You’re starting law school soon. Congratulations! Law school will undoubtedly be an intellectual exercise unlike anything you’ve experienced before. It will also try your patience, stamina, and beliefs about the world you live in. You’ll be learning to think in a different way, and you’ll learn a lot about who you are and what you value.
Law school can be exciting, scary, fun and, at times, completely overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to get the best of you. If you’re nervous about what to do and you don’t know what to expect, here are some tips for how to spend your pre-1L summer to make sure you’re as prepared as possible on day one:
Make a study plan and first-semester goals.
In your first year of law school, you will probably have at least some classes (if not all) which are graded solely on the basis of your final exam. Many professors do not offer midterms or any other benchmark assignments so you can test your understanding and see how you’re keeping up. That’s right. You could very well go through your entire first semester without anyone requiring you to turn anything in! This might sound fantastic, but it actually makes your job harder—especially if you’re prone to procrastinating. It will be your responsibility to determine whether you’re understanding the material in the way you need to, and you will be in charge of keeping yourself on task—which can take a lot of organization. For that reason, you should get as familiar as possible now with the strategies that help you set goals and stay as organized and productive as possible.
For starters, consider getting a day planner or google calendar doc. that shows you your day hour-by-hour. Ask yourself if there were any tactics that have worked well for you in your academic career so far to: (1) learn dry material by rote memorization, (2) motivate yourself, (3) teach yourself new concepts when they don’t make a whole lot of sense, (4) get help if you need it. If, for example, you work really well by talking through novel concepts, consider a study group. If, on the other hand, you find it easiest to learn on your own, do that. The name of the game is to figure out how you learn best so you can jump right into applying your study plan once school starts.
Consider taking a law school strategies course.
Half the battle during your first semester is catching onto the game as fast as you can so you have time to prepare for your exams in the right way. For a lot of students who don’t end up doing well their first semester, it’s because they start putting all the pieces together right before the final exam period. At that point, it’s really too late. If you’re not sure about how to study once you get to law school, or what to do to put yourself in the best position possible to get the grades you want, consider reaching out for help. At the very least, learn how to read and brief a case. You will be doing a lot of this! You can also check out our list of top mistakes law students make when preparing for class.
If you want to hear our advice about what you can do to put yourself ahead of the curve from day one, or if you are looking for feedback from our experienced team of law school tutors on your practice case briefs and essays, check out our Start Law School Right course.
Relax! Travel! Have fun!
The harsh reality is that you may never have as much free time as you have now. Once you start working as an attorney, chances are you won’t get “summer vacations” any more. Even your summers in law school will be pretty booked up. For that reason, I would recommend doing some travelling, hanging out with people you may not see as often once your schedule picks up, and just relaxing and doing what you enjoy. You may not have time for these activities for a while.
If there is anything in your life that will take up time during your first semester, consider figuring out ways to save that time by planning ahead and outsourcing what you can. Fill prescriptions, buy extra shampoo, stockpile non-perishable goods in your pantry and the study supplies you tend to run out of (like tabs, post-its, and highlighters). If you have recurring purchases, consider automating them online for home delivery. I’m not saying you will never have time to go to the store again, don’t worry, you will! But, you have more free time now than you will once school starts, so see what you can take care of in advance.
Set realistic expectations with family, friends, and significant others.
Your first semester as a 1L will probably be one of the busiest times of your life. Even if you have free time, you may be exhausted or have a mountain of reading to tackle. In law school, taking breaks is important to stave off burnout, but there will always be something you could spend your time on.
Especially if your loved ones are unfamiliar with the law school process, you may want to sit them down and explain how busy you’re going to be until finals are over. Set some ground rules now for texting and phone calls to make sure no one is counting on you to respond to every little thing. Warn them that you will have your phone off most of the day (and you should!). Perhaps even plan a celebration for after finals so you have something to look forward to with them. If you have a significant other or children, maybe plan weekly date nights or park days where you put away the books and spend your undivided attention on your partner or kids.
Think about the first impression you want to make.
Starting law school is a great opportunity to meet a lot of new people—some of whom will probably become lifelong friends. Others, you may have an aversion to right off the bat but still have to deal with for the next three years! Either way, it’s important to recognize that you are entering a professional school and this is the start of your professional reputation amongst your peers.
It should go without saying, but you should start conducting yourself (at least publicly) with the kind of decorum, professionalism and candor that will be expected of you once you become a lawyer. This is all pretty common sense, but don’t burn bridges, make enemies, or start off on the wrong foot with anyone if you can help it. Do your best to refrain from wearing cringe-worthy clothing, engaging in scandalous behavior (whatever you deem that to be), or adding any fodder to the inevitable gossip mill that I promise you will start the minute you get hundreds of type-A competitors into the same fish bowl for hours on end every day.
I have seen several law students strut into their first semesters and earn really unfortunate reputations and nicknames that stuck for the next three years because of the mini-skirt and thigh-high boots combo. they wore (don’t wear that, wear this instead) or the bigoted remark they made in class, or their, shall we say “lack of discretion” with a classmate at a bar night happy hour (these are all real examples). Now, I’m all for defying fashion norms, speaking your mind, and doing what you want provided it’s legal, but there’s a time and place. If you think the people in your class will all be mature and above this sort of ridiculousness, think again! I’m not the first person to compare 1L year to going through junior high all over again. In that spirit, drop the ego. You’re not a lawyer yet. Don’t be a gunner (people will hate you). Treat everyone with respect or at least civility. You don’t need to be best friends with the competition or act like every day is a job interview, but don’t be a social pariah or disgrace yourself either. Go ahead and google some of the biggest social faux pas that law students make and see if you can avoid them!
Starting a new diet or workout regimen is never easy, and it can often take time and dedication. Why not start now? Being on your game mentally often involves eating healthy, getting enough sleep, drinking adequate water and at least getting some fresh air and walking and stretching. I’m not saying you need to hit the gym every day or do anything drastic, but keep in mind that things will get busy, you will be sitting for hours on end each day, probably eating a fair amount of convenience foods (i.e. fast and easy—not usually very good for you) and you will be putting your body as well as your mind through a lot. If you have any bad habits, consider nixing them now. It will be a lot easier than trying to do a massive overhaul when you’re busy and fried after a long day of studying.
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And check out these helpful posts:
- Law School Networking, It’s What You Learn Not Just Who You Meet
- How to Get The Most out of Law School with Extracurricular Activities
- All The Supplies You Need to Start Law School Right
- Is it Ever Too Early to Think About Law School?
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