Advice for the Incoming Class of 2009
The following is a collection of advice for incoming 1L’s who will soon be starting law school. This advice is from members of the graduating Class of 2006, Ohio State University (Moritz Law School), and is intended as a gift to the Moritz Class of 2009. The majority of the advice is also applicable to other law schools. More will be added soon.
1. Do not use your summer before law school to “study” – it’s your last chance to really RELAX for a bit.
2. Take class notes in outline format, so that creating an outline for the exam is easier at the end of the semester.
3. Do something you enjoy that’s not related to school for at least 20 minutes a day.
4. Don’t pay attention to other students’ study habits, grades, etc. – just focus on yourself.
1. Ask upper classmen about professors before signing up for random classes.
2. I used the Examples and Explanations Series for the code-based classes and found it extremely useful, since it had problems to work through.
3. After the first exam and especially after grades are in, make appointments with professors so you can talk about your exam, and what you can do to improve.
4. One of my professors told me the most important question when studying or writing an exam is to focus on “WHY” a particular rule applies rather than just stating the rule. I found this advice extremely helpful.
Don’t stress out. Have some fun, and don’t stress out.
1. If group studying doesn't work for you, DON'T join a study group...you'll do just as well (if not better) by studying on your own, and asking your fellow students and/or professor if you don't understand things. If group studying doesn't work for you, and you join a study group anyway, your grades could suffer...
2. Law school is not as crazy competitive as people make it out to be. Sure, there are those students who excel at everything that they do, and there is definitely a lot of competition in terms of grades, but the stories about people cutting pages out of the books in the library and students who refuse to help their classmates have little basis in reality (at least at Ohio State). Relax.
3. Be nice to everyone. You should want to be nice to others anyway, but an added benefit is that the people you know in law school are the people who will send you referrals, or consult you in your area of expertise, etc., which could definitely benefit your practice in the long run.
4. Meet people outside the law school community. These are the people who could help you get jobs for the summer after your 2L year, or after graduation, and they're also a good source of referral business for after you graduate and pass the bar.
5. When it comes time to choose non-required classes (for your 2L and 3L years), consult as many upperclassmen as you can to find out what the professor and the course material are like. Don't just take the “bar” classes...chances are you'll forget the material by the time the bar rolls around anyway. Consider taking classes that interest you, although you should recognize that even the most "interesting" law school classes become tiresome after a few weeks...
Make sure that you get and stay connected with groups of people outside of the law school. Law school is a very different place, so it is good to be reminded that there is more out there than the law, law jobs, professors, and lawyers. It will help you keep perspective and realize that you are more than just a law student.
1. DO NOT listen to anyone around you about what classes are easy, what study strategies work, etc. It totally depends on who you are and what your abilities are. I made the mistake of listening to others my first year and my grades suffered. Just do what you think is best for you.
2. That being said, here is what worked for me (I'm science/math-minded and highly detail-oriented, so those of you who are literary should go somewhere else for advice:)):
3. For outlining, don't worry so much about learning the facts of the cases. The important thing is the rule. Your outline should be an organized list of rules and how to apply them, not a list of cases and what they say.
4. For studying, just don't. When you are preparing for an exam, if it is open book, the best policy is to have a reasonably detailed outline with lots of tabs so you can find the subject matter at issue. This way, you don't get as nervous and you are sure to get the rule correct. If the exam is closed-book, this does not work. You'll just have to learn the stuff.
5. For exam-taking, it took me 3 years to figure out how to take law school essay exams. I'm still not that great at them (I'm much better at multiple choice). The best advice that I can give is every sentence is in the question for a reason. Pull out as many issues as you can. Don't make the same mistake as me in picking out one issue and writing pages on it. Instead, do a cursory review of as many issues as you see and have time for. This will get you the most points.
6. For participating in class, don't sweat it. Just do your best. The professors are generally understanding. As long as you can show that you read the case, they are not going to slaughter you.
7. As far as journal goes, it is very rewarding, but a lot of work. I would not recommend it for people who are not detail-oriented and who do not like to read. Being on journal gave me lots of extra opportunities, but failing to join journal will not damn you to a life of working as a Kroger cashier. It is not a make-or-break issue. So, if you don't want to apply, or you are not accepted to a journal, do not worry about it.
8. Law school is extremely daunting. It can be stressful and it is a lot of work. But, don't let that get you down. Just because you aren't at the top of the class doesn't make you any less awesome. Everyone finds their niche and you will too.
9. Finally, for those of you who end up lucky enough to be in the top of the class, don't let that go to your head. So what if you can take a law school exam? That is not a skill that is useful in life. Be humble and don't rub people's faces in your success. By the second or third year, your classmates will have caught up to you anyways and shown their success in ways outside of grades.
Make as many friends as possible. Your classmates will provide the base for your professional network, an asset that will follow you the rest of your career.
1. Take in the advice you get from professors, upper class students, and others, but don't forget about what you know works for you. Realize that after the first semester or year a lot of students stop reading cases or stop writing case briefs, but many continue. Don't be afraid to experiment with different study methods and class preparation methods and do what works for you. For some people they work best if they read every night, brief every case, and prepare course outlines throughout the semester. Some people work better studying in groups, some by themselves. Some work better not reading (unless you're on call) and instead studying from notes taken in class. Don't feel pressured to think there's any "right" way to study or prepare. You know yourself and your learning style better than anybody. That being said it may be wise to follow conventional wisdom and read the assignments and brief the first few cases until you get the hang of things. But then do what you feel works best for you.
2. The LexisNexis Understanding Series was very helpful for me. It reads more like a college textbook than a law school case book. It's helpful for getting an overview of the black letter law, summary of important cases, and provides the important policy arguments.
3. Take advantage of as many opportunities as you can without overwhelming yourself. Consider journal, moot court, externships, work opportunities, independent studies, and clinical opportunities. Don't feel like you have to do everything but try and get as much experience as you can.
4. Meet with the career development office to get someone to proof read your resume and cover letters. Keep your resumes updated.
5. Try to balance your work and school schedules. Think about how much writing or how much of a time commitment a given class or opportunity will take. Second year consider the fact that you'll have app ad [Appellate Advocacy] to deal with. It wouldn't necessarily be a great idea to add a seminar and an independent study plus work on top of that. Just be mindful of how different areas of your life will interact with each other.
6. The mock interview program through the career development office is a great way to get some feedback and to network. It's nice to get some feedback before you begin the interview process.
7. Keep an open mind about what practice areas you'd like to consider. Talk to professors and practicing attorneys. Ask questions about what the subject area is like and about what the work environment is like. Some practice areas may sound interesting but you may not like the work environment of the type of firms or agencies that typically practice in that area.
8. Take really, really good notes. Writing things down word for word isn't necessarily necessary but it can't hurt! For me nothing was more helpful with exam preparation than studying from really good notes.
1. I wish I had talked to more upperclassmen about scheduling. Classes like seminars, clinics, trial practice, etc. are all graded VERY differently than standard classes. Had I known this earlier, I would have taken more.
2. Don’t focus so much on what you SHOULD take, focus on what you WANT to take. Bar review courses are your friend. If you don’t have any interest in sales or secured transactions, don’t take it. You will do much better in classes that you don’t hate.
3. No matter what the professor says, issue spotting is generally what they want.
1. The summer before law school, read “Law School Confidential” just to get an idea about what you are getting into, and to get a good idea of timelines for what to do during your schooling (in terms of your job search). Particularly if your parents aren't lawyers, this book is helpful to get a general idea of how to study, what professors are looking for, how to outline, and law school terminology.
2. Sign up for Bar/Bri your first year. The outlines that you receive with the First Year Review will be helpful for exams AND, more importantly, since the price of Bar/Bri goes up EVERY YEAR, you will save yourself hundreds of dollars later. It does NOT matter if you do not know where you will be taking the bar exam. It is easy to transfer to another state and does not cost additional $$ to do so. And, if you put $175 down (or whatever the current rate is), you will lock in this year's price in ALL other states.
3. Try to be a Bar/Bri Rep. to save you lots of $$ your second and third years.
4. First semester, do lots of informational interviews with lawyers in town in order to get an idea of what you would like to do (and to make good contacts).
5. Be sure to visit at least one or two of your professors first year during their office hours. This will help build a connection that you will later need for recommendation purposes.
6. Get outlines for your classes from upper-class students who had the SAME professor for the SAME class to help you to outline during the semester. But, ALWAYS make your own outline.
7. Use Career Services when you are able to. With the new staff, it is now EXTREMELY helpful.
8. Go to SBA's tutoring sessions first year to be sure that you are on track with what your professor will be looking for on the exam.
9. View past exams by your professor before taking the exams. Maybe go over the exam with other students in your class.
10. Remember to have a LIFE outside of law school. First year, you should take AT LEAST one whole day off per week.
11. Before scheduling for second year, sit down with some upper-classmen and ask their advice on professors and classes to take. But be sure that those students also liked the same professors as you previously. Ask as many upper-classmen as you can so that you get a wide-variety of opinions.
12. If grades are important to you, after your first year assess whether you did better on: papers, open-book exams, closed-book exams, multiple choice exams, essay exams or take-home exams. Then register for classes in which the grade is based upon the testing style that you do best in (this will be listed on the course description page).
14. I highly recommend supplements for classes. Try them out in the library or borrow an upper-classman's before buying your own. Examples & Explanations are good for rule-based classes because you can test your knowledge. The Understanding Series by Lexis is helpful for policy/theory based classes.
15. Log into Lexis & Westlaw EVERY DAY to save up points to buy things for yourself once in a while - including textbooks. I bought several textbooks, iTunes, and even an iPod over the past few years with these points.
16. Buy USED textbooks from upper-classmen or online. They are MUCH cheaper than the bookstore, and why re-invent the wheel –- if someone else already highlighted and put notes in the book (even if they were wrong), it can help you read a little faster.
17. Do not limit where you will work your first or second summers; apply everywhere - as it's better to have more options than to foreclose an option by not applying.
18. Consider working for the federal government. It pays better than state government, there are offices all over the country and you can work 9 - 5pm. And, you can do ANY kind of law working for the gov't - from Con. Law to Labor & Employment to Securities Law. The deadlines are really early, but the follow-up is really slow. So, apply early and use it as a backup option if you want.
19. Do not join a study group too early first semester. Wait until at least after fall break before considering one. And, they are NOT necessary, just helpful to some.
It gets better with each passing year. Don’t listen to the hype from your professors and colleagues. Be true to yourself – don’t think you need to have a huge firm job to be happy. Friendships are just as important as grades.
1. If you're not sure about law school and pursuing a career as a lawyer, reconsider law school NOW, seriously.
2. Your 1L grades really do matter, A LOT. Don't listen to people who say they don't.
3. Unless you like getting to school before 7:30 am, get a garage parking pass. It's worth $500 to get 2 hrs of extra sleep per day. You will need it.
4. Make friends with 2L's and 3L's, and join student organizations. Among other things, they can help you understand courses they've already taken.
5. Don't use a rolling bag to carry your books unless it serves a justified purpose (i.e. medical necessity).
6. Don't get in a habit of eating the free pizza from meetings everytime you see it, unless you want to gain 20 lbs. over the next 3 yrs.
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Tracked on May 15, 2006 11:19:16 AM
My main piece of advice is simple: keep everything in perspective. That includes competition, reading, outlining, grades, jobs, the whole thing.
Law school is not the beginning or the end of the world, and treating it like it's the only thing that will ever matter is guaranteed to backfire in some way. If nothing else, it's the best way to ensure that you will hate the next 3 years.
Strategies for keeping perspective vary from person to person, of course. Keep up on your old hobbies. And never forget that law school is an opportunity you are lucky to have.
I wrote about this more thoroughly in my Bus Perspective post.
Posted by: Kurt | May 15, 2006 2:01:38 AM
Don't take a first date out with your first year law school friends unless he/she is also in law school. In fact, don't take any date with you that you like and want to continue dating.
Law school is boring to all but those in it. Your complaints, excitement, gripes, etc. are not interesting to anyone else and your date will have zero fun. Your evening will end earlier than you anticipated.
Posted by: Matt | May 15, 2006 6:45:19 AM
Nice Post! Some of my advice as a 2L student at Chicago-Kent to incoming students is posted at http://calis_pre-law_blog.classcaster.org/blog/ I'll be sharing more advice there as time goes by.
Posted by: Austin Groothuis | May 15, 2006 12:28:05 PM
Study hard in law school. But don't take everything too seriously.
The number of study aids available can be overwhelming. My first year of law school, I made the mistake of focusing more on which study aids I should use rather than the actual material I needed to be learning. Don't make that mistake.
Posted by: Carolina Petitioner | Jun 2, 2006 2:49:38 PM
Thanks for good 1L advice. There are more great tips and advice for law students at TopLawStudent.com
Posted by: Editor of TopLawStudent.com | Jul 28, 2006 11:29:17 AM
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