For the recently admitted law student, the thought of their first year invariably conjures up images of studying eight nights a week, endless coffee pots, the loss of all contact with the outside world, and finals that have the effect on their stomachs usually reserved for the most treacherous of roller coasters – but it doesn’t have to be. Despite what you may have seen in The Paper Chase, law school is actually quite manageable and the vast majority of law students adapt quickly. While it is understandable to have some 1L reservations about your first semester, the most important thing to realize is that you’ve already done most of the hard work. What lies ahead is, in some ways, not very different from what you have already done.
Instead of looking at this seemingly never-ending mountaintop with its summit disappearing in the clouds that is your law school tenure, it would be a good place to turn around and look back and see how much you have already done. Getting to this point was not easy for any of us and you should be proud. You should be proud of everyone entering law school with you because they, like you, have sacrificed many of the same things in pursuit of the same goal. No matter where we come from, we all have common ground in this. Indeed, perhaps one of the most important things I’ve learned from my first year of law school is that the people you meet, and the friends you make along the way, may just be more important than the almighty 4.0 GPA. You will need these friends to help you through your journey, both in law school and into your career beyond. Take the time to get to know your classmates and let them get to know you. Law school can quickly become overwhelming and it is these friends who will help you make sense of it. It is these friends who will share that late-night cup of coffee with you when you need it. It is these friends who will keep your feet firmly planted in the ground when all you want to do is run away. Don’t get me wrong, grades are important. However, getting an interview notwithstanding, grades alone cannot impress an employer or keep a client. That final hurdle is left up to you but you can lean on your friends for advice and support.
If anyone tells you law school is easy, they are probably lying to you. However, like I said earlier, law school is very manageable. There will be some struggles with time management while you figure out your groove, but once you do, you will fall into a routine that will give you comfort. For some of us this comes much faster than others, but it does come. I have never been a 4.0 student, and I probably never will be. I think on some level this is intentional because I would rather find a good balance between school and life that works for me. Remember, grades can only carry you so far. Rather, it is who you are that will take you the rest of the way. In my first year, this meant giving myself enough time to relax and decompress. There is always something more to read, to learn, to study. I found that by setting hard limits on the time I would give any particular thing allowed me to reduce my stress level while still maintaining a respectable academic showing. That said, this is what works for me and might not work for you. The important thing is to find a balance in your first year that is sustainable so that you can excel in a manner that you choose.
In that same vein, there are many other things you can do in law school besides study. There are many different student organizations you can be a part of, or be a leader in. There are various community service opportunities that you can choose to participate in. Moreover, you might also choose to be a part of your student government or participate in intramural sports. In addition, there are always various presentations or panels that you might attend, usually for free, that have nothing to do with your grade and are merely there to help lower your stress and enlighten your mind. As I said previously, the important thing is to find a balance with what you choose to do. For some, participating in everything available might be an effective distraction. However, for others, this may not be an optimal use of their time. The important thing to remember, in my opinion, is that you do something that allows you the opportunity to interact with your classmates. You don’t need to do everything, but you probably should do something. The key to success in your first year is finding a routine that works for you.
There will be various things that you can choose to attend that have nothing to do with school at all. The sole purpose is to get to know your classmates better, decompress, and relax. You should definitely go do these things. They will help create and strengthen the vital friendships needed to succeed in law school. In addition, your brain needs some time off for good behavior. Trust me on this, your mind, body, and grades will thank you later. Not to be cliché, but there’s only so far you can drain your batteries without taking time to recharge. I think this is particularly important in law school because of the way we are using our brains and the stress of our program.
In addition to all the things I’ve said above, if I had to give a few pieces of advice, said to no one in particular, the first would be that you should be a good friend so you may have good friends. Second, remember that grades will probably only be super important for about 10% of us. If you’re not going to be one of those 10%, sleep well knowing the ubiquitous first-year curve safely protects your interests as a reasonably hard-working student (like me). Third, take the time to relax because you are probably going to be okay.
Finally, don’t forget to eat something; some Ritz crackers and cappuccino is not dinner. Well, not usually anyway…