On January 20th, 2012, I received my first semester grades. And on January 20th, 2012, I cried for the first time over my grades. And then I cried some more, feeling helpless and stupid for shedding tears over something so inconsequential.
I am not a crier. But law school will do that to you. It will make you crazy. It will make you run yourself into the ground. It will make you curse the day you decided to enroll. Yet, you return, you enjoy it (enough), and you will succeed.
There are a few things about 1L year that make it so much harder than subsequent years.
First, there is a unique culture that surrounds law school and it takes a while to figure it out. Entering law school, I was not one of those people that regularly surfed the chat rooms on top-law-schools.com. I didn’t know what a “hornbook” was or that they even made them. I didn’t even know what a “tort” was, except that was the name of one of my classes. The only thing I knew is that people claimed law school was “hard” and that professors used the socratic method.
There will be a handful of people that seem to know everything about law school on the first day of class. Ignore them. Congratulations to them for knowing someone who went to law school; you’ll figure it out. Don’t sweat the small stuff (trust me, you won’t have time).
Second, the case method teaching method is hard to grasp. I’m used to teachers explaining basic principles and then asking questions – in law school, the principles are embedded in these cases and so you’re expected to come to class understanding them (even though the cases may be incredibly difficult to comprehend). I think it took me two months to figure out how to read a case and pull out the principles from the dense text.
Third, 1L grades matter and people are crazy. I’m not interested in firm life, so I am not as familiar with the importance of 1L grades. But from what I’ve heard, firms pretty much only look at your 1L grades when they decide to take you on as a summer associate, so you’ve got to do well if you want to be competitive (so I’ve heard).
So, grades matter. But haven’t they always? You probably did well in college, so that you could go to law school, so it’s the same thing, right? WRONG. The difference? These people are crazy. No joke. As a group, law students are like robots. I was pretty good student in undergrad, but I have never studied so hard in my life; in fact I never even realized I could work this hard. And I’m not even in the top of my class. You cannot underestimate your classmates – (nearly) everyone in your class is incredibly diligent and hardworking and everyone in your class is used to getting good grades. This is a lesson you will probably learn the hard way.
I say this not to scare you, but to prepare you for the days, weeks, months to come. I vastly underestimated law school and my first semester grades paid the price (hence the salty tears of defeat). And, as a person who is used to getting good grades, my confidence, self-esteem, and general mental health suffered a pretty hard blow. It was an bitter defeat, and I don’t wish it on anyone. So take heart: 1L year is hard, no matter who you are. Get ready. Work hard. Don’t be a jackass to others.