1-Take Advice with a Grain of Salt
First-year law students love looking for advice and seasoned law students love giving it. It reminds us that we are no longer the new kids on the block and it makes us feel better about our overzealous course loads, far too many extracurriculars, and that interview we did two weeks ago that we’re still obsessing over. You want some advice, we’ve got it! The catch; that advice may not always be right for you.
Now, before you decide to purchase a garlic necklace to repel your friendly 2L and 3L mentors, hear me out. I am not saying the advice you get will be bad. We’ve all gone through 1L, most of us have passed all of our subjects, a few select unicorns have gotten A’s on those subjects, and most of us really do know what we’re doing. You should hear us out and try some of the study tips we give you–just make sure not to double down on them if they aren’t working. When a 2L approaches you and says, “this is the best way to study,” what they are really saying is “this is how I studied, and I did well, so it must be the best way.” Insert biggest eye roll here!
Very few things in life are one-size-fits-all and law school is no exception. There are certainly trends and techniques that seem to work for a large percentage of law students, but it is still not going to work for everyone. For example, study groups at BC are often seen as the holy grail of getting an A. Almost everyone at some point will be part of a study group, but they aren’t beneficial for everyone. I personally get extremely distracted when trying to study with a group of people. Furthermore, I feel an extreme amount of pressure to keep up with the group rather than taking the time to make sure I actually understand the concepts. I do much better studying on my own and taking practice exams with friends at the end of the semester. I do what works for me, and you need to find and do what works for you.
Law school advice is like Forever 21 leggings; one person’s yoga pants is another person’s indecent exposure.
2-Find Your Chill Person
If you are like me, and can spend two hours stressing over whether to sign your first professional email with “best regards” or “sincerely,” you need to make finding your chill person a top priority. Don’t confuse a chill person with a bad influence; if your person wants to go out drinking the night before your legal practice memo is due, throw the whole law student away. Your chill person isn’t someone who fails to take law school seriously, he or she is someone who doesn’t take law school as seriously as YOU do–at least at that moment. The key is to create balance. You will have zero trouble finding people who have equal or greater stress levels to you, and while there is something to be said about camaraderie, talking to a stressed person isn’t going to make you less stressed.
Having at least one person who is pretty zen about law school will do you wonders. I’m not going to lie, this isn’t the easiest thing to find given the Type A nature of your typical law student, but these people do exist and they are worth finding. The day of my Civil Pro final–easily my worst 1L subject–a text message from my zen friend simply stating, “we got this!” was the difference between a semi and full on panic attack.
3-Make Time to Talk with Your Non-Law School Friends and Family
The law school bubble is a real thing. No matter how hard you try to avoid getting sucked in, the reality is it gets us all to some extent. This isn’t a bad thing per say, but it can get overwhelming. Most of us have gotten to a point where, after spending so much time talking about law, writing about law, and thinking about law, we’ve forgotten that there is a world outside of law.
Keeping in touch with the world outside of law school is super important. Not only because you want friends and family who still like you after you graduate, but because making law school your entire existence makes it more stressful. Law school is important but it is not everything, and your friends and family outside of law school are the best ones to help remind you of that.
For me, Sunday is family and friend day. I set time aside each Sunday to call the people I don’t get to talk to during the week. I schedule it so it becomes a priority and part of my normal routine. Yes, sometimes I feel guilty taking time away from my studying but overall it does wonders for my emotional well-being.
You need to set boundaries with the people in your life, and some of those boundaries should be set before you even set foot in your first class. The most important boundary is one regarding your time. While you shouldn’t push your friends and family to the back burner, chances are you are not going to be able to give them as much time as you did before law school. Explaining this to them early on prevents future conflict. Before law school I would respond to a text message within fifteen minutes, now a half a day could go by before I look at my phone. Yes, this bothers people in my life who are used to me quickly responding, and I could opt to check my phone more often to appease them, but doing so would distract me from my school work and my grades would suffer as a result.
Another boundary you need to set early on is what you’ll spend your energy on. Law school is a bit like high school in the sense that there is a lot of gossip and a lot of complaining. Some people thrive on it, some people find it exhausting, but most people (if they are being honest with themselves) fall somewhere in the middle. Regardless of where you fall, you need to set that line and make sure people respect it. For example, I don’t mind talking about my general impression of an exam, but I don’t like speculating over answers. For some people, talking about the exam makes the wait for grades more bearable. For me it’s stressful, so I set my line based on what I need in order to feel comfortable.
5-Check Your Expectations at the Door
Do you want to get straight A’s during your time at law school? If you answered yes, then congratulations, you are in the same boat as approximately one hundred percent of your fellow classmates. Law students by nature are a very ambitious bunch, and BC students in particular have very high expectations of themselves. Having high expectations are great, but they need be put into perspective.
Wanting straight A’s and believing that it’s realistic to get straight A’s are two very different animals. By now you’ve probably heard about the dreaded law school curve, and I could write a dissertation talking about whether it’s fair or not, but it’s probably not going anywhere anytime soon. The truth is, in a class of one hundred people only ten of those students are going to get an A. There is no reason that you cannot be one of those ten students with hard work and good study habits, but to expect that you will fall into that top spot in all your classes for the next three years is unreasonable and may inspire a nervous breakdown.
The most important thing to remember is that law school is not like undergrad. Most of us were star pupils at our undergrad institutions, but will be average at BC, because the curve forces that to happen. Again: perspective matters, because being an average student at BC does not make you an average law student overall. Remember, you had to score around the eightieth percentile on your LSAT to even get into BC. Before you sit for your first law school exam, you are armed with the knowledge that you tested better than eighty percent of the nation’s law students.
When it comes to grades at BC you are being compared to a highly intelligent population and the curve is incredibly tight. Last year the curve for my Contracts class came down to a couple of points between an A- and a B+. Do not torture yourself into thinking you need straight A’s.
6-Aim for A’s!
Would I really be a law student if I didn’t contradict myself? I just told you not to worry about getting straight A’s and now I’m telling you to aim for them. Yes, because it would be irresponsible of me to say that grades don’t matter. Truth is, when looking for a job only three things matter truly matter: grades, networking, and luck. Considering that grades is one of the two things you have control over, you should aim for them to be as good as possible.
Again, being at the median is perfectly fine. You do not need A’s to get the type of legal job that you want, but they do help. Your GPA is one of the first things prospective employers see, and as it increases, your chances of getting an interview increase. Obviously, if you are investing all of this time and money into law school, you should strive to afford yourself the most opportunities possible.
Bottom line? Basically, just do your best, and try not to sweat the results!
7-Don’t Over Prepare for the Cold Call
Cold calls are terrifying and you will undoubtedly have the urge to spend an excessive amount of time going over the cases so you won’t be caught off guard if you’re on call that day. Resist this urge! You should be prepared for class, that’s a given. But you really shouldn’t be writing a ten page case brief on Pennoyer v. Neff.
Studying should be done with an eye towards understanding the rules of law, not memorizing every tiny detail of the cases you’re assigned. Yes, the professor might ask you to state the facts in class, but I can almost guarantee you that they are not going to ask you to do that on the final. Rocking the thirty-second cold call but bombing out on the final because you didn’t spend enough time working with the concepts is not going to do your legal career any favors.
8-That One Person Who Says They Understand the Mailbox Rule is a Liar
In math, two plus two equals four. In law, two plus two equals maybe. It is a very confusing subject to learn, and while some people might seem like they know what they are doing, they really don’t. We law students like to act like it’s shark week and admitting confusion would be like putting blood in the water. We see the person next to us looking confident so we put on our game face and next thing you know you have eighty-plus baffled students acting like they know more than they actually do.
A running gag in my first semester Contracts class would be someone asking, “what is the mailbox rule” and someone replying, “I don’t know, what’s a Contract?” and the joke was that nobody, including the professor, had a failproof answer to either of those questions. The frustrating part about law is that for every rule there is an exception (and a five-page dissent from Scalia) and you hardly ever have a clear cut answer. Confusion is just part of the equation.
9-Have Some Fun!
Law school is a lot of hard work and it’s going to take up a huge chunk of your time, but it doesn’t have to be painful. Some of the cases you read will be drier than the Sierra, and getting through those classes will be torture, but some of the cases will spark intense debate and you’ll be disappointed when class ends. Law school is a highly intellectual, stimulating experience and allowing yourself to get pulled into that can make it really fun and rewarding. Don’t think of law school as a means to an end. Think of it as a journey, one that you want to stop and savor.
10- Never Be Afraid to Reach Out
The last bit of advice I have for you–and what I consider to be the most important piece of advice–is to never be afraid to reach out for help. If you are anything like me you’ll be tempted to handle every single problem that comes your way by yourself, and in some law schools that’s probably what’s expected of you. But BC is different. We are a community that truly cares about one another, and there are so many people here to support you. Whether you are having trouble understanding a concept in class or you’re finding law school life overwhelming, everyone in the community is going to listen to you and do their best to help. We are by no means a perfect group of people, but we do strive to lift each other up.