worried about starting law school, relieve bar exam stressReady, Set, Start!- Gearing Up For Your First Week of Law School

This advice comes from a legal writing professor who has helped several students through orientation and through the first week of law school! She has seen both the best way to approach it as well as mistakes that students commonly make! We hope that you enjoy her advice and article!

Have you ever had a week which was so busy for you—that by the time Friday arrived, you wondered how you made it through?  That is how you will feel following your first week of law school. Therefore, let’s take a glimpse at what you can expect during your first ‘official’ week.

Remember Orientation week is different than your first “official” week.

First, just to clarify, I use the word ‘official’ because a week prior to the formal start of classes, you will have an ‘Orientation’ week. Orientation is typically three to four days long. During that week, you will likely have an introduction to your Legal Research and Writing course. You will learn about the U.S. court system, what a ‘case/court opinion’ is, and how to ‘synthesize’ cases. In addition, you will learn about your new law school—i.e., everything from student organizations and clubs to strategies for succeeding during your first year. You will also have a chance to meet your new classmates, law school faculty and staff, as you attend numerous social events.

Orientation is a great time to take stock of all of the available opportunities and experiences which your new law school offers.  Make a point of going to as many of these social functions as you can.   It is a great way of learning more about your law school community, assessing how/where you want to get involved, and making some new friends in the process.

During your first official week, you will dive right in! Here is some advice:

1. Check your course pages to make sure you do the reading!

Now—as for your first week of law school–what can you expect?  You will be attending all of your classes. Thus, many, if not all of your professors will assign reading for the week. Your professor may email the class as a whole, and/or he/she may have a ‘course page’ for the class. Be sure to look on the professor’s ‘course page’ (many times this is found on the ‘TWEN’ page of Westlaw, or on the ‘Lexis’ course page).

2. Purchase your textbooks (and see if you can get them cheaper!)

Of course, you will want to purchase the required texts for each of your classes. Just as in undergrad, law school books are very expensive. Try to go to online sites where you can compare prices for renting and buying used books (e.g. Amazon, Campusbookrentals.com; Barristerbooks.com; and  Lawbooksforless.com)

3. Complete all of your reading — and do it early.

Make sure that you complete all of your reading before classes start. Leave extra time to complete the reading your first week. Cases may seem difficult. Indeed, they are full of new language, and a new way of thinking. (While we don’t think you should spend your entire semester obsessing over cases, it is important to leave yourself extra time to get acquainted with the cases as well as how your professor covers them in class.)

4. Be open-minded in terms of what approach works for you.

You will be taking in a lot of information during this first week.  And so, here is an important tip for you. Do not expect yourself to know how you should/will take notes in preparing for class.  This is going to be a process of actually learning how you learn best.  And, that process takes time.  Also, this is your process of how you learn.  You will hear a million and one ways that your classmates take notes and prepare for class. You have to remember to listen to your own voice in terms of what works for you. With that said, during your first week of school, you may take detailed, copious notes for each class. By November however, you may find that you do not need that much.

You may also find that during the first couple of weeks, you force yourself to wake early, and review class notes in preparing for the day’s classes.  By late September however, you may finally discover or admit that you are not a morning person, and that for you, it is better to stay up late the night before (reading and preparing for the next day) and sleep a little later in the morning so that you can feel rested and awake through all of your classes.  The key take-away here —be patient with yourself and how you learn and retain information best.

5. Meet others! Especially 2Ls and 3Ls!

During your first week of classes, you will also see and hopefully meet some of the second and third year law students. Your seasoned school mates are a wealth of information. They can tell you about certain professors—e.g. –what he/she expects in terms of your participation during class, the ‘teaching style’ of the particular professor, the ‘pace’ of the professor’s classes in terms of the amount of material covered. And, as the semester progresses, your 2 and 3L colleagues can also give you a sense of the type of final exams that each professor favors.

6. Pay attention to the syllabus and create a study plan right off the bat. 

Each of your professors will also provide you with a syllabus for your classes. You want to take some time and read through each course syllabus during this first week.  This is important so that you can begin to organize your weeks ahead.  For example, you may have a Non-Research Memo due in Legal Writing on one day, and a midterm exam in your Property class on the next day. It is good to know this well in advance so that you can start to fill in a calendar on your phone (or paper) of major due dates for the first semester. You will find that staying organized is very important and another stress reducer overall.

7. Don’t skip any classes!

As you attend your classes, you will also quickly learn about the importance of attendance. Most, if not all of your professors will have a strict attendance policy for class.  Make sure that you understand what that is (again, read your syllabi carefully) and plan to make it a point of arriving to your classes at least five to ten minutes early.

8. Expect to be called on — and remember it is a learning process!

In addition, do not be surprised if your professors actually call on your in class during the first week.  Some professors will call on students at random. Others may call on students in alphabetical order, as he/she works his/her way through the attendance sheet. Finally, there are some professors who will ask for ‘volunteers’ to answer questions. Regardless of the approach your professors will employ, you want to be prepared, and ready to participate.  Now, can that be a little nerve wracking—make you a bit nervous, or a lot nervous? Sure—but it is alright!  Remember that everyone is in the same 1L boat, you will be just fine, and that all of this is just a part of the learning process in law school.

To read some of our Socratic method tips, click here. Read another post on how to survive the Socratic method, here.

9. Get involved, but don’t go crazy!

As mentioned above, during your first week of classes, you will learn a lot about the various students groups and clubs. It is great to get involved. But, be realistic with yourself.  You want to have a ‘balanced’ law school life. You therefore will have to determine how many extracurricular activities you can participate in—in light of your course load and the time you have available.

10. Figure out where everything (physically) is.

Here are a couple of other points that you will want to keep in mind. This may sound simplistic, but during your first week, you will also be learning your way around your law school—literally. Take some stress away from yourself by scoping out where classrooms, school offices, vending machines, student lounges, etc. are located before the semester gets in full swing.  In addition, become curious about the larger campus/community around you. Investigate the local area with a friend or new classmate(s) so that you can discover nearby restaurants, grocery stores, and of course….Starbucks!

Good luck!

By the time Friday of your first week arrives, you will be exhausted, and thankful for both the weekend and attending either a nearby ‘happy hour’, or Starbucks with new buddies. But, you will also feel excited and a sense of accomplishment. Specifically, you will realize that you have finished the first week of law school, and that in so doing, you have taken the first steps on your journey which will—no doubt–include positive life experiences ahead.

For more helpful blog posts, see these:

If you are interested in an in-depth course that goes over how to succeed in law school, please consider signing up for our law school preparatory course or utilizing our law school tutoring services if you need help while you are in law school. We have helped many students succeed in law school (and succeed in and transfer to, prestigious law schools, such as the University of Michigan Law School, Cornell Law School, Duke Law School, among others).

JD AdvisingThis post was written by Professor K. Day. Ms. K. Day teaches legal writing to first, second and third year law students at Wayne State University Law School. She teaches both basic and advanced legal writing skills. Ms. Day also served as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Legal Practice at Peking University School of Transnational Law in Shenzhen, China where she assisted in the design and implementation of the Legal Practice Program for the first western style law school in China.