Advice for Rising 2L’s
There is currently a large amount of advice in the blogosphere for incoming 1L’s. For example:
However, I am aware of very little advice on the blogosphere that is directed towards rising 2L’s. In retrospect, with 20/20 hindsight (now that law school and the bar exam are over), I wish I had realized a few things at the beginning of my 2L year.
Here is my own advice for 2L’s:
The most important thing you can do at this moment is reconsider your schedule. Right now you still have a window of time in which you can add or drop classes. Although there are waiting lists, it is often possible to add a class that you couldn’t when you originally scheduled. So right now you need to plan ahead and consider your schedule for the next two years. Don’t just think about your 2L year, but consider a strategy for your 2L and 3L years. You are not bound by such a strategy, and can always make necessary changes, but you need to have a foundation that you can work from. In particular, this means balancing your credit load between your second and third years, and choosing the right classes (which will depend on your own goals and interests).
I strongly suggest, if at all possible, that you take more credits your second year, and fewer credits your third year. This advice will seem obvious to some, but many students prefer to have fewer credits their second year so they have more time and energy to focus on their studies after an overwhelming first year. I deliberately took a lighter load my second year for several reasons, which at the time seemed necessary. But in retrospect I wish I had added at least 1 or 2 credits each semester of my second year, so that my time would have been more flexible my third year.
Make your third year the year that you have a lower credit load, so that you are prepared for opportunities (whether work-related or school-related) that come up. For example, I received an unexpected job offer for the first semester of my 3L year (unexpected because I was applying for a summer job at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and instead they offered me a Fall semester job, which I accepted). That first semester was an overwhelming amount of work, including a part-time job, a heavy credit load with very difficult classes, the writing of a Recent Development for journal, and family responsibilities. It would have been better for me to have taken one of those classes (or an equivalent) my 2L year.
I recommend that you add a credit here and there when possible. For example, if your school offers 1-credit classes during your Fall and Spring breaks (which are often pass/fail), take advantage of them. It may not seem like much at the time, but the credits will add up and you will alleviate the burden on your third year.
Taking more credits your second year will enable you to have more flexibility your third year. You will have greater freedom to take courses that interest you, because with fewer credits there will be fewer schedule conflicts. You will have more time for a clinic, an independent study project (such as 3L Epiphany), and/or a more substantial job. The value of having more time and greater flexibility in your third year cannot be overemphasized.
If you are able to add a class, then do so by making a careful assessment of your 1L experience. Are there any patterns that emerge? Did you do better in exam courses, or courses with written assignments? Did you do better on essay exams or multiple choice? Take all of this into consideration. If there is a professor that you “clicked” with, stick with him or her. Take courses that you know you will like because of the content, or because of the professor, and that are more likely to improve your GPA. I realize this advice might seem outdated since you have already scheduled your classes, but I offer it as a suggestion for 2L’s who have planned on taking a lighter credit load this coming year.
Just because you did not do so well in a general class does not preclude you from taking (and doing well) in a specialty class within that general topic. That is, if you didn’t do well in Property, but you think you would enjoy Eminent Domain, don’t talk yourself out of it. Other examples might be Torts and Products Liability, or Constitutional Law and 14th Amendment, etc. Take what interests you, and don’t assume you will not do as well based on your experience in one first year class.
Bar review after graduation will teach you what you need to know for the bar exam. Be careful of taking a course just because it’s on the bar, especially if there’s a good chance it will lower your GPA. BarBri does a more-than-adequate job of preparing you for the exam if you follow their schedule (I can’t vouch for other bar review courses). You only go through law school once, and it’s over before you know it, so be sure to enroll in classes that you really want to take. This obviously doesn’t mean you should avoid each and every bar course, but just make sure you are taking a well-rounded schedule that includes some classes you enjoy. (If you come back to this post in late October and the paragraph you are now reading has disappeared, you will know why.)
Don’t expect that a course on the schedule this year will be there next year. That is, if a course is offered in your second year, don’t assume that you can take it your third year instead. For this you should talk to the registrar, or the professor offering the course. I neglected to sign-up for a course my second year because it was a particular professor’s specialty, and I assumed he would be there my 3L year. Unfortunately the professor accepted a position at another law school, and I never got to take what would have been an excellent class.
One more piece of advice: This is an election year. If you are a political news junkie, schedule a specific time for paying attention to political news, and don’t let that time be open-ended. Watch the news or read political commentary for perhaps a ½ hour or an hour a day, and then don’t look at it again. If you come across an article that is a must-read and that takes you over the allotted time, table it for the next day. Don’t become preoccupied with current events, because they are simply too distracting. If you want to pay attention to politics, do so in a way that earns you credit (i.e. taking Election Law) or adds something to your resume.
Any readers who wish to leave more advice, or to agree/disagree with mine, should feel free in the comments.
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I agree with all the scheduling advice, recognizing that it may seem counter-intuitive to some. Lots of people like to go light fall semester 2L year to do interviewing, but in the long run your curriculum and extra-curricular activities will be richer (and you'll have more flexibility) if you can load up early.
I'd also add that you should try to take evidence as soon as possible if you think you might be at all interested in any sort of clinical experience later on. It's often a pre-requisite for trial advocacy classes and clinics, as well as a requirement for becoming a certified student so you can represent actual people during clinics or jobs. (Many states seem to allow students to do this in some form.)
In addition I'd recommend giving serious thought to doing a semester abroad. I'm really glad I did mine.
Posted by: Cathy | Aug 23, 2006 6:01:17 PM
I actually agree that taking it easy 2L is sort of foolish: work hard, and work as hard as you can, and don't give yourself an easy courseload just because you can. However, remember that if you're on a journal or have any other such obligations, you need to make room for them. Take advantage of any opportunities your school offers to get credit for such obligations so that you don't end up short of credits when you FEEL like you've worked enough.
Posted by: kristine | Aug 23, 2006 11:23:23 PM
I graduated from Michigan this May, and I concur in full with the advice in this post, and in the comments. In my experience, the third year was a lot more work than I expected, and anything you can do during the second year to give yourself some more flexibility during your last year will pay you rich rewards next year.
My own two cents: every so often, step back and look at the big picture. Have your career goals changed since you started law school? Since you finished first year? You think you'll just somehow know when your goals change, but I think that's not always right: you have to explicitly ask yourself.
Oh, and one more thing: when you graduate, you'll wonder how law school flew by so fast. Remember to have fun.
Posted by: Carey | Aug 24, 2006 5:31:51 AM
In reference to your last point, 2l's must start thinking in billiable minutes, every time one spends a minute reading an article is a minute not spent on something else. Weigh the benefits.
Posted by: BIll Marcy | Aug 24, 2006 9:05:16 AM
I think the advice to load-up on credits second year is quite wrong, at least for those who will be going through the process of interviewing. First semester of second year is BY FAR the most hectic part of law school. Not only do you have classes, but you ALSO have interviews AND new extracurriculars (such as law review). The interview process is both exhausting and time-consuming.
If anything, people who will be interviewing should take LESS credits second year, not more.
Posted by: Al | Aug 24, 2006 10:12:57 AM
Though it's been almost 30 years since I was in law school, all of this advice sounds right to me. I think it's especially important to take courses that interest you, and to go 'heavy' second year to have flexibility third year.
I would only add that as you look at courses, look beyond the traditional courses to the advanced level seminars taught by (usually) senior faculty if you're at an 'academic' law school. Some of my most interesting time in law school was spent by taking seminars every semester, beginning second semester my first year, when I talked my way into a seminar on social choice theory (I'd already published an article on the book the professor was using) that had faculty from both the law school a graduate economics faculty. Thereafter I was able to participate in seminars involving academic as well as law faculty in law and economics, constitutional law, the nature of responsibility, and, more practially, involving both law faculty and eminent practitioners in mergers & acquistions.
As the man said, you can learn all the "law" you need for the bar in BAR/BRI, but you will only have the time to stretch your mind in ways that are not obviously related to your practice while you're in school!
Posted by: CatoRenasci | Aug 24, 2006 10:32:41 AM
Great advice on the 2nd year. I took extra loads and now will graduate after only 1 3L semester.
I cannot tell you how happy I am to be out in 3 months.
Also, I would advise 2L's to get the writing requirement done in their second year. What a relief it is for me to have it done...
Posted by: Brian | Aug 24, 2006 1:41:55 PM
As someone who forewent the interview and summer internship experiences in order to take summer classes, I would add that L2s should definitely take advantage of the on-campus interviews and expect to spend the summer interning somewhere. Not only for the experience, which is valuable and realtively easy, but to help lessen the student loan burden. For these same reasons, L3s should seriously consider off-campus employment during the school year.
Posted by: sir ss | Aug 24, 2006 2:19:05 PM
sir ss said:
For these same reasons, L3s should seriously consider off-campus employment during the school year.
I fully agree. I worked full time and went to school full time for all three years of law school, found time to take all the classes I wanted to, and still managed to be a law review editor. Took a bit of creativity and the ability to discern the essential from the unnecessary, but it's doable. And I didn't miss many parties, either.
Most law students do far, far less work than they will as lawyers.
Posted by: CatoRenasci | Aug 24, 2006 5:28:26 PM
Excellent advice from everyone.
My biggest piece of advice for 2Ls is to be mindful of the exam schedule. My school attaches it to the registration materials for the next semester's courses. Choose the classes that you want and then compare them to the exam schedule. Are the exams spread out enough? If not, can you handle that kind of crunch at the end of the semester? Are there any classes that you want to take (like Tax, Trusts and Estates, Ethics) that will be offered next semester also? Waiting one more semester for one of those might make your life a lot easier.
I had a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday exam marathon in my Fall 2L semester. I was not a happy person by Wednesday afternoon. The previous week was no walk in the park either. I have a classmate who had a Monday AM exam, Monday PM exam, and a Tuesday AM exam. He had a rough time too. Watch those exam schedules. They may end up hurting your grade and your emotional well being.
Posted by: Steve | Aug 25, 2006 6:19:45 PM
Steve's point about paying attention to the 2L exam schedule is well taken. I recall having a Corporations exam at 7-10 p.m. one night, followed by a Conflicts exam at 8 a.m. the next morning. Not a happy time.
Posted by: Jake | Aug 29, 2006 9:38:55 AM
I agree with all of your advice, except one part -- the stuff about BarBri. As someone who just took the Pennsylvania and New Jersey bar exams, I have to say that during those three days of hell, I was wishing that I'd taken more bar courses in law school. BarBri is okay. I wouldn't say they do a great job. Adequate at best. They do pretty well on the Multistate subjects, but it's the other subjects that will nail you if you aren't prepared, and some of those subjects are really complicated and difficult to understand in one 3-hour BarBri lecture. My advice is to look at the bar examiners' website for your state to see whether they test subjects other than the Multistate subjects (constitutional law, contracts, torts, property, evidence, criminal law, criminal procedure, all of which you should have taken in first year). In Pennsylvania, they test A LOT more, including DUI, corporations, federal and state civil procedure, and employment discrimination, and they do expect you to know specifics. If your state tests other subjects and your school offers those courses, TAKE THEM (with the exception of corporations -- if you have a class in business basics, that's enough). You will be able to take some "fun" classes too (I still had room for classes on capital punishment and equal protection, both of which I enjoyed), but you will be very glad you took bar courses. Because if you don't pass the bar, it's not going to matter one bit that you got to take some really cool seminar your third year.
Posted by: Moira | Sep 12, 2006 9:26:12 AM
Not to be a nag (isn't that what we old-folk are best at), but I once again urge ALL law students (as well as applicants and graduates) to take the time for serious self-assessment. As noted in lost on the Road to "L", "Frankly, there are enough lost, unhappy souls practicing law as it is, without you — yes, you! — adding to the numbers by blindly careening toward a painful, depressing legal career." And, “The best way to be on the road toward a legal career that is in sync with your passions, values and rhythms is to know who you are."
Posted by: Prof. Yabut | Sep 18, 2006 7:10:46 AM
Great post! I'm linking.
Posted by: China Law Blog | Oct 16, 2006 8:42:02 PM
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