The first semester of law school has a huge learning curve. In September, you hit the ground running but you’re faking it. Everyone’s faking it. You just have to do your best to figure things out as they come, because each experience: first graded memo, first cold call, first exam, is a brand new one and you have no context to help you navigate it. To describe it as stressful would be an understatement, and, as I’ve said before, there probably isn’t a way to effectively prepare for it.
But the first semester is very effective preparation for the second semester. As I mentioned in a previous post, I already recognize some things that I’m glad I did, and some things I will change going forward. Hopefully this will give you a better idea of what studying in law school is like, and you can use my experiences as a guideline when you actually start law school!
As a quick reminder, everyone’s study strategies are different. Doing well in law school is a matter of figuring out what works best for you. By all means, try out different strategies that upperclassmen suggest – you have to start somewhere –but take it all with a grain of salt, and don’t be afraid to try something else if it’s not working for you.
1. Reading and briefing all the cases: Once or twice I’ve gotten confused about the page numbers assigned and showed up to class inadvertently unprepared. It was terrifying. I spent half the time praying I wouldn’t get called on and half the time planning what I was going to say if I did get called on. I wouldn’t recommend the experience. Instead, take the time to read and “brief” a case. A brief is just a little summary of the case: Facts, Procedural History, Issue, Holding, Rationale. It’s handy when you’re called on in class, and they teach you how to do it at orientation.
2. Making mini-outlines: Before exams, you’ll make a BIG outline of the ENTIRE course. It will help you study, but once it’s made, it doesn’t help a whole lot. There usually isn’t time to actually use your outline during the exam when the minutes are flying by. Last semester, I made a mini outline/checklist for each exam designed to jog my memory as I’m answering the questions. It wasn’t a list of facts necessarily, it just reminded me what to think about. In the heat of the moment, it helped me stay focused.
3. Studying in the library: When classes ended, I stayed as far away from the law tower as possible. People were getting crazy and I didn’t want to be around the stress. But after several days in a row holed up in my studio apartment, I was on the verge of a mental breakdown. I finally went to the law tower for a study group meeting, and I wound up going back every day. For me, my apartment was too isolating and too monotonous. Instead of being the hostile environment I had imagined, the library fostered camaraderie.
Things I’m changing:
1. Reviewing notes weekly: At the end of the week (or at least every other week), I’ve been trying to make time to read over my class notes. I’m hoping this will help me with general comprehension and also allow me to identify questions and weaknesses that I can address before exam period.
2. When I start to outline: Last semester, some people started outlining the course in September, and some didn’t start until classes ended. I followed the more sensible advice of the majority, and started around Thanksgiving. But I wound up feeling a little rushed, so I’m planning on starting earlier this semester and I’ll see how that goes.
3. Practice tests: Last semester I had every intention of doing a series of practice tests leading up to each exam. Partially because of how long my outlines took, I didn’t meet this goal. I did a couple practice questions before my first test, a few more before my second, and none before my third. The library website has past exams for many professors, and I plan on leaving myself enough time to take advantage of that this semester.