As I may have mentioned before, the administrators of this blog program occasionally give us prompts. This semester I was surprised to find the following prompt in my inbox: “Is 1l year really as bad as they say it is?”. With only a month left of my 1L year to go, I think I’ll give this question a try. My overarching answer is it’s pretty bad, but its manageable. Law school is very challenging because the work is hard and the work is endless. But that answer comes with a caveat, which is: if you want to be here, you’ll get through it just fine, especially once you can learn to trust, depend on, and appreciate your fellow students.
Here at BU the first and second semesters of law school are surprisingly different, and they each come with their own challenges. I’ll break down my thoughts about the first year accordingly.
The First Semester
One stressor of the first semester is that it can be isolating. You enter the school, you know no one, you’re suddenly reading new and confusing materials and people are asking you hard questions in front of 70 people you’ve never, but want to impress. The first thing that helped me to feel more comfortable was getting cold-called for the first time and realizing that nobody was really judging my answer; they were just trying to understand the concepts themselves. I remember last semester I felt a little unsure of everyone: they were my competitors on the curve and I had no idea who they were or if they thought I was dumb. Now that I’ve made some friends around the law school and learned to relax around my peers, the whole process seems a lot less intimidating. I spent most of the first semester studying alone. Even though I had Rob to visit every weekend, I ended up feeling really lonely sometimes. Once you can reach out and make a few friends, your days at the law tower will be much more pleasant.
The first semester is a little scary not only because you don’t know your peers, but also because you don’t really know what to do. In my writing class and in all my doctrinal classes last semester I felt like I was constantly faking it until I made it. I pride myself on being a good writer, so it was an especially hard blow to my ego when I struggled at the beginning of the legal writing class. Legal writing is a whole new way to write that must be learned, and it takes practice. In my doctrinal classes, I read every class religiously, I began outlining 8 weeks before exams, and I read supplements of all kinds. Those three hour exams loomed ahead of me like big, scary monsters and I never, ever felt like I had done enough to prepare for them. But when they arrived, they were really exactly what you would expect them to be: you sit in a seat for three hours and you write an essay. It’s a lot like the essays on the LSAT, but you’re supposed to know a number of rules ahead of time to help you solve the problems presented in the topic questions.
Then there’s the curve. I think for most of us the curve and the single-exam-grade were the most intimidating of all. We were all good students in high school and college. We were used to spending extra time on essays, or doing extra credit just to make sure our grades were the best they could be. Those tools aren’t available anymore, it’s true. However, try to keep in mind that in some ways the curve works in your favor – you don’t have to understand everything at least as well as an expert attorney does to get a good grade, you need to understand everything as well or better than the average first year law student does. So – trust your peers, make friends, and study with your friends. Once that first exam is over, and you’ve received your first grades, you’ll feel ready to tackle…
The Second Semester
My second semester has been different than the first in three main ways: (1) experience; (2) friends; and (3) classes.
First, with experience much of the anxiety of the unknown that I felt in the first semester is gone. I still want to do well in my classes, and I still have so much work to do that I feel stressed sometimes, but at least I have an idea of what my methods are, and what is ahead. During this second semester I feel much more able to make judgment calls about how to make small sacrifices in one class to get the work done for another class in any given week. For example, the week that I had the Follies performance and my Moot Court brief was due, I skimmed my readings or read case summaries instead of reading each case carefully. In the first semester, I would have been very scared to do that, but this semester I could look ahead and see that I’d be able to catch up over spring break and that the sacrifice would be worth the health I’d gain by sleeping enough.
Second, during this second semester I feel much more connected to the law school and to Boston because I’ve made many new friends at BU. Me and all the members of my study group are good friends, and we depend on each other for help sometimes. It’s a reassuring feeling to know that if I really need to miss a class because I’m sick, I have four people who will happily give me their class notes. The Follies have also been a great addition to my social life. Even with the show over, it’s so great to walk around the tower and say hi to people you know. They’re also great people to go out with, and I look forward to our every meeting or all-you-can-eat sushi event. Finally, I’ve been trying to attend a few more school events this semester and it has honestly been a great addition to my experience. Save one Thursday or Friday night a month for a BU Law event and I assure you it will be worth the night not spent studying.
Third and finally, the classes in the second semester are pretty different than in the first. In writing we are now working on persuasive writing for courts instead of objective writing for firms, which initially threw me for another loop. In our doctrinal classes, unlike last semester, there is much more overlap in our topics. While this is somewhat helpful because it adds to the big picture of how lawyers use the law to make arguments, it also poses some difficulties. The main difficulty I find this semester is keeping the types of arguments I need to use for different classes straight in my head. For example, in both Legislation and in Constitutional Law we have talked about affirmative action. In Constitutional Law, we deal with affirmative action using Equal Protection Clause arguments. In Legislation, we talk about how to interpret statutes, cases, and institutional actions that deal with affirmative action problems. This can be a little confusing, because I can’t just memorize one rule or argument format for the issue. Instead I have make sure I understand two ways of dealing with the same problem, and keep them separate because the exams are unrelated.
In conclusion, the first year of law school is a big challenge. Depending on who the “they” is from whom you’ve heard about the first year of law school, it might well be as bad as they say it is. However, “they” probably made it through the first year just fine themselves, as will you. If you’re joining BU (or any law school) this fall, and you feel like you want to read something to help you prepare. I know that I read and/or skimmed through a few books and found them at least somewhat helpful. I especially liked Getting to Maybe and The Law School Confidential. I also like 1L of a Ride, although I did think the author was a little alarmist. Don’t worry too much about the first year of law school. It’s going to be a challenge whether you worry or not, and you will get through it your own way, as all of us current 1Ls are doing right now. (Remember that your peers are one of your best resources!)