When you took the LSAT, watched “Legally Blonde” or completed numerous law school tours, you may have started to envision what your law school experience would be like. Although your vision would likely vary based on your exposure to different school settings, it’s unlikely that you visualized your first semester being primarily behind a laptop screen, within a videoconferencing interface, while sitting on your bed, dining room table or floor of your home. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic bears down with not much sign of relief in sight, many law students will have to complete their Fall semesters virtually. While this may be a welcome benefit for 3Ls and maybe even some 2Ls, this virtual reality will likely pose valid concerns for incoming 1Ls who may not have had the opportunity to participate in the traditional in-person, law school experience.
So what can 1Ls do to ease the fear of travailing an unknown landscape in isolation? Well, I for sure don’t have all the answers in these unprecedented times, but I have put together ten tips that I hope can help you successfully navigate your first semester in a virtual law school setting.
1. Practice Self-Compassion
The first step would be to practice self-compassion. Although you may feel isolated, by no means are you alone in this situation. As the Fall semester approaches, it is clear that many schools are opting for a virtual or hybrid (virtual and in-person) learning model. Although this is an especially difficult hurdle to face, this is a shared human experience. Therefore, acknowledge the difficulty, but show yourself the same compassion and kindness that you would others facing a tough time. Tell yourself that you will get through this and that you don’t have to brave this alone.
2. Ensure your Technology is Up to Date
Virtual learning will require heavy reliance on all things technology. While you would have the flexibility of utilizing the computers, printers, and scanners at your school in an in-person setting, depending on your school’s new policy, you may now have zero access or very limited access to these tools. Therefore, ensure you are prepared. If your laptop is an older model, ensure that it can accommodate all the software you will need to complete your virtual classes.
Consider getting a printer. I for one took full advantage of my law school printer, especially when I was researching cases for my first-semester memo. However, since you may not have this option, have a printer on deck so that you can stay ahead.
Don’t have an actual scanner? No worries! If you have a smartphone, you already have one. Scanner apps like, iScanner and Cam Scanner are some helpful scanning options. However, if you have an iPhone, a scanner is already built into your Notes app.
3. Still Prepare to be Cold-Called
I’m sorry, but virtual learning does not mean you will get to avoid the dreaded cold call. Although it may be less nerve-wracking when having to respond in your pajamas at home, you are still expected to be just as prepared as you would in person. So read every case assigned and be ready to provide a summary and respond to probing questions from your professor.
4. Stay on Top of Note-Taking in Each Course
Even if you are allowed to record your virtual lectures, still pay attention, and take notes in each class. These notes will be key to understanding each topic and preparing your outlines for final exams.
5. Connect with Virtual Communities
Please take advantage of any virtual community offered through your school. Building friendships and forming connections with students, staff, and faculty will be key to surviving your law school experience. So, as cheesy as the virtual happy hour or virtual meet and greet may sound, don’t ignore them, because having a community is essential.
6. Attend Virtual Office Hours
Office hours allow students to connect with their professors and ask the tough questions they may have been scared to ask during class. This forum will be especially useful during a virtual semester, when it may be more difficult to get your professor’s attention online during class. So, take full advantage and attend office hours to ask any clarifying questions you may have.
7. Use A Designated Learning/Study Space
Have a designated learning/study space in your home where you can complete your courses and studies each day. Having a specific location may help you to be better focused and to use the rest of your home as a space to rejuvenate, relax, and prepare for the next day.
If you have roommates, your designated space may be somewhere outside your home to allow for better focus. Choose a quiet space, where you will have minimal distractions and won’t distract others when you need to speak up in class.
8. Participate in Study Groups
Having a study group isn’t always essential in law school but when you’re learning virtually, I believe it can be especially helpful. You may not need to complete all your studying with this group, but at a minimum try to discuss your daily lessons and garner knowledge and support from each other.
9. Understand and Prepare for the Structure of Your School’s First Year Schedule
Make sure that you understand the structure of your school’s first-year schedule. Some schools may utilize blocked scheduling. This includes concentrated four-week blocks of each course with an exam at the end of the block as opposed to the end of the semester. This may mean that you would need to be prepared for an exam much earlier in the semester. Make sure you’re ready if this is the case.
10. Practice Self-Care
Don’t forget that we are still in a global pandemic. Make sure that you practice self-care and prioritize your health above all.
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