Here we are, finals are over. The holidays are here and hopefully, you’re recovering and recuperating from the first semester. First semester 1L is a super difficult semester and challenges you from many angles, not just academically. I remember the few days following my first semester were largely filled with sleep, laying on the couch and sleeping a bit more. Whether it is sleep, running, sitting in the sun or whatever it is that you do to decompress, please take some time to do so.
After that decompression time is over, it’s time to be productive. Granted, your productivity level will likely be a bit lower and your pace a bit slower than it was certainly during finals. But, there are some things necessary to work on before your second semester 1L begins.
I highly recommend this Great Podcast on making the most of your winter break. Alison and Lee really bring perspective and great ideas for handling your break. One of the areas touched on that is particularly relevant to 1Ls is reflecting and diagnosing your first semester as a law student. Here are 5 tips for reflecting on your first semester 1L:
1. Be Honest With Yourself
The self-reflection and diagnosis process is a difficult one. You should be assessing and questioning all that you did the first semester to find what works and what doesn’t. This process is critical to building a game plan for next semester and for improvement, generally. However, this process can only be successful if you are completely honest with yourself. I’m not saying this is easy. I’m saying it’s necessary and the stakes for admitting your mistakes now are a lot lower than the effects of continuing on believing you have no room for improvement after your first semester. And this is so whether you did well, just ok or poorly your first semester. So, as you work through the next 4 tips, do so with honesty and a sincere dedication to improvement.
2. Accounting For Your Study Time
How much time outside of class, per week, did you spend on studying for law school? This can include your time working on projects for your legal writing class, reading for class, handling assignments, outlining, productive study group work time, etc. Obviously, you were unlikely to have tracked your time but think back, critically, to how well you used your time and how much of that time you spent focused on law school. This will help you assess how you used your time, whether you did so effectively, and how you can make the most of your schedule moving forward. The constraints on your time will only increase as your law school career pushes forward. You should constantly be thinking about how to improve your time management.
3. Evaluate Your Class Readiness And Participation
Did you read for every class? And by read, I mean did you brief each case, read the material in between the cases, attempt any questions and problems in the reading and take thorough notes regarding all of the above? If not, why not? Being able to read a case and extract the rules of law is a fundamental legal skill required of every lawyer. But this question can also be a difficult one to answer because briefing carries with it some baggage (get it!). Case briefing can be time-consuming and can take away from reading the material between the cases and the questions and notes after the cases. That’s why I asked, if not, why not? Make sure you’re briefing properly and that briefing works for you. Check out this post on whether you Should Keep Briefing Cases. Keep in mind though that this post is primarily for upper-level students and unless you are a 1L who can brief well, you might want to consider re-learning how to brief a case rather than ditching the practice altogether. See below for a link to a great post on how to brief a case.
Secondly, how engaged were you in your class? Did you transcribe the lectures and passively absorb the lecture or were you actively involved asking questions, giving opinions and thinking critically about the things you were learning? Active learning is significantly more valuable than passive learning and engaging in class will help you retain the material.
4. Determining The Effectiveness Of Your Exam Preparation And Performance
The first question you should ask yourself is whether you spent any time creating outlines for each class. The process of outline creation does more than the end document does. Going through the process of taking your notes, readings, etc. and turning them into a succinct outline organized by topic and containing all the relevant rule statements is a process called iterative learning. With each iteration, you re-learn the material, and it becomes more ingrained in your long-term memory. The document you end up creating is a great study tool but the process of creating it is equally if not more valuable. So, did you create an outline or did you rely on a supplement? Did you work on practice multiple-choice and essay questions for each class? Learning the material is only the first step, you must also perform on an exam. Performance on an exam is often predicated on how much practice you were able to do prior to the exam.
There are other factors to consider as well. How well did you manage the time on your exams? Did you approach each exam with a coherent strategy? Should you seek accommodations? Take a look back at your preparation and performance to determine where you can find opportunities for improvement.
5. Assess Your Interaction With Your Professors
Your professors are there to help you learn. Although they have responsibilities outside of the classroom, students are their priority. Did you ask questions in class? Did you ask questions after class? Did you send emails to your professors to ask questions and, most importantly, did you visit with your professor during his/her office hours? You should be meeting with your professor regularly to discuss the material covered in class and to help you formulate the rules for your outline. That way, when it comes to studying for exams, working on practice questions, etc. you have confidence in your material and you can approach the exam with that confidence.
First semester of law school is difficult and comes at you fast. There is a lot of information, a lot of new experiences and a lot of pressure. There isn’t any expectation that you can get it right on the first try. What you can control, however, is your reaction to and your improvement upon that semester. The first step is to reflect on your first semester and diagnose your weaknesses.
Check out these other helpful posts and podcasts from Law School Toolbox:
- 5 Qualities of Great Law Students
- 5 Ways to Make Your Winter Break Productive
- Making the Most of Your Law School Winter Break
- Seeking Accommodations in Law School and on the Bar Exam
- How to Brief a Case in Law School
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