Written by Nicole Bastos and Rafael Magaña, February 12, 2019
—-Las Vegas, Nevada Starting law school is stressful. There are a lot of unknowns ahead and if you want to succeed, you’ll need to know how to navigate the difficult year to come. Because the journey is challenging, it’s important to be proactive and stay positive. That requires strategy in your preparation and execution. Here are five tips to help you get through that first year.
1. Find the right mentor
Many law schools offer formal mentorship programs to help you ease into law school. If your school has one, take advantage of it. If your school doesn’t have that kind of program, then seek out friendships with upperclassmen or young attorneys. These potential mentors can relate to your experience because they know what it’s like to be a firstyear law student. They also have the benefit of looking at the experience in retrospect. This perspective is valuable because they can share their mistakes, their suggestions, and finally, some hope. It is easy to get lost in the everyday grind of reading your cases, keeping up with research, stressing about finals, and feeling like you’re always behind. A mentor who can have an honest conversation about those challenges is someone who should be a part of your support system. Moreover, that mentor can prepare you for certain challenges with difficult professors and classes. They can help you choose the right hornbooks and study guides, and give you outlines to help keep you on track.
There are many upperclassmen and attorneys who are glad to help 1Ls throughout their law school journey. Be open to finding more than one mentor. Indeed, some mentors are resourceful and can help you understand difficult material. Other mentors provide a listening ear and may be excellent at coming up with internship options for you over the summer. There is no one-stop shop for a law school mentor. It is common to feel as though the relationship between mentor and mentee is one-sided. Your mentor understands this. One day, you will be able to give back to your mentor. Make sure to maintain those relationships for the long-haul.
2. Preparation is the key to success
You will quickly find out that everybody is smart in law school. The pressure to perform well is constant. However, unlike in your undergraduate experience, procrastination is no longer an option. Without preparation, time constraints can overpower even the smartest, most talented student. Preparation not only helps you work smarter, it will alleviate stress and allow you to have a better social/academic balance. There are 3 ways you can prepare:
Maintain an Online Calendar
Calendaring is essential to help you keep track of all your assignments, networking events, deadlines, and activities. I guarantee you, there will be so much going on that without a calendar, you will forget about something. The benefit of online calendaring is that you can connect it to your phone. Whether you are grocery shopping or walking in between classes, you can always access your calendar to double check assignments and edit events. You can also set alarms to give you extra notice about an important deadline coming up. If you know you are a procrastinator, you can set reminders a week prior to a big assignment so you know how to space out your time to complete the assignment.
So, what goes in your calendar? First, your class schedule. Second, as crazy as it sounds, include your breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It is common to sit down, work on something, and then suddenly realize it’s 10pm and it has been hours since you’ve eaten. It happens all the time. If you do not eat at the right times, it jeopardizes your immune system and if there is something that everybody in law school can agree on, is that you cannot afford to get sick. Third, create study time blocks that include breaks. Picture yourself studying for four hours straight. After a while, you realize you keep reading the same two sentences over and over and again. The more you go back to figure out what you just read, the less it all makes sense. Before you get to that point, take a break. During that break (15-20 minutes), do some stretching, play a mindless computer game, watch part of a show, or wash some dishes. Your brain, like a computer needs to go through defragmentation. When you return, you will see that your mind is clearer, fresher, and ready to go for another round of reading.
Your outlining sessions should be in your calendar. It is commonly something 1Ls do not commit to consistently. Keep in mind that everyone outlines differently. An upperclassman’s outline can serve as your base. However, the more comfortable you get with outlining and learning about what works for you as a student, the more you will feel comfortable making an outline on your own.
Calendar in the times you plan to visit your professor. Whether it’s just to say hello or ask a question, you need to make sure you are getting face time with your professor. Once or twice is not enough. Remember, you are not the only one going to see them. Additionally, use office hours to share your thought process about a question in the reading. See how they respond. Soon enough, you will have a better understanding of your professor’s expectations on the exam including issue spotting and analysis. Additionally, this face-to-face time and academic interaction will help you feel more confident if you decided to ask your professor to list them as a reference as you start applying for those summer internships.
3. Consider taking notes by hand
Law students commonly use their laptops to take notes in lecture. However, this generation of law students have fallen victim to internet distractions. Whether you just got an event invite on Facebook, or you cannot resist reading the latest news on Twitter, social media sites are not the only distractions. Some of the most common distracting activities include online shopping, computer video games, and instant messaging. With all the distractions on the internet today, it can be difficult to take notes this way. If writing notes by hand minimizes these distractions, consider swapping your laptop for a spiral notebook. Embrace taking notes the old-school way. If anything, try it for one class and compare it to your note taking on your laptop. See what works best for you.
4. Maintain a healthy social life
This one is difficult for many students. They know how competitive law school is, so they want to give it everything they’ve got. While it’s good to work hard, you can burn out quickly if you’re not careful. Maintain a healthy social life in order to keep the fire lit. Find a group of friends that likes to do the things you enjoy. This will allow you to return to your work refreshed and focused. Those who forego a social life may find themselves sick of the study of law before they reach their second year. One of the easy ways to maintain a healthy social life is to include that time in your calendar! Additionally, it is always good to dedicate one day or half of a day to self -care. Whether you choose to sleep in, hang out with friends, learn a sport, or take on a new hobby, this is a way to make sure you are getting a break from the constant law school stress.
5. Make it count when it matters the most
Just as sports teams want to be peaking around the playoffs, you need to peak during exam time. Law school isn’t like your high school or college experience. You don’t get to build up solid grades through homework, quizzes, and participation. Typically, it all comes down to the exam, where you have to perform and show your mettle. Think of every class as a chance to learn a new skill you can show off on the exam. Take every opportunity to engage with practice tests.
Thousands of students across the country manage to survive law school each year. They’re able to survive because they take it seriously, come up with a plan, and maintain their sanity. Don’t allow the challenges of law school to deter you from putting your best foot forward. These five tips will get you started on the right path toward a great legal career.
@Copyright February 12, 2019 by Nicole Bastos and Rafael Magaña. Contact for usage license.
About the Authors:
Nicole Bastos is a law student. She is interested in exploring diversity in the legal field and the impact of mentorship. She grew up in Los Angeles, California and majored in History with an emphasis in Latin American indigenous revolutions. UC Irvine Alumni.
Follow Nicole on LinkedIn
Rafael Magaña helps organizations grow. Helps leaders accelerate strategy implementation in their organizations. He specializes in donor-centered fundraising philanthropy. Manager of Midlevel Giving at Hispanic Scholarship Fund. He resides in California. UCLA Alumni.
Follow Raphael on LinkedIn and on Twitter: @RafaelMagana
***Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors.***