Congratulations! You killed the LSAT, worked diligently on your applications, and you’re now ready to start your first year in law school.
Before you dive into this next phase of your life, take some time to appreciate all the hard work leading to this moment. Be proud of yourself—you earned it. As you look forward to starting your first year, you’re probably feeling a mixture of nervousness, hope, and excitement. This is a completely normal response.
You’ve probably heard horror stories from friends and family about their first year in law school. While it’s true that your 1L year will be academically rigorous and different from your undergrad experience, it can also be extremely rewarding if approached the right way. There are going to be some weeks of completely smooth sailing and others where you may feel your whole world is crumbling down. That’s all part of the journey. As you continue on that journey, we’ll be here to offer help and guidance every step of the way.
Prepare to be Unprepared
The first few weeks of law school will be a little bit of a whirlwind. As with any major adjustment, there’s going to be an acclimation period while you slowly start to get more comfortable. Law school is no different. You are being thrust into a new environment with unfamiliar people and its own set of rules. Your professors are probably going to throw a lot of information at you all at once, so try to soak in as much as possible. Don’t panic if everything feels a bit overwhelming and you have no idea what’s going on in one of your classes. Even the people who took paid prep courses during the summer will not be completely prepared for everything. As you will soon realize, law school requires a different skill set than undergrad. Unlike undergrad, law school is not about your ability to memorize material or parrot back the professor’s analysis on papers or exams. You’ll learn to analyze cases, defend positions, and gain an understanding of how and why various legal rules are applied. Don’t be scared off by the first few weeks and expect it to take time to adjust to the pace of your classes and professors.
Work Smarter, not Harder
You’re going to have work hard your first semester, but working hard does not simply mean spending every waking hour reading or reviewing class materials. You’ll soon find that time management is one of the most important skills to cultivate. While being a hard worker is great, you’re also going to need to learn to budget your time appropriately so you can effectively keep up in all your classes. That may sometimes require you to prioritize certain classes over others. Much of the work you’ll be doing on your own will come in the form of long and dense readings. It’s up to you to figure out the best way to break down, digest, and understand the material. Be strategic and deliberate with how you spend your time and how you study.
Actually Do Your Homework
Don’t get lulled into a false sense of complacency just because your exams are far off and you don’t have pressing deadlines. Make it a priority to stay on top of readings from the very beginning of the semester. These readings are essential to understanding what’s going on in class, and you won’t be able to just magically make it up at the last minute. Every reading and topic relates to and builds on the one before and after it, so be sure to keep that in mind.
Create and Follow a Routine
In law school you’ll most likely have less structure than you did in college, so it’s important to create your own schedule. Be sure to give yourself enough time to tackle all the homework and class-related assignments you need to do, but also make time for yourself. Creating a daily schedule is a great way to not only establish good work habits, but also to guarantee that you’re allotting time for needed breaks and self-care. It’s essential that you set aside time to exercise, decompress, relax, and recharge. These breaks are key to staying sane even when you’re overwhelmed and have a ton of work on your plate. While establishing and maintaining a daily schedule may sometimes be difficult, you’ll need to make an effort to get a sense of the schedule that will work best for you.
Know Your Resources and Take Advantage of Them
Don’t wait until the end of the semester to go to your professor’s office hours or visit the academic support department. While your professors may initially seem intimidating or cold, they want to see you succeed and do well. Most professors want to form positive relationships with their students, so be proactive and don’t be afraid to seek out their help if you need clarification on a certain topic or case.
Similarly, you should visit the academic support department at least once at the beginning of the semester. It’s this department’s job to help you navigate all the difficulties of being a 1L, so you should try to establish a rapport with them. They’re a great resource if you’re nervous about how to prepare for an exam, want to figure out a better way to take notes, or are feeling overwhelmed.
Most people don’t think of law school in a social context, but that doesn’t mean you should isolate yourself from your classmates. Try to meet as many of them as possible. You don’t have to become friends with every person you meet, but you should be friendly and approachable. You may be working with, for, or against some of these people in the future, so you should avoid burning any bridges. Having a sense of camaraderie with classmates will make your overall around experience more enjoyable.
Enjoy It While It Lasts
When you’re going through the daily grind of readings, lectures, and making outlines, it can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. As you go through these next few weeks, periodically take a step back and remember why you chose to go to law school. While the first semester may feel extra important because you want to do well from the start, understand that one bad exam or assignment is not the end of the world. You have three full years ahead of you so be present, enjoy the ride, and don’t forget to take care of both your mental and physical health.