I have been approached by several people among the fresh crop of 1Ls-to-be for advice regarding the grueling task that is first year of law school. Most of them are to attend the Dedman School of Law. I have a feeling that the reason why they seek my advice is not necessarily because I am so all-knowing, but because I am one of the administrators for Dedman Law 2012 Facebook Group.
So, here’s a small sampling of questions asked by those inquiring minds. I will be posting questions from different people in separate blog posts. Names will be altered to give the these people some degree of anonymity.
First up is Bob.
Hello, I will be entering SMU’s evening law program this fall and wondered if you might have any advice, recommended readings, etc. that would be helpful in preparation for 1L success. I realize that you are probably very busy, but any assistance would be greatly appreciated. – Bob
First of all, a very big congratulations to you on your acceptance into a fine program. I think you’ll enjoy it once you arrive – well, in a masochistic way. 🙂 It is true that life as a 1L is pretty hectic, but I am always pleased to offer any advice when solicited.
The most important of my advice would be: don’t be too swayed by other people’s advice. I, too, sought out advice as I was preparing for law school – former/current law students, books, websites, blogs, etc. Even though a lot of them seemed to be legitimate and sound advice at the time I first heard them, my experience has proven that what matters the most is what works for you. Figure out what attributed to your success in undergrad. Know what among your study habits are a keeper and what you need to fix. For example, I never studied in groups while I was in undergrad. Not that I was anti-social or anything; I still worked with other students on this and that, but never relied on study groups. When you get to law school, everyone will tell you that you MUST get in a study group. While, in my experience at least, there is some truth to this advice, do take it with a grain of salt. I wasted a lot of time trying to accommodate the study habits and schedule of my study group. Don’t get me wrong; I dearly love my study buddies, but they despise the silence of the library whereas I cannot concentrate at a cafe or student union. I’ve come to the conclusion after much trial and error (not to mention the heartache of leaving my friends to go to the library by myself) that sometimes, it might be better to study alone. I have been able to come to a compromise: I would get the reading done alone in the library then meet up my friends for a discussion elsewhere.
That’s just one example among many advice that I had to disprove personally. Another would be: don’t take notes in class on a computer because you’ll be distracted and tempted to do things other than paying attention. That is true: AIM, email, Facebook, and various other websites can be distracting. I tried taking notes by hand. Then mixed it up half way through the semester. While the disadvantages of this was not readily apparent, at the end of the semester, I decided that I will take all my notes on computer in the future. You will come to know and love the process called outlining (basically compiling all of your notes and then some for the entire semester). At that point, you will appreciate the fact that you can just cut and paste your electronic notes into your outline. Saves a lot of time, and 1Ls can always use more of that!
This is one advice that is universally given out, and I wholeheartedly endorse: read all of the assigned cases before class. There simply is no substitute. Commercial briefs, outlines, your friends who are nice enough to share notes or summarize the cases for you… None of those will be even remotely adequate for reading them yourself – before class. At first, the mere fear of being called on will make you read on time. Don’t slack off a month into the semester, though. It will be EXTREMELY difficult to catch up once you fall behind. As the professors assign you more than enough reading for each day, it’s nearly impossible to read couple weeks’ worth of material on the side.
Learn to brief cases well during the first few weeks of school. After a while, once you feel like you have a good hang of the process, save yourself a lot of time by book-briefing. But only after you’re confident that you can dissect a case into its little parts without having to write out a separate brief. In that regard, buy yourself a bulk supply of assorted colors of highlighters. Devise a system that works pretty well for you. (I have one; email me if you want more details.)
Commercial study aides can be helpful (hornbooks, outlines, briefs, flash cards, etc.), but don’t drain your bank account by purchasing all of them. I have a lot of pretty books on my shelf that I barely touched. You can buy them from me if you’d like. 😉
I’m writing this on my BlackBerry, so I feel like I’ve been typing for an eternity. Digest what I’ve said above and shoot me some follow-up questions. I’d be happy to answer them to the best of my abilities.
Again, congratulations. It seems like you have a daunting task ahead of you, but you’ll have help along the way so don’t hyperventilate just yet. 😀
Thank you for taking the time to write such a detailed reply 🙂 I found the information very informative and helpful. I too bought all of the 1L hornbooks (Actually called “Aspen Primer Explanation & Answer Series”) and exam prep. flash cards…haha. My goal is to get a basic understanding of each subject by the start of fall semester. But with the number of hours I am working right now, that goal may be very idealistic 🙂
As far as study habits are concerned, mine are very similar to yours. I have always found that studying the bulk of the material on my own and using the study group as a recap is the most efficient method. And yes, when you have time I would love to know what system has worked for you in briefing, etc.
Bob, explaining the book-briefing system would be a lot easier in person, so we can do that.
[meeting & contact information redacted for anonymity]
Bob is typical of law students. We pay meticulous attention to details. We tend to over-work ourselves. We are anal. 🙂 Rather than enjoying the last few months of freedom before law school begins, we buy study aids and how-to-succeed-in-law-school-books and read them tirelessly. I, too, was in his shoes this time last year. (See other posts tagged “Preparing for 1L.”) So I thought his questions and comments would be good ones to post.