Once orientation is over, the free food and reassuring speeches disappear pretty quickly, and it’s time to get down to business. There’s a lot of advice out there about your 1L year and how to succeed on your exams, but you have to walk before you can run, so let’s talk about getting through the first weeks of the brave new world of law school.
Your reading assignments are going to be very different from what you’re used to. Most textbooks explain concepts and break them down, but law books are light on explanation. You’ll be presented with dense cases to read with legal jargon you’ve never heard, and it’s up to you to figure out what’s going on and what’s important about what you read. This can be a difficult transition for many new law students.
Take your time. Law school reading assignments will take you a long time, at least at first. Don’t let that scare you or make you feel dumb. You’re learning a completely new subject and you’re learning it in a completely new way. That’s hard work, so don’t be intimidated by how long it takes you to get through your reading assignments.
Look it up. Let Black’s Law Dictionary become your best friend for all those words you’ve never seen before, like res ipsa loquitur.
Stay with it. Skipping your reading is a sure way to get behind, so no matter how hard it is, keep pushing through. It will get easier with practice.
Consider study groups and supplements. For some people, talking through the concepts and cases in a group setting can be very helpful. For others, a supplement like the Examples and Explanations series or Case Briefs can help you getting a better grasp on your reading and increase your comprehension. Use this time to explore what works for you.
Make a study schedule. Plan out when and where you’ll do your work for class from day 1. This will ensure you’re giving yourself enough time to prepare for classes.
Class will also be very different in law school. Your professors won’t tell you what you need to know while you diligently take notes- they’ll expect you to be able to explain the cases to them and to the rest of your class. This is when you’ll experience the dreaded Socratic Method. But this can actually be a valuable learning tool, so use class to your advantage.
Make sure you’ve done the reading. Showing up unprepared to class is unacceptable to most professors. If something really serious prevented you from being prepared, try to email the professor in advance or speak to him or her before class to explain the situation.
Pay attention to your professor’s preferences. Don’t limit your note taking to the substance of class. Keep track of what your professor asks other students when calling on them. Once you see what your professor expects you to know and what he or she likes to focus on, you can feel more confident in your ability to answer questions when it’s your turn.
Don’t be afraid to stop and think. While the Socratic Method might feel like rapid fire questions and answers, it’s meant to make you think. So don’t be afraid to stop and think about your answer, especially when you’re given a hypothetical. Professors know they are challenging you and that they are asking you to do more than simply recite memorized facts, so go ahead and pause to consider your response or look at your notes. Five seconds may feel like forever if you’re nervous and being put on the spot, but it doesn’t feel that way to anyone else, and a good answer trumps a fast answer every time.
Remain calm. Very few people like being called on, and everyone is just as new to law school as you are. The worst case scenario here is that you don’t know the answer at some point. And while that may sound horrible, it’s really not. The rest of your class is not going to mock you or even remember those moments, and your professor will only truly be bothered if this is a common occurrence because you are not prepared for class. So remember that you’re in the same boat as the rest of the class, and even if the worst happens, everyone will move on quickly and you should to.
The Big Picture
Besides the academic work of law school, you’ll also need to work at keeping some perspective on things. Law school can get overwhelming and it can become its own little microcosm of minutiae, but you don’t have to let that happen.
Don’t get caught in the comparison trap. Law students can be very competitive people. There will always be someone bragging/complaining about spending 14 hours in the library, someone acting like the work is easy and takes no time at all, and many other characters. But don’t let yourself be affected by these people and worry if you’re not doing what everyone else is doing. No one has any grades yet, so while people might be acting like the smartest or most hardworking person in the class, those roles have yet to be established, so don’t assume anyone else’s method is any better than yours.
Take breaks. In the first few weeks of law school, it’s easy to let law school take over your life. Don’t let that happen! See your friends, go for a run, do some non-law related activities. And get to know your new classmates outside of class. There are usually lots of activities for 1Ls, so join in. Those people are going to be your colleagues and some might become your friends, so don’t confuse taking a break from school with taking a break from everyone you go to school with.
You’ll get through these first few weeks. And then there will be lots more work to do, but by then you’ll have the advantage of having adjusted. Use these weeks to settle into your new job of being a law student, and set yourself up for success for the year.
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And check out these helpful posts:
- Parenting In Law School: Surviving Your 1L Year While Raising a Family
- How to Organize Your To-Do List in Law School
- Do You Need a Sponsor to Stay Productive in Law School
- Dealing With Law School Time Regret
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