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How to make the most of your 1L year

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The entrance to New York University School of Law in Manhattan.

Law school is unlike any other academic experience you’ve ever been a part of. There will be times when you become so frustrated that you consider throwing in the towel. Other times, you may feel like you’ve chosen the wrong profession. At the end of the day, however, it’s important to know that you are not alone.

Law school is tough. It’s designed that way. Your teachers are going to challenge you every step of the way. This process will help you to develop a sharp, analytical legal mind. You’ll know how to analyze complex information and argue any position (even if you don’t necessarily agree with it). As a result, you’ll have developed from a tentative 1L into a confident legal scholar.

As you prepare for your 1L year it is easy to experience a wide range of emotion. You may be excited and confident that you’ll be top of your class. You may be nervous after hearing frightening tales from friends who have already gone through law school. You may not really know what to think. Whatever the case, it’s important to hit the ground running when you show up for your first semester of law school.

Here’s what you can do to prepare for your 1L year to make your transition into law school as easy as possible. The more prepared you are, the better your law school experience will be.

Talk with former and current law school students

One of the best things you can do before you start your 1L year is to speak with current and former students at your school. Every law school is slightly different. Each has its own customs, programs, student groups, resources, and atmosphere. Many of the things you’ll need to know to get the most out of your law school experience won’t be in the brochure or mentioned during orientation. You’ll need to get the information from students who have experienced it first-hand.

Learn how to brief a case properly

One of the most important skills you’ll need throughout law school is the ability to brief a case. Briefing a case involves extracting the most important information from a court decision. This is typically done in an outline or bullet point form. You’ll need to identify the:

  • Facts of the case
  • Legal issue(s)
  • Holding(s)
  • Rationale, and
  • Separate opinions.

Some professors may encourage you to include procedural history or other details.

When you first start to brief cases it may be a bit time-consuming. However, it will become second nature over time. Why do law students brief court cases? You’re going to read a lot of cases. A lot. Remembering the specifics of each case can be difficult. Briefing your cases allows you to learn how to dissect a legal issue properly and create a short outline that can be used as a reference tool. You can typically use your brief when you are answering questions in class. It’s a lot easier to get information from a well-written case brief than trying to scan a case for specific details. You’ll thank yourself for putting so much time and energy into learning how to brief a case properly.

Minimize unnecessary distractions

Law school will require a great deal of your time. The more of your focus and energy that you can commit to school, the better your experience will be. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have a life outside of school. Many 1L students have families, jobs, and other obligations that must be juggled with school. However, you can take the initiative to minimize unnecessary distractions.

What are unnecessary distractions? Think about giving up subscriptions to gaming services, streaming platforms, and other forms of entertainment. While it will be important to unwind from time to time, having endless entertainment at your fingertips every hour of the day can be a detriment to your studies. Instead of binge-watching a new series, consider engaging in law school activities. Join student groups, spend time with other students, and focus on activities that will enhance your law school experience.

Read

If there’s one thing you can do to prepare for your 1L year it is to read. You’ll be reading a lot in law school. You don’t have to read anything heavy or important. The important thing is to prepare your mind, eyes, and body for the hours and hours and hours of reading that you’ll be doing over the next three (or four) years. The more you read, the faster your comprehension will become. Your eyes will become used to the strain that can be associated with reading. As you read, you can also identify the places in which enjoy reading the most. Maybe it’s a local cafe, or perhaps you need the quiet of a library. Perhaps you need to solace of your own home to really comprehend what you’re taking in. Take the time to learn these things about yourself now.

Review your syllabi and prepare for the first day of class

You’ll probably receive some course documents and a syllabus for each of the classes in which you’re enrolled. Don’t simply assume that you can wait until the first day of class to review this information. You’re probably accustomed to the first day of school being a “get to know you” kind of day. Law school is different. On your very first day of class, you will jump right into the material. Your teachers may briefly introduce themselves and review some of the syllabus, but you will be expected to be prepared to participate.

Your syllabus is essentially a map of the semester. There will be assigned reading for every class. Find the assignments for your first class, read all cases that have been assigned, and try to write your first case briefs. Most law schools use the Socratic Method. This involves calling on students at random to discuss the case at hand. Many times, you’ll be asked to handle an entire case by yourself. The professor will ask you to recite the facts of a case, identify the issue, and answer questions. This is something that you’ll learn to do well as you progress through your first year of law school. It’s important to prepare for each and every class, beginning with the very first class of your 1L semester, because there’s always a chance you’ll be the very first student chosen to answer questions.

Law school will be an exciting, challenging, and rewarding experience. You can make the most out of it by preparing as best you can for your 1L year. In the end, you’ll thank yourself for putting in the hard work ahead of time.

Boris Lavent Boris Lavent, founding partner of Lavent Law, is a personal injury attorney in Miami, Florida. Since graduating from the University of Chicago School of Law in 2014, Boris has repeatedly been recognized as one of the top young trial attorneys in the nation.