Starting off my 1L year, I was several years out of college. This was anxiety inducing for several reasons, but one, in particular, I didn’t expect: I had no idea what an adult human being in graduate school needed to bring to class. Do I bring notebooks? Every single one of my 50-pound books? Maybe get my hands on a trapper keeper? (Fun fact: I 100% owned that trapper keeper in the 4th grade.)
To help you avoid the onset of organizational stress, and facilitate your inevitable Staples run, I’ve compiled a list of some items you may want to think about bringing on the first day.
A quick note: You’ll find that, over the next few weeks, many, many, many very well-intentioned people will want to give you advice on being a 1L – much like I am doing now. While you should certainly keep your ears open for useful info, don’t feel the need to listen to what everybody says. Law school is first and foremost about figuring out the kind of lawyer you want to be, and part of that is figuring out how to be the best law student you can be. It looks different for everyone, and you need to figure out what works for you. It doesn’t matter if you’re thinking about school supplies (obviously a super serious topic), deciding what elective to take, or considering doing the writing competition. The best advice I ever got was do what feels right for you, and don’t worry about incorporating all of the “advice.”
Okay, tangent over. To the supply list!
#1: A Laptop/iPad AND CHARGER
The laptop/iPad part goes without saying, but I really want to highlight the importance of bringing your charger. You’re about to spend a lot of time living in the law school, and there is actually nothing worse than frantically typing up your notes or working on your first writing assignment and having your computer die on you.
Thankfully, if you do ever forget your charger, you can get a loaner from the library circulation desk. This is a fun fact that I learned when my computer almost died halfway through my Corporations exam; I share it with you now so you can avoid that particularly harrowing experience.
A note on notetaking
One of the things I struggled with the most my 1L year was the best way to take notes. Some professors will make it easy for you, decision-wise, and forbid the use of computers in their class. (Professor Wells, who teaches Torts in the Fall, and Professor Greenfield, who teaches Con Law in the Spring, are two examples of this.) In those classes, you’ll need to take notes by hand, so bringing a notebook is key (see below). However, those professors normally designate one notetaker in the class who is allowed to take notes and then distribute those notes to the rest of the class, in case you miss something.
For classes where you have a choice, you have to figure out what the costs/benefits are for you. I like to type my notes pretty verbatim, so I choose to take notes on my computer in all of my classes that allow it. On the other hand, my roommate hates getting distracted by other stuff on her computer, and takes most of her notes by hand.
Fair warning: in some classes, and for some professors, taking notes by hand may not be a practicable option because the professor moves through material so quickly.
#2: Pens and highlighters. All the highlighters.
Okay, yes, this seems obvious, but I really can’t overstate how familiar you are about to become with highlighters. Buy a big box now, and you’ll be amazed how quickly you go through them.
You may find that, as you go through first semester, some students talk about highlighting different parts of cases in different colors (i.e. yellow for facts, blue for holding, green for reasoning, etc.) Feel free to give this a go if you think it might work well for your brain, but in full disclosure, it can add to your reading time and can be fairly visually distracting on the page. This is all a means of saying: try it out if you want, but don’t by any means feel like you need to be using highlighters that way if it overwhelms you.
#3: A planner
Get. A. Planner. Like a physical one. That you can hold in your hands.
I know this may be a controversial one for the technically-inclined out there. I, myself, did not use a planner before law school, and tried to go without one for the first few weeks. Spare yourself the stress – even if you eventually transition to using Google calendar or sticky notes or whatever e-system you currently employ, having a physical object that is separate from your computer where you can record deadlines, details and homework is really, super valuable.
This is partially because professors assign homework differently. Some will use a numbered syllabus and just tell you what numbers to read; some will send out e-mails after class with the next assignment; some will give you the homework at the end of class. I found it really helpful to have something I could physically grab, wherever I was, and jot down the homework in. You’ll also be getting a lot of random information in your first few weeks of school, and having one place to write all of that down makes referencing those notes again later about a billion times easier.
If you’re looking for one to try, I’m partial to the Moleskin Weekly Planner. They sell that version, along with a bunch of other types of planners, at Brookline Brooksmith, which is about 10 minutes from Cleveland Circle.
#4: A folder and a notebook
Again, getting a notebook is obviously necessary for those classes where you can’t take notes on your laptop. I brought two on the first day, in anticipation of that happening or of just needing paper for something.
The folder is something that you may or may not use long term, but is very helpful in the beginning. I found that, as the fall semester went on, the amount of physical paper I was dealing with drastically reduced. In the first few days, however, there’s going to be a lot of handouts, and it’s super annoying to have to shove them in your backpack with everything else. You’ll get a sense of whether you need something more durable (i.e. a binder) as you learn about your professors’ styles, but for the first day, keep it simple: bring a folder.
Which brings me to…
#5: A backpack
I made the poor life choice of thinking backpacks were lame my first week, and feeling like I, as a then-25 year old, should not be carrying one. Ain’t no shame to the backpack game, my friends. You are about to be carrying giant textbooks and a laptop and whatever else you bring to school with you for most of the day. Save yourself (and your back) the stress – buy a backpack you like, and rock it with pride.
On the flip side, please don’t feel like you need something more formal than a backpack. I was asked by a friend a few years ago if she needed a brief case. The answer to that is: absolutely not. A backpack will do just fine.
#6: A sweater and a water bottle
Oh, it’s 90 degrees out, you say? Not in the law school. The law school buildings, and particularly the basement of East Wing, fluctuate between sauna-like and Alaska in January. Bring layers so you can avoid either sweating or shivering to death in your first few days.
And as for the water bottle, there is a handy water tap built into the condiment station in the cafeteria. Save yourself some money – the Quick Mart can get pricey – and bring your own bottle. For the tea drinkers out there, you can also get free hot water from the cafeteria if you bring your own tea bags.
#7: Snacks and/or lunch
I discovered during my 1L year the perhaps self-evident truth that buying snacks and/or lunch every day is not cheap, particularly when you’re living on student loans. To avoid the inevitable onslaught of hanger, pop some snacks in your bag, and think about adding some time in the morning to make lunch before you get to school.
Alternatively, if you’re thinking you may like the convenience of the cafeteria and will eat there often, consider getting a meal plan to save costs.
You’re about to be spending a lot of time in the library with every other 1L in the class, trying to understand, for example, what the heck “consideration” is. (For the record, I’m still not sure I know.) In such stressful situations, it is helpful to be able to drown out all of the people around you. Bring headphones – maybe leave a set in your locket, in case of emergencies – and if you’re really sensitive to noise, consider getting fancy and buying the noise-canceling kind.
#9: A parking permit (for car owners)
To park on the law school campus, you’ll need a parking permit. They can be ordered from your Agora Portal (under “Parking Permits”) and costs $315 for the year. The cost can be automatically deducted from your student account, so you don’t have to pay it out of pocket. If you’re carpooling, you can also get a discounted permit rate. All of the information is available here.
About the blogger: I’m a 3L Public Service Scholar with a background in education and an interest in juvenile law. I’ll be blogging about public interest at BC, getting a job that’s not at a firm (fingers crossed), and how I’m maintaining my (semi) sanity living in the Law School Bubble. Questions are always welcome! You can comment here, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.