First Year Law School Advice: A Survival Guide
First Year Law School Advice: There is a ton of advice out there, between books, blogs and people, regarding law school. Before you determine what advice you want to follow or attach value to, our first recommendation is that you really think about why you are going to law school. While you may change your mind a handful of times regarding what you want to do once you are done with law school, you should have fairly clear reasoning or motivations for going to school. We recommend that you should spend some time thinking about this because it can be your motivating factor on a bad day or after a long week of law school classes. Knowing why you started your journey is good to keep you grounded and moving forward.
Also, by articulating why you are embarking on this journey it can help you decide what type of advice you value or believe, or what types of people you want to listen to regarding your law school career. Keep reading below for our first year law school advice.
First Year Law School Advice: A Survival Guide
1. Try to think about what you want to do after law school.
Law students commonly change their minds a few times about future career paths. However, going into school knowing, or at least having some idea, about what you want to do when you are done with school can be really helpful for a few reasons. First, it can help you figure out what your academic goals should be. We encounter plenty of students who want top law firm jobs. These students need to focus on getting top grades their first year! Similarly, we also encounter plenty of students who are simply happy to have been admitted to law school and are not necessarily seeking a job in a competitive field. We have also met others who have a passion for public interest work. Having some idea about what these students want to do after school can help direct them towards goals that they should be setting — whether that be grades, networking, or other goals.
If you don’t know what you want to do after law school or if you think you will change your mind a few times, you should make your goal to get the best grades you can. Given that 1L grades matter so much, doing well will ensure that you have as many opportunities as possible.
The second reason one of our pieces of advice to first year law students is to think about what they want to do after law school is because law school goes fast (believe it or not!). Having some career path direction will help guide you as to what groups you should get involved with or what types of lawyers/professionals you should try to network with.
In other words, this piece of first year law school advice, if boiled down, is to keep the big picture in mind. By keeping the big picture in mind, you will not lose sight of what motivates you and your overall goals.
2. Be prepared to change up your habits from undergrad.
This is arguably the most important tidbits of first year law school advice. If you got into law school you are likely very high functioning and likely highly intelligent. You also likely did well in undergrad. However, you cannot study the same way in law school that you did in undergrad! The students that figure this out sooner rather than later, are the ones that do better their first year. Be prepared to change your study habits and start implementing new habits early.
These habits include things like coming to class prepared. However, we do not advocate that you should spend hours briefing every case assigned by your professor. In reality, briefing every case not will further the goal of a high law school exam grade. Rather, you should use case brief material wisely to prepare for class efficiently. When in class you should take good notes. After class, you should review your notes and carve out time in your schedule to outline.
Another habit you should start implementing immediately is memorizing your outline. You should get familiar with some active review strategies that aid in your memorization too. Then, plan time to practice application of the law. Your law school exams will test if you know the law and if can apply it. Therefore, all of your habits and study strategies should be furthering these two things.
For more tips on how to excel in law school click here.
3. Take care of yourself—both physically and mentally.
You may read this heading and rolled your eyes. But I promise, one of the first things people do when stressed and overwhelmed is to not take care of themselves. They stop eating the right foods, they stop sleeping, and sometimes stop working out. Keep this in mind as the first semester of law school progresses. You will notice people are frequently sick or gain/lose weight.
To avoid these issues, one of our pieces of first year law school advice is to make sure that you are getting sleep. If you feel compelled to stay up late finishing your reading or work, maybe you should consider putting in more hours on the weekend so that you can get decent sleep during the week. If you find yourself crunched on time and unable to plan or make healthy meals look into university dining options or try to carve out time on the weekend to grocery shop so that you have healthy options readily available.
This is also a great time to lean on family that wants to help you but doesn’t really know how. Seek out a counselor if you start to feel really anxious or depressed. Many programs have a confidential program a few times a month where you can talk to a professional and maybe find some relief. Otherwise, talk to a non-law school friend or family member. You may find that a conversation or a vent session can provide some insight or relief. Lastly, many law students often find that working out is a great stress reliever and work that into their weekly schedule as an essential element to their overall health.
4. Don’t procrastinate!
This tip goes hand-in-hand with tip number 2 (above). We find that procrastination leads to many common first year law students issues. This is especially true with legal research and writing assignments and outlining. In reality, legal research and writing is one of the most important classes you will take in your law school career (if not THE most important class). Yet, the majority of students put off the assignments until the last minute. This results in a poor-quality work product and likely average to poor grade. Then, students get back their grade and feel bad about themselves. When in reality, if they had put in the time a little each week, as directed by their professor, they likely would’ve performed better and received a higher grade.
When it comes to outlining, for some reason law students set an arbitrary date to start this process. There is some terrible miscommunication out there telling law students that it is pointless to start outlining early. When in reality, it makes ZERO sense to wait to outline. Start outlining early! By not procrastinating and by starting early, you will know the material SO much better and have ample time to actually practice application of the law. This will all equate to a higher grade. Higher grades equate to less stress and more opportunities.
We really truly believe, based on our personal experiences and experiences with other law students, that procrastination is the root of most law school problems. Try to avoid this as much as possible.
5. Get to know your professors and peers, as the legal world is a small community.
Lastly, law school is actually quite short and will go by quick in the grand scheme of things. So, get to know your fellow classmates and professors. This means that you should go to some social events and get involved in a group or club. If you get involved in extracurriculars and make friends, law school is much more enjoyable. However, be sure if you are participating in social events that you act professional. Don’t put yourself in a position to say something that you regret later. While the event may be over, those types of interactions last forever.
Hopefully these tips for your first year law school advice are helpful! For more tips on how to succeed in law school click here.
Meagan Jabbori, a JD Advising bar exam tutor and course instructor, wrote this post. Meagan scored in the 96th percentile on the Uniform Bar Exam. She has helped hundreds of students pass the bar exam and the MPRE.
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Ashley Heidemann is the owner and founder of JD Advising. Ms. Heidemann scored over a 180 on the Michigan Bar Exam in February of 2011 after graduating as the #1 student in her law school class of over 200 students in 2011. She, as well as a team of others, offer bar exam courses, seminars, and private tutoring for bar exam students nationwide. This includes services for the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) and Michigan bar exam. Please click here to contact her company, with any questions.