The transition from being an undergraduate to law school student is definitely not the easiest. Often, students are dealing with moving to a new town while trying to prepare for what will likely be the most rigorous academic program they have ever experienced. Even with these challenges, your first semester will be one of the most exciting times you will experience in law school. Exploring new ways of thinking, meeting new people from all over the world, and discovering things about yourself that you did not know makes this time unique.
With all of the new ideas, concepts, and people that were entering my life as 1L, I wish I had gotten some advice, especially during my first semester. Adjusting to law school can be challenging, so keep some of the following things in mind. I hope you find some of my advice helpful.
The Summer Before Law School
Be sure to use the summer before law school to treat yourself and do some of those things you enjoy, because it is likely that you will not have a lot of time for them while you are in law school. I recommend hanging out with friends and family and going to the beach or some other place you enjoy, because you will be spending a lot of your time in law school studying, writing and researching, and the library will become more familiar than home. Try to get into a routine that you can transfer to law school that includes exercise, eating well (learn how to cook!), getting enough rest, and taking mental health breaks. All of this will help you better handle the stress that comes with a law school education.
Read for leisure, but If you feel inclined to read in order to prepare for law school, I recommend reading Law School Confidential by Robert H. Miller. The book is known to be incredibly helpful in preparing students for what to expect when it comes to law school lectures, homework assignments, and even applying for jobs. Unfortunately I was blissfully unaware of this book until my 2L year, so I was not able to benefit from it as a 1L.
During Your First Semester
Writing case briefs – It will take time to become efficient at writing case briefs. Do not get discouraged, even if you are still not exactly sure what is going on after spending two hours on one case. You will eventually start to get the hang of it. Reading cases can be similar to reading in a different language, so do not hesitate to read things more than once and take the time to look up words you do not know. It does not take a lot of time before it will all become second nature to you.
Handling stress – Be sure to take some time for yourself to do something you enjoy. This can be done daily, or once or twice a week. Whether it is working out, watching something on TV, hanging out with friends, taking a nap, or going to the law school tailgate party before a home football game, you will need a break from studying every now and then.
Reaching out for help – Most of the people you will encounter in law school have been in your shoes and almost all of them want to share their knowledge and help you.
Professors: Do not be afraid to go to a professor’s office to talk about a case you do not fully understand. All of them have office hours, many have an open door policy, and most do not mind meeting with students right after a class. All of our professors are incredibly friendly and most are willing to help students almost any time of the day. In my experience, they all reply promptly to e-mails and some even give out their cell phone numbers for emergency questions.
Research Center Staff: The Research Center is our law library, and it is staffed with people who are trained to help you. Not only will they help you find the resources you need for your research, papers, and classes, but they are also there to help you hone your research skills. Our law librarians also teach legal research courses within the curriculum at the College of Law and provide non-credit workshops (with lunch!) on various legal research topics during the fall and spring semesters.
Upperclassmen: 2Ls and 3Ls love to give helpful hints and are motivated to help you get involved in student organizations and clubs. They will also share information about classes, professors, and other things they have learned while in law school. Many will even share their course outlines and notes with you for the courses they have had that you are taking. You will also be in the legal job market one day and the better they know you, the more willing they will be to vouch for you or pass on a job tip.
Student Affairs Office Staff: The Student Affairs Office has many services that students may not even know about. Students should not hesitate to reach out to them if they need help adjusting to law school, handling stress, or even to get advice on handling outside pressures. They are also the office responsible for helping students who request various accommodations while they are in law school.
Career & Professional Development Center Staff: The individuals in this office will help you improve your resume, explore job prospects, and schedule mock interviews so you can be ready when you come across that job you really want. They are a great resource that you should start taking advantage of your first semester in law school.
Remember how far you have come! It is an incredible accomplishment to be accepted to law school, and especially to Florida State Law! So, if you ever feel overwhelmed during your 1L year, just remember the hard work you did to get to this point. You can do it, otherwise you would not have been admitted. Just remember to take advantage of the resources that are available to you and the people who are here to help you.
Abby Altman, Class of 2017