Every fall, 1Ls are thrust into the crazy world that is law school, with all its opportunities and challenges. This can be incredibly anxiety-inducing and contribute to imposter syndrome. Naturally, new law students have a lot of questions, from specific logistical questions about school itself, to questions about how to set themselves up for success and develop their interests in the law.
Here, I help demystify law school by answering some common questions. As you can probably guess, most if not all of them do not have one correct answer. There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to law school. Nevertheless, it is helpful to understand and weigh all the considerations, so don’t be afraid to ask upperclassmen, professors, and practicing lawyers for advice. Just remember that ultimately, you should make the decision that is best for you.
Questions about Classes
1. How do I prepare for class?
Starting out, do as your professor says—often “read the cases and brief them.” You may find that this takes you a long time. As time goes on, you can adjust based on understanding the aspects your professor focuses on and the level of detail you need to keep up in class (and prepare for the dreaded cold call). Depending on the class, I may write up more detailed notes, summarize the case in a few sentences, or make comments in the margins. As I like to read a few days in advance of class, I try to find a few moments before class starts to refresh my memory. I also find it helpful to look over my class notes soon after the end of the class. This helps me prepare for the next class because I can better make connections between topics.
2. What goes in an outline?
An outline is a detailed summary of the key topics discussed in class. Students create them while preparing for the exam, and if the exam is open-book, students reference their outline during the exam. Thus, the outline should be a tool tailored to your preferences. You also need to understand the exam format and what your professor will likely test. For example, if the professor wants students to identify the key facts that create a legal issue, it may be useful to brainstorm a list of scenarios that would trigger a discussion about a legal standard and put it in the outline. If a professor cares about the policy rationales, you should jot down the justifications and criticisms for legal doctrine in your outline. Aside from the substance, also consider these formatting tips to make your outline easy to use.
3. How do I get to know my professors?
Aside from participating in class, consider setting up a chat, going to their office hours, asking for research or teaching assistant positions, or discussing a potential directed research topic. If you enjoyed a professor’s class, consider taking another one with them. And as for what to talk to your professor about, you can ask questions beyond the substance of the class you’re in—professors welcome discussions about their career path, research interests, current events, and any advice they have. Look out for any faculty talks or mentorship programs that facilitate more informal interaction. For more ideas, take a look at this article.
Questions about Law School Activities
1. What extracurriculars should I participate in?
It is normal to feel overwhelmed by the number of student-led opportunities at law school. There are a plethora of affinity groups, organizations tailored to specific legal areas, pro bono projects, and fun sports and musical activities. Before deciding, you should learn about the options, attend some events, talk to people and evaluate what you want to explore and devote time to. You can cast a wide net and participate in multiple activities with smaller commitments, or focus on only one or two and take up a leadership role. You can always reassess and adjust as you go along. There is a lot of freedom to design your life outside of law school, so get excited!
2. Should I join law review?
This is the age-old question. Journal work helps hone important skills like blue booking, critical analysis, and writing, but can be very time-consuming. Law review is also a generalist journal, and you may consider other publications that focus on specific subjects such as business law, civil rights and liberties, intellectual property, and environmental law. This post discusses the pros and cons of law review in depth.
3. Should I study abroad during law school?
Studying abroad is a great way to learn about how the law works in a different jurisdiction while having a lot of fun. The experience might be especially enlightening if you are interested in working on international litigation, arbitration, or transactions. For more considerations, check out this post on whether to study abroad or not.
Law school is going to be different than any experience you’ve had before, so you should be excited about the possibilities to come!
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