Next to bar prep, the transition from college to law school was one the most difficult periods of time in my life. Mind you, I had just finished two majors in three years of undergrad and was starting a two year accelerated Juris Doctor program at the Thomas R Kline School of Law, so needless to say I was slightly exhausted.
There were so many lessons I learned throughout my 1L year that I wish I knew back on day one.
You have to realize that law school has competitive ranking, meaning you can simply graduate or you can graduate at the top of your class. This is an important distinction since not everyone necessarily needs to graduate at the top of their class for their specific goals. That being said graduating at the top of your class will make the start of your legal career exponentially less difficult.
Here’s five of the most important lessons I learned in my first year of law school. If you care about your grade or reputation in law school you better pay attention to these lessons and apply them as early as possible!
Lesson 1. Put in the time outside of the class room or you will fall behind, and you definitely don’t want to fall behind!
It’s a lot of reading. Like a lot. Like I can sit here and try and explain to you how much reading you can expect and honestly you probably wouldn’t believe me. Let’s just say, it’s not shocking or strange to have a collective 200-300 pages of reading a day.
If you think you’re gonna go to class for a few hours a day and then go home to a care free life, FORGET IT! I joined a two year program at the Drexel Kline School of Law with about 19 people in total when we started and I believe I graduated with about 14 others from the program. So numbers will definitely dwindle down don’t be one of those numbers. Work hard and do not fall behind.
Remember, what you don’t read now, you will have to read during finals week when you are competing against the student who never missed a reading. Think about it, every law school has students who will never miss a reading and will always do any extra work assigned. These kids are competing with you for that A. However, the real reason reading is so important is because of the next lesson.
Lesson 2. The professor is the judge of the class room, keep them happy!
One thing you’ll learn as a lawyer is that the judge is the king of the courtroom. One thing you learn about law school is that your professors are the judge of the class room. Keep these facts in mind, and be a good student. Do your work, don’t make excuses, and most of all don’t be stubborn. Having a professor who enjoys teaching you will ensure so many positives. An example of this can be seen in any everyday class.
We have all heard of the Socratic method, correct? If you have not, the Socratic method is the popular teaching method commonly used in almost every law school class. A teacher will assign a reading on day 1, and on day 2 the teacher will teach the class by asking a plethora of questions about the reading assigned. It is a method that forces the learner to establish logical corrections on the fly and under the pressure of having all your other class mates staring at you. So you can imagine how scary it is when a teacher cold calls you when you have not finished the reading.
If you are constantly missing readings, being absent more than you should, and giving your professor nothing but grief than (trust me) that professor will embarrass you when you slip up, which will inevitably happen. Now, if instead you are always on time answering questions, doing your readings and helping as much as you can, the teacher is likely to let you slide a few times with any missed readings.
Another example of when it is handy to be on your professors good side is when you need an extension. A professor who enjoys teaching you is more likely to grant you one. I know this may be a form of planning for failure but I do not know a single law student who never asked for an extension. And if you are a law student who has never asked for an extension than honestly you are impressive but not common. It is important to remember that in law school, and in the real practice of law the judge or the professor is much more likely to help a person he/she likes than a person who has caused them trouble. You catch more flies with honey.
Lesson #3. Hunt for programs and after school activities because experience is just as important as grades.
This lesson is a little controversial but I’m sticking to my beliefs. As a firm owner I care much more about what you have lived through than I do about how many classes you took. That being said grades are still very important, they can be red flags as well as the deciding factor when I have two similar applicants. Your 1L year is likely to be the most difficult of your law school career. However, this meas that 2L and 3L year will be easier by default. Therefore, check you schools full list of after school activities, clubs and programs in order to find a few good ones that are right for you.
For example, my school (Drexel Thomas R. Kline School of Law ) offered a program called the Marshal Brennan Constitutional Literacy Program. This program allows second and third year law students to teach constitutional rights to a high school class. I had my own class, my own lesson plans, and at the end of the year you are allowed to choose one or two of your high school to compete in a National Moot Court competition. I was lucky enough to teach two amazing children and travel to Boston where one of our high school students kicked butt and won the entire national competition! Check to see if this or similar programs are offered by your school in fields of your interest. This is where you will make your connections and add to your professional value.
Lesson 4. Don’t forget the countless tools, offered by your school, at your disposal
You may get so caught up with the work that you forget the other incredible things your school offers. At Drexel we had so many tools offered to our law students, and yet so many people would just go through their entire career without using anything! That’s so crazy to me so I am reminding you all, figure out the tools your school offers and take advantage of them.
For example, Drexel Kline School of Law offered something called a professional development fund of $250 for each student. That means every student can request up to $250 dollars to purchase things that would develop their professional careers. I was able to use this money to join several different professional organizations such as AILA (American Immigration Lawyers Association), State bar associations, and others. I also used that fund to buy a text book that helped me in my planning of opening my law firm.
Another example of a tool offered by your school is the different departments staffed by amazing people at your school. I didn’t realize it at first, but my school had so many incredible staff members that were eager to assist in my law school career. There was a professor who organized tutoring for those who are starting to fall behind that made a huge difference in my mind set as it relates to law school and learning as a whole.
One department at Drexel Kline School of Law that I can not talk highly of enough was our CSO (career strategies office). Headed by the incredible Dean Donna Gerson, the CSO was a life line for me through out my law school career. They gave out free coffee every day, they were there to help me in my professional transition, and when I was stressed about falling behind they let me sit there and vent to my amazing CSO officer Amy. When I decided to open up my own practice I was terrified to tell any one because I was one of the youngest students in the school, but they supported me, made me feel more confident and provided me with the tools I needed to be successful. I wish I utilized this office as more of a tool when I was in my first year of law school and that is why I implore all new students to utilize all the tools their school offers.
Lesson 5: Limit Your excessive spending, find balance.
This one may be a little wild to hear but its important for everyone. Excessive spending costs your peace and nothing is worth your peace. Now, when I say excessive spending I don’t just mean money. I mean money, time, emotion, and everything else in your life. Find your balance, maintain your peace.
In law school, balance was the biggest lesson I learned in my first year. Sometimes I would spend hours worrying about stupid things and would lose my concentration on my studies. Limit this! Cut negative energy out as much as possible, and make sure that the few hours you do get to yourself you spend relaxing, unwinding, and taking care of yourself. Self care can be the difference between a difficult law school experience and a manageable one.
In law school it is also much easier to qualify for large scholarships and other government assistance including loans. Now what you need to understand is, you can take a lot of money out in loans and you will be able to have a good amount of spending money. CONSERVE AS MUCH OF THIS AS YOU CAN. In their first year many law students I knew, including me, did not do this. They get money in their account and they start to splurge on things they might want around the house, or nights out, even vacations. You should limit this as much as you can. At the end of the day that is money that you’re going to have to pay back WITH INTEREST. I suggest you create a separate account for your loans that way you treat the money in that account differently than the money in your personal account. Trust me this will save you a ton of hassle and stress in the future.
In conclusion, law school is a journey where you will have ups and downs. Although I experienced awesome peaks, I also took time to learn from the valleys. A challenge, or a failure, or an obstacle may seem overwhelming but remember that you are ready for this, that you have what it takes, and that you are good enough to be an incredible law student and an even better lawyer! Follow these tips, learn as much as you can and crush it!
If you have any questions, need any advice, or just wanna chat leave a comment and we will be sure to reach out!
Wishing you the best,