If you were leaving your home for a month, you’d prepare, right? You’d stop the mail, have someone come by to water the plants, etc. Your first year of law school can also feel a lot like you’ve walked away from your “normal life” for a while. It’s not so much a vacation as it is a visit to another planet.
So, think about what steps you must take to make sure your normal life is still in working order when you return to it at the end of your first semester. Some things—an occasional activity, a long-term project—can easily be set aside and picked up again on your return. Others, like your mental health, your closest relationships, or a defining passion, can’t be neglected for as long.
A bit of planning now, while you, your significant other, your friends and your family are still excited about your new adventure, can make life much easier once you’re in the middle of law school studies.
Recruit your squad
Share the good news with all your favorite people, but don’t stop there. You probably have several people in your life who are genuinely excited for you, and who would love to know how they might support you. So, enlist their help.
You are about to embark on a journey that will take considerable reserves of time and energy. Your squad is your pit crew, the people who can replenish those reserves. Whether it’s sending food over when your fridge is bare, taking you out for a walk when you’ve spent too much time in the library, or just listening as you unload after a long day, a good squad is invaluable. Not only will you need their support, but you’ll need their understanding.
During your first year, you will not have much in the way of free time. You will likely miss a call or a text, and you just might not make it home for that bachelorette party. Prepare your squad for this, ask for their support and understanding (and promise to reserve some quality time for them after finals). Make them a part of your success.
Get in the zone
Law school work has a way of seeping into all corners of your life, if you let it. A good first step to control the workload, rather than letting it control you, is to designate a “study zone” for school work, whether that’s reading cases, writing an appellate memo, or studying for finals.
If you are able to carve out a dedicated physical space, even just a tiny corner, pick a quiet spot where you can minimize distraction. A desk or table with a comfortable chair would be nice, and don’t forget to set aside an area for all those case books and binders. It doesn’t matter how little space you have to work with, but it’s helpful to pick one spot as your “study zone,” reserved just for law school work.
If you don’t have this space at home, choose a spot in the library or elsewhere on campus and make that your regular study zone. You’ll work more efficiently if you get in the habit of leaving the world (and social media) outside when you step into your zone.
Once the semester begins, it’s easy to feel that your work is never “finished” because there’s always something more you could be doing. To stay sane, you have to be able to step away from your work when you’re done for the day. Confining your books, notes and laptop to the “study zone” will help you remember to leave that work behind when you leave the zone. Many law schools have lockers, and swinging that locker shut after an evening in the library can be a satisfying way to shift gears.
Once you’ve designated your zone, outfit it with something that makes you happy—a photo, a memento—something that reminds you of life outside law school and the squad that’s pulling for you. A reminder of what motivated you to go to law school is even better (you wouldn’t be the only 1L with a “Notorious RBG” coffee mug).
Finally, if necessary, and if your finances allow, upgrade your technology. There’s no need to go out and get the latest and greatest, but if you know your laptop or your phone is on its last legs, don’t wait until it crashes; replace it now. At a minimum, download its latest software update and make sure you have a plan to back up your work regularly.
Before you hit the road for a cross-country trip in your 1997 Corolla, you’d take it in for a check-up. Similarly, you should get your body and mind into their best shape to prosper in the year ahead.
Try to get any annual medical or dental appointments out of the way now, while you have a bit more free time. It’s no secret that law school (and legal practice) is uniquely stressful, so be sure to support your own mental health. Yoga and meditation can be helpful, but you’re more likely to benefit if you establish a regular practice before you start school. If you work with a therapist, and you’re moving, inquire about telemedicine or a referral to someone nearer your law school.
Finally, make sure you have an adequate supply of all necessary medications, and if you’re moving to a new state, scope out a new pharmacy once you get housing in place. Then, don’t forget to transfer your prescription there. You don’t want to discover that your prescription has run out just as you hit midterms.
TL;DR (Too long, didn’t read)
In the months remaining before classes begin, spend a little time each day reading something that is not on a screen. Novels, non-fiction, long-form articles—whatever you like. We live in a world of information communicated in sound bites, but much of your law school reading will involve long, challenging text. Harness the power of habit by building your ability to read with a deeper focus and sustained attention now. You will be building this skill throughout your 1L year, but it’s much more fun to do so with a page-turning thriller than with Marbury v. Madison.
Finally, relax. Enjoy the free time you have now, and allow yourself to take pride in being accepted. Congratulations. We look forward to seeing you on campus.