Tips for a nervous 1L


I spent the entire summer before law school genuinely terrified that I was going to fail out. Despite my academic success in undergrad, I let imposter syndrome convince me that this would have no bearing on my future academic performance. Looking back at my pre-1L self, I can’t help but laugh. This is going to make me sound like a total nerd, but law school was easily the best three years of my life. Below are some tips to ensure that you have a fantastic experience as well.

1. Time management is essential.

At graduation, I looked at the list of students who earned highest honors, and nearly every one of us had something in common: excellent time management skills. If you are someone who has always been good at managing your time—maybe you spent undergrad juggling a heavy course load, an on-campus job, and extracurriculars—you probably won’t be as overwhelmed when you start your 1L year. In fact, after the first few weeks, I found that I had more free time than I’d had in undergrad, and it made me question whether I was doing something wrong. (I wasn’t!)

If, however, you are someone who has struggled with time management in the past, it’s critical to acknowledge it and make a concrete plan for how you will change this in law school. Maybe use a written calendar where you block out certain dates and times to study for various classes. Maybe find a study partner who keeps you accountable to the schedule you set. Maybe you should only let yourself watch your favorite tv show after you’ve finished a certain amount of work. Whatever you come up with, you’ll need to find the discipline to stick to it. Some people managed to do well in undergrad despite never studying until the last minute—this will rarely work in law school, and it will not work as a 1L. 

2. Use study methods that have worked for you in the past.

If certain academic techniques or study habits worked well for you in undergrad, stick with those! I remember feeling like relying on old techniques wouldn’t work once I got to law school, but unless your undergrad technique was “winging it,” this is NOT true. You may need to tailor or modify your studying approach slightly, but if you have a closed-book exam and you’re someone who has always memorized well with flashcards, go ahead and make flashcards. When I did this for my 1L closed-book Torts exam, some people thought it was ridiculous because it reminded them of what they used to do in high school. But it worked for me in high school, and it worked for me in Torts—I got an A!

I also remember people trying to convince me that if I didn’t set a strict 9–5 study schedule (“Treat it like a job!”), I wouldn’t succeed. This is, frankly, ridiculous. If treating law school like a job that you do every day from 9–5 works for you, that’s awesome! But my brain does not function well before 10 or 11am. I’m basically nocturnal, and I found that on weekdays, I usually did my best work after 8pm. In undergrad, I had always focused on my important essays later at night, and that worked well for me in law school too. So many of us go into law school thinking it’s going to be some alternate universe where nothing will be the same. It’s definitely different, but school is school, and you shouldn’t feel the need to completely overhaul good study habits that worked for you in the past just because you’re in a new environment.

3. Don’t study all the time.

I’m serious. The people who are spending all of their time in the library are rarely at the top of the class. If you are studying 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, you probably aren’t studying correctly. On average, your first semester of law school will involve 15 hours of class per week, and for every hour of class, you probably need to do about 2 hours of work outside of class. That means that between class and homework, you’re averaging 40 hours a week of law school course work. Weeks when you have a paper due can be a bit busier, and around finals I probably put in 50–55 hours a week, but rarely more than that. If you try to do more than ten hours in a day, your brain has probably started functioning at half speed, so it’s really not productive to keep working. Instead, go to the gym, have dinner with friends, watch a movie, or catch up on sleep. I slept on average eight hours a night in law school, went to the gym about five times a week, watched a ton of Netflix, and had a fantastic social life. Law school shouldn’t be completely miserable. You deserve to be a whole person, not just a study robot!

4. Don’t let people scare you when they talk about law school.

Law school can definitely be challenging, and I’ll admit that it’s not for everyone. But you can succeed. Looking back, I realize that my friends and I complained to our non-lawyer friends way more about law school than was warranted. So take anything that a current student—especially a student in the midst of their final exams—tells you with a grain of salt. And remember: they wouldn’t have let you in if they didn’t think you deserved to be there!

Madeline graduating first in her class from The George Washington University Law School. She then clerked on the US District Court for the District of Columbia before working as a litigator at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan. Recently, she joined the National Labor Relations Board as an Attorney-Advisor.


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