When you start law school, you’ll find that everyone is equal parts nervous, afraid, and excited. I was more afraid than nervous and more nervous than excited, but I’m a special breed of anxious human. In my first few weeks, I was completely confused as to how to juggle everything. Growing up with hypersensitivity (which I’ve mentioned before is a brand of OCD), I knew that in order to calm myself and deal with my anxiety, I needed time away from my stressor. Time to watch tv, cry under my bed covers, or sit in the tub and watch a movie on my iPad. I was terrified when school started, that the way steps I normally took to deal with my anxiety and overwhelm, wouldn’t be accessible because my schoolwork would be all-consuming.
And in some ways, I was correct in this belief. The first few weeks, all of my tools for coping went out the window. I was crying every evening, staying up too late to finish my reading, and spending way too much time during the day commiserating with my classmates on how awful school is. That first month of classes, there were at least six times that classes needed to be made up or rearranged and every single time it threw me for a loop. It was about six weeks in when I was told I should drop out by my Civil Procedure teacher because I was “not cut out for law school.” In that moment, my GRIT was born and I decided to do everything I could to do well in school without losing my mind or my self-worth.
I wish I had thought of these tools the summer before law school, and hopefully they’ll be helpful for you now. When I started to really implement them, my law school, and life outside of law school, began to balance.
Sleep is my favorite topic because somehow in law school we 1Ls forget it exists and try and burn the candle at both ends – waking up early and going to bed late. Do you ever notice that when you try to this for a prolonged amount of time, you don’t actually remember what you’re studying? That’s because you’re exhausted. You’re physically tired and your adrenals, which have been pumping hormones to keep you awake those extra hours, are trashed – which makes you triple tired.
If you have seventy pages to read for the next day and it’s 6:00pm, and you feel like a toddler without a nap and just want to cry: Go. To. Sleep. Take the following two hours to relax. Watch a movie. Eat dinner with your partner. Go for a walk or hit the gym. Do something not related to law school at all and go to bed by 9:00pm. Get up at 5am, eat breakfast, shower, make coffee, sit down and read. More than likely, you will feel way more refreshed, and the material will stick better. Additionally, because you’re reading close to the time of your class, you’ll remember your questions for the professor more readily, and it will make the experience of sitting through a lecture more interesting.
After that six week hump, I began coming home right after my last class got out. I would try and read for an hour, but if I didn’t have it in me, it was okay. I spent the rest of the night relaxing, and went to sleep by 8:30 or 9 (I was exhausted). And I got up between 4:30am and 5am (I am a morning person, and my brain works a heck of lot better then), made coffee, got back into bed with my book and started reading and annotating in the margins. My brain was primed at that time, and I was able to think of questions for my professors that kept me engaged. I felt much better doing my studying this way than if I had come home at 8pm and tried to study late into the night and then slept in.
(This being said, I know there are individuals out there who do work better at night than in the morning, but most likely your 1L classes will start in the early morning and end mid afternoon so switching to this kind of schedule will be easier than trying to keep up with your night owl ways.)
2. Figure Out Your Learning Style
There are many different types of learning styles out there, but the most notable are kinesthetic, auditory, and visual. I am a kinesthetic learner – I like to move while I learn – which is why annotating (writing in the margins key points from the paragraph) works so well for me. I also have an easier time teaching myself and asking for clarification than trying to understand the teacher’s style of teaching. For instance, in my Constitutional Law class, I couldn’t tell you a single thing I learned that year. It was the hardest part of my first bar exam prep, but the second time around, when I taught myself and asked my Bar Exam Toolbox tutor for clarification, it became my highest scoring section on both the MBE and the MEE.
Figuring out how you learn early on in law school will help you throughout your time there, and later, your career. You’ll stop spending your time trying to learn like your classmates, or thinking that study groups or late nights are what’s best because everyone else is doing them, and you’ll focus on studying smarter. I never fully understood the phrase, “study smarter, not harder,” until my second year, but it’s completely true. Law school, and the bar exam, aim to overwhelm you with work and material to learn because life as an attorney will be overwhelming. Part of the law school experience is building that bubble of comfort outward so that what seemed overwhelming during the first few weeks of law school is cake during your third year and comically easier when you are finally practicing. By studying smarter, you are able to spend your time more wisely, cover the material and understand it better, and then have actual downtime to rest.
For instance, I started spending one entire day on the weekend not doing a lick of law work. I took it off completely and enjoyed time with my family or friends, time cooking, and watching Netflix. I was refreshed when I showed up for law the following day. I was able to do this because I woke up at 4:30/5:00am during the week and got all my reading done on my own (I don’t work well in study groups), arrived to school a couple hours early to eat breakfast and continue reading, and then promptly left when classes were over. I took a half hour or so to eat lunch with my classmates and then I embraced not socializing so I could find a nook to get my reading done and notes reviewed just in case I was on call. My goal each day was to get whatever I could done before classes ended so that when I got home I could just be home. That may not work for everyone, but figuring out how you work best is one of the most important parts of 1L year. It will set you up for less stress in all aspects of your life.
3. Take a Walk During the Day
I think when we’re in school, we don’t realize we are allowed to leave the building. My first month, I barely left the school until it was time to leave. I think I was afraid I’d miss something. But every time I did leave the grounds, during the day, when I returned, I felt much more refreshed. This is probably because all 1Ls are some form of anxious, and it is intoxicating. You feel it in your bones even if you aren’t trying. Getting another perspective, even if only for 15 minutes a day, midday, feels amazing. Additionally, you get some Vitamin-D, which is especially important for brain function, regulating anxiety and mood swings, and sleep. This midday reset is even more important if you live somewhere where the sun sets at 3pm in January and barely comes up till after 7am.
I started stuffing my bag into my locker and roaming Boston for fifteen minutes every day as long as it wasn’t raining (and if it was raining, I’d try and find an empty stairwell to reset). These midday resets were life changing and really helped me cope with the stress of school or classmates.
There are many new habits you’ll want to adopt when you start law school, but these are my top three for survival. By doing these almost every day of school, I was able to graduate with high grades and without losing my mind. I was also able to keep close ties with my family, the children I nannied since they were babies, and watch my friendships flourish. Try them out and let me know what you think! I hope they are as helpful to you as they were (and still are) for me.
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