Starting anything new can be exciting and overwhelming. The key to getting through is knowing what to expect. There’s no better example of this than when it comes to the first year of law school. The more you know about what’s ahead, the better positioned you will be to hit the ground running. Read on for a roundup of five things all first year law students should know.
1. There are many logistics to deal with.
You may be envisioning law student life as consisting of lectures, briefs and hours of studying at your favorite coffee shop. While these things are all part very much part of the picture, there are quite a few practical issues to get through first.
Moving to a new city, getting set up in your new apartment or dorm, getting your student ID, learning your way around campus, and paying for your books are just a few of the things you will be dealing with before classes even begin. The more proactive you are in attending to these details, the smoother your transition will be.
2. Your schedule is out of your hands.
While undergrads have the opportunity to pick and choose between classes, the same can’t be said of first year law students. Why not? Because the majority of law schools organize first-year students into 'sections'. The section you are in determines the course you will take and when you will take them.
One thing you can control is where you sit. It is common for law students to sit in the same seats throughout the entire semester. If you have a preference for where you sit -- or who you sit with -- arriving to class early can help you secure the spot of your choosing.
3. The reading is intense.
If you have done your research and talked to law school students or alumni, you have probably already been informed of the massive quantities of reading you will be assigned in your first year of law school. This is no exaggeration.
Sharing their experiences with The Guardian, first-year law students Lauren Crowe and Will Hibberd caution, “There is so much reading. It can’t be ignored. It’s important that you dedicate time and effort to your required (and extra) reading so it won’t pile up. Spending roughly 10 hours a week with your head down -- at least -- will keep your workload manageable.”
4. You’ll be put on the spot.
The Socratic Method is common in many law school classrooms. The Princeton Review explains, “Generally, the Socratic professor invites a student to attempt a cogent summary of a case assigned for that day's class. Regardless of the accuracy and thoroughness of the student's initial response, he or she is then grilled on details overlooked or issues unresolved. A professor will often manipulate the facts of the actual case at hand into a hypothetical case that may or may not have demanded a different decision by the court.”
The Socratic Method has its pros and cons: It encourages students to delve deeper into issues and implications while also honing their critical thinking skills and practicing litigation skills. However, it also “subjects an unprepared student to ruthless scrutiny and fosters an unhealthy adversarial relationship between an instructor and his students,” adds The Princeton Review.
Adjusting to this style of learning and evaluation can be challenging, but there are some things you can do to be ready for it including doing the assigned reading and briefing the cases and being willing to answer -- even if you might be wrong. Gus Kostopoulos argues in the American Bar Association's Before the Bar blog, “A wrong answer is better than no answer at all, so don’t be afraid to take a shot. Your professor will help lead you during the line of questioning. The point of the Socratic Method is to help you gain a new skill. This can take time.”
5. Your social life will change.
Law student life is inherently competitive. While this can make forming close friendships difficult, it can also create a unique environment of camaraderie. Developing bonds with classmates in your section as well as via study groups can help you come out ahead.
Crowe and Hibberd add, “A good way to study, especially around exam season, is to get together with a group of coursemates once a week. It keeps you motivated and provides a sounding board for ideas and questions.”
However, participating in extracurricular activities can also help you make friends in a more casual context. “Interacting with students who have similar interests as you outside of the stressful classroom setting encourages friendships that will support you throughout your three years in law school. [...] You should also try to make some friends outside of school so you can escape from the "law school bubble" every once in a while,” recommends US News & World Report.
One last thing to keep in mind about the first year of law school? While it may not always feel like it, you are far from alone. In fact, all of your classmates are in the same position. Not only that, but the semesters will come and go before you know it. By this time next year, you will be a seasoned second-year law student.