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Student Essentials

A Basic Guide to Help You Prepare for Your 1L Year

John Fortin


  • This article offers advice to prepare pre-law-school students for their first semester in law school. 
A Basic Guide to Help You Prepare for Your 1L Year

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Law school is a big deal, and there is a lot of doom and gloom in the media about attending law school based on the market and the employment outcomes. I cannot speak for all my peers, but I am incredibly happy with my decision to take on the challenge of law school, and I hope my advice can help make it a little easier for you than I had it.

Plan on taking a break from everything for at least 72 hours, if not a week, before the semester begins. If you can afford to go to a destination and relax, great! If you can only afford to sit by the pool and pleasure read, do it! You are about to embark on a profession that takes few breaks, so take one while you can.

Most law schools have orientation somewhere between the middle to the end of August, and this article intends to assist in preparing for the remainder of summer (the last week of July) to walk in the door prepared to hit the ground running on day one.

Books to Read

After spending 10 years in the military, I prefer to know the enemy I am about to face, so I got my hands on every “You are going to law school: Here is everything you need to know” books. Many said the same things differently, but the two most influential books, 1L of a Ride and Law School Confidential, I highly recommend reading, re-reading, and keeping them near you during 1L year.

1L of a Ride gives a great perspective from a professor about the Socratic method and what to do and what not to do. Law School Confidential gives a perspective from a student and provides study methods, case briefing, outlining, supplement use, and more. I did not follow it verbatim, but I followed the author’s advice overall, and it worked well for me.


Make sure you have supplies to take handwritten notes. I used bound notebooks, and some of my peers used legal pads, whatever your preference—lots of comfortable pens for an hour- to two-hour class taking constant notes. You will also need highlighters (especially if you follow Law School Confidential case briefing method) and colored tabs. You will need a computer to complete your assignments and take your exams, but I would not plan on taking your computer out when you are in class.

Some schools and professors do not allow computers in class, while some do—my advice. Do not use your computer at all in class! Research suggests computers hurt the learning process. During my 1L year, I did the worst in the class where I was allowed to use a computer. 

After reflection, I realized I didn’t focus as well in that class. It was distracting to have a window to the outside world during class. I attest that I checked and responded to emails and researched odd things said in class before taking notes. This was disrespectful to my professor, and I was unsuccessful in class.

Get rid of the electronics and focus on what your peers and the professor discuss. Writing out your notes will require you to think about how you are taking notes and not acting as a stenographer. There have been lots of studies on this, and the academic community is pushing more toward handwriting notes, and my own performance and experience support writing over typing.

Planning for the First Semester

In the weeks leading up to orientation and day one, you should get your syllabus, required books, and schedule.


Amazon, your school book store, and the publisher themselves will sell the books. If you sign up for an ABA Law Student Division Premium Membership, you will receive discounts on some books and study aids.

New technology has led to some great innovations in textbooks. Some books have a cool feature that allows you to input the code for the book, and then you can open it up on your devices or tablets.

It is a cool feature that I used a couple of times, but I prefer the hard copy, so I did not take advantage of these books as much as some of my peers. But if you prefer this delivery method and it works for you, then great. I also always bought new books because I found reading through other people’s highlights and thoughts confusing. This is your choice; make sure you get your books with at least the weekend to spare before classes begin.


I would get on whatever calendar system you prefer and put in every class, reading, and assignment due over the semester as soon as you get it. Additionally, I would look at your career services calendar for the semester and begin placing the different seminars that look interesting—they all should look interesting—into your calendar. As the different student groups and guest speakers are announced, add those.

After you set aside the firm times of class and seminars, you need to begin planning when you will do your reading, work out, eat, do something non-law related, etc. You will want to have some of this set in stone (reading) for routine. Some of you will want to be flexible (fun/working out). It will be easier to look at and plan the whole semester rather than waiting and doing it on a week-to-week basis.

My best advice is to plan out as much of your life, especially in November and December, as possible. That way, when you do your day-to-day, you can spend as much brain power on the law as possible.

Law school is an interesting place, and you will hear from people with various perspectives.