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Article by guest author, Josh, 1L

Before I started my first semester of law school, I had collected a wealth of advice from many different sources, including students, practicing attorneys, and a 300 page insider’s guide.  Although I appreciated their advice, law school is something you have to figure out on your own—and quickly.  Otherwise, you might get lost in the endless amount of work.  Now, after completing my first semester of law school, here are some things that I realized that were not so plainly obvious at first.

1. Only use commercial study guides if you absolutely need to

What do I mean by commercial study guides? When you first start school, you will hear various terms thrown out by 2L’s and 3L’s that will be like a new language to you: E&E’s (Examples and Explanations), Emmanuel’s, Crunchtime, etc. These are all commercial study guides published by outside sources that have an extremely helpful bank of knowledge corresponding to every first year course across the country.  But heed my warning now: some of them are expensive and there will be discrepancies between them and what your professor has specifically taught you. By all means, use them to understand some topics that you might not understand, but only after you have spoken to the professor or a study group (we’ll get to that later) to try and figure it out yourself.  My belief is that they should only be used as a last resort.

How do you figure out which study guides will help you the most? No one can give you this answer until your grades are revealed.  However, in the middle of the semester, stop by your bookstore and browse through wealth of study guides available.  Personally, I took one look at an E&E and knew that it would overwhelm me, so I stayed away from them, except for during study group sessions.  I knew one of my classmates would have them and we would go through them while we were studying for exams.  Obviously, your experience may differ, but realizing that I did not need to use these commercial study guides as a crutch allowed me to focus on what my professors wanted on their exam.  That, in turn, saved me a great deal of unwanted stress.

The bottom line: Browse through the commercial study guides.  Learn what they are all about.  Ask yourself if you really need them.  Ask yourself if one of your friends has one to study from or will let you borrow it.  Then act accordingly.  Remember, in most cases, the people who wrote these commercial study guides are not writing your final exam.

2. Get yourself a close-knit study group and meet on a regular basis

Some people might be skeptical about this next realization because they are the people that learn better on their own.  I was one of those people going into law school.  However, I found that having a study group benefited me because I was able to understand concepts that were not as clear during class and it allowed me to fill in my notes to achieve a thorough outline.

Unfortunately, as the unofficial captain of our study group, I found it very frustrating that some people could not commit to meet on pre-determined dates.  Towards the end of the semester, I found myself to be a member of two study groups: one for outline purposes and one for exam prep purposes.  While these two groups ultimately proved to be beneficial in the end, I do not recommend this because it might create some unwarranted hostility by your original group.

How does one form the perfect study group?  No group can be flawless.  But, the most ideal study group would be 3-4 like-minded individuals, including yourself, that do not have a problem meeting at a certain date at a certain time every week.  Preferably, this group should not be the people that you also go to the bar with later that evening.  If that is the case, then make sure your group stays on task because you do not want to waste time goofing off when you could be studying.  Pardon the cliché, but time is a precious thing to waste in law school.  You should be using every moment to your advantage, taking breaks when necessary of course.

The bottom line: Find some people that you get along with in the first two weeks of class. See if they want to be in a study group with you.  Set a date and time each week to meet and go from there.

3. Stay on top of the reading but also make time for a social life

One of the most challenging aspects of law school is the amount of reading and comprehension that has to be done every day.  Fortunately, most professors release their syllabus before classes begin.  Take advantage of this immediately!  If you do even one set of readings ahead of your next class, you will thank yourself when you have free time at the end of the week.  Note: you are not in class all the time!  You should have time to do your case briefs before each class, and maybe even have enough time to watch one of your favorite television shows at night, or go to the gym.  Your schoolwork comes first, but you should also find time to do things other than schoolwork, even if it means scheduling every hour of every day.  Personally, I wrote down my assignments for the week and was very strict about it.  If you are disciplined about your schedule, the amount of stress felt during the semester will be kept to a minimum.

Your law school will most likely have events that allow for a break from the madness.  Take advantage of them.  You might wind up meeting someone very important that could provide the spark you need to jumpstart your career.  The worst case scenario that could occur if you take a break is that you will be able to relax for a little bit before hitting the books.  Like I said, if it makes you feel better, plan on taking a break for a specific period of time, and if you take the night off, make sure you don’t fall behind in the readings.

The bottom line: Stay ahead in the readings whenever possible and take breaks, even if they have to be scheduled.  You will keep an even pace to maximize your endurance for the end of the semester.  You are going to need it.

4. Avoid buying textbooks from your school bookstore

This realization seems obvious, but I see more people fall victim to it than I can imagine. Your booklists will most likely be released early, giving you enough time to purchase books online if necessary.  Make sure you have the correct title, author and edition, so you do not have to waste time returning them via snail mail. More often than not, school bookstores charge the full amount for textbooks, and law textbooks, especially casebooks, do not come cheap. For example, a brand new Civil Procedure casebook can cost over $130.

That is why I recommend buying lightly used or new textbooks from either Amazon.com, Lawbooksforless.com, or Half.com. You may have to pay for shipping, but even then, you will still wind up saving money.  You will appreciate the extra cash in your pocket, especially after you pay the tuition bill.

The bottom line: Do your research. Compare prices. Save money.

5. Start studying for exams early and do not let others affect you

A law school exam is a frightening thing for most first year students.  Most first year classes do not have midterm exams, which means that your entire grade is decided based on one cumulative exam.  And you do not know if your preparation all semester is the correct way until you get your grades back. 

But, have no fear!  There is a way to counteract this terrible monster looming over your head.  You just have to study.  Give yourself enough time to study at the end of the semester so that you can walk out of the exam with your head held high, knowing that you have done the absolute best you could have possibly done.  One of the easiest ways to prepare for an exam throughout the semester is to organize your notes and outline on a weekly basis, so by the time you have to start studying, you will not have to waste time preparing.  You will already be prepared!

Second, consider staying away from the law school library, especially if you can find a quiet place that you can go, by yourself, to study.  The law school library will be filled with 1Ls, 2Ls, and 3Ls and, most likely, your favorite table will be taken.  Also, everyone you know will be in the library studying.  You may get anxious if you see other people leaving before you.  You will wonder if you are studying hard enough and you will think “if it was so easy for that person, why aren’t I getting it?”  These are all bad thoughts and can be avoided by staying away. It is very important to keep your confidence high while avoiding distractions.

Also, in the library there is going to be a desire to talk to your friends, compare notes, and discuss concepts.  This can be good and bad. It can be good if you realize something that you did not understand, but it can be bad if everyone has conflicting ideas and you get confused. For those of you with no other place to go, get there early, find a secluded corner and do not talk to anyone, despite the obvious temptation.  When it comes to exams, you have to look out for yourself because, in the end, you are the only one taking the exam.

The bottom line: Start early. Study hard. Stay away from the library, if possible. Reap the benefits.

Final Thought: Law School is Not So Bad

Law school is an incredibly unique experience. Sometimes you will feel accomplished for grasping such difficult material and reading all 900+ pages of your four-pound casebook. At other times, you will find yourself on an emotional roller coaster of self doubt. But after surviving my first semester of law school, I can honestly say that law school is not so bad. You will certainly find your own groove and figure out what works best for you. Until then, hopefully these tips can serve as a useful starting point in your journey. Best of luck to you!

  • John

    Thanks for the information

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