The first year of law school, particularly the first semester of 1L, can be one of the most challenging, frustrating, and ultimately rewarding times in your life. As someone who has been there, I know how quickly the feelings of dread and confusion can arise, and because of this, it’s easy to fall behind–even as early as the first few weeks.
But you just can’t let that happen.
The farther you fall behind, the more stressed you’ll be come exam time, so what follows are five tips for how to survive 1L.
1. Treat law school like a job.
Yes, you are reading, studying, attending lectures, and eventually taking exams, which leads you to believe that law school is indeed school, but the best way to approach it is like a job.
Get up at the same time every morning and work at law school tasks for eight to 10 hours a day with normal breaks for eating, etc.; one of my professors recommended 12 hours a day, but I find that to be a bit excessive. Your work right now includes attending class, going over your notes, preparing outlines, attending study groups, and simply doing your assigned reading. This workday discipline will pay off come exam time.
2. Keep up with reading assignments.
Keeping up with reading assignments means that you’re working hard, wrestling with new materials as they come up, more able to pinpoint areas you don’t understand, already preparing for final exams, and perhaps most importantly, not nearly as nervous about possibly being called on in class particularly if your professor uses the Socratic Method.
That’s right! Just by reading your assignments you can lower your anxiety levels during class.
3. Stay engaged in the classroom.
Everyone’s mind will wander during law school classes (especially, in my experience, during ones that rhyme with Schmiv Gro and Blontracts), but try your hardest to stay focused, especially when the class is discussing something you didn’t understand well from the readings.
Obviously you don’t want to get the reputation as a “gunner,” always shooting up your hand to ask or answer a question, but don’t be afraid to participate when you can contribute to the conversation. You’ll process the material better if you’re an active participant and not just spacing out, or worse, checking your friends’ Facebook status updates.
4. Connect the dots outside of class.
Or, in lawyer speak, try to see the forest for the trees.
One of the best ways to be ready for exams at the end of the semester is to go over your notes after class and try to incorporate them into the larger picture including past lessons. How does this new concept interact with the ones you were learning about last week? Do they work together or against each other?
Study groups can be helpful in this process, but if you learn better on your own and feel they’re a waste of time, by all means, skip them.
5. Do more than law school.
A majority of your time will be taken up by various aspects of law school (remember, it can be a full-time job!), but you still need down time. Don’t forget about the things you enjoyed before law school, especially if they involve physical exercise; with all the sitting around you’ll be doing in law school, your body will appreciate any physical activity it can get.
Other than that, get together with friends, go out to dinner, go to the movies, go to sporting events, do whatever you need to do to just unwind and de-stress for several hours a week; this down time will help your adjustment to law school life easier and also help you to not burn out before finals arrive.