Dear 1Ls: Sincerely, A Former Law Student

When I think back to law school I remember: welcome week, struggling to read for my first week of classes, and getting my first “C” in YEARS. It is easy to get caught up in the rush and emotion of the first-year. You’re smart, you’ve always gotten good grades, and for the first time in your life, you’re constantly surrounded by 75 people who are just as smart as you, who think a lot like you, and in some ways, act a lot like you. As those weeks start to blur into months, and you get comfortable with being a law student, here are five things that I think would be helpful for you to keep in mind.

  • FIGURE OUT HOW YOU STUDY More specifically, how you retain information. In law school, you’ll be charged with retaining four month’s worth of information and presenting some random topic from it on one day. It can be done; don’t let the last sentence scare you! How to do it is the question. It is imperative that you figure out your method. Ask yourself, what has worked for you in the past. At this point you’ve been in school for years, you know what works for you, but if you need some ideas, try these:

Outlining. Generally, people like to outline the entire course. This works for a lot of people. Creating your own outline will make organizing the information specific to you, and how you understand the material –rather than getting one from someone else. I recommend outlining at the end of every four weeks, or after every major topic.

Flashcards. I loved flashcards. During finals week, I would condense the information from my outline to bullet points on flashcards.

Flowcharts. Some classes make more sense when you can visually see the information, and is more understandable if you use a white board and map out what course of action you’re required to take under certain circumstances. Flow charts are great for Civil Procedure and Contracts.

  • TALK TO YOUR PROFESSORS. This may seem obvious, but the biggest difference between law school and undergrad is that being smart won’t always help you. The law is like a different language when you’re hearing it for the first time. This means that the right answer is often convoluted, and it won’t “just come to you eventually.” A lot of the times you have to get it wrong first, to understand where you went wrong. Talking to your professors before its too late helps you to avoid that pitfall. When you talk to your professors, you can talk through how you came to the answer that you did, and where you may have gone wrong in your thought process. Listen to them when you have them one-on-one; they’ve studied this material and presented it for years, they know it well.

Tidbit: Building and retaining relationships with professors helps you throughout law school, and even after. They’re great resources when you have questions about the bar, (My 1L Contracts professor gave me an entire Contracts Course lecture –for over four hours—to help me study for the bar!), they are great references, and they have been in your shoes before. 

  • USE YOUR RESOURCES. If you have an Office of Supportive Services that helps with exams, use them even if you’re doing well. Does your library keep old practice exams? Check out some of those. If you’re having trouble researching effectively, use your librarian. Lexis and Westlaw services cost tons of money, use it wisely while it is free!
  • TAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF. During the first-year of law school, you feel like you’re constantly putting out fires. Whether those fires are emotional, financial, or academic, there is a lot going on in your life, and you have to juggle a lot. There’s nothing more valuable than your peace of mind. Even if its only thirty minutes to an hour of whatever it is that eases your mind, do it. You’ll thank yourself later.

Suggestion: Learn to meditate. Being able to silence your mind and calm your thoughts relieves stress and tension. This is especially important considering you’re entering a profession plagued with high stress and high stakes.

  • BE NiCE AND RESIST THE URGE TO “CLIQUE UP.” Don’t forget that your law school peers are your very first “network.” A lot of work in the law is obtained through referrals. Picture this: a potential client comes to you with a trust issue, but you’re a commercial litigator. You know a person from law school who practices estate planning; are you going to recommend him or her? The first thing you’ll think about is that person’s reputation –were they nice, smart, humble? If your answer is no, then you’re unlikely to refer that client to them. Furthermore, by only hanging out with certain people, you’re limiting yourself. You never know who knows whom in law school. This applies, not just to your own 1L class, but to 2Ls and 3Ls as well. Second and third-year students have outlines but, if they have no idea who you are, you won’t get those outlines. Lastly, remember law school consists of small community. Everyone knows everyone else’s business, somehow. Your reputation, good or bad, will get around! 

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