Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Advice to 1Ls: part one

So you've likely started or will within the next week. You're wondering what to expect: of your classmates, of your professors and classes, just how long will it take you to read all of your assignments, if you really need to read everything, how different it is from undergrad, and if you're making the right decision by starting down this path. This is all normal. In fact, a healthy worry will motivate you just enough to work hard without cracking. And without making enemies along the way.

First things first: get friends. I don't mean BFF types, I mean people who are in most or all of your classes who you think there is a shot in hell that you can trust. Exchange phone numbers and emails. This will make it easy on you when in your second week of school disaster seems to strike: hurricane Katrina, child ill with no other childcare, general feeling like you are well in over your head.

Second: decide to take the high road. If enough of your classmates do, you can really make your law school experience far more pleasant. Example: decide from the get go that if you notice someone is absent from class one day, just send them your notes. This will usually start a chain reaction. I thought that everyone in law school did this and was amazed to discover that not only does it not happen... it didn't even happen in the other classes at my school. Also, don't be the class gossip or be too quick to judge. I decided in my first or second week that I had the class ass in 3 of my classes. I didn't. I had a really wonderful person who genuinely, honestly knows just about everything about everything. He was an acquired taste, but no one who got to know him would have said that he was anything but a tremendous fellow. The type who would interrupt his own study time to tutor you on something if you needed help. Bottom line: give everyone a break and they'll give you one too.

Third: Don't let other people's study habits guide you. This is NOT undergrad. I repeat: This is NOT undergrad. This is much, much harder. Just because you didn't study in undergrad and got a 4.0 does not mean that is going to happen in law school. It won't. You will need to study. How much? I would recommend doing every last horrible thing that is on each of your syllabi, at least until you feel comfortable with everything. You don't know what's important yet. You don't know that you need to know one set of things to not embarrass yourself in class and a totally different set of things to get As on the finals. You also don't know how (likely anyway) how to study for a whole semester where your grade comes down to one lousy final. Be flexible. Come up with a plan and try it out. If it isn't working, you can change it. But be proactive. Try something for a week and if at the end it isn't "speaking to you," stop and change. I'd say you have until your fall break to hammer this down. I changed about 3 weeks in. I learned that unfortunately I'm a read it, write it, hear it kind of girl. Sucks. Takes a lot of time. But what I didn't understand until after my first set of finals was that my method:
  • Reading the cases (and highlighting with different colors to keep me actively reading),
  • Then briefing (more and more brief as I learned what my profs wanted when they would interrogate me in class),
  • Then attending class, taking notes, and participating, and finally,
  • Spending 5 minutes after class organizing my class notes with my own

made it so that on the finals, I really knew the stuff. Outlining was solidifying knowledge, not learning anything new. And I got more points on the finals because I didn't spend any time dithering around in my outline. I wrote the entire time because I knew it cold. In classes where I didn't do that, I simply didn't perform as well. End of story. That's probably overkill for a lot of folks, but it worked for me.

Stay tuned for part two.

1 comment:

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