How to Succeed in Law School – by the #1 Law Student: In this post, we discuss how to succeed in law school. Success in law school is so important–especially your first year of law school. If you do well your first year of law school (besides having potential scholarship or transfer opportunities available) you will also maximize your chances of passing the bar exam on the first try and maximize your employment opportunities (especially if you are looking to work at a big law firm).
We have found that most law students do not know that they need a specific approach in order to succeed in law school. Instead, they go into law school trying to apply the exact same techniques they used in undergrad to law school. Unfortunately, law school is a completely different game and you need to develop a different set of skills as well as a different approach to your studies if you want to succeed in law school. (If you are wondering exactly how law school is different from undergrad, read this post!)
In this post, we talk about what you can do from the very first day of law school in order to excel in law school. Specifically, we give you ten tips to succeed in law school. This post was written by Ashley Heidemann, who graduated as the #1 student in her law school class and knows what it takes to succeed in law school.
Ten Tips to Succeed in Law School – by the #1 Law Student
1. Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.
This is so important and yet extremely overlooked by even very well-intentioned law students. Most students focus on the “urgent” instead of the important—that is, they focus on reading cases, briefing cases, and looking as impressive as possible when they are “on call” in law school.
But in doing so, they lose site of the bigger picture and prepare all wrong. The bigger picture is that what really matters is your final exam. Your final exam determines your entire grade in most law school classes (besides legal writing) so you have to do what is required to succeed on your final exam (and that is outlining, reviewing your outlines, and taking practice exams—as we explain in a moment). Unfortunately, reading and briefing every case and doing a stellar job “on call” will not help you on your final exams! So we do not recommend you spend hours each day reading and briefing cases every.
Basically, the first step is to keep this bigger picture in mind. After all, you will not be able to be productive if you do not eliminate unproductivity! Your time is limited by hours in a day and you have to spend those hours efficiently and productively.
2. Outline often and outline early.
This is the most important thing I can recommend you do from the first day of law school. Start your outline for each substantive law school class from the first day of law school and constantly add to your outlines as the semester goes on. Your outlines do not have to be perfect, they just have to be done! And done regularly. Please see this in-depth post on how to make a law school outline if you don’t know where to start.
Many students wait until week 8 or 9 or some other arbitrary time to start outlining. Then they spend the rest of the semester catching up and feeling behind. They also feel lost the first eight weeks of law school because they do not understand how what they are learning one week fits into the material they already learned. In short, they waste a lot of valuable time.
You do not want to spend your time catching up. By outlining all along, you will be caught up throughout the semester, you can start learning and memorizing the law right away, and you will not feel so lost!
3. Review your outline.
It’s not enough to have an outline—you have to know it, and know it cold. Review your outlines early and often. I used to review each of my outlines (and by review I mean “memorize”) every single week. Make sure you actively review your outlines. If you are just reading them and re-reading them, you are probably not reviewing them “right.” Here are some tips to actively reviewing your law school outlines, if you are not sure where to start.
This is so important because in order to do well on a final exam you have to know the law very well. The first step toward learning the law is to organize it into an outline (as explained in Step 2) and the second step is to memorize this outline! If you never learned how to memorize in undergrad, you will need to learn it in law school! (And don’t worry, it is not that hard, it is just time-consuming! Please see the post above for ideas!)
4. Make it a habit to answer problems and past exam questions.
Your professors’ past exams are the best resource for answering past exam questions. Don’t put this off until the study period. Get ahold of as many practice exams as you can right away so you have them at your disposal. Then start answering them mid-semester (you don’t have to complete the whole exam—just complete the problems that have covered the material you have learned).
It’s also a good idea to pick up a supplement—e.g., Examples and Explanations—to practice all throughout the semester and get a clearer picture of the law. Here is an in-depth guide to answering law school exam questions if you are not sure where to start.
5. Create a study schedule right away.
Your law school study schedule should make time for studying and also time to engage in stress-free activities (like sleeping as much as you need to, exercising, etc.). If you have an efficient approach to law school and follow the steps outlined in this post, you will not need to spend every minute on law school. (See this post for how I graduated as the number one law student and still managed to take a day off every single week.)
A law school study schedule is key because if you don’t have a study schedule, you won’t get done what you hope to accomplish. You can have all the “theory” about how to do well in law school in your head, but without a practical plan, it is useless. We have a detailed post on how to create a good law school study schedule here.
6. Get help if you need it.
Go to your professors. Get the help of a tutor. Don’t be shy about seeking assistance. Do it sooner rather than later, too. The last thing you want is to suffer a semester of bad grades—you cannot redo it and it will be very hard to bring your GPA up once it is down!
Sometimes students just need someone to reassure them they are on track or to help them eliminate tasks that will not help them succeed on the final exam. Sometimes, one meeting with a tutor or professor can make a big difference in your approach. If you are looking for a tutor or a consultant, please do not hesitate to contact us.
7. Remember the impact that your 1L year has.
Your 1L year not only determines your GPA (and thus, potentially your job after law school!) but if you do well your 1L year, the bar exam will be that much less stressful of an experience. Putting the time, energy, and effort into your 1L year will thus maximize your chances of passing the bar exam and open yourself up to as many employment opportunities as possible. (It will also maximize your chance of receiving a scholarship or transferring to a better law school, if that is your goal!)
I do not say this to stress you out. I say this to keep it in mind. If your 1L year is “key” then really it is your final exam grades your 1L year that are “key”—which really means that it is how well you outline, learn your outlines, and practice exams that is key!
Put in the time and energy now and you will save yourself so much time, energy (and money) later! If you start to feel burnt out, (first of all, make sure you are taking enough breaks!) but also, remind yourself that the work you put in now can save you a lot of time, energy, and money later!
8. Get to know your professors and peers.
You will either get a job after law school (1) because you have a stellar GPA or (2) because you have a connection. Even though I graduated as the #1 law student, I got my first job through a connection! Form connections with both your peers and your professors. You never know who will end up being a good friend, a good study buddy, or the key to an employment opportunity. (See this post on how to network in law school if you are interested in cultivating your networking skills!)
Networking has a bad connotation for some, but if you focus less on making “connections” and more on building relationships, you will be in good shape.
9. Don’t put off your Legal Writing papers.
It sounds silly, but you cannot cram for a legal writing paper and write it the night before. (This is not undergrad!)
As soon as you have a deadline for a legal writing paper, work “backwards” and set mini-goals for yourself throughout the semester so you can finish the paper with time to spare. You will thank yourself! Further, you will find that Legal Writing is one of the most important classes when it comes to practicing law! You will remember what your Legal Writing professor taught you long after the class is over! Spending time on it now will help you develop this valuable skill which will help you throughout your legal career.
10. Don’t worry if you are not doing what “everyone else is doing.”
If you did what everyone else did, you would get the same grades everyone else got—that is, you would be average. Do not spend14 hours a day in the library reading cases. And don’t worry if you see others doing this. Instead, spend your time productively. Remind yourself of this often if you get stressed out seeing other studying differently (and less productively).
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.
Ms. Ashley Heidemann graduated as the number 1 law student out of over 200 students in her class of 2011 at Wayne State University. She now works as a tutor for law students and the bar exam. She also offers a Law School Preparatory Course for students interested in learning the skills necessary to achieve a high GPA in law school.