Outline for Survival – A FIRST-YEAR LAW STUDENT TIP SHEET
These interviews took place several years ago, but the insights still hold up. Since the interviews, Kayla, Carl and Brianna graduated from Albany Law School and are working in the legal field.
Law school is starting up again, and the 1Ls are gathered at orientations across the state. They start out eager, but by the end of the day, they look confused and seem to be gasping for air. So much information is packed into one day. No one ever comes out of one of these events feeling “oriented.”
And all that advice, all those tips and all that information is almost immediately lost in space. And 10 months later, after you’ve learned everything the hard way in your 1L year, you’re thinking, “Why didn’t they tell me any of this?!” Maybe you just couldn’t remember any of it.
The New York State Bar Association is here to help. We want you to get through your 1L year with as little pain as possible, although it might be painful. So, we’ve put together a cheat sheet full of tips and advice from people whose memories of their 1L year are still raw and fresh.
A rising 2L and two rising 3Ls at Albany Law School were asked: What do I wish I’d known when I started law school?
We start here, because you have to stay alive to get through law school, which can seem problematic the first year.
1. Remember to eat and to eat good food.
2. Remember to sleep. It’s ok to close the books.
3. Remember to exercise. It will help you breathe.
4. Mental health.
a. You will cry. That’s ok – carry tissues.
b. Find one person on faculty or staff that you can go to, but do not necessarily trust them with your deepest secrets.
c. Maintain your support network. Call the folks back home, frequently.
d. Do not ever, ever try to tough it out. You will have to be tough, but not that kind of tough. (See a, b, c.) You are not alone.
e. Depression. A number of law students experience bouts of depression for the first time in their lives. It’s part of the nature of studying the law. There are so many “what-ifs” and pressures to deal with it can seem as if there is nothing in life that is “true.” Recognize and accept the law for what it is, but that doesn’t have to be the only thing you are. (See a, b, c, d.)
f. Your school has a counseling/mental health center. Use it. (See d.)
g. Talk to 2Ls and 3Ls. They’ve been there, and they are not in competition with you.
h. Have something that you do that has nothing to do with law school, whether it’s a hobby, a TV show or cat videos on the internet. Every Thursday at 9:00 p.m., your show is on. Watch it.
5. Unless there is absolutely no alternative, do not take a job during your first year. You will make yourself crazy and probably sick. You will be flat out as it is.
1. Know how you learn. Are you hands-on or do you read the entire instruction manual before putting in fresh batteries? You are probably a combination.
a. Note-taking for hands-on learners. Use a spiral notebook and take notes by hand. This helps “imprint” the information in your brain. It can be very effective; you can transcribe them later (a form of studying), and a spiral notebook never crashes (but always bring two pens in case one runs out of ink).
b. Book learners. By all means use your laptop for taking notes, but only if you DO NOT GET DISTRACTED by the internet, your email, an unbeatable deal on sneakers. You can lose entire classes down that rabbit hole.
c. Outline. Outlining does not work for everybody and does not help everyone learn. That said, if your professor demands one, produce one.
2. What do you like? You already “know” you want family law. That’s ok – try other things. Take all core courses seriously. You don’t know what might click, and all areas of law feed into and inform each other.
3. What do you dislike? You already “know” you’d hate contracts. (See 2.)
4. You need to be on journal to get ahead. No, you don’t. It might not be a good fit for how you learn or what you would like to do.
5. You need to be on moot court to get ahead. (See 4.)
6. Try things. A little volunteer work goes a long way. Being a witness at moot court lets you see 2Ls and 3Ls in action.
1. You were the high school valedictorian and summa cum laude in college. You are no longer the smartest person in the room. Not even close. It’s ok.
2. You will have problems. There is always one class (at least) where you will feel you are floundering. Go to office hours. Talk to the professor. Insist on it; it is your right. It’s your education, take control of it.
3. You are no longer the smartest person around – STUDY.
a. Be prepared.
b. Be alert and attentive; be ready to be “cold-called” in class at any time.
c. Use the writing center. Get feedback; get help. You need it.
4. It’s ok to say “no,” you can’t do this or that if you have to study. It’s your education.
5. You are learning a new language – the language of the law. It’s hard, and it will be hard to switch back and forth between law language and the language back home. Most people will not understand you. You will laugh at strange times, and the only people who will laugh with you are fellow students.
6. Law school is today. There’s a world out there. You are more than a law student. Life goes on.
1. You know there’s going to be a lot of reading and writing. Your imagination does not even come close.
2. Learning the law language: You will be reading books, statutes and cases in this new language before you are fluent in it. Expect to read, re-read and re-re-read, until you get the point. It will get better.
3. Join one club and volunteer for one thing.
4. Do not take a job your first year. (See Self-care, item #5.)
1. Law school IS very competitive. It can be cutthroat.
2. You probably will not be in the top tier of your class. That’s ok. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. And remember, 90 percent of lawyers did not graduate in the top 10 percent of their class, and they are doing fine.
3. It’s your education. It’s not about the other students, so don’t let yourself be controlled by what they do.
YOUR LAW CAREER HAS ALREADY STARTED:
1. Be nice to everyone.
2. Go to events and receptions. These are great networking opportunities.
3. Invest in a black, navy blue or dark gray conservative suit for interviews and events. Self-expression is earned, it’s not a given.
4. Character and fitness are already factors.
a. Go through your social media and delete anything you wouldn’t want your professors or your advisor to see. They will Google you and look at your Facebook profile.
b. Do not go out and party like you did in college. When you do go out, you might run into professors, staff or someone who might in the future give you a job offer, or someone who’s on the character and fitness committee. Act accordingly.
5. Use the career center. Do mock interviews.
6. Make a LinkedIn profile. Employers look at them.
7. Your cover letter and resume are important. Start now.
You are in law school, in training to be an advocate. It’s what lawyers do. So, if there is something you need to change, do your research and advocate for yourself. It’s good practice.
Your first year of law school is a marathon. Pace yourself. This too shall pass, and life will still be there, waiting for you. Good luck!