Skip to Main Content
by Rachel Marx Boufford | August 21, 2012


It’s back to school season, and for some intrepid souls, that means the start of the infamous and much-feared 1L year. We’ll assume you’ve already watched The Paper Chase while chewing your nails off, so here are some more practical tips for a successful first year of law school:

Go to class. And while you’re there, listen. While some of your professors won’t require attendance, it’s essential to not only show up to class, but also to actively listen and take notes. It sounds obvious, but you’ll notice within a couple weeks that many of your classmates’ laptops are being used more for Facebook and Gchat than for outlining criminal procedure. Besides the absurdity of paying $50,000 a year for access to the nation’s top legal minds and then ignoring what they have to say, not listening in class can severely affect your grades. Many professors test not only on what is in the casebook, but also on additional information they’ve taught in class.

Develop relationships with professors. In addition to paying attention in class, it’s also important to get to know your professors. You can do this by participating in class discussions, asking questions after class or stopping by office hours (which many professors encourage). Obviously, this is a great opportunity to get a better grasp on the material or learn more about topics that interest you. But there is an added benefit—your professors are well-connected people in the legal industry who can serve as references or introduce you to law firm partners and judges who are hiring. Don’t get stuck applying for jobs as a 2L with no one to serve as a reference.

Don’t fear the hornbook. In college, you probably did not have to supplement the materials your professor gave you in order to grasp the subject. In law school, accept that this may change. Most—if not all—of your course readings will come from casebooks, which are collections of judicial opinions that serve to illustrate legal doctrine. Casebooks will not spell out the law for you—you are expected to glean that from your readings. In contrast, hornbooks explicitly explain the law in a given subject area. Much like college textbooks, they provide useful outlines and visuals to help you understand complex principles. Hornbooks can be very useful, both in preparing for exams and as a supplement to your casebook throughout the semester.

Find the exam bank. Here is another difference between college and law school: in college, if you found a professor’s old exam to study from, you would probably be expelled. In law school, there is often an actual school-sanctioned exam bank of professors’ exams from previous years. Some kind-hearted professors will even provide you with the answers to these old exams. As a corollary to this tip, make friends with 2Ls and 3Ls. As survivors of 1L, they’ll be able to give you more specific tips about your professors and courses.

Don’t be a hermit. Yes, it’s law school, but being a full-time student is still supposed to be fun. Go out with your section-mates. Join an intramural sport. You’ll be happier, healthier, and less stressed—all points in your favor to make it through 1L unscathed.

What are some of your 1L tips? Let us know in the comments or @VaultLaw.