Law schools around the country are welcoming their new recruits this week, and I can’t decide if memories of the beginning of 1L year fill me with dread (i.e., thank goodness I never have to do that again) or nostalgia (there were so many possibilities! we were so young and innocent!). I experienced so many mixed feelings during that time, and a dominant one shared by me and my classmates was a constant sense of inadequacy. Which is totally normal, and possibly a motivator for some people, but I could have done without it. Anyone who gets through their first semester of law school without questioning their own intelligence is a rare specimen (or just a narcissist, and there are many of them in law school). For the rest of you, here are five things I wish I had known at the start of 1L fall to help me enjoy the experience, rather than just endure it.
- Everyone works and learns differently. Just because you see your classmates darting to the library once classes finish for the afternoon doesn’t mean you need to. If going to the gym will boost your energy and improve your focus, that’s going to be a better use of your time. If the guy next to you spends the whole class on Gchat and ESPN.com, that doesn’t mean you are lame for paying attention. If the girl next to you seems to be transcribing the prof’s every word, that doesn’t mean you can’t go on Gchat or your website of choice.
- Don’t panic if you don’t have a study group early on (or at all). Similar to the above, but this one deserves its own entry. I remember walking through the student center one day and seeing three classmates in my section huddled over their laptops and casebooks together. I felt an immediate sense of panic. These were three people who seemed pretty intelligent based on their comments in class, and now they were bonding together? They may as well have been plotting to take over the world. I didn’t have a study group--did I need one? Why hadn’t anyone asked me to join one--was I not smart enough? I did end up joining a study group closer to exam time, once I knew people better and could assess who I felt comfortable spending hours and hours with. We found studying as a group to be extremely valuable, but not all people do, and that’s ok.
- Beware the pompous nerds. It doesn’t take long to notice these people, because law school is crawling with them. Red flag behavior may include bragging about how much (or how little) they have been studying, talking audibly about how easy an exam was or what answer they put for question #4, etc. STAY AWAY! It can be hard to avoid them, but they are toxic and will only end up making you unnecessarily nervous that you haven’t been working hard enough or that you are going to get terrible grades.
- Take mean professors with a grain of salt. Not all sections will be assigned to this special type of instructor, but mine was! This is everything you have feared about law school: the professor who cold-calls, who berates you for not knowing the answer or not doing the reading, and who preys upon the weak. Though it may seem as though this individual was sent straight from hell to make all your worst law school nightmares come true, this behavior is likely just an act. Don’t let it rattle you. One day you will be thanking this professor for preparing you to be hollered at by a judge.
- Time away from campus is your friend. At orientation deans try to emphasize the importance of taking breaks and “going to the movies,” which always seems to be the example of what you should “allow” yourself to do during exam time. They are right, but even more so than they dare to admit to large groups of incoming students. Getting distance from the breeding ground of anxiety that campus becomes as the semester goes on is the best thing you can do for yourself. If you live far from campus, embrace the commute home as a time to unwind and soak up the outside world. If you live near campus, you will soon realize that it’s a blessing and a curse. Make plans with non-law school friends, take day trips to explore the surrounding area or schedule a couple weekends away--whatever you need to take your mind off of torts and contracts. The payoff will be enormous when you return to studying and realize that the world outside of law school continues to turn, and will always be there for you when you need it.
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