accused of capital murder, when your attorney walks in and, reeking of beer, sits down and says “hey, feeling pretty good after three Bud Lites, let’s get this party started.” Besides that, you’re burning through your law student loans by partying under the auspice of studying. You can justify it that way, but everything about this scenario has payback. Your student loans later, padded by your bar tab, and the crappy grades you’ll get as a result of “thinking” you’re Perry Mason when you’re just hopped up on hop.

Tell you what. Give this a try. Keep up your study plan and use your wine-drinking friend as a control. See how he or she does compared to you. I bet two pints of really good beer she does better. Write back later to let me know.

Ex-Bitter is a former big firm lawyer who now doles out advice to anyone who asks. Got a question? Email it to advice@bitterlawyer.com. Or read more Advice from an Ex-Bitter.

20 Comments

  1. BL1Y

    April 22, 2011 at 10:50 am

    For some people a couple drinks will actually improve cognitive function.

    If you’re stressed, you’re going to have a hard time getting anything done, you’ll be focused on the what-ifs of failure and unable to focus on actually studying. If a drink or two takes the edge off and lets you get down to work, why not go for it?

    Drinking will also lower your inhibitions a bit, which means you’ll air more of your bad ideas and misconceptions during the study group. This gives you an opportunity to recognize and fix those mistakes before the exam.

    So long as you’re able to keep your drinking in check and not go past this buzz sweet spot, there’s not really anything to worry about. You’ll have problems if you get drunk, pass out, and can’t study at all the next day due to a hangover, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

    Plus, if a drink or two makes studying a little more enjoyable, you’ll spend more time with the books instead of procrastinating with a drink in front of the TV.

  2. Chris

    April 22, 2011 at 11:06 am

    I’m sure it largely depends on the person, but I have found that a drink (or an occasional two) does help when studying or writing papers. My grades in undergrad actually improved once I discovered this “technique.” I have only tried this a few times so far in my first year of law school, (mostly because I rarely study outside the law library), but I agree with BL1Y that a drink while studying takes the edge of anxiety off and helps me focus on the task at hand.

    • BL1Y

      April 22, 2011 at 12:16 pm

      I had an undergrad philosophy professor suggest taking a shot at the start of each new page in an essay. Drinking while writing is extremely useful. Many people get intimidated by the blank screen and try to make each sentence perfect as they craft it, and end up not writing anything at all. It’s far better to just throw a bunch of stuff down, and then come back to edit it later when sober.

      Also had a a Chinese professor tell us that our speaking would improve after a few drinks. You’re less self conscious and “get out of your head,” so you end up realizing that you know more than what you thought, you begin to rely more on instinct rather than actively thinking things through, which is the ultimate goal with foreign languages.

      Those two situations are of course very different from studying for a law school exam, but common sense says to keep doing what’s working for you.

  3. Alan

    April 22, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    I agree. It’s not like you’re getting bombed at the time of the exam, which would be the equivalent of the criminal defense lawyer getting boozing it up before trial. But it depends on how you hold your stuff and if you just want to be a PI lawyer and not a BigLaw stud. If you’re headed to BigLaw, drink tea.

  4. Andrew

    April 22, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    While it is largely dependent on the individual, I’d urge a certain level of mindfulness with regard to drinking and studying… or using alcohol as a means to facilitate performance. Our profession has some of the highest rates of substance abuse in practitioners. The stakes only get higher from here on out and if you’re not careful it can easily progress to, “I need a drink to loosen up before doing this deposition.” “I need a drink to loosen up before I argue this motion.” Etc.

    Furthermore, a lot of times your professional colleagues will encourage it. I don’t know how many “constructive Fridays” I’ve seen, but there were more than enough days where a practice group was together knocking back a few at 2pm while discussing strategy or collaborating on important matters. It made it more fun, but I don’t think their papers were really any better.

    In any case, I think you know where I’m going. I’m not your mom, but I do encourage you to be careful. Celebrating at the end of the day, sure. It’s difficult work and playing as hard as you work is important, but only after you’ve earned it. You’re in law school, which is an accomplishment, not everyone can get in let alone succeed there, but it’s your first year, it’s important. Hose it, and it’s tough to recover from. Take it from a not that old man, for the time being, less arrogant bastard ale, more orange juice.

  5. Ellen

    April 22, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    I do NOT like men who drink. I had to break up with Alan b/c he always had to have at least 2 beers EVERY nite, and he became very Gassy.

    I can only wonder what he would have turned into if I had MARRIED him. I understand he still is DRINKING, and he probabley will become an alcaholic.

    If a MAN wants me, he MUST be SOBER.

    • Nick

      October 12, 2012 at 3:02 am

      Learn ENGLISH.

  6. Craig

    April 22, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    It is probably not a big deal either way. A couple of beers won’t turn you into an unretentive idiot. Of course, it won’t make you any smarter either, no matter how “calm” and “relaxed” it makes you feel. I was always an individual studier though. I found whenever I tried to study in groups, or with friends, I would get far less done in a greater amount of time. Considering you are also going to a de facto bar, I would definitely not be able to really get anything done in that atmosphere, but that could just be me.

  7. Craig

    April 22, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    I should add that that was a really solid, interesting question.

  8. Bobak

    April 22, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    If I answered these questions I would probably encourage malpractice. Perhaps that’s what the world needs more of…

  9. 1Lionel Hutz

    April 28, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    Ah, delicious bourbon. Brownest of the brown liquors. What’s that? You want me to drink you? But I’m in the middle of a study group!

    • MagicCircleJerk

      May 9, 2011 at 3:36 pm

      Hello, David? I’m really tempted!

  10. Guano Dubango

    April 30, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    Ellen, are you interested in dating me? I do not want to be on the rebound from your beau, but I need a wife capable of bearing me three issue, and returning with me to Ghana. If you are fertile and willing to become my spouse, please advise now.

  11. Joe

    July 5, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    Keep the drinking, ditch the study group. They’re worthless. And with regard to the “payback” of paying for a few beers while you’re living on student loans, you’re probably blowing close to $100,000 a year on school and living when you could be going to law school in-state somewhere and keeping your loans low enough that you could actually be a criminal defense lawyer one day. So there’s that.

  12. Vikram

    February 16, 2012 at 7:14 am

    Drink or not, only if you decide to study and come out of it top class, and put in the hours and effort.

    You actually might. Make a nice drink with Vodka, lime and some caffeinated soda, and limit it to two per studying period, or upto a 4/day. Along with 4 to 5 litres of water/day.

    You’re focussed, awake and no hangover. But most important of all, get your priorities right.

  13. LP

    June 6, 2012 at 9:11 am

    I think the author’s reply to the question asked misses the mark. You compare drinking a beer or two while studying to throwing back several before an important client meeting and then bragging about it. First of all, the important client meeting would be more analogous to taking a law school exam, which I’ve never even thought about drinking beforehand. Secondly, who in their right mind would brag about drinking before such a meeting?

    It’s true that many in our profession turn to alcohol at a higher rate than our non-lawyer peers. It’s part of the culture of the profession. Some use it more, some use it less, some are able to drink more constantly with less negative effects. Lawyer social functions always involve some drinks. My first few days of orientation in law school, there were endless happy hours hosted by various groups.

    I’ve had a drink or two while studying or working on an assignment on occasion. It’s never a matter of “I’m going to get drunk and see how well I can study,” it’s a matter of, “while reading this I’m going to nurse a beer because I like beer and it tastes good.” If you can’t handle drinking a beer or two while still being productive, don’t do it.

    When trying out for our school’s Moot Court Bar, my partner and I took a shot before giving our first oral arguments. One shot certainly isn’t going to get someone (at least us) even tipsy, but it did take off the edge and make us relaxed and ready to roll. I wouldn’t recommend making that a habit before regular court appearances or client meetings, but again, having a drink at certain times shouldn’t be automatically construed as out-of-control alcoholism.

  14. happy-lawyer

    June 21, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    If you idiots are using alcohol to help you get through law school, wait until you’re practising law. You’ll have more deadlines, more work, and the stakes will be a whole lot higher than your class ranking. Throw in demanding clients, improvident law partners, vindictive ex-wives, imbecilic judges, machiavellian opposing counsel, and a hamster treadmill of work that NEVER ends.

    You’ll go from never drinking the night before court, to never drinking before court, to never drinking before speaking to anything substantive in court, to falling down drunk in the courthouse parking lot on your way to trial.

    If you have even the slightest tendency to use booze as a coping tool do yourself a favour and choose another occupation, any other.

  15. Chuck

    December 10, 2012 at 9:18 pm

    I must say the advice here is terrible, if you are a light weight and one drink gets you buzzed, and 2-3 gets you drunk, yes I agree but by the time you are in law school I doubt that this is the case. A drink or two can often wake you up and at very least help you motor through studying AS LONG AS YOU ARE TAKING NOTES. This probably will not help you remember everything you learn, but since much of law school is taking good notes and outlining having a couple drinks may help you. No, it is not helpful if you are self motivated and don’t drink much, but for those who find the grind is beating you and a couple drinks help you get through that, there is nothing wrong with it. Again, don’t get hammered, but c’mon, unless you can’t stop once you hit that nice buzz, like many so try to recognize this, there’s no problem. A drink or two can help get over that laziness hump and get motivated. That being said, it should not be a habit that you drink every time you study or even most the time you study, many times what you remember the first time you study is what sticks and drinking will hurt this, but if its a saturday with your final is a few days away, you’re stressed, and you’re mad cuz your friends are out partying, a couple drinks may help you stay focused, if you’re in a study group, even better. Plus, in law school it’s all about competition so if someone in your study group doesn’t know when to stop when you do, you just moved up a slot (not to be cynical but we all know how competitive law school can be) but yeah, this article is a joke unless you really are one of those people who doesn’t drink and thinks it’ll be a boost for you

    • Chuck

      December 10, 2012 at 9:21 pm

      ps, anyone studying law will tell you having a beer or two when studying for a final is very different than getting so drunk that the next day when “counseling someone on trial for capital murder” they can smell the alcohol on you so I really don’t know how much faith I would put into this author if this is what they come up with this response when they compare and contrast these two situation

  16. Drintraining76

    April 8, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    This is a terrible response to an age old question. Research from the university of Illinois proved that 2 beers improves reasoning and problem solving by 40%. Get with the times people.

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