Monday, August 24, 2009

For new law students

Many law schools across the U.S. are starting classes this week, which means a whole new class of 1L's. It seems like every lawyer or returning law student has advice to dispense to the new law students, so I'll pitch in my three bits of wisdom. My successes and failures in law school were largely based on how well I adhered to these suggestions.
  • Work hard. It may be obvious, but it's worth stating up front. Law school is intentionally hard, and you will be competing with some of the best and brightest minds. You will also be learning to think in new patterns and with new concepts. Put the time in, do the reading, and be prepared for class. A lot of law students are naturally intelligent and may not have had to do much work to excel in undergrad. That won't cut it in law school and it won't cut it in the real world.
  • Find a schedule that works for you—and stick with it. When I was in law school I treated it like a job. I went into school in the morning and I left at the end of the day or whenever I finished my work. Some people prefer to get up early so they can be home earlier. Others like to work late. Develop a schedule that allows you to get all your work done, and stick to it. Being able to focus for long periods of time is a skill you must learn in order to succeed in law school and to succeed in legal practice after you graduate.
  • Keep your priorities straight. You may be spending upwards of $100,000 to go to law school, so it should rightly be your top priority—most of the time. But you must keep some balance in your life. It is possible to spend too much time doing school work. I've seen classmates do it, and it's unhealthy and ultimately unproductive. Make time for friends, family, scripture study, church service, and community involvement. You may even have to schedule some of these items to fit them in. Just make sure they happen. Even though law school is very important, your family or other priorities may trump your studies from time to time. And that's okay. 
I also recommend that all new 1L's (and even returning law students) read "To Beginning Law Students," a brief but worthwhile article in the December 2002 issue of First Things magazine by Arizona State University law professor Patrick McKinley Brown.

If any of the readers have better advice to new law students or things they wish they had done in law school, feel free to share them in the comments.

Photo credit: Jesse Michael Nix.


  1. 1. Keep the pocket version of Black's Law Dictionary with you at all times. Any time you don't know a term, look it up. I was a 2L on law review before I knew what the term inter alia meant, which was inwardly embarassing.

    2. Don't be afraid of commercial outlines. They're gold. Don't rely solely on them, but use them as a reference...they help to bring all of the pieces of law from the casebooks together.

    3. Same goes for other outlines from students. Beware of them, though. Some are good; some are horrific (and even contain incorrect law!).

    4. Competition will be as stiff as ever for the next two years. Dont' settle for top 25% (like I did)...especially if you're not at a highly touted school.

    5. If you're at a school ranked lower than 20th, consider transferring to a T-20 school after your first year. This will require that you be in the Top 10%, but I know several who did it and they're glad they did.

    6. Don't be a punk. Law school is competitive, but it should be cordial. My best friends I've ever made are my law school friends.

    7. If you want employment after first year, be prepared early. Have your resume intact well before finals begin. Have your cover letters set by November 1st. Law students all over the country will be sending their info to potential employers on Dec. 1st. You should too.

    8. Get on the best Journal you can. I'm actually trying to sell a law student to my Firm, but it's hard because homeboy is on the third-best journal at our school. Ouch.

    9. Disable wireless internet on your laptop. By that I mean, take out the internal wireless card and throw it in the garbage. Your classmates will be surfing the web during Con Law (or other boring classes), and you should avoid the temptation. I dare say that if my school was not set up for school-wide wireless internet, I'd have been magna cum laude (instead of just cum laude)...and Order of the Coif. Just trust me. Take it to Best Buy and tell those Geeks to yank it out. You will hate me during Con Law, but you'll love me when grades post.

    10. Have fun. It's hard to do sometimes, but nothing has tested my sanity like law school did. Some sort of release is required.

    Good luck!

  2. JAF and Peter both gave great advice. I would also suggest that a new law student become highly aware of how they best learn. One large difference between undergrad and law school is that in law school you are not "spoon fed" everything you are expected to know but you must find the answers yourself.

    For example, since starting law school I have come to realize that I am a very visual learner and that if I take a complex subject and draw out a "flow-chart" the concept becomes much clearer and is easier for me to memorize. That's something that I never learned about myself as an undergrad but that has helped me greatly in law school.