Tips and Tricks for First Year Law Students
By: Janaan Hashim, Esq.
The thought of being a law student is both exhilarating and daunting at the same time. Exhilarating for the prospect of what you’ll become as a legal thinker and daunting knowing what you’ll have to do to earn your Juris Doctor degree and be admitted to the bar in order to practice law.
To make things a bit easier, we’ve gathered a number of tips that we hope 1Ls (what we call first year law students) will find useful. The below comes from talking to current students, recent grads, and listening to lawyers reminiscing about law school over a power lunch or at the water cooler. We hope you find these helpful.
Discipline and Studying:
- Stay on top of your reading from your Day 1 assignment onward. FYI, the Day 1 assignment is given before your first class. Welcome to law school…and yes, it is more than 100 pages of reading.
- Outline your notes at the end of each day if you can, each weekend at the latest. You’ll thank me the week before exams when your classmates are freaking out at how long it’s taking them to outline the whole semester’s worth of material while you’re reviewing and studying the material.
- At Week 7, make sure you’re caught up on your outlines. If not, get caught up. And if you think you’ll get caught up on your outlines over Thanksgiving break, think again. This time would be best used to begin studying for your exams, not for getting caught up.
- Three weeks before exams, begin reviewing the material that you learned from Day 1. While it will have seemed eons ago since that class, you will also see that you’ve covered a ton of material and it’s not all in your head. Also, as you review, refine your outline. This will help you fit the pieces together as the course begins to conclude and, more importantly, it will help you understand the material for exam day.
- Study buddies: for some it works, for others it doesn’t. If you use them, don’t get lazy in learning the material your buddy will cover. Make sure you understand that material as well.
- Other people’s outlines and commercial outlines. These are useful to complement your own outline and/or to understand how the pieces fit, but don’t use them to replace your own outline. Creating your outline is how you learn the material and how it becomes a part of your fabric.
- As you review and study the material, turn every stone. If you cannot connect the dots, keep trying to figure it out. If you don’t, chances are this will be an issue you didn’t spot on your exam and your grade will risk dropping.
- Don’t be afraid to look words up in the dictionary, as this habit will only help you all the better in understanding the cases you’re reading. I recall in torts there was a case from the 1600s where the court was trying to determine the boundaries of assault. The defendant was quoted as saying, “If it were not for assize time, I would strike thee know.” Did I take the time to look up what the heck assize meant? Of course not. Was it a key part of the prof’s lecture? Of course it was.
- Exams are a crapshoot just like the practice of law itself. You’ll come out thinking you got an A and you get a B+ or B. You come out thinking you failed your first exam in your life and you get an A. Don’t fret, when exam season is over, look ahead not behind.
The Socratic Method:
We all fear being “socratized” but law schools use it for good reason. Here are a few suggestions on how to navigate these waters.
- Swallow your pride, face your fear and be the one to raise your hand in class. Interaction with the prof and the ability to block out those around you will prepare you for the court setting and dealing with arrogant opposing counsel. It also prepares you to think with agility. The sooner you do this, the easier it will get.
- Analyze with the prof, think things through, try to push yourself intellectually, and if there has to be a gap of silence as you think things through, that’s ok. Just stay in the zone, hear what the prof is asking and think out your answer.
- If the prof sticks with you and keeps going deeper and deeper in his/her analysis, consider this a pat on the back, not the prof picking on you. The prof is exercising and building your analytical and oral skills and is doing this with you because he/she knows you can handle it.
- Don’t get snarky with the prof, they have what you don’t: a law degree and successful career. Humility and respect will take you farther than arrogance and aloofness.
There’s no shortcut to hard work. Law school is meant to be hard and your learning curve will be steep. When you try to cut corners, you only hurt yourself. Set up a study plan and adjust it as needed, but remember that if you slack off, you’ll regret it in December.
Lastly, all of this studying is for one goal beyond graduating, it’s passing the bar. Learn the legal theories and black letter law now so that it’ll be a review later on.