Law school orientation is an overwhelming few days. You’re meeting your new classmates, picking up some basic skills you’ll need in law school, like how to read a case, and figuring out where your classrooms are. With all the information that’s thrown at you, from names to locker combination numbers, orientation week might already be a blur in your memory. You may wonder what you were even supposed to have gleaned from all those panels and speeches and information sessions.
As I went through law school orientation, I found it helpful to write down some key takeaways, from words of wisdom from the dean that stuck with me to professor or student advice to things I picked up on myself. Below, I list my top six general takeaways from law school orientation.
1. Everyone is pretty much worried about the same things
At the beginning of my legal methods class, our professor paired us with a classmate to interview. One of the questions we were to ask and answer was: what is one thing you’re concerned about in relation to law school? When we shared each other’s answers in class, it was remarkable (and extremely comforting) to see that the same handful of worries came up again and again. Everyone was nervous about cold-calling, the workload, grades, and maintaining a work-life balance. So odds are if you’re stressing about one of those things, your classmates feel the exact same way.
2. Your classmates are your future colleagues, so be cordial (even if you dislike someone!)
While you don’t have to be best friends with everyone, it’s important to be cordial, even to people who drive you up the wall (and there will be some). The legal profession is a fairly small one, so you’re bound to run into your classmates during the course of your career. These are not just your classmates, but people you could be working with in the future.
3. It might take some trial and error to figure out what study strategies work for you
In the early weeks of law school, it can be tempting to just copy what your classmates are doing (hint: no one knows what they’re doing either) or what upperclassmen tell you works well for them. At a student panel we had during our orientation, one of the panelists expressed the importance of finding the right strategies for you, which might require some trial and error over the next few weeks. Law school is a new way of learning and thinking, and it’s okay not to have everything down the first week. Maybe that briefing method that your classmate swears by just doesn’t do it for you, and you have to figure out your own way.
4. Law school is what you make it, and there are lots of ways to be a law student
Everyone walking into law school on the first day has some kind of mental image of what being a law student looks like, whether it’s spending all day buried in casebooks, being super stressed out and having no time for yourself, working on law review, or just being Elle Woods. But, as one of my professors told us, there are lots of ways to be a law student. It’s okay (and probably advisable!) if you want to have a life beyond law school or if you don’t want to work towards a job in corporate law. You get to decide what law school will be for you, not the other way around.
5. Starting law school is like learning a new language, so be patient with yourself at the beginning
You may think you know how to read and write, but law school will quickly humble you in that regard. Not only will you essentially have to re-learn how to do those things in the context of law school, but you’ll also have to build a whole new vocabulary (including some words that aren’t even English). It’s not unusual to be looking up every other word in your casebook at the beginning, or to take an hour to read and comprehend a case that’s just a few pages long. As with learning a language, the best way to improve is immersion and practice. As of the first couple weeks of class, I’m unfortunately still in the slow-as-molasses phase, but I’m trying to be patient with myself as I adjust.
6. You’re not alone!
It sounds cheesy, but one of the great things about law school is that everyone is in it together. Leaning on each other, whether through study groups or just venting to someone who gets it, is vital for getting through law school in one piece. And not only do you have your classmates, but you also have a team of faculty and administrators to go to for help and support.
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