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Survival Tips for Incoming 1Ls

I remember feeling very excited and scared during the weeks before I started law school.  I remember having a lot of questions and not always having a clear answer for many of them.  I want to share some of the wisdom that I’m glad people told me and some that I wished I had been told before I started law school.

Enjoy Your Pre-law School Summer
You will have offers to take special pre-law school prep courses to help prepare you to take law classes.  You probably don’t need this.  Enjoy spending your time relaxing with family and friends instead.

Law School is Overwhelming – at first
You might feel like a deer-in-the-headlights for the first month of school while you’re getting used to classes and studying.  This is normal and temporary.

Your Reading Speed will Decrease
Reading legal cases is a lot different than reading other textbooks.  Don’t freak out if you are only able to read 6-10 pages per hour your first semester.

You Can Still Have a Life
Going to law school does not mean you have to give up having a personal life, but you will have to prioritize your activities.  I strongly encourage every law student to have a life away from school.  I was the most miserable the semester I spent the least amount of time participating in non-law school activities.

Studying will take up a lot of time.  However, a disciplined person can regularly be done with studying for the day by 5pm or 6pm.  One of my classmates was known for getting all of his studying done between Monday and Friday and was able to spend his weekends relaxing with his wife.

Don’t Even Think of Trying to Work During Your First Semester
The ABA prohibits 1Ls from working their first semester, and this is one time where the ABA and I agree.  Having worked 2 jobs (13 hours/day) in the past, I thought I could try working a few hours a week when classes started.  My first week of classes proved to me that this wasn’t an option.  Law school is mentally draining your first semester.  Let your free time be devoted to rest and enjoyment.

Form Relationships with your Professors
Professors are great people when you need advice or someone to listen to your frustrations.  They are also awesome resources for networking in your local community and glowing letters of recommendation that make you stand out from your peers when you’re applying for jobs and scholarships.  Professors are a highly beneficial and often under-utilized resource for students.

You Don’t Have to Change Who You Are to be Successful
The legal profession is generally conservative and traditional, and I am neither of those things.  When I was accepted to law school, people suggested that I change my wardrobe, my hair, my sunglasses, and cover my tattoos when I started school.  This was loving advice from people who didn’t want me to be judged by my appearance and bold personality.  I can understand why people might want to “tone it down” during the first few days of school to see how people who don’t fit the norms are treated, but in general, you don’t have to change who you are to be successful in law school.  For me, the best experiences and opportunities have come when I have stayed genuine to myself and not followed the traditional path.

Attitude is Everything
In law school, as in life, you will be as happy or as miserable as you choose to be.  If you simply accept that sometimes life will be challenging and stressful, but don’t let it get you down, you’ll be a happier person.  I have a classmate who embodies this.  No matter what is going on in his life, whenever I ask him, “How are you?,” he answers, “I’m living the dream.”  A positive attitude will always carry you through.

Good luck!  If you have any questions about law school or if you have been a law student and have your own tips or experiences to add to this list, please leave them as comments to this post.

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8 Comments

  1. Amanda says:

    Great post…I did something similar (and linked to you!) over at reconstructinglawschool.blogspot.com

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      I love your blog post – especially that awesome picture. Did you notice that our last blogs were on the same topic too? Did we know each other in a past life?

  2. Michael says:

    I suggest not doing the recommend summer reading either. I wasted $100 on books that didn’t teach me anything. The professors will have their own methods anyway.

    My irreverent and rambling advice is to instead watch all the episodes of James Burke’s Connections, (e.g. http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=79184D14F872B80D&playnext=1). I loved the few I had seen in 9th grade, and watching them all put me in the proper “seeing the big picture” mindset for law school.

    It really helped me to figure out what I would need for the best chance at success and to have it set up before school started. In my case, this meant finishing all the outstanding little projects I had wanted to accomplish (decluttering the mind), buying a new laptop and setting up a backup system, and purchasing highlighters and a day planner for the first time in my life. I stocked my locker with vacuum sealed, ready to eat meals. I always felt organized and ready, which gave me the best chance at learning.

    Also, sleep when something doesn’t make sense. I couldn’t understand the first case in torts (Brown v. Kendall) at all until I woke up the next morning.

    And you can still have a life and enjoy hobbies. I managed to squeeze in some calculator programming now and then (although some would say this means I have no life).

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Great suggestion Michael – get all your little projects done before school starts because you won’t have time for them once classes starts. You want your mind and environment clear of mental and physical clutter.

      We all hit the wall when we’re studying, when our mind can’t wrap itself around a concept or when we’re so tired that we’re just looking at the page instead of reading it. When you hit that point, STOP! Get some rest and try again later.

  3. Amanda says:

    I just discovered your blog and I’d wholeheartedly agree with your advice. In connection with the “maintaining a social life” bit, I’d really encourage incoming students to try and establish friendships with people whose only connection to law school is you. This might be difficult and take some time if you’re relocating to an area where you know nobody (like I did!) but the benefits are indescribable. I love my classmates, and have been very blessed over the past 2 years to form friendships that I know will be lifelong, both professionally and personally. But if there’s anything you’ll learn within the first week of 1L it’s that a group of law students is incapable of NOT talking about law school. Granted, I have a few law school friends with whom I’m able to just relax and ignore anything school related, but it seems to be the exception.

    Having a network of friends who are not in the legal profession is an amazing escape from the pressures of school & work, and it also helps me keep my perspective in the right place. The legal world can be very insular, and sometimes it’s easy to get wrapped up in it all.

    Just my two cents, glad to have found your blog! :)

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Thanks for sharing your perspective. I think there are times when the only people who understand what we’re going through is other law students. At the same time, we all need to have people in our lives who have nothing to do with law school.

      I don’t know if anyone can navigate law school without friends. Whether we’re having a good day, a bad day, or just a Tuesday, we need that support system to carry us through.

  4. Rackham Karlsson says:

    Along the same lines as Amanda, I think most people should avoid dating within the law school. Law school is a little bit like high school — a small, intense environment where everyone knows what you did last weekend — especially during 1L year. There are exceptions, of course; some people meet their future husbands or wives at law school. But before you take that chance, ask yourself: do you really want to be reminded of that failed relationship every time you walk into Con Law? Do you really want to be the subject of relationship gossip among your professional peers? Perhaps more importantly, do you really want to date another law student? I mean, we’re all gross and lawyer-like! If you want to date while in law school (it’s not necessarily a bad idea), get yourself off campus. Try Match.com, join a “real world” club, whatever. You’ll be glad you did, when you see all those 1L relationships disintegrating right around finals time!

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      A bit like high school? I’ve found law school school to be unfortunately very much like high school.

      I couldn’t agree with you more about not dating your fellow law students. If it doesn’t work out, you still have to see them all the time. (This happened to me during my undergrad when I dated someone in my major.) I think it’s important to have part of your life that exists away from the law school. It makes you more balanced.