Law School (Almost) Confidential

28 04 2010

Disclosure: the below is an article I submitted to the student newspaper at my law school, with some editing.

I would like to congratulate the members of the [class withheld] on becoming law students at [law school]. You are following in the footsteps of many illustrious jurists and lawyers who have passed through these halls during the past few decades.

Many of you are probably nervous about how you will manage to get through these next few years. Some of you are coming straight from undergraduate work, while others of you are coming from another career path. Regardless of where your lives have led you up to this point, as first-year students, you are in the same boat. You may worry about digesting the often-overwhelming readings your professors have assigned you. You may worry about making yourself stand out from the rest of your class. You may worry about getting good grades, or just making new friends and contacts.

But fret not! Every other student here has gone through the same process as you have, and I can say authoritatively that succeeding at [law school] is possible. I have compiled a list of tips to help you get through the next few months relatively unscathed.

Go to the Library: This cannot be stressed enough. The library has all the textbooks for your classes on reserve (which is not to say that you should refrain from buying books), as well as supplemental study materials for students to use. Whatever your study habits are, whether you prefer studying at home, at the coffee shop, in class (not recommended), or while skydiving (also not recommended), the library and library staff are an invaluable asset that will help you through all your years here. The library also has study rooms for students to use, which are always in high demand, so be sure to get there early. While not to suggest anything to you, I have noticed (as a member of the library staff) that the students who take advantage of the library early in the term appear the least stressed during finals week. Just a thought.

Time Management: Yes, I know that you learned about this at orientation. Some of you probably thought that it was a waste of time. I felt the same way. Trust me, you NEED to manage your time. I would recommend getting a calendar that has time slots on it, so you can gauge what times you will have free during the week for studying, for running errands, and for anything else that may arise. It is amazing how fast the term flies by. If you can’t divide time effectively, you could have problems. It takes time to master this art, but once you master it, it’s like riding a bike: you never lose it.

Get Involved! This is a controversial point, and I know some people may disagree with me on this. However, I think getting involved your first term is a beneficial idea. The school offers many student organizations, for whatever your interests might be. The advantages of getting involved are several. First, it helps you meet older students, who have gone through this process before. These students have had your professors, have taken these exams, and are invaluable mentors. The second advantage is networking. Many organizations host outside speakers that work in fields that interest you. Some organizations have lists of alumni that they keep for your use. Third, it makes your resumé more attractive to potential employers. Finally, getting involved is fun. Organizations host recreational and social events, which are another way of meeting people and taking a break from studying. One warning that I would stress, however, is not to spread yourself too thin. Although you might want to join every organization possible (and trust me, there will be some of you who want to), you want to leave adequate time for studying. It’s up to you to decide how best to balance your time.

Budget Your Money: If you’re taking out loans, you have to pay them back after you’re done here. Simple as that. You don’t want to blow through it all in the first few weeks and be living on Ramen for the rest of the term. I would recommend taking  four month’s rent out of your loan refund and putting it somewhere where you can’t touch it until you need it. You may want to go out every weekend, but trust me, save your money. You don’t need to add financial stress on top of finals stress at the end of the term. In addition to this, don’t take out more money than you need. The school gives every student a budget, but if certain things in the budget don’t apply to you, don’t take out money for that purpose. Seriously. If you can budget what you spend and what you take out, you will be in good shape when you have to pay the money back at the end of your time here.

Stay Healthy: Eat right. Go to the gym. When it’s summer, walk to school or ride a bike instead of driving.

Stay in Touch With Home: You might be halfway across the country from your loved ones, or you might be just down the street. Regardless of wherever they are, don’t forget them while you’re here. Call home once a week. Keep in touch with your friends, even if it’s just an e-mail or Facebook message once in a while. No matter how overwhelmed you might feel at school, your friends and family are always rooting for you, and will always be there to pick you back up again.

Make Time for Yourself: No, this doesn’t mean going to the bars every night. Take a break from studying every once in a while to clear your head. The material you have to learn your first term is unfamiliar and complicated, and is often a daunting task. If you’re having trouble getting a concept, step away from your book. Take a walk. Get a massage. Do whatever helps you relax. You’ll be glad you did, and you’ll be refreshed when you go back to the books.

Be Friendly: This isn’t like college, where you may not see these people again. Your classmates are future colleagues, and it behooves you to make a good impression upon them. The people you make friends with your first term will stay with you for the rest of your time here, even if you don’t have classes with them.

If you See an Opportunity, Take it: You will meet a lot of interesting people, both students and otherwise. Part of succeeding anywhere is to take risks. If you see an opportunity, don’t let it pass by, because you’ll kick yourself in the end for missing it. I didn’t start writing for the paper until a past editor recognized me from somewhere and asked me if I wanted to write for them. That was three terms ago. If I hadn’t run into him, this article might not be here today.   Don’t be afraid to try something new.

Study, study, study! What, you think I forgot this? Don’t ever forget why you’re here. Unlike undergraduate, law school is not a place where you go to “find yourself.” Make no mistake, law school is not a walk in the park. You need to stay on top of your work before it blows right past you. Your first term is the most challenging one you will have: after this term, you get used to the routine and gradually get better. But you won’t get there unless you study like a boss.

Obviously, your mileage may vary here. These are just some things I’ve learned that I think are important for law students to know. I wish you all the best of luck in your career here, and I’ll see you in court!

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