Congratulations on being accepted to law school. Many people feel that getting in is the challenging part, but ask most 1Ls about two weeks into their first semester how things are going and you might get a less than confident response. This is due, in large part, to the differences between college and law school. Law school is much more abstract. Law school is more about understanding the big picture than memorizing lots of individual statistics. In college, you take out a sheet of paper in history class and write down when a battle took place, or take notes in economics on why a particular method of accounting is better than another. In a law school class, taking pages and pages of notes is usually worthless, since you’d be acting as a stenographer rather than a law student.
There is no one thing you need to do prior to law school to be successful; you just need to be ready to learn a different way. You’ll be looking at specific cases and rules of law that should start to manifest themselves into a broader picture, similar to a puzzle. Looking at individual pieces might feel redundant, but take a step back, see how they fit together and a larger picture starts to take shape. And by the way, don’t expect the professor to highlight the big picture, or even remind you of it—that is your job!
Once the first wave has passed and you are starting to find your way, how do you stay on track? There are three guiding principles to law school success, starting day 1 and continuing on to graduation.
Top Advice for 1Ls
Do all of the reading and brief the cases.
Failure to do all of the reading assigned for your courses can have dire consequences. Do not fall behind; you may never catch up. Read in a location where you will not be distracted or tempted to do something else. For each assigned case, write down the legally significant facts, the holding of the case, and the rationale for the court’s decision. This is what is referred to as “briefing” cases. Your case briefs should be just that—brief.
Go to class, and pay attention!
Many professors will cover some material in class that is not covered in the reading, so failure to attend class will put you at a big disadvantage when you take the final exam. You’ll also need to avoid the temptation to multi-task. There are no commercial breaks in law school classes; fight the urge to chat, shop, or catch up on emails.
Be actively engaged in class.
Students learn best when they are actively engaged. Do not, however, get so caught up in trying to take down everything your professor says that you are not participating in the class discussion. Remember, conceptual understanding should be your goal, not creating a perfect transcript of what was said.
While those principles will be helpful throughout the semester, you still need to perform well on the final in order to get good grades. Like success in law school, there are some specific action items to ensure ultimate preparation for the final.
Top 3 Tips for Law School Final Exams
Law School Final Exam Tip #1: Plan ahead!
You will likely have 3-4 final exams. By planning your study time in advance, you will have enough time to meet all of the demands of law school and have time to enjoy some outside activities. This is also good advice for being a successful attorney.
Law School Final Exam Tip #2: Take advantage of your professors.
Most professors put their previous exams on file in the library. Check them out. Grab a study group and work through a few. Get a feel for what is asked, how it is asked, and the timing of the exam. If your professor distributes a practice question and says that she will review your answer if you submit it by a certain time, then do it. Get a feel for what is important to your professor. You’ll gain a distinct advantage by knowing what is important to your professor in advance of their exam.
It is not uncommon for students to be confused about the substantive law covered in their classes, how to prepare for class, how to study for exams, how to manage their time or how to take law school exams. Indeed, it is the rare student who does not have questions about these subjects from time to time, particularly during the first year of law school. Remember that there are a number of resources available to you, from the professor who holds weekly office hours, to academic support, and your upper level law school friends. Use them!
With a little planning, a little elbow grease, and a little trial and error, you will be successful. Success in law school is not tied to any one thing, but following these principles will get you quickly acclimated to the process, and from there you can thrive. Enjoy the ride.