Look to your left. Now look to your right. Three years from now, these people will be colleagues and friends. Today’s law school isn’t the law school of “The Paper Chase.” Getting into law school is difficult, and if you’re here, you can make it through.
But law school truly is a world apart from the public and the law. It’s the limbo between a free-wheeling undergraduate experience and the weighty future world of advocating for clients who will, one day, rely on us to give them advice, defend their liberties, and pursue their dreams.
Despite the initial impression, law school passes very quickly. You have 36-48 months to ponder the big ideas, learn to think about the law and what sort of lawyer you want to be, and build a network outside law school for your first job. We’re usually too busy being law students to truly appreciate the process sometimes.
So here are some 1L pro tips to keep this difficult process in context, help you appreciate the next three years, and set yourself up for a successful first job search.
Buy a planner, download a digital calendar, or do both. Either way, it’s time to get organized. Your final exams are already scheduled. Look up the dates. Mark them on your calendar.
Now begin working backward. Your semester is likely 14 weeks long. This isn’t much time to get organized. Break your study time into chunks for outlining and taking practice tests. Give each class its own color.
Now block out times for each of those tasks. Make sure you stick to the blocking pattern and avoid focusing on the class that’s fun or the one that comes naturally to you.
What’s outlining? Think of outlining as compiling your notes and then summarizing the material into digestible chunks. My civil procedure professor suggested that we think about concepts in baskets. These baskets are legal concepts that you keep separate from one another, and you can dip into them as needed.
Then summarize those summaries. Then keep summarizing those summaries until you have a bare-bones guide to everything the professor covered— or said will be on the test (sometimes the two aren’t entirely the same thing).
By the end, your goal should be having a single page you can review and refer to during the final. Careful planning will go a long way.
Practice tests are fact patterns to which you’ll apply the case law and analyses from your outlines. You can find a series of facts almost anywhere: Examples & Explanations is a common 1L go-to for testing your knowledge.
It’s best not to buy any books or supplements before visiting your law library and learning what resources it already has. First, go to the reference desk and ask about books with practice tests. It’s likely the library will have books on reserve.
Concentrate on yourself, too
Continue pursuing what you love while in law school. Do you have a hobby you enjoy? Yoga? Hiking? Watching movies? Make some time to do these things. Law school is all-consuming. Few things are more important than maintaining a sense of balance.
Next come up with an eating plan. Easy meal planning will be key during your first semester. The joys of using a slow cooker or mass-meal planning will become readily apparent as you get deeper into the semester. Invest in a Crock-Pot, maybe even an Instant Pot. Meal prepping will go a long way toward reducing the number of times you eat out or skip meals altogether.
A popular tip for quick meals: smoothies. Fruit and vegetable smoothies are a fast and easy way to get vegetables as you sift through free pizza every lunchtime.
Finally, don’t become too dependent on caffeine. You’ll hate yourself during finals if you built up an immunity during the semester. The later the semester progresses, the less your body will react to caffeine. Do yourself a favor and use alternatives. Green tea may be easier on you than coffee. Avoid the energy drinks—just don’t.
Also think about volunteering. Get outside the law school. At my school, the first-year students who participated in pro bono events were able to maintain a life inside and outside the law school. At the same time, the law school will probably offer you chances to volunteer with lawyers, at courthouses, and even with such places as domestic violence shelters. This means you can volunteer while also gaining invaluable experience.
Moreover, volunteering will help keep your first year in perspective. Law school can seem like the totality of the legal world. It’s not.
Beyond this first year
You’re probably already thinking about what comes after your first year. Time is a funny thing in law school. At times, it can feel frozen, and at other times, it’ll feel like you’re being catapulted through time itself at breakneck speed (this begins in week 11 or 12, usually).
You’re probably also already thinking about clerkships (you gunner, you). Keep in mind some important OSCAR updates. For the graduating class of 2021, your applications open June 15, 2020. Judges won’t accept applications or recommendations, conduct interviews, or make offers before then. Second-years won’t even have access until Feb. 5, 2020.
While you might be thinking about how to prepare for your summer job hunt, my advice is to focus just on this first semester. However, keep in the back of your mind that you’ll need to start applying for jobs after your first-semester grades come out. In your extra time, start gathering your materials.
Visit your professors to build rapport with them (you may need some references). Plan to cast a wide net and apply to everything through firms, nonprofits, and government agencies.
Here’s what you shouldn’t spend too much time planning now: what comes after law school. Just focus on your classes. Your first-year courses are the foundational, formative classes of your legal education. It’s essential to be fully present in the courses you’re taking. But if you’re really bored, work on your résumé. January comes at you fast!
In a short period of time, you’ll be a lawyer. Until then, enjoy law school. Enjoy the process, the people, and the law. But enjoying law school takes a little bit of planning.