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Listen to first-hand accounts of being a “1L” (as first-year law students are generally called) and you’ll hear of sleepless nights, the terror of being in the hot seat, and professors who make the bad guys at Hogwarts seem warm and fuzzy. If you’re lucky, you’ll also hear about big ideas and friendships formed in the trenches. As a 1L, you are embarking on an epic journey.
You may not realize that you have passengers on this journey, but your family and those close to you are also going to be navigating some choppy waters. Here are some tips for you and your “team.”
Tip #1: Consider a guidebook.
My team (okay, it was my mom but I was only 22 and team sounds more impressive, doesn’t it?) decided to read Scott Turow’s One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School during my first semester of law school. This turned out to be a great idea. Before becoming a best-selling author of legal thrillers, Turow wrote a memoir of his 1L year at Harvard Law School. While the book was written a long time ago (hence, the references to typewriters and Xerox machines), the study of law, particularly the first year, is largely unchanged.
One L is an easy read that gives a glimpse into the rhythms of law school, its stresses, and its workload. The book covers things like the Socratic method, legal briefs, and that mysterious thing called “outlining.” It also conveys some of the lesser known parts of the experience such as the challenge of being in class day-in-and-day-out with the same people (much like middle school), the universal worry that past academic success has been a fluke, and the frustration that comes from reading 100 year old cases (why can’t someone just tell you the law?!).
I’d never advocate that your team hover or check up on your progress, but having some idea of the academic rigors and culture of law school can help your team feel involved.
Tip #2: Accept that being a 1L is like moving to a foreign country where you don’t know how to speak the language.
There will be days when you are convinced that you don’t measure up. Remind your team that law school is an intellectual boot camp and you are, in essence, a toddler. Toddlers can learn up to 10 new words daily; picture that toddler trying to navigate high school and your team will get a sense of how you’ll feel reading cases from the 1800s.
It might be hard for your team to get this. Chances are you’ve done pretty well in school and are known as an adept reader and writer. You may have been told that you have a gift for arguing, just as lawyers do on TV! The flip side of all this confidence is that your team may be completely unprepared to watch you struggle.
During my first week of class we were assigned 30 pages in torts. I prided myself on being a fast reader and recall thinking I’d soon be across the street chatting at the pub. Many hours later, I stumbled out of my room realizing that this was entirely different than anything I had ever done; I had just spent HOURS reading 30 pages and still knew nothing!
If your team needs convincing about the strange place that is law school, start talking about actus reus, amicus curiae, certiorari, chattel, peremptory, and prurient. You’ll learn this new language eventually, I promise, but your team should temporarily lower their expectations of your brilliance.
Tip #3: Apologize ahead of time for being an idiot.
No one breezes through the first year of law school immune from stress which will make you do stupid things. As you examine statements for ambiguities and loopholes, you’ll begin to formulate highly structured arguments which will go over great in class but not when you try to have a “normal” conversation. You’ll sound argumentative when you start to “lawyer” a conversation by picking everything apart. Ask your team to be patient with an ever-critical you.
Also, ask your team to forgive the stream of law stuff that they may find mind-numbing. (Your parents likely have experience feigning intense interest in your four-year-old passions of dinosaurs or fairies, but a spouse may not have had similar practice.)
Tip #4: You need your team to remind you who you are.
There is precious little that your team can do to help you navigate the murky waters of blue booking, but your team can be a much-needed refuge where you can laugh and sleep and just be yourself.
As exams approached, I got a huge box in the mail. It turns out that it was almost Christmas (who knew?) and my mom had sent a small, fully lit and decorated tree for my room. All I had to do was take it out of the box and plug it in. My response? I called her up and yelled, “I didn’t have time for Christmas!!” Once the tree was up, I realized it was a great reminder of something else that mattered to me. (I apologized, I promise.)
Tip #5: You’ll come out the other side.
Just like sausage and legislation, the merger of the lawyer-you with the other-you is a messy process. Being a 1L is like having your brain taken out of your head and rearranged. It hurts, but for most of us, it is a worthwhile process. Remind your family that 1L doesn’t last forever; that the rest of law school is kinder and gentler (until the bar exam); and that you appreciate having a team support you on your journey.
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Other helpful pre-1L posts:
- Pre-1L Summer Checklist
- The People You Will Meet in Law School
- Want to Get Good Law School Grades? Become a Self-Starter
- How to Think Like a Successful Law Student
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