Congratulations on finishing your first semester of law school! For many people, the first semester can feel like a whirlwind, and should certainly be seen as a learning experience. For many, feelings of overwhelm and dealing with burnout can make the second semester more difficult than the first. Whether you can’t wait to start your second semester or you’re feeling totally burned out, there are certainly things you can do to set yourself up for a strong second semester.
Don’t Waste Time Speculating about your First Semester Grades
I know, this can be hard, but, as one of my professors stated, there is no use in doing a post-mortem on your exams. Once the exam timer goes off, there is nothing you can do to change the outcome, and it’s imperative that you don’t waste energy trying to predict your performance. The first semester of law school is stressful as it is, there is no use in making it worse by spending part of your precious time off agonizing over your exam answers – there is absolutely no way for you to know how you did! Do your best to treat the time you have off as the break from school it is meant to be so that you can start your second semester refreshed.
Think about What Worked and What didn’t Work
You may not get your first semester grades back until the very end of your break, or even sometime after second semester begins, but that doesn’t mean that it’s too early to think about what worked and didn’t work for you. Even without grades to confirm, you can probably at least identify things that helped you manage your work, and things that weren’t a good use of time. For example, was your study group really effective? Did you really need an 80-page long typed outline? Did you give yourself enough time to work on outlines and practice exam questions? Taking some time to consider these things can really help to streamline your approach second semester.
Finalize a Resume, Cover Letter and Writing Sample
With all the work there is to do during the semester, it can become all too easy to put off preparing a resume, cover letter or writing sample. Using your winter break to work on these can be a great use of time, especially because this break is also a great time to be applying for 1L summer jobs. When working on these, be sure to utilize the resources at your school to help you draft the best versions that you can. Many staff in the career services office will likely be in the office (or at least responding to email) at some point during the break, so be sure to take advantage of their expertise.
Legal writing professors are often great people to reach out to when fine-tuning your writing samples. Depending on your school’s schedule, they may not be able to give you specific feedback on your actual writing assignments until grades come out, but they should be able to at least provide some general suggestions or guidelines.
Apply for Summer Jobs
You probably already know that 1L’s can begin applying for summer jobs on December 1, and there are a number of positions where it may be to your benefit to apply as early as possible. Some of the most competitive positions, like firm jobs or externships with federal judges, tend to reward those who apply early. Many students may not feel like they have time to apply in early December, as this is also (conveniently) right when finals tend to be scheduled. Ultimately, your final grades are going to be more important than the exact summer job you get, so, if you feel like you can’t focus on jobs until after finals are over, that’s perfectly ok, and it’s a great thing to take care of over your break so you have less to worry about when second semester begins.
Make a Big-Picture Schedule
We’ve talked a lot about the importance of making weekly study schedules to manage your work, but it’s also important to have some sort of long-term plan for the semester. For many people, the semester probably seems to fly by more quickly than expected, and it can be easy to fall behind on longer-term tasks like preparing for exams. One way to get ahead of this is to plan out a rough big-picture schedule of your semester as soon as possible. Consider things like whether you have midterms and need to build in study time mid-semester, or when you want to have different portions of your outlines completed. Obviously, this might need to wait until after you have your class syllabus, but doing this before things get too hectic can be incredibly helpful.
Take Care of Yourself
This one seems obvious, but it is also arguably the easiest to forget. During the semester, it is very easy to neglect the concept of self-care in the face of never-ending to do lists and the time constraints that come with them. Before you started law school, you probably had plenty of hobbies that likely were at least partially neglected during the semester, and winter break can be a great time to revisit the activities that help you to relax and make you happy. Burnout can be a real problem for law students, but taking some time to disconnect from school and reconnect with your favorite hobbies can help you begin the second semester feeling refreshed.
No matter how you’re feeling after first semester, it is important to look ahead so that you can set yourself up for a strong second semester. Spending even a small amount of time over break preparing for your next semester can make a big difference!
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