How to Survive Your First Year of Law School

6 Tips for a Successful 1L Year

tired student with books, laptop, and coffee

JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

 

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 will be when it comes time for exams, so what follows are five tips for how to survive 1L.

01
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Start Preparing in the Summer

Academically, law school will be like nothing you have experienced before. For this reason, many students consider taking prep courses to get a head start. Prep-course or not, it’s also important to set some goals for your first semester. There will be a lot going on and a list of goals will help you stay focused.

Preparing for your 1L year isn’t all about academics though. You need to have fun! You’re about to start one of the hardest periods of your life so unwinding and enjoying yourself the summer before law school is important. Spend time with your friends and family and get yourself physically and mentally prepared for the semester ahead.

02
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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. Success in law school is largely determined by mindset.

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. Some professors recommended 12 hours a day, but you may 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. Here are some tips for time management.

03
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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. Closely tied with reading all the assigned material, turning in your work when it’s due is another key to surviving 1L and can be the difference between a B+ and an A. 

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Stay Engaged in the Classroom

Everyone's mind will wander during law school classes, but try your hardest to stay focused, especially when the class is discussing something you didn't understand well from the readings. Paying attention in class and proper note-taking will ultimately save you time.

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.

05
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Connect the Dots Outside of Class

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? Create outlines to organize information so you can start to see the big picture. 

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. 

06
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Do More Than Law School

A majority of your time will be taken up by various aspects of law school, but you still need downtime. 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. Taking care of yourself is the most important thing to do in law school!

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 downtime will help your adjustment to law school life easier and also help you to not burn out before finals arrive.