As a 1L, you’re expected to learn new skills and manage a lot of brand new tasks fairly quickly (and seamlessly). Add this to the fact that most of what you’re learning is somewhat foreign and your 1L grades are very important, and things can get overwhelming fairly quickly. Fortunately, you’re never alone. In fact, there are likely more resources available to you than you think, so be sure to utilize them!
Academic Support Offices
More than likely, your school has some sort of academic success and bar support office. These exist solely to help students succeed, and I guarantee more people could be taking advantage of them. Typically, the staff in these offices provide a number of varying resources that cover anything from class prep to bar prep. Some resources that may be of particular interest to 1Ls include help with course planning, time management, choosing and utilizing study aids, exam-taking strategies, class preparation and outlining. As a 1L, all of these areas are probably at least somewhat foreign to you and are critical to learn in order to succeed in law school. If you feel like you’re struggling with any of these things, it will likely be highly beneficial to reach out to your school’s academic support office.
Teaching assistants are another invaluable resource for 1Ls. Depending on the school, you may have a teaching assistant for most of your classes, or you may only have a teaching assistant for one or two classes. Typically, your teaching assistants will be either 2Ls or 3Ls who have done exceptionally well in that particular course (and honestly, probably most of their courses). Their role can vary with the structure of the course – you may have mandatory small sessions with them, you may have optional review sessions with them or they may just be there to hold office hours and answer questions. Regardless of their role, reaching out to them for help is incredibly valuable, and some may even be willing to look over your outlines or read practice exam answers, which will be crucial when it comes to preparing for exams.
In addition, if you have a legal writing teaching assistant, they may be able to help you with assignments that your professors can’t, or won’t (depending on their particular policies) help with directly. At many schools there will be limitations on who you can get help from on legal writing assignments, and your teaching assistant may be one of the few people that is allowed to help you. Legal writing teaching assistants are probably also experts in Bluebook citations so any questions about these may be best directed to them!
Law librarians are typically legal research experts, and when you’re a 1L with no prior legal research experience, this is gold. Typically, law librarians are trained as both lawyers and librarians, which is an invaluable combination when it comes to legal research. At many schools, your law librarians may also teach legal research courses. Along with legal writing, legal research is a skill that is imperative to have in most legal jobs in order to be successful, and any resource that can help you improve your skillset in this area is key. Your law librarians can probably help you become much more efficient in your legal research using both print and online materials. Remember, however, that they may not be able to directly help you with certain writing assignments (depending on your school’s legal writing policies), but can likely answer bigger picture questions about your research methods.
Legal Writing Professors
This might seem more obvious, but your legal writing professors are particularly important. Remember what it is you’re going to be doing (mostly) as a lawyer – a lot of research and writing. Out of all the classes you’ll take, legal writing is arguably the most practical and directly transferrable to virtually any job you’ll have in the legal field. Legal writing isn’t necessarily like most other types of writing – it’s a bit of a learned skill that is crucial to master to be successful in most legal jobs. Your legal writing professor is an important resource in perfecting this, so be sure to ask questions and get as much feedback as possible!
In addition, some schools may offer 1L writing workshops run by legal writing faculty. If your school has these, go to them. They will likely cover things ranging from sentence structure to concise writing to grammar rules. No matter how good of a writer you think you are, refining your writing will only help you in your legal career.
Again, this might seem like another obvious one, but I would argue that in most cases office hours are still underutilized throughout the semester. Typically, your professors chose to teach because they like working with students, and they set aside specific blocks of time just to be available to you, so be sure to take advantage of these throughout the semester! It’s fairly common for many students to wait until closer to exam time to really utilize office hours, but having questions answered throughout the semester not only reduces your stress before exams, but also ensures that you don’t have to risk not having your questions answered at the end of the semester because there is a line of students down the hallway.
The first year of law school throws an endless number of tasks at you, and the importance of 1L performance only adds to the pressure. Fortunately, there are more resources available to you than you may even think, and utilizing them can help you successfully navigate law school!
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