Congratulations, you did it! You are starting law school this fall. Starting something new can be overwhelming, stressful and sometimes scary. Trust us; we’ve been in your shoes! But don’t be intimidated! The Law School Toolbox tutors are sharing their mistakes so you can avoid making them.
Before you read the tips, meet the individuals who are sharing advice with you.
Lee Burgess is the co-founder of Law School Toolbox. She graduated cum laude from the University of San Francisco School of Law, was a TA for Contracts and Torts, and was the Managing Editor of the USF Law Review. Lee left her law firm job and became a private California bar exam tutor and law school tutor when she realized her passion for helping students succeed in law school and pass the bar.
Alison Monahan is the co-founder of Law Exam Toolbox. She graduated from Columbia Law School in 2006 as a Kent Scholar, a Stone Scholar, and a member of the Columbia Law Review. She was also a Civ Pro TA. After law school, Alison clerked for a federal District Court judge and worked as a patent litigator in a large law firm in San Francisco. She eventually left to start The Girl’s Guide to Law School®, which is a leading resource for individuals embarking on a legal career.
Ariel Salzer is a law school and California bar exam tutor for Law School Toolbox and Bar Exam Toolbox. She has taught everything from conjunctions to calculus on four different continents. As a student at the University of San Francisco School of Law, Ariel tutored Torts and led 1L workshops on time management, exam preparation, legal writing, and outlining. After practicing law as a product liability litigator in California for a number of years, Ariel found her way back to teaching and now enjoys helping students find success in their law school classes and on the bar exam.
Ben Nelson is a law school and California and Oregon bar exam tutor for Law School Toolbox and Bar Exam Toolbox. As the oldest child of two professors, he realized from an early age that he wanted to strike out on his own. He eventually settled on law school and graduated from Columbia in 2014 as a Kent Scholar and a Stone Scholar. When he is not tutoring, Ben is a legal fellow for Earthjustice in Denver, CO where he works to protect the iconic American Southwest and Rocky Mountains from overuse.
The Mistakes I Made When Starting Law School:
Here are two things I would do differently if I were starting law school today:
- I had a part-time job tutoring for the SAT when I started law school. It was great to make some extra money, but it did take up a lot of time that I could have used to study. It made my 1L year a bit busier than it would have been if I had just focused on school. I don’t regret it, necessarily, but I kind of wished I had just focused on school for that first year.
- I did not work on outlines early enough in the semester. I really started to study the law in late November, which left me cramming for my exams. Not a great way to kick off your first semester. I did okay, but once I realized what needed to be done to get good grades, my future semesters went much better.
I probably spent too much mental energy worrying about whether I’d find a summer job, from the very first days of law school. Not to say that this isn’t an important consideration, but I was obsessed about it in September and October, when there really wasn’t much I could do about it (since I couldn’t apply anywhere until December). I had a total meltdown over summer jobs in October, which – in retrospect – was a ridiculous waste of time and energy. (Luckily a 2L friend witnessed my crying fit and insisted I take the afternoon off to decompress, which was the right call.)
- For some reason, when I started law school, I looked at everyone as competition. I wasn’t interested in making an effort to make friends with anyone until I got my bearings and figured out what law school was all about and how I was going to succeed on my own terms. School was a lot more fun in my second year when I actually gave people the time of day and felt more comfortable letting others in.
- Reading cases more than once and writing briefs that were more than a few paragraphs long—feeling like I had to brief squib cases too, even if they didn’t require more than a few bullet points.
- Thinking I could get everything I needed from the case book, and not knowing how many different kinds of supplements are out there. It took me a while to figure out how to use supplements and that each case really just had one take-away point. I think I got bogged down in some legal trivia. I definitely knew way too much of that going into my finals.
- Thinking class or the readings will prepare you for finals. It won’t. You need so much more than this.
- There’s really no time to eat during final exams. Even if you’re allowed to bring in food, just spend your time focusing on the test.
I thought class and knowing the case facts was what was important, but it turned out the most important thing to do was learn the legal rules and practice applying them. I didn’t look at a law school exam until a month before exams.
I didn’t start practicing early enough and so didn’t understand why we were learning what we were learning and didn’t feel inspired to actually learn it.
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And if you’re starting law school, check out our course for incoming 1Ls: Start Law School Right. You’ll get the feedback and support you need to succeed in law school, from day one!
Other helpful pre-1L posts:
- Pre-1L Summer Checklist
- How to Get The Most out of Law School with Extracurricular Activities
- How Being a Law Student and a Functional Human Being Don’t Have to Be Mutually Exclusive
- How to Start Law School Right
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