1L Law School Advice You Need to Succeed!
If you are starting law school in the fall, this post is for you! Law school is certainly a big adjustment, but it doesn’t have to be a negative experience. In this post we present five excellent pieces of law school advice to help you succeed in your 1L year!
1L Law School Advice You Need to Succeed!
1. Your focus and study habits will change.
One of the most important pieces of law school advice is to recognize that it is a lot different from your undergrad experience. In undergrad, you likely had papers to complete throughout the semester, or labs or individual assignments. All of these components, along with midterms and final exams, made up your final grade. In law school, almost all of your grade will ultimately be based on your final exam score. Some professors do include a small participation element, and a few might have a midterm, but the final exam will generally be worth the vast majority, and likely 100%, of your grade (this might change in higher level courses, i.e. seminars, where writing or practical tasks are the focus of the course itself).
This means that pretty much everything that you do in your study habits should be focused on preparing you to succeed on your final exam. There will be a ton of material that is fair game for the final. Taking good notes during class is important, as you want to be able to remember what your professor has emphasized when it comes closer to exam time. (See this post for some note taking tips and shortcuts).
Remember, your professor is the one who writes your exams, so you want to make sure you understand the law the way your professor teaches it! Your final might seem far away at the beginning of the semester, but the early material will set the foundation for the later material, so don’t assume it will be easy to catch up later!
2. Come prepared to class every day!
As referenced above, it is very important to keep up with the material assigned each week. Thus, another great piece of law school advice is to come to class prepared every day! There is a lot of material to get through in a semester and you don’t want to risk falling behind. Further, the middle and end portions of the class likely won’t make sense if you don’t understand the foundational law presented at the beginning. There is just far too much reading assigned throughout the semester to expect that you can ease your way into things and catch up on everything once exams approach.
We generally do not recommend reading every word of every case or you will spend all of your time reading cases (and no time outlining or completing practice exams). We recommend instead that you read case briefs and skim the cases so that you are prepared enough for class.
Another reason to be prepared each and every day is that you never know when you might be called upon to answer a question. The vast majority of classes follow the Socratic method (aka “cold calling”) where the professors will just randomly call on students to answer questions with no warning. While normally it makes no difference in terms of your final grades how you answer questions on call, it will help ease anxiety and it will help you take better class notes if you are prepared for class. For more law school advice on cold calling, check out this post with four vital tips on surviving cold calling, as well as this post on how to survive the Socratic method.
3. Don’t brief every case.
When you are preparing for class, the amount of reading assigned is going to look very overwhelming. A lot of your reading will contain cases. One of the first skills you will learn in law school is how to brief a case. This involves writing out the procedural posture, facts, issue, rule, analysis, and holding of each case in a separate document so that you can have a summary to reference for later. While the information contained in cases is certainly important, it would take way too much time for you to separately brief every case covered in your reading. See this post on why you shouldn’t brief cases for more law school advice on this topic!
The best alternative to briefing every individual case is book briefing. This strategy allows you to identify the important components of each case directly in your book! If your professor happens to call on you and ask for a rule, you can easily pick it out quickly from your notes in your book! One great way to book brief is to choose a highlighter color for each of the different relevant components (facts, rules, analysis, etc.) and highlight the corresponding passages from the case directly on your page. Once you have your color-coding scheme memorized, you will be able to instantly identify whatever information your professor asks for!
4. Start outlining early.
As mentioned, your performance on the final exam is going to be the major factor in determining your final grade. In law school, the traditional way to prepare best for your finals is to create an outline of all of the material covered during the course. It can be very tempting to leave creating this outline until the end of the semester. This is not a good idea! One great piece of law school advice is to take some time each week to work on your outline and add the material that you have just covered. This way the information is fresh in your mind and you would be better able to remember any nuances your professor discussed that would be beneficial in your outline.
You also don’t want to leave all of the work of outlining until the end when you could run out of time! This could result in attempts to cram everything in and leaving out important material in your haste. You also want to leave time before the final to memorize your outline! Some professors allow you to use your outlines on the exam, while some don’t. Even if you are allowed to use it, the better you know your outline, the less time you will spend searching through it for something specific. This allows you to spend more time actually writing a strong exam response.
Here is an in-depth guide on how to write a law school outline.
5. Take care of yourself!
It is all too easy to feel overwhelmed during law school. The workload is very heavy, and it is certainly a huge adjustment from undergrad. Thus, the final piece of critical law school advice is to take care of yourself, both mentally and physically! Make sure you’re still eating good meals and getting plenty of sleep! Know that while you will be spending a lot of time studying, you should still make time for breaks and socializing. If you throw yourself into studying too hard, you will wear down by the end of the semester. This could hinder your performance on that all-important final exam! Work on keeping both your body and your mind fresh and healthy so that you can make it through the semester in peak condition!