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Professional Development

Dear 1Ls: You Belong Here

Melissa Stewart

Dear 1Ls: You Belong Here

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In the months leading up to my 1L year, it seemed like everyone in my life had opinions about the “best” way to approach law school. Some of that advice was truly terrible. But there were a few “golden nuggets” that shaped my 1L experience.

I loved 1L, and I hope this advice helps you make the most of your first year of law school.

You're in the Right Place

You belong here. You are as smart and as qualified as your classmates.

I remember my first day of orientation, the Dean spoke to our class. In her speech, she recounted all of the incredible accomplishments of my classmates. By the time she was finished, I was convinced that I was the only student who hadn’t cured a rare disease or worked for NASA.

Humility is good, but Imposter Syndrome can be debilitating.

You probably have many highly accomplished classmates. But whatever their credentials, you are all in the same class at the same school. Law school is a new experience for them, too.

A friend and mentor once told me, “At least allow yourself the confidence of a mediocre white man.” I promise you deserve to be here.

Your Life, Your System

Everyone has their own system for note-taking, briefing, outlining, etc. And everyone has opinions on the best way to do things. It can be helpful to get advice from 2Ls and 3Ls. But ultimately, the only thing that matters is that your system works for you.

In my first semester, my outlines were much shorter than many of my friends’ outlines. Other people had aesthetically-pleasing, color-coded outlines; mine were dull and compact. I panicked thinking I hadn’t done enough. What if I’d missed something?

But my ADHD brain doesn’t work that way. I need fewer details, or I get bogged down and distracted. Color-coding is distracting for me.

Find what works for you and stick with it.

Grades—your Best-Kept Secret

Don’t discuss your grades. Just don’t. It will save your friendships and your sanity.

My section decided early on that we would not discuss grades after our first semester exams. It was the best decision we could have made. Other sections were noticeably tense the day after grades were released, but we were able to move into the Spring semester without that cloud hanging over our heads.

After 1L, grades become a less fraught issue, and I now have friends who have seen my GPA. But whether you are elated or disappointed by your first-semester performance, nothing good can come from comparing yourself with others.

Be Generous and Kind. Always.

In 10 years, you won’t remember who bombed a cold call or who had the best GPA. But you’ll remember the student who volunteered their notes when you were sick, or who helped you understand the Rule Against Perpetuities. Be that person.

Not only will this make your experience at school better, but it is also an investment in your future. Your fellow students are your future colleagues, opposing counsel, and judges. Being a good classmate is networking, and it starts now.

Find Your People

Surround yourself with other people who value kindness over competition. Support them, celebrate their successes, and let them do the same for you.

If you can find those people, your 1L experience might just be great.