Law School Toolbox®

Getting Settled Before Your First Semester of Law School

So, you’ve decided to go to law school. Congratulations! You’ve probably heard about reading cases, you might still be wondering how to brief, and maybe you’re a little intimidated by all the studying you’ll be required to do to get through your first year without sacrificing your sanity.

What about all the other stuff no one really talks about, though. What should you consider when moving to a new city for law school? What’s the best way to get settled and prepare? Should you live with other law students? What errands can you run now to save you valuable study time later? In this post, we will be discussing some common questions we have seen from incoming 1Ls just like you—the ones you might have thought about but didn’t know how or where to ask.

How to Choose an Apartment for Law School

If you’re planning to go to law school somewhere other than where you currently call home, you will probably need to find a new apartment. You might be surprised to know that your school may have an off-campus housing website, or even on-campus options for graduate students. If not, though, you can find some great leads on websites like Craigslist and even the online classifieds of your local newspaper.

So, what should you look for when deciding on an apartment for your first semester of law school? First and foremost, location! How close to school do you want to be? As a new 1L, you will undoubtedly have a lot of reading to keep up with and you may or may not choose to do your studying on campus. This could potentially mean that you are coming home late at night, so you should always make sure you feel safe and comfortable with the neighborhood you choose. Check it out both in broad daylight and after dark. Some cities, like San Francisco, have a smorgasbord of different pockets and enclaves, each with names and characteristics that can be overwhelming and confusing to new-comers.

Check out some message boards online. Ask around when you interact with shopkeepers or friends who live in the city you’re moving to. See if there are any streets or sections that are synonymous with crime, noise, or traffic, as well as sunshine, safety, and peace and quiet. Better to learn these things now than later!

Consider how much time you want to spend commuting. If you find a studio that is a great deal, but it will require a bus ride, followed by the metro, and then walking through a residential neighborhood for 5 or 10 blocks, or if you have to pay a ton for parking and bridge tolls every day, this is going to get old really fast once the pressures of school sink in. It might be worth the price bump in your rent to make your commute more convenient.

Most well-intentioned justifications we’ve seen law students making for an apartment far away from campus like “Oh, well I will just do my homework on the bus,” or “Walking will force me to exercise,” or “I don’t need do rent a locker at school because I will just keep my books in my car,” don’t actually end up panning out. Remember, there will be times during your first semester when you’re exhausted and having home close by might save you a lot of time in the long run. Then again, you might not want to live in the campus bubble where all of the other law students live! Consider this too.

Should You Live with Other Law Students?

If you’re planning on having roommates in law school, consider whether you want them to be students from your school or not. Law students can be a different breed, and you might want a break when you come home after school. If you think it might stress you out to be around “the competition” then live with other grad students or professionals who know how to keep quiet while you’re studying and keep the place picked up. If you think it might help you stay on track to be immersed in a home environment where everyone has a similar schedule and workload as you, maybe living with other law students is a great idea for you.

Either way, you should make your roommate decision based on the person, and I would recommend taking to your potential housemates in an interview setting before committing to anything. If you’re considering living with undergrad students, or very young people if you’re older and have already have a career (or vice versa), feel out some baseline expectations. Make sure you’re on the same page about things like sharing one another’s food, watching TV or having parties in common areas, playing loud music, and leaving dishes in the sink at night.

These might sound trivial, but recognize that you are about to be under a lot more stress than you may have faced elsewhere in your life. Little annoyances can add up. If there are behaviors that you already know really bug you, these will only be magnified once you’re a frazzled law students. I’m not saying you should breeze into a roommate interview with a list of high-maintenance pet peeves—hint: you probably won’t get the apartment! However, tempers and emotions can run high when people are stressed out, so the more you can do now to make sure you’re matching yourself up with like-minded people the better. Just have a conversation about it.

As I said, law students are a special breed. Sometimes new law students find that the people who are drawn to the legal profession can be inherently more driven, type-A and maybe even more cynical than other populations they’ve ever been exposed to before. You might find you don’t actually like many of your new classmates, or you might love them! Whatever your opinions are of the people you meet, trust your gut and choose your roommates based on how well you get along.

Getting the Lay of the Land in Your New Neighborhood

One of the most exciting parts of moving to a new city is all the small discoveries you can make about your new home—the artisan French bakery or down the block, the green, mountainous hiking trail in the park, which coffee shop has the best cappuccino and music selection. If you’re moving to a new city or even a new neighborhood in the same city, I would recommend finding these nooks and niches before you even start school. Do some trial runs. Figure out which grocery store or farm stand you prefer. Make sure you know where you can dry clean a suit, which restaurants deliver take-out to your house, and the best place to buy your favorite necessities and comforts—whatever those are for you: bubble tea, a good massage, a dance or yoga class, or the kind of soup that makes you feel whole again when you get sick. The goal here is to seek out these establishments and services now so you don’t have to waste time doing it later when spending time might be less feasible.

Ways to Cut Down Errands and Chores Your First Semester

With the ability to instantly order almost everything from groceries to text books online, it may sound strange that this sort of thing could potentially cut into your time once you start school. Once you begin classes, though, you will want to free up as many hours in the day as you can. If there is anything you can automate now so you don’t have to remember to do it later, you should! If you take daily vitamins, always run out of laundry detergent at the last minute, or tend to forget to pay your credit card bill when you get stressed out, set up automatic orders or payments before the semester even starts. Consider stocking up on items you use every day and non-perishable back-up food items that you like to have on hand.

Consider sorting through your wardrobe to make sure you can manage a couple weeks of clean clothes without doing laundry—because let’s face it, you won’t always have time, and you don’t want to get left in a lurch! Give some thought to how you will stay organized and the system you will use for taking notes, reading and briefing cases, and keeping a calendar or day planner and to-do list. Start these habits now so they will be engrained by the time you begin classes.

If you find it feasible to spare the financial resources, consider outsourcing things that take up your precious time. I have known law students who hire housekeepers once a week or every month, have a weekly organic produce box delivered to their door, or have their laundry hampers picked up and their clothes returned clean and folded. Whether you think these things are worth your hard-earned money or student loan disbursements will depend on what you personally value and the chores you tend to despise and put off the most.

If you think the spare time is worth the money, there are also services like Task Rabbit that can match up your errands with people who would rather have the money than the free time. If your family, friends or significant other have been asking about how they can help you during your first semester, things like stocking the freezer with homemade dinner options, committing to doing all the grocery shopping, or helping you with laundry or childcare can be a great way to save you time.

Starting law school is fun and exciting! The volume of new information you have to deal with and process on a daily basis might be more than you’ve ever encountered. You will learn a new lexicon of vocabulary, master thinking and behaving in a way that might be entirely new to you, and you will find ways to become even more organized, efficient, and precise than you already are. Most of all, you will be working hard to prepare yourself for the professional world you will gain access to as a legal professional. And who knows, you might even make some lifelong friends along the way!

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