Ms. JD

The Law School Don’ts

Ed Note: This summer, Ms. JD solicited advice from students across the country. Here are some of the law school “don’ts.”

Thinking about getting a pet? A student at the University of Oregon School of Law warns:

Don’t do it! You will live in the law school your first year, moving only between your classes, the library, and your bed. Don’t do it!

Joanna L. Visser, University of Pennsylvania Law School, offers this piece of advice:

Don't be a stress-magnet. Starting law school is a stressful and intimidating experience for everyone. Because of the shared anxiety, it is possible for a herd mentality to form. It is extremely unproductive to allow other people's outward expressions of anxiety add to your own stress. While it may be tempting to commiserate with your classmates, hearing how late they stayed up studying, or how much longer their outline is than yours, will only make you panic. Be collegial, but avoid internalizing other people's burdens.

A student at Harvard says that missing class is a definite don’t:

Don’t miss class! This is not like undergrad, where you could easily make up whatever you missed.  Some days are more important than others, but you will invariably find that no matter what day you missed, you missed something important.  Remember that your first year of law school is a series of building blocks.  Every day and every class builds on previous lessons, and you don’t want to miss one of the bricks in your foundation.

A University of Connecticut School of Law student writes:

Don't take yourself and law school too seriously. If you take it too seriously, you'll just end up with white hairs, less hair on your head, permanent heartburn from all the cups of coffee, and higher annual eye prescriptions. All of this from one month's work of preparing for finals. (Take this advice from someone who embarrassingly fainted in the library during finals and had to be taken out in a gurney to the ambulance).

A UC Davis student reminds us not to sweat the small stuff:

Don’t sweat the mistakes! After my first semester, it dawned on me. No matter what I say in class, the Professor has heard something much more unintelligent AND something much more intelligent. The only person who remembers days later how smart or how silly your comments are is you. So don’t fret when you haven’t anticipated every question a Professor tosses your way. Just take a deep breath and try to learn something!

Margaret B. Flanagan, University of Connecticut School of Law, offers advice on studying:

Don’t spend every minute studying! In reality, leading a balanced life is crucially important.  You will see people around you spending every minute in the library and generally stressing everyone out.  However, if you keep up throughout the semester, there's no reason to overdo it.  You'll just end up frustrated and burned out.  I recommend the same around exam time, believe it or not.  Review your materials, ask questions of the professors, and don't let other people's habits get to you!  Go to the gym, see a movie, read a novel: it will keep you from losing sight of the rest of your life.

And, finally, Nicole Nelson, University of Illinois, writes that listening to everyone’s advice might be one of the biggest don’ts of all:

Don’t listen to anyone’s advice… As a 1L, I had no idea how to sift through all of the advice I was given. However, as I continued through law school, I learned things on my own. I realized my perceptions of things were completely different from those who had advised me--I discovered my own truths. As a mentor, I have often hesitated and even refused to give my mentees advice, instead I encourage them to discover their own experience and find what is true for them.  Of course, if anyone has questions along the way, never hesitate to ask.  But as far as the journey goes, well, you have to discover that on your own.




All of these tips are great…. except that I totally disagree that law school is a bad time to get a pet.  My pets are such great stress relief for me - it always felt good to come home to them knowing they thought I was the greatest even though I’d given a totally stupid answer in crim law or bombed the contracts exam.  I would add one caveat- getting a pet will be fine as long as you are ok with studying at home more.  I was still able to spend plenty of time with my animals because I did my studying on my couch instead of in the library.  If you are someone who can only study in the library, best to wait until at least 2L year to get a pet.


I agree that my dog was great to have during 1L. I did feel guilted into studying at home more often, but that also meant I could wear comfy pjs and have the lights and music just the way I wanted.   Plus, I do have an automatic feeder for her in case I’m not home at a feeding time.   Aside from a sympathetic being who likes you no matter what your GPA is, another good part is that because I had to walk her at least once a day, I was forced to get some good stress-relieving exercise of my own.
That said… I’m still not a for of getting a new pet when starting law school. If you already have one, definitely keep it. Once you’re settled maybe look into getting an older, trained pet. Most likely a 1L schedule is too spread out to allow you to run home often enough to house break a new puppy.


Don’t try to “specialize” in a particular area of the law. Concentrate on taking courses and studying with professors and other students that subject you to the most varied approaches to the law your school has to offer. During your career, every substantive area in which you practice will relatively quickly become commoditized and routine. To maintain your intellectual, professional and personal vivacity you will always need to anticipate the next area of specialization or sub-specialization that has a bleeding edge.

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