5 Things To Avoid During Your First Semester Of Law School1
Earlier this week, Vikram Amar, Dean of the University of Illinois College of Law, penned the ATL article Five Pieces Of Advice For New (And Returning) Law Students. It is an excellent read and quite topical for our readers who are about to embark on their first semester of law school.
While reading Dean Amar’s post, a few more tidbits of 1L wisdom came to my mind. These ideas were not positive instructions like Dean Amar’s recommendations, rather they are communicated in the negative and are an illustrative guide of what to avoid during your first semester of law school.
Without further ado, here are five things you shouldn’t do during your introduction to law school:
- Don’t stay wading in the shallow waters. Dive all in! Law school is no place to be a tourist. To be competitive, you will need to do a deep dive into all the materials. You can’t stay in the shallow end of the pool and expect to be fully immersed in the legal waters. Baptism by fire is the modus operandi of our current legal institutions. As I wrote for the ABA Before the Bar Blog: “To successfully transform into a ‘depth devotee,’ Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, recommends to create artificial constraints on your schedule, carefully block out deep work hours, and preserve these hours against incursion.” There are two types of students in law school: those who put in the requisite sweat equity necessary for success and those who avoid the heavy lifting often in search of a short cut to success. The former are usually much more successful in their legal careers than the latter.
- Don’t be too proud to ask questions or ask for help. Your professor has office hours for a reason. Don’t wait until two weeks before the final exam to discover where your professor’s office is located. No man is an island. Develop a study group, support system, and relationships with the faculty at your law school. Many professors yearn to develop strong relationships with their students. Your legal acumen will start as a tiny seed. The sun light of relationships and the water of legal education will help you develop strong roots that will act as the foundation of your legal knowledge. Your strength may be torts and criminal law, while your friend loves civil procedure and constitutional law. How can you work together to improve both your results?
- Don’t be unprofessional. You are taking the first step in becoming a legal professional and should act as such. Bad judgment and youthful mistakes while you are attending law school may need to be disclosed on the character fitness section of your bar exam application. This isn’t undergraduate school, no matter what some of your peers may think. The legal universe is rather small and the profession continues to shrink as you grow in your career. Don’t be that guy or girl. Don’t attempt to answer every question your professor asks aloud to the class. In other words, don’t be an obnoxious gunner. And don’t be a bully. Don’t drink with classmates like you are in the basement of your fraternity house during pledge term. Mind your Ps and Qs and show good judgment. There is no three-strike rule in law school. You won’t get another chance to make a first impression.
- Don’t ignore your mental and physical well-being. Mental health remains a concerning issue in our profession. Develop a schedule and make sure you allow yourself time to think, decompress, relax, recharge, and exercise. You will spend too many nights consuming sugar-free Monster energy drinks, Diet Cokes, Flaming Hot Cheetos, Skittles, Sour Patch Kids, Jimmy Johns, and Domino’s. The last few weeks of your first semester will feel like hell on earth. If you don’t take the time to check in with your loved ones, then they will, no doubt, worry about you. And if you don’t take the time to catch some fresh air, go for a walk, and pursue some hobbies outside of your textbooks, you are heading for a mental breakdown.
- Don’t let a quarter block out the sun. In other words, don’t lose focus of the big picture. Law school can become quite insular if you let it. One bad class or one bad mark may feel like the end of the world. Sure, it’s important to start off on the right foot, but it’s also important to keep your first semester in perspective. What motivated you to apply to law school in the first place? What’s your purpose? You have three years of learning, education, and growth ahead of you. As you probably heard a thousand times already, law school is a marathon — not a sprint.
No matter how your first semester of law school goes, I guarantee you it will be a learning experience. As always, if you witness something remarkable, be sure to let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org!