Congratulations! Law school is a big deal, 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 with these articles I can help make it a little easier than I had it.
After patting yourself on the back, if you have not yet, then plan on taking a break from everything (Yes, 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 go sit by the pool and pleasure read, do Sudoku, dominate Candy Crush, or do whatever you do to unwind, do it! You are about to embark in a profession that takes very few breaks so take one while you have a chance.
Most law schools have orientation somewhere between middle to the end of August and this article intends to assist in preparing for the remainder of summer (last week of July) with an eye towards walking in the door prepared to hit the ground running on day one.
Books to read
After spending ten 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. A lot of them said the same things just in a different order but the two most cogent 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 a study methods, case briefing, outlining, supplement use, and even more in depth advice about everything discusses in this and future articles. I did not follow it verbatim, but overall I followed the author’s advice and it worked well for me.
I used bound notebooks, some of peers used legal pads, whatever is your preference but make sure you have supplies to take hand written notes. Lots of pens that are comfortable to spend an hour to two-hour a 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. Of all the classes from my 1L year, the class that I could use a computer during class, was the class I did the worst in.
Correlation does not prove causation, but when I reflected after the semester, that class I just did not focus as well. It was just distracting to have a window to the outside world while class was going on. I attest that I checked and responded to emails, I researched odd things said in class, and then I took notes. This was disrespectful to my professor and was not the correct way to be successful for 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 merely acting as a stenographer. There have been lots of studies on this and the academic community is pushing more towards hand writing notes and my own performance and experience supports 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. Shop around for sure. To plug the ABA, if you sign up for premium, you will get a discount on books depending on the amount you spend. New technology has led to some great innovations in textbooks. Some books have a cool feature that allow 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 hardcopy, 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, just 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 make sure to add those.
After you have the firm times of class and seminars set aside, you need to begin planning when you are going to 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 you will want to be flexible (fun/working out). It will be easier to look at the whole semester and the forest now before you are in the trees on a week to week basis if you have planned the major things.
1L of a Ride and Law School Confidential will go into much greater detail of the nitty gritty of what to expect and how to perform well. The best advice I can give, is plan out as much of your life, especially in November and December as you can. That way when you are actually doing your day to day, you can spend as much brain power on the law as you can.
Most importantly, get excited! Law school is an interesting place and you will hear from people that have a wide variety of perspectives and you will learn fascinating things.
I hope this was valuable for you. Stay tuned for part two coming soon!