Since I started my law school application process over two years ago, my dad has been telling me to watch The Paper Chase. I’m now a 2L with (slightly) more free time, so I thought I would finally give this classic a try. This 1973 movie details James Hart’s first year at Harvard Law School, and while nothing depicts the 1L experience as accurately as the documentary film Legally Blonde, this one does get a lot right.
The First Day
The movie opens with James’ first class on the first day of law school, as every 1L gets to their seats and settles in moments before the professor arrives. I’m generally a bundle of anxious energy on the first day of anything, so I arrived to my first class about 15 minutes early last year. What I didn’t realize was that my first-day anxieties were nothing compared to the motivations of my classmates, many of whom arrived far before I did. Needless to say, if anyone actually showed up as close to the start of the first class as every extra in this movie did, they’d definitely be occupying the dreaded front row.
If you’re reading this article, you’re likely gearing up for your first year of law school — something that might feel really new, exciting, and possibly terrifying. One year ago, I was in the same exact position. Now, I’ve been reflecting on all the things I was doing at this time that turned out to be really helpful, and all the things I probably should have done differently. To make sure you’re ready to hit the ground running in just a few weeks, follow these tips.
BC Law Impact Editor’s Note: We pride ourselves at Boston College Law School on our unique community that cultivates an incredible student body with a brilliant faculty. This post is part of an ongoing faculty spotlight Q&A series to help students get to know the members of our faculty on a more personal level.
What do you like most about BC and why?
As hokey as it is to say, the answer is the students. I have found it to be universally true that the students are super happy to be here, kind to each other, but also really open minded in the very best sense — the sense of being able to come into class and just engage with wherever we go. So, if we’re talking about something difficult, the students are open to it and respectful with each other, but also really curious. It’s easy to create really rich academic environments because there’s sort of a low barrier of entry for the students. Compared to other teaching I’ve done at other places, I’ve just found it incredibly gratifying to be able to come into a classroom and know that, whatever you bring to the classroom, students are going to be up for it. Even if they’re sometimes surprised or off-balance, they’re not hostile, and so that means you can really do stuff in class that otherwise might be harder to do.
Returning to school after Spring Break is always an adjustment. You’ve relaxed, you’ve slept in, and, if you’re luckier than me, you’ve traveled to a tropical destination. Getting up for your 9 am lectures and spending late nights briefing cases can feel harder than ever, especially as the weather is starting to get warmer. I don’t know about you, but I thought it was much easier to hunker down and read when it was freezing cold and dark at 4 pm.
And yet, just as these factors are combining to make motivation for school drop to its lowest, we’re also approaching the home stretch of the semester when it’s the most crucial to keep motivation up.
If you need inspiration to keep going through these last weeks until summer, here are some tips.
I came to law school not exactly sure about the type of law I wanted to practice, so I was particularly interested in experiential learning opportunities. Sure, I could learn about different legal fields and see how I liked them in practice during my summer internships, but clinics and externships would give me even more chances to try out various specialties and hopefully find what I was most passionate about. Knowing that these options are only available to 2Ls and 3Ls, I came into my first year ready to just hit the books and keep those other plans in the back of my mind for the upcoming semesters.
But Boston College Law School had different plans.
Before starting my first semester of law school, some of the most repeated advice I heard from those who had taken this journey before me was “don’t make law school your personality.” This sentiment was echoed in personal conversations with current students and in sessions hosted by student reps during orientation, and each time I heard it, I laughed it off.
It felt like such a strange thing to be saying over and over! It was too specific to be coincidentally repeated, but I didn’t really get what it meant. I understood the more general advice to take time off from school every once in a while, but what did that have to do with law school becoming your personality? I started to think this was some weird joke I wasn’t in on.
But then, classes started. It turns out what I wasn’t “in on” was law school, because once I was in on that, I saw what all those 2Ls and 3Ls were talking about.
About a semester into undergrad a few years ago, I did something pretty crazy: I signed up for an extracurricular.
Revolutionary, I know.
This certainly wasn’t an unusual move, but it was pretty unusual for me. I did it on a whim, without any of my new friends joining me, and it felt really bold to just try something completely new with a group of strangers.
This spontaneous decision was one of the most influential ones I made in college, and it really shaped the entire experience for me. It helped me choose my major, it introduced me to people I likely never would’ve met otherwise, and it allowed me to develop new skills and hone those I already had.
While I still had this formative experience in the back of my mind as I stepped back on a college campus this fall at BC, I didn’t really expect to have a similar experience in law school. From what I had heard, the academics would be keeping me more than busy, and I didn’t anticipate having time to put energy into anything besides my studies. I started school with my head down, ready to focus on nothing else for the foreseeable future.
But, only about a week into this new experience, Boston College Law School threw me a curveball. The school was starting its first of two competitions — a negotiations tournament where you and a partner would go head-to-head with another pair to see who could secure the best deal for their hypothetical client. What’s more, while it wasn’t mandatory that we participate, it was highly recommended.
Oh, and if you wanted to participate, you’d have about three days to decide.
During law school orientation, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Daniel Lyons walked us through what we should expect from our first day. During this session, he showed us the infamous scene from Legally Blonde where Elle Woods experiences her first class. After we watched Woods get kicked out for not being prepared, he assured us that, while the movie gets some things right, it also gets some things wrong.
What did it get wrong, according to Dean Lyons? Our professors likely wouldn’t be as suave. Also, while they will call on you, they won’t pick on you with that degree of malice.
However, what it gets right is that there will be assignments before even the first day, and you will be expected to have done them. There also will be cold calling, probably not at first, but soon.
While this orientation session was surely meant to ease our anxieties mere days before we would begin a daunting academic adventure, it only made me more nervous. Experiencing anything like Woods’ first day seemed like a downright nightmare, and the only thing I didn’t have to worry about now was suave professors with outward malice? I started losing some sleep.
But after experiencing it firsthand — and living to tell the tale — I can assure you that the anticipation was far worse than the reality.