Im in Law School Now What: 1L SUCCESS TIPS
I know this month a lot of my readers will begin or are returning to law school which can be an anxious and intimidating time. Therefore, since Noah did a post for new doctors, I thought it would be cool for me to do one for new law students & offer some advice :)
Here are just 10 tips that I think will help put you on the right path to being successful in law school.
1. PREPARE TO BE BEWILDERED: Seriously, the set of mental trials that you will undergo during law school will be completely different from college. You will be learning a completely different style of learning, briefing and "understanding" cases, is a totally new process that takes time to master.
Don't panic. Practice makes perfect for law school, well at least when it comes to understanding the cases. I still remember my first assignment in my contracts class, I read a 5-page assignment for three hours, I felt completely prepared, and once class started I realized that I had not anticipated any of the professor’s questions or the approach to the case. However, by the end of 1L year I was a pro at briefing and issue spotting which is particularly important for final exams.
It takes time but you'll find your rhythm and approach for each class according to the professors teaching and your learning style.
2. FOCUS ON THE PRESENT: Do not let yourself become overwhelmed and distracted by far-off deadlines. You'll get the syllabus in the beginning of the semester and while it is A OK to write down important deadline and assignments in your planner, do not waste too much time stressing over those things. This is the time to properly absorb and critically think about the cases. You need to remain motivated and concentrate your efforts on the readings for the first couple of weeks.
Begin thinking about exams a little before halloween, after all, you're going to be taking notes, outlining, and preparing from day one.
3. DO NOT RUSH INTO A STUDY GROUP: Personally, I never had a study group! It really just wasn't my thing. I lived far away, and had to plan my time accordingly. Sometimes my schedule just didn't permit staying around to study with others & I did just fine. However, I did have a group of friends (they usually studied together) that I'd talk concepts and big picture with before exams and it was helpful.
While study groups can be useful, there is no need to immediately form one. This will happen in the weeks to come when you know your classmates better. Everyone, is usually trying to figure it out and are just as clueless as you anyway :)
In the beginning you should focus on your individual study process that you will use throughout the semester. Oh & be careful who you listen to. Don’t join the first study group you’re invited to join, don’t write down what other people say in class – only what the professor says like I said before, not everyone "knows" what they are talking about. There have been plenty of times I've overheard the wrong information being shared with classmates. STUDY & KNOW IT FOR YOURSELF because folks can have you looking crazy come exam time.
4. MAKE FRIENDS: This is a new social situation, but do your best to extend yourself with your classmates. I had a family & I commuted but I think I had comfortable relationships with my classmates. Then of course I had my main joints (close friends) haha. Those that I clicked with, felt comfortable being around & talking to, but more importantly those who were of invaluable moral support while also being smart enough that I trusted their notes and advice.
Side note: I never thought going into law school I'd meet one of my best friends (the first day of orientation- being introduced by her mother) but I DID!! Heyyy Tiff :)
5. MAKE FRIENDS WITH YOUR PROFESSORS: Law school instructors may seem intimidating at first glance, but you should use your first few weeks to dispel any irrational fear of your professors. While they wont be your "besties" (there is a line of professionalism that must be kept) do try to spend time getting to know them outside of the classroom. Go to their office. Talk to them after class. Socialize in the hallway if you both have the time.
Getting to know your professors allows you the ability to glean the most valuable thing in law school: how a professor test- what they are looking for on a final exam, & what concepts are important to THEM.
It varies by school, but in many law schools grades are anonymous - as in, professors will only see a number on your exam, rather than your name. So even if you're cool with a professor that will not help you get an A in the class, but talking to them about the law and how they test will increase your chances.
6. TAKE NOTES: Intentionally. The better your notes are - the better your outlines will be - the better your outlines are -the better you understand the material, the better you understand the material- the better your final grade will be.
I was a had writer (I wrote all case- briefs and notes the traditional way, pen & paper) because I found it to be more advantageous for me, it really bolstered my ability to retain the information better. While hand writing is a personal choice for me, many people do use laptops (if your professor allows them in class-read the syllabus) to take notes.
The most important thing to do is to build the habit of note taking right away no matter the method you choose.
7. STUDY AIDS ARE YOUR FRIEND. Case briefing and outlining the black letter law while extremely important for your success in law school; can also be very time consuming, confusing, and tedious. I don't recommend skipping it altogether because that is truly how you learn, but I will suggest that you do like most people and find great study aids. There are a variety of commercial aids available to help you master complex concepts and supplement class notes while preparing for exams.
Study aids are "discouraged" by some professors because they want you to "do it yourself" and I AGREE you should! However, study aids can be helpful if you use them appropriately. Just do not let them replace your own efforts in preparing for a course.
A few of the most popular study aids & ones ACTUALLY USED are linked below:
EXAMPLES & EXPLINATIONS
EMANUEL LAW OUTLINES
LAW IN A FLASH FLASHCARDS
8. READ A BOOK OR TWO TO PREPARE. Everyone tends to read Getting to Maybe. I did & was stoked to see it on one of my professors desk in the first week of school, it indicated to me that **maybe** he followed some of those principals from the book, so I was winning for reading it. For a more practical resource, I recommend: Legal Writing in PLAIN ENGLISH. People get caught up in legalese and can quickly loose a person's attention. You should steer very clear of that on finals and the bar so learning legal writing in plain english is important.
9. DON'T LET LAW SCHOOL CONSUME YOU. It will be tiring, confusing, maybe boring, and you may get hopelessly lost at times, but don’t let it define your life. Because it’s easy to get lost when you get sucked into believing that your grades decide your worth in life. Truth is: your grades do not define you; your three years in law school do not define your entire life; and even if you don’t end up even practicing law, you still have a BOMB set of skills that will help you succeed and a degree that, all lawyer jokes aside, people respect.
10. FINALLY-- BE EASY ON YOURSELF. As with any new experience, there is no way to completely prepare for law school until you are experiencing it yourself. Try to stay calm and approach with a widened perspective that this is merely the beginning of a longer process. After the first week try to nail down a study schedule (A MUST HAVE) that WORKS FOR YOU- you can adjust it as you go along.
You will not have it all figured out on the first day of class, the first week, and sometimes not the first month. It is a process, go at it slow and steady (not too slow to get behind though lol) and be easy on yourself.
Don't forget to take time for YOURSELF. The law school experience can be very demanding, and stressful, people find themselves in various states of depression, and just unfit mentally and physically. Don't fall into that trap. Enjoy your journey, and don't forget this is just a SMALL 3 year chapter in your life :)
Good luck, and (seriously), try to have fun and enjoy it.
It will truly be 1L of a Ride !!