The week before I started law school as a "1L," I felt lightheaded as I reviewed the reading list. Law books are as dense as they are heavy, and there were hundreds of pages to read before my first class.
Three years later, I graduated first in my class of nearly 300 from Suffolk University Law School. Here's how I made it from palpitations to graduation.
- Do what works for you.
Strangers and friends alike will offer you unsolicited advice. Some information can be helpful, but there's no reason to completely disregard everything you know about yourself and your learning style.
Join a study group (or not), create your own outlines (compilations of notes for each course) or read someone else's, use flash cards, if that's your thing. Follow our own instincts.
A classmate in Civil Procedure told me that "if you haven't started preparing your own outlines by now, don't even bother showing up for the exam." Good thing I didn't listen. My professor told me later that I'd written the best exam he'd seen in 12 years.
Forget what anyone else tells you: do it your way.
- Get comfortable speaking in class.
Most law schools use the "Socratic Method," which means that professors pose questions about cases, rather than lecture on legal principles. Consequently, you are "on call" every day class is in session.
There is nowhere to hide in a law school classroom. Review the material before class, and be prepared to discuss it. This will enhance your educational experience, as well as ensure your professors remember you favorably, which never hurts when seeking recommendations later.
- Type, don't write.
If you're on task, you'll have a virtual transcript of the lecture, but don't get distracted. Law school costs way too much to spend class time Facebooking.
I'd also recommend typing exams. Most law schools will allow this, provided you run software prior to the test to block other applications. However, if handwriting works better for you, remember point 1!
- Pace yourself.
You've probably seen movies like "The Paper Chase" or "Legally Blonde" that make law school look impossibly difficult. It isn't. Some people slack and still pass, but passing isn't excelling. If you want to excel, you'll need to pace yourself.
Set a cut-off time for studying. Watch cartoons, go out with friends, or do nothing. Structure your life, or law school will consume it.
- Unplug for Exam Period.
These days, it can be difficult go offline, but you'll need to be focused to do your best, especially if exams are scheduled back-to-back, which is sometimes the case.
If your tests are scheduled close together, I recommend studying for them in reverse order, last test first. In my experience, this will help to keep you from burning out.
- Be ruthless.
When you're taking the bar exam, barely passing is fine, but push yourself to do the best you possibly can in law school.
Cut anything that doesn't help you to achieve your personal goals. Saying no can be hard, but law school costs a lot of money. Give it your full attention.
- Participate in Moot Court and/or Law Review.
These activities are worth taking time away from your studies and your personal life. If you want to be a litigator, there's no substitute for practice. Moot court competitions will help to prepare you for a career trying cases.
Law review is critical for every law student: it is both an academic honor and valuable experience conducting legal research, writing and editing, all of which will serve you well in your future career.
- Take advantage of clinic opportunities.
Many law schools offer students the opportunity to represent clients under the supervision of a practicing attorney. From criminal defense to public interest law or environmental practice, you can find clinic opportunities that align with your goals. Pursue them.
- Do an internship.
If the clinic of your choice is full, pursue an internship through the school's career placement office. Hands-on legal work will help you to parlay your academic success into job offers.
- Don't forget to live.
When you're serious about doing well in law school, there's a tendency to neglect other aspects of your life. Don't. Eat well, work out, stay in touch with friends and family. You can't be valedictorian if you drop out!
There's my top 10. What did I miss?
Follow Kerry O'Shea Gorgone on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kerrygorgone