The editors of The Temple 10-Q thought it may help new law students, or those who may know new law students, to have some tips on how to handle the first year of law school, especially in a confusing time during the second year of the pandemic. The advice has a somewhat business-law slant, but applies to all 1Ls. It has two parts, school work and personal/social advice.
- It’s Not Just an Adventure—It’s a Job! Treat law school like a full-time job, because it is one. If you are leaving a full-time job to enter law school full-time, then maintain the hours you kept at your job (adjust as needed if you are a part-time student). If you just graduated from college and have never held a full-time job, then make sure you hit the ground running—at a steady pace. Wake up early, have a plan for the day, and work until you complete it (regardless of what you may have heard about law school, there is such a point when you are finished for the day). Be disciplined about when, where, and how you work.
- Do the Reading. There is no substitute for actually doing the assigned reading—before class. You will find countless sources of supplemental information (e.g., study guides, canned outlines, on the internet, etc.) which can enhance your knowledge, but until you read and understand the primary sources—the cases, statutes, etc.—you cannot grasp what you need to know.
- Listen, Part 1. Believe it or not, your professors want you to learn and to succeed. More incredible still: sometimes they have useful things to say. Although this may be obvious, listen carefully to what your professors say about the subject matter, how to approach it, and how you are likely to be tested on it.
- Listen, Part 2. Often, the most important observations come not from professors, but instead from students. You should listen to your classmates as carefully as you listen to your professors. This can be difficult, in part because, to put it diplomatically, not all student comments are created equal: some will be more useful than others. Effective listening means developing the ability to sort the wheat from the chaff. This may be even more difficult if your class is partly or entirely on-line.
- Take Notes, Part 1. This, too, may seem obvious, but take careful notes during class and—perhaps more importantly—review them immediately after class to make sure they accurately reflect what happened. This can be trickier than you think, because it can be hard to listen carefully and take notes at the same time—especially if you worry about being cold-called (see below). If you are online and the class is synchronous, do not be afraid to let the instructor know in the chat that they may need to slow down. If uncertain, compare your notes with classmates’. Do not wait: they call it “short-term memory” for a reason. (Note that some professors do not permit laptops in class—find out beforehand—and make sure you come to class properly equipped).
- Take Notes, Part 2 (Outlining). You will hear much talk about “outlining”—what, when, why, and how to create outlines for your classes. We won’t burden you with the details here, but strongly suggest that you start outlining well before the end of the semester. Many students find it helpful to outline at the end of major units in a given class, as a way to synthesize and test your knowledge.
- Teach Yourself. Perhaps the hardest change for new law students is learning that, no matter how well you listen (or how good your notes), you must in the end learn to teach yourself how to identify and solve legal problems. Learning how to teach yourself—and how to gauge when you’ve gone far enough—is difficult. If you do not understand something, it is your job—not your teachers’, your friends’, or the Law School’s—to figure it out. That, in a larger sense, is what “issue spotting” is all about—finding the right questions, so that you can then answer them.
- Ask (Yourself) Questions. The most obvious way to teach yourself is to ask questions. For example, you may ask yourself: Do I know the elements of the rule(s) and when they apply? Can I apply them? Do I know what sorts of problems—e.g., ambiguities, contradictions, inconsistencies—recur in the subject at hand? You will never be able to answer all of these questions. But you should get into the habit of asking them, all rooted in even more basic questions: What do I need to know, what don’t I know, and how can I figure all of this out?
- Ask (Others) Questions: You will not always be able to answer those questions from the assigned reading or your innate brilliance, in which case you will need to consult others. Those others may be professors, teaching assistants, other students, and, yes, even the internet. Although the Law School community cannot do the work for you, we have many resources and a generally good attitude about helping.
- The Cold Call. Do not stress about cold calls. Yes, you will be called on in class, sometimes unexpectedly. And, yes, you will have to speak. For the whole class to hear. Most faculty do not seek to embarrass you, however. The goal, instead, is for the entire class to learn (see Listen, Part 2, above). While your answers in class generally have little or no bearing on your final grade, if you are struggling to participate in in-class discussion, this may mean you are not asking the right questions of yourself or others.
- Open Minds, Part 1. No matter your politics—radical, liberal, conservative, libertarian, or just plain indifferent—it’s a good idea to try to see issues from all perspectives. As you can imagine, there are judges and politicians who fit into all of the foregoing categories (and others). You are going to read cases that you fundamentally disagree with. You cannot develop an effective counterargument unless you first understand the other side’s position.
- Open Minds, Part 2. Think about exploring the world of business law. It may not sound as exciting as areas of law you are more familiar with, but business law still has theory, doctrine, philosophical debates, and its own nerdy drama. Plus, it’s what most lawyers end up doing for a living—and they learn that it can be fun, interesting, and rewarding.
- Business Law, Part 1. Pursuing business law is not necessarily antithetical to doing good. Business lawyers need not “sell out.” As counsel to businesses, you have the opportunity (and, many would say, the obligation) to make sure they are good corporate citizens. Moreover, business law practice can be quite diverse, and is becoming more so as clients demand greater diversity among lawyers in all dimensions.
- Business Law, Part 2. Business law courses can have a steeper learning curve than others. If your Contracts class does not immediately click, take heart. There is more to business law than what a single class can reveal. Business lawyers confront a large range of matters, from employment law to torts, intellectual property, bankruptcy, tax, securities, even immigration. Did you come to Temple to be a criminal lawyer? You may have noticed that white collar crime is a booming industry—and an important business law practice area.
- COVID Considerations. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is the truth of the old Marine Corps adage: never love your plan. As of this writing, the Law School will conduct classes in person, masked. It is, however, not clear whether (or under what conditions) that may change. Thus, the most we can say are things you almost surely already know: be aware of and follow the rules—Temple’s as well as those of various applicable government actors—flexible, and considerate.
- Reputation Matters. Yes, law school is competitive, but do not be The Jerk. Those in your classroom may be your competition, but they’re also your future colleagues. Do not burn bridges. The legal community is small and word gets around.
- Stress!!!! Part 1. For many of you, the first semester of law school will be the most stressful experience of your education. The best way to deal with this stress is to maintain balance: keep up with your school work and stay involved with activities outside of the classroom. Whether it’s cardio at the gym, volunteering where appropriate, trying the latest restaurant, binge-viewing Netflix, or hanging out (virtually or otherwise) with friends, make sure you take time for yourself. You will need to thoughtfully include even more breaks since you may be stuck at home more than you may wish.
- Stress!!!! Part 2. Do not let others determine your stress level. If you know that you did all of your work during the week, don’t fret because someone is tweeting about the additional, non-assigned reading they decided to do. Law school does not have to eat up (all of) your weekends, and others should not set your study schedule (see Part 1, above). If you are a full-time student, most weeks there is plenty of time from Monday to Friday to complete your work.
- Work Space. By now, we are all familiar with Zoom etiquette, but if we return to remote instruction, plan to have a work space with as much privacy, and as few distractions, as possible. Your instructors will probably have more specific guidance about how they would like to handle this. When in doubt, ask
- You Are Not Alone. Your first year of law school is difficult, but know that on any given day, a pretty good number of your classmates find it similarly challenging, too. The key is to maintain focus, learn every day, and move forward, secure in the knowledge that many have been through the same things you are enduring, and have been just fine.
- Join the AV Club! Get involved in one or two extracurricular activities, to the extent possible during a pandemic. Temple has many interesting clubs and societies (though not, sadly, an actual AV Club, so far as we know) where you can learn, meet new people, and make a positive impact from the day you start law school. Many law school groups have events at lunchtime or in the late afternoon – try to participate. Often, their talks and panels relate to why you came to law school in the first place. Just make sure these activities don’t eat into your study time.
- Ask for Help. If you are feeling overwhelmed, and your usual solutions don’t help, the Law School and Temple University offer plenty of support. The Dean of Students and your professors all want to see you succeed, and can help you get the help you need (confidentially). There is no shame, and much benefit, in asking for help. It’s important to maintain as much of a regular, “normal” routine each day as possible. That includes sufficient rest, a balanced diet, exercise, and ways to relax. It’s also important as a member of the school community that you follow all of the guidelines set out to keep the campus, your classmates, and teachers and staff safe.
- Take a Risk. Committing to a legal education, like any major life commitment, is a risk. There’s no reason to deny that, and some reason to embrace it. Subject to the general observations about reputation and stress, above, now is a good time to take risks, at least small ones. Raise that hand—whether in class or virtually! Introduce yourself to that interesting person! Be that interesting person!
- You Made it Here, So You Can Make it Anywhere. Getting into any decent law school is difficult, and Temple is among the harder ones. Many talented people wanted your seat—and they did not get it. Mired in the work and stress of first year—on top of a pandemic—it is easy to forget that just getting here is a significant accomplishment in itself. Feeling good about your past is, of course, no substitute for doing the work today, but it can help to remember that you’ve succeeded in the past, and have every reason to do so in the future.
There are probably as many 1L tips and stories as there are folks who have passed through law school. If you like these tips—or don’t, or have better ones—let us know.