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Keep your eyes on the whole law school pizza


Grades are the pizza crust of law school.  Some people will spend extra resources making the crust special – stuffed, thin, garlic.  Some people will allocate too few resources and end up with too little crust altogether.  But regardless of the quality of the crust, it is of little use standing alone.  Grades are the beginning, the base to a successful law school career, but are by no means the entire pie.  Here, we address five elements for a successful 1L year and how to successfully achieve these elements.

Earn top grades in your 1L year

Because of the law school curve, there is only one way to earn top grades your 1L year – you must score better than a majority of your peers on each final exam. To do so, you must do more than learn the material completely, as every admitted student will be capable of learning the material presented.  You must learn to take a law school final exam. In other words, learn to apply law to facts that may or may not fit nicely. This means doing more than memorizing or outlining; it requires practice of exam writing itself. Therefore, do not only study the material as it is presented in class, but also practice writing law school exams on the material. (Law School Exam Hint: Never assume any inference is so obvious that it does not need to be written down.)

Unfortunately, the reality is that not everyone will end up at the top of his or her class academically.  But whether or not you do, a successful 1L year requires focus on a few other elements.

Get involved

Obviously it is important to be involved in activities that you are interested in.  However, it is also prudent to be involved in activities that you are interested in and that reflect something significant about you as a potential employee because realistically most students attend law school to get a legal job.  So take the extra step and apply to be involved in your interests in a legal capacity.  If you enjoy art, then go beyond visiting museums and creating art projects. Starting your 1L year, apply to intern in the legal departments at local museums or art-related non-profits.  In other words, demonstrate to future employers that you are both interested in practicing law and you bring your passions to legal work.

Build relationships

Now this sounds a lot like networking.  However, networking is only one aspect of building relationships.  Building strong relationships starts with your self; it starts with building yourself into a person with integrity and faith, tenacity and kindness.  Only when you are making an effort to be a better version of yourself can you begin to build meaningful relationships with others.  I cannot offer advice on how to improve yourself, but I can offer advice on the next step of relationship building: presence.  Be present.  Attend formal networking events.  Go to law school socials.  Join clubs.  You cannot build relationships if you do not make a genuine effort to meet people.  Once you are present, ask for help.  Be embarrassed or afraid to ask, but push through that and ask.  Ask questions about how to improve yourself, your law school experience, your career opportunities, and anything else you have questions about.


1L is generally regarded as the most difficult, strenuous year of a student’s education.  However, it is also likely one of the last years that your main obligation is academic- cherish this.  Outside of a few set class hours, you have the opportunity to organize your time and life.  Of course you must study hard, but make time for the activities and people that matter to you.  Find something that gives you the “I can do this” feeling, and then try to do that something every day.  Again, no matter how hard you study, it all boils down to one exam per class.  If you spend the entire semester working yourself into or allowing yourself to slip into an anxiety-ridden wreck, then you will not be able to perform your best on your exams.  So, when you are stressed out, it is okay to put down your study materials and take a break.  A break is not wasted time.

Remember to stay humble

One year of law school does not make you a smarter, cooler, or better person than anybody else.  In fact, neither will three years, nor a long legal career.  Be proud of your accomplishment, but please do not forget to respect others.  How you treat others not only influences the world we live in, but also how others will perceive you.

Ultimately, there is no magic formula or perfect guarantee of law school success.  But studying hard, getting involved and building relationships while staying relaxed and humble will likely be a start in the right direction.

Aura Gilham Aura Gilham is a 2L at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. She is a member of the Southern California Law Review and wrote a note on the interaction of race and politics during the recent election.