First year of law school.
It’s the summer before the first year of law school. You’re excited, convinced you’ll be top 10% of your class, nervous, and overall anxious to dive into this wondrous world of law school. The first class that hits hard (and stings I might add) is legal writing. You’re introduced to this new legal jargon, and for many, it’s the first time you’ve heard this bizarre language. It consumes all your time, and you’re unsure how to keep up with your other substantive classes. What’s a case brief? How do I write a memo? How do I handle the pressure of having one test determine my entire grade?
Most students learn how to cope very quickly. Others decide law school isn’t for them.
Law school isn’t always what the books or attorneys who have been out of law school for years say it is. A few things are for sure though. You’ll be studying amongst some truly brilliant people. You’ll be vying for a spot above median with these brilliant people. You’ll work 80 hours a week for a legal writing class that’s only worth 2 credit hours. You’ll forget what sleep is, and how to balance a social life. Actually, the month before finals it’s best to just forget about your social life. You’ll have career counselors tell you to network, network, network. The horrible economy for lawyers should not be new to you, and you’ll hear about it a lot once you jump into your first year.
But you’ll also make some truly awesome friends who are incredibly intelligent and motivated. You’ll eventually learn how to juggle volunteering, classes, and legal writing assignments. You will see some students drop out, and you’ll even struggle yourself with thoughts of “why am I doing this to myself” or “I have no idea what the professor is talking about.”
My first year went a lot like the above. Thank God for the friends I met during my first semester. There is no way I would have made it without them.
I think law school is all about balance, which was incredibly hard to find during the first semester. Chicago-Kent has a brutal legal writing program, but in the end, it made me such a better writer. I spent hours upon hours on writing assignments. Luckily, I was able to keep up with my other substantive classes for the most part. It’s not easy though. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to just crawl into bed after a 24-hour day of memo-ing. But no, I had to get that Torts reading done. I made sure to try to have fun every once in awhile. It’s imperative to keep your sanity or you will lose it. Especially around finals.
My second semester was torture. And that’s putting it lightly. Volunteering, interning and taking classes during your first year is not something I’d recommend. I just didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to intern or to add something else to my resume. I survived, but I promise you at one point I was convinced I was dying. From the last 3 weeks of classes until the end of finals I felt like someone had dragged me through barbed wire. I hardly spent time with my new husband (whom I love dearly, and is SO understanding), and I didn’t make enough time during the semester to have fun. My classes were also much more challenging, and it took me longer to pick up on the concepts. After my last final, I slept until nearly 3pm the next day. That’s how mentally exhausted I was.
It’s hard to prepare for something like law school. You have to have superior study habits and know how to have an appropriate work-life balance. It takes practice, but you’ll eventually find something that works for you.
My advice to a new first-year law student:
1. I’m a firm believer that you have to go to law school for the right reasons. You’re not guaranteed a $100,000 starting salary after graduation or much less a job. There are too many of us and not enough jobs. Be realistic.
2. Make your own outlines, and use upper class-man outlines and office hours with your professor to fill in the holes of your understanding. It’s really about the process of making the outline; not the finished product.
3. Maintain a healthy work-life balance. Burn-out is almost inevitable for a law student. Manage your time wisely. Procrastination has the potential to ruin you.
4. Sleep. I was never the person that could pull all-nighters. Some of my friends can pull all nighters and turn in quality legal memos, but I never could do that. Do yourself a favor and try to get plenty of sleep EVERY night. Your body will thank you.
5. Take practice exams. You’ll never understand the pressure of having one exam determine your entire grade until it’s staring you in the face. I’m convinced it is the most nerve-racking feeling in the world. Doing well on law school exams is more about how well you actually write the exam. Of course you’re graded on how well you know the material, but you have to be able to convey it in a reader-friendly way, and in a way that pleases your professor. This is much harder said then done when you’re under the weight of 3,000 tons of pressure for a 3-hour exam. Law school curves are killer, and someone has to be on the bottom in first-year classes. Do yourself a favor and start taking practice exams as early as possible. Even if you feel uncomfortable actually sitting down to take the exam you should at least take a look at old exams to get an idea of what they look like.
Again, congrats to my friends who finished their first-year of law school. We did it!