Four tips for surviving year one of law school

1L academic advice
By Ryan S.

You may be going into your first year of law school with a range of emotions. Whether you’re excited to finally make a lifelong dream come true, apprehensive to figure out exams and your career path, or something in between—take a moment to congratulate yourself for making it here. As someone who was the first in his family to attend law school, I didn’t know what to expect.

Here’s four tips that I wish I knew before starting law school:

1. Build Relationships with Classmates and Professors

On the first day of class, one of my professors emphasized that the most important asset you’ll gain in law school is the people you’ll meet. This is clear from the first day of classes. Your classmates will teach you contracts doctrine late into the night, as you collectively panic over your imminent final exam. They will celebrate your victories and mourn your setbacks. And in the future, they will be the leaders and colleagues that bring you a step closer to your dream job. Of course, you’ll feel pressure to hole up in your room and avoid people at times. But remember to be intentional in relationship-building with these classmates.

This applies to your relationships with professors as well! They are the ones that will advocate for you as you apply to certain jobs or clerkships in the future. They also are well-respected in their fields and can give you access to unique insight and professional connections. And they are often in their positions because of mentorship they received in the past, so they are looking to pay it forward to proactive students.

2. Study Smarter, not Harder

I remember hearing horror stories about students that consistently pulled countless all-nighters to get ahead on their readings and prepare for class. Though there is a time and place for late nights of studying, note that law school is a marathon not a sprint. If you’re working at a breakneck pace from the beginning, you’ll quickly burn out during times that you will actually need to study more intensively.

The secret to effectively studying is to study smarter, not harder. Don’t conflate hours of preparation with academic success. Looking ahead to exams, remember that you’re taking a test based on a professor’s unique take on that doctrine of the law. While supplements and hornbooks may be useful in understanding the broad strokes of the caselaw, it will not prepare you to understand what excites that professor about that domain of law—ranging anywhere between specific philosophical or policy underpinnings and unsettled questions of law that are still being battled out in the court systems. The high-achieving exam answers will tap into those concepts to distinguish themselves from other answers. 

3. Chase After Your Own Gold Stars

It’s completely normal to feel waves of imposter syndrome throughout your first year. But remember that you belong at law school, and you’re there for a reason. Write down your personal and academic goals and use them to anchor your law school experience. Too often, many students (myself included) get swept up by others chasing after shiny gold stars like particular grades, research opportunities, or career options. But you get to decide what’s important in your education. Drown out the other noise and do everything you can to make your dream come true. 

4. Take Time to Take Care of Yourself

This is the ultimate key to thriving in law school. 1L is an exciting and stressful time, but you are more than a student. Do what makes you happy and show yourself grace. Don’t forget your hobbies and passions. And lean on the villages that brought you this far: your families, friends, and partners are proud of you and support you. Law school is a team sport.

I hope that you take these words to heart as you embark on the first steps of your journey as a lawyer! Feel free to reach out anytime if we can partner in your success.

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