It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…. it was 1L Fall. Now, let’s be real, there aren’t that many “best of times” during the first semester of law school. 1L is typically the hardest and most challenging time of law school. When I think about 1L fall, I think of it as a crazy busy time when I had no idea what I was doing. I think about how I was busy every moment of every day. I think about how I never even really had time to go online and check out blogs or keep up with the news or watch anything on tv. Looking back, I don’t really know how I did it. It was a crazy marathon that seemed to be run at the pace of a sprint. It was exhausting.
I also met Michael during 1L Fall, which means that I also have a lot of wonderful, happy memories from that time. But when it comes to law school itself- yikes.
Because 1L year is so intense and difficult, I thought I’d give rising law students and current 1Ls a little bit of advice from someone who has made it to the other side. And trust me, it gets better after 1L!
Here are 5 ways to keep your sanity and survive 1L Fall:
- Don’t let other people get into your head: No one knows what’s going on at the beginning of 1L. But a lot of people go around acting like they’re already pros. It can be stressful to think that other people have it all figured out already when they’re bragging about outlining and taking practice tests while you’re still trying to figure out if you’re briefing your cases correctly. And while there certainly are some people who come in with some crazy gift for law school, the vast majority of your classmates are also confused. And the ones who claim they aren’t confused probably don’t understand enough to know that they should be confused! (Also, pro-tip, the people bragging the most about how well they’re doing during 1L Fall are usually never the people who are actually doing the best.) So don’t let other people get into your head, and just focus on learning as much as you can.
- Keep your old study habits…: For some reason, everyone in law school thinks they need to be in study groups during 1L. Within the first week, everyone is paired off and convinced they’ve got this whole law school thing figured out. Maybe it’s drilled into our heads from the Paper Chase and Legally Blonde that the only way to succeed is to divide and conquer. I tried it out, too! If everyone else was doing it, I didn’t want to get left behind! But here’s the thing- I have never liked to study with people, and the few times that I did study with people in college or high school were never that helpful to me. I really need silence to read and write notes and take everything in. Some people learn better by talking and listening, but I am definitely the opposite. But still, I tired to do the whole study group thing for awhile. And sure enough, I still don’t like studying with people. It didn’t suddenly become helpful just because I was in law school. All this is to say, go with what you know. It got you this far!
- ... But don’t forget to change it up a bit: Here is the flip side to the advice above. While I definitely think you need to stick with the study strategies that have given you gotten you where you are, you need to make sure you’re studying the right things and preparing to take tests the right way for law school. First, while you might be taking pages and pages of notes on each case at the beginning, all you really need to know for each case can and should be narrowed down to one or two sentences. That seemed crazy to me when I realized that (why was I spending so much time briefing these cases?!), but that’s what worked for me when it came time to take the test. It’s extremely valuable to have in-depth notes on each case to review and reference while you’re studying, but when it comes to taking the exam, you need to be able cite clear, simple principles. Second, I personally found the writing for law school tests to be very different from the writing I had done previously in college. In my experience, law school requires direct, straightforward, and assertive language. The writing I used for English and art history essays in college was very different from the writing required in law school. It was much more flowery, and when you’re interpreting art or literature it can be difficult to make strong, black and white statements. Law school is a whole different animal, and you’ll want to review every sample exam answer you can as a 1L to try and get a feel for the type of writing your professors will be looking for. This might mean you need to alter your test-taking strategies a bit, but don’t worry, by 3L it will feel (kind of) normal.
- Don’t forget to live your life: 1L is busy. Crazy busy, in a way that is not normal or sustainable. Because 1L is such a challenging time, it’s important to keep doing the things that make you happy and keep you sane. Exercising, seeing friends, eating well, and talking to family are so important for your mental and physical wellbeing. You’ve got to take care of yourself or you will go insane with all the work and stress. And don’t forget to have some fun! I met Michael during 1L Fall and some of our very favorite dates took place those first few months of law school. You’ve got to get out and live your life.
- Remember, everything gets better after 1L year: Undoubtedly, 1L Fall and Spring will be challenging, difficult, and, sometimes, downright miserable. (And if that wasn’t your 1L experience- tell me your secrets!) But even during the difficult times, just remember, law school gets better. It gets so much better. We had to take 18 credits our 1L Fall, which meant we took the equivalent of four black letter law classes and a legal research and writing class. I also took 18 credits my 1L Spring semester. For some perspective, after that, I only ever took 12 credits each semester! So not only will you probably have more time, but you’ll be able to choose what classes you’re interested in, participate in clinics, and you’ll actually know how to study and prepare for class. So even when 1L is at its worst, just remember this is only a temporary state of suffering and becoming a lawyer will be worth it!
Any other law students out there have advice for 1Ls about how to stay sane during their first semesters?
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