When I began law school, I was the first person in my family to ever do so. I did not know any lawyers or judges, I had never sat in a courtroom, and I knew very little about the practice of law. Therefore, I was excited to begin law school, but I was also very “green” and “naïve” about what I was getting myself into. If you fall into any of the categories I’ve just mentioned, or if you’re just looking for a few tips to help you navigate your first year of law school, this is written for you.
Classes, Exams, and Studying
• Your grades and exam scores are not a reflection of your intelligence. This sounds obvious but it's an area that many 1Ls struggle to understand. Law school exams and assignments require a level of thinking and reasoning that you have likely never done. Therefore, don't be surprised if your first few exam scores or graded assignments are not high. It takes time to adjust to the new demands of analytical thinking and reasoning in law school. Give yourself grace to grow, learn, and improve.
• If it's not broke, don't fix it. If you've successfully completed high school and college, chances are that you know which method of studying works best for you. When you get to law school, don't change it. If you studied best in the morning or at night, do the same thing in law school. If you learned best by reviewing flash cards as an undergrad, use flash cards in law school. If you learned best by studying with a group of people, then find a study group in law school. Law students often struggle during their first semester because they force themselves to develop new study habits just because they're in law school. While it is true that some habits may need to be tweaked to accommodate the demands of reading, remember to rely on the methods that contributed to your previous success.
• Study breaks are your friend. It's not uncommon to see rows of students studying in the law library for hours at end. The question, however, is why? It's a fact that our brains retain more information during short periods of time versus extended periods of time. When you do marathon sessions of studying, you'll generally feel drained and exhausted at the end of the day (which could be bad if you have a family or child to care for upon arriving home from the library). Conserve your energy and improve your memory retention by taking scheduled study breaks. A good method that works is taking a 5–10-minute break for every 50 minutes of study time.
Professors and Classmates
• Your professors aren't out to "get you." In college, we were always encouraged to make appointments with professors when we did not understand the class material. However, in law school things change, and we begin to think law professors are only there to see us fail. This could not be farther from the truth. When you're struggling to understand the class material, make an appointment with your professor immediately. He or she is more than willing to help you succeed.
• Get to know the 2Ls and 3Ls. Because you'll feel like a freshman in high school again, it may seem intimidating and uncomfortable to approach a 2L or 3L for assistance. However, these students can be your best allies. These students have already completed their first year of law school, and often have study materials, outlines, and tips to help you navigate your first year. Be intentional about seeking them out for advice and assistance.
Maximize Your Free Time
• Be practical during Christmas. Once you begin law school, you will learn that your list of needs will change. Suddenly, things like business suits, résumé paper, a printer, a brief case, a pad folio, a gas card, a handheld digital recorder, dental insurance, and health insurance will become necessities. The best time to ask for these things is during Christmas or your birthday. Most people don't ask for necessities during special holidays; therefore, your family and loved ones will generally be happy to oblige if they know it will contribute to your success.
• Begin applying for internships during Christmas break. Most students wait until the second semester to apply for summer internships and clerkships. However, by that time most positions are full and the pickings are slim. Take advantage of your Christmas break by applying for internships, sending out résumés and completing clerkship applications.
Plan for the Future
• Begin saving up bar study. When you're a 1L, the last thing on your mind is your 3L year, let alone the bar exam. However, your 1L year is the best time to begin saving money and setting aside funds for bar study. Though you'll likely have limited funds during your 1L year, it's a very good idea to use any extra money to create a savings account. When you graduate, you'll be able to use this money for gas, bar exam materials, food, and other necessities.
• Work outside the box. When applying for summer positions, most students will look into nonprofit organizations, law firms, and courts. Very few will consider magazine and book publishers, construction companies, fashion designers, music labels, religious organizations, or universities. However, each of these fields has a legal department. As a 1L, the most important experience you can get is actual work experience; therefore, expand your horizons and consider opportunities that are outside the norm. Even if a company or organization does not advertise legal internships, take initiative and ask for yourself. When you do that, you'll be surprised at the response that you receive. You may even land your dream job!
Your 1L year does not have to be confusing and overly stressful if you take the proper steps to stay informed, ask questions, and request assistance. There are many people rooting for your success, including the staff and alumni of the ABA JIOP Program. We hope you find this list to be helpful and encourage you to ask questions. For additional tips and advice, please feel free to post questions on our Facebook page and Twitter account (@JIOP_ABA). Happy sailing!