If you are starting law school this fall, it is likely this is not a decision you made lightly. You spent a lot of time debating whether it was a good idea, studying for and taking the LSAT, applying to and visiting schools, and now getting ready for the first semester. That took a lot of planning and focus to get everything done. Now you are there, and it is likely things feel a bit overwhelming after orientation. But I think it is worthwhile to try to set some goals for yourself and your first semester of law school. These goals can help you in a few different ways. They can help you stay focused, make smart decisions on how to use your time, and also give you a benchmark for evaluating how the semester went at the end.
I encourage you to set goals that you have control over. Sure, you might want to set the goal “I am going to get straight As” but your professors have a lot more control over that than you do. Instead, you can set the goal “I want to feel prepared and confident for my final exams.” This goal is something you can actually accomplish, no matter what anyone else is doing.
Here are some suggested goals to get you started. You don’t have to accept these goals but, hey, they are a starting place, right?
I am going to do my best to be prepared for class each week.
Law school is different from your undergraduate work. Reading really does play into your ability to participate in class. If you prepare for class, you are likely going to understand it better and thus learn more. So make preparing for class a priority. Think about when you are going to do your reading each week to make sure you have plenty of time to get through what sometimes can be incredibly dense material.
I am not going to use the Internet during class.
Unfortunately, technology may not be your friend in law school. Unless there is an academic reason for using the Internet, turn it off during class or put your laptop away entirely. Paying attention in class can actually save you time. So get the most out of your class time. Who knows, you might actually learn something.
I am going to start outlining and reviewing material no later than one month into the semester.
First year students often put off reviewing the material until the end of the semester when it is too late. You want to start outlining and reviewing material early in the semester so you can get questions answered by your professors and have ample time to practice prior to exam time.
I am going to track my time to see how many hours I am actually spending studying.
This is something I recommend when students complain to me that they don’t have enough time during the week to get everything done. As first-year law students it is really easy to waste a lot of time (while simultaneously not feeling you have enough time to get everything done). So perhaps you want to make some notes about how you spend your time. How many hours do you spend reading? How many hours reviewing? How many hours kicking around the library talking to friends?
I am going to start practicing writing out exam answers as soon as possible (and try to get feedback whenever possible).
This is another academic goal that I think is an important one. Many students wait too long to practice writing and then don’t have ample time for practice and feedback at the end of the semester. Feedback is out there, if you know where to look. Professors may review written answers with you. The academic support office, if your school has one, can provide help too. If your classes have teaching assistants, you can ask them questions, or you can hire a tutor (like us) to give you feedback. Regardless, you don’t want to leave practice until the end of the semester!
I am going to meet with career services after November 1.
Everyone is concerned about jobs, right? But there are rules set up so you can’t talk to career services until after November 1 and you can’t apply for jobs until December 1. So give yourself a break on the job front. To be honest, doing well academically is one of the things you can absolutely do now to help you get a job in the future. So don’t stress too much about jobs at present but instead just promise yourself that after November 1 you will swing by career services and then start working on your resume and getting answers to any questions you might have.
I am going to attend at least one networking event at school or with a local bar association.
Although you can’t apply for jobs, you can still get out there to meet people! I think it would be great to set a goal to attend at least one networking event in your community. In this new legal marketplace, meeting people is more important than ever. Give yourself a chance to get out there and start building relationships. You don’t know where they might lead.
I am going to take time off each week to do something nice for myself (yoga, cooking healthy meals, nights out with friends).
You don’t want to forget setting goals about taking care of yourself. It is impossible to be a great law student if you don’t sleep and take care of yourself. So make sure you set aside time to do the things that make you feel good, like exercising, eating well, and spending time with friends and family. This will help you stay balanced and will also prevent burnout.
If I am struggling, I am going to seek out help.
If you are struggling with academics or emotionally, you must promise yourself that you are going to seek help. There are plenty of resources out there for you. Your school may have resources. And do you know that many law schools actually have free therapy for law students? Or you can reach out to tutors or coaches. Regardless, you don’t want to struggle in silence. Ask for help!
What other goals do you want to set for yourself this semester? Share them in the comments.
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Here are some other helpful posts:
- What Most Law Students Forget to Do: Think About the Material
- Time Management Tip: Think of Law School Like a Job
- Avoiding Office Hours? Go, and Get Something Out of It
- The Law School Mental Game: Create Plans of Action
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