Sunday, July 26, 2009

The obligatory "Advice to 1Ls" post

Well, seeing as how school is about to start back up in the blink of an eye, I figure there must be hundreds if not thousands of eager, nervous and ravenously curious rising 1Ls scouring the internet for advice right now... No? Was that just me?

Anyway, this time last year, I was pretty much searching constantly for advice and other ways to get a bit of a head start on my law school experience. Like so many who came before me, and so many who shall succeed, I refused to believe that there was nothing I could really do except enjoy the last of my free days. Yet, the time-worn advice turned out to be true. Thus, with full recognition that I risk tainting this post with a condescending tone, I present my bulleted advice for future law students...

- Call your friends. Often. Reiterate how much you care about them. Whether you are leaving town or staying, your relationships with your nearest and dearest are about to become strained, if not estranged. Best to jump into the law school fray with your friendships on solid footing. You'll spend the next few months staring guiltily at your Facebook page thinking how you should really pick up a phone, just after you finish all your reading and get a head start on that outline....

- Read Planet Law School. While not everybody is in agreement with me on this one, I happen to think it gave me a pretty good, grounded perspective with which to approach the whole law school thing. I'll be the first to admit the guy who wrote it has a chip on his shoulder the size of Texas and whoever edited the book did a terrible job. Nonetheless, I found it gave the most practical advice and enough warnings so that I didn't go in to class on the first day feeling too naive. I wouldn't recommend buying the book, or reading every word, but definitely give it a good skim over while seated in a comfy chair at your local bookstore.

- Save your money. School starts pretty soon, so it's a little late for this one. But trust me. Every bit of money helps. The more you have socked away, the less debt you'll have to go into, and the less guilty you'll feel every time you buy your lunch rather than pack one, etc.

- Enjoy life. Every bit of it. Enjoy going grocery shopping without feeling riddled with anxiety over all the other things you could be doing. Enjoy reading a book for pleasure on your front stoop. Take a walk. Have sex. Go on a weekend excursion. Just, live. Because, trust me, you're going to start feeling jealous of people standing in line at the DMV before the next year is through.

- Buy your books online. Don't waste your money at the school bookstore. Yes, yes, I know you might not get them in time for classes. You can almost always find the casebook in the library if your shipment hasn't come in yet. But you will save yourself boatloads if you buy used and buy online. I recommend It aggregates the best textbook deals all over the web. A total time saver!

- Use the E&Es. In my opinion these are the most helpful study aids. But, okay, they may not be for you. Everyone will obviously have a different opinion, but seriously, these are the cream of the crop. Whatever you do, GET a study aid, no matter what your professor tells you. Nobody gets extra points for doing well in a class without using extra materials. That's just risky and making life harder on yourself. That said...

- Trust your own gut. If you don't like studying in groups, don't. Study groups aren't necessary and can be an enormous waste of time for those who don't get something out of it. If you can't stand commercial outlines (like me), don't use them. If briefing cases is sucking up all your time, don't spend so much time briefing. I'll be honest, I gave up briefing early on. Whatever your strategy, just go with it and do not (I repeat: do not!) look around at what everyone else is doing and decide you should be doing that too. That is a trap. A very powerful, at times almost irresistable, trap. Half of the people are only doing what they're doing because they see everyone else doing it. The rest are just as clueless as anyone else about what to do, they're just trying to follow their gut. Be one of those ones.

- Avoid the "How Much?" game. "How much have you read for next class?" "How far are you on your outlines?" "How many hours were you up studying last night?" "How late were you at the library last night? How caught up are you on your briefing?" How easy is it to get into this kind of conversation? As easy as running into another 1L on the train to school, in the bathroom before class or in line at the coffee shop. Talk about the weather. Talk about sports, or Lost, or the state of the economy. Talk about whatever topic you're learning in class, if you must. But avoid talking about your study habits. I guarantee it will only leave you feeling insecure. If it doesn't, you're probably getting some kind of reputation for knowing it all - which can be a problem on a number of levels.

- Get Black's Law Dictionary. I got it second semester and wished I'd had it first semester. It's just a time saver. You'll pick up words and phrases like demurrer, declaratory judgment, on the merits, inter alia MUCH faster if you have Black's Law Dictionary. You'll figure them out pretty quickly anyway, but the more time you save on little things and the more you understand a case, the easier it is to get your work done, and done well. And by the way, nobody gives you definitions in law school. Occasionally, a good case book will have some explanations, but for the most part, you're on your own to figure stuff out.

- Go to office hours. This is one piece of advice I am still trying take myself. I hardly if ever went. But I saw my classmates go frequently, and I saw how it paid off. If not in grades, at least in confidence and ease of understanding of the materials. You'll quickly start to see some of your classmates having a much stronger grasp of concepts than others after the first few weeks. It's kind of scary. The ones who "get it" are often the ones who aren't afraid to ask questions and enter into discussion with the prof outside of class.

There is probably a bunch more I could say, but I don't feel like typing out all night. And I'm no expert. I'm just one opinion of many, many opinions, all of which have something important to contribute. But anyway, I did decent in class this past year, and I'm happy to report that I will be returning for 2L year, so for what it's worth, I hope this advice has been something useful! Good luck!

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