Note: The following is a guest post by Alison Monahan of The Girl’s Guide To Law School.
Congratulations! You’ve mastered the LSAT and managed to get yourself admitted to law school. The world is your oyster, right? Not so fast! It’s easy to get caught up in the getting-into-law-school process and forget about what comes next….successfully getting through law school and becoming a lawyer.
Not to worry, here are a few tips to help you make the most of your 1L year, and beyond:
- Know why you’re there. Presumably you had to come up with some reason you wanted to go to law school for your applications. Well, now’s the time to really get clear on why you’re going. There are no right answers to this question, but – let’s face it – law school is a three-year slog with an uncertain outcome. There will be times where you feel like chucking the whole thing and going home. (And, in some cases, that might not be a bad idea.) Keeping your eye on the end goal, whatever it is, can really help when times get tough and you’re not sure you’re motivated to continue.
- Go to class and keep up with the reading. I’ll argue with some of the goody-two-shoes advice that’s out there about law school (no, I don’t think you have to brief every case to do well), but there are two things I consider non-negotiable: class and the reading. Going to class is a no-brainer. You’re paying a lot of money to be there, and you need to figure out what your professor thinks is important. Doing the reading, particularly first semester, is similarly critical, because you’re going to learn how to “think like a lawyer” (to the extent that’s even a thing, see below) by osmosis. If you skip the cases and just read supplements or canned briefs, you might get the gist of the argument, but you’re missing out on a whole universe of understanding about how legal arguments are structured, how certain terms of art are used, and so on. Even if it’s a time-consuming drag, do the reading initially. You’ll thank me later.
- Think about what’s worked for you in the past. By the time you get to law school, you’ve gone through – what? – at least sixteen years of school. At some point, you probably figured out a bit about how your own brain works, and how you learn most effectively. You don’t have to forget all of this just because you’re starting law school. As the Dean of my school said at Orientation, “Thinking like a lawyer is really just thinking. Don’t make it more complicated than it actually is.” You already know how to think…so feel free to fall back on that when things get confusing.
- Experiment early on and track your results. On the other hand (you knew this was coming – I’m a lawyer!) it’s useful to experiment with different learning techniques early in your law school career. Everyone will tell you to brief cases and make outlines. Will that work for you? Who knows. (Neither one worked for me, because I’m a very visual learner.) When you come across a suggestion that seems reasonable, try it and see if you like it. Even better, try different approaches and track your results. Do you feel really prepared for certain classes when you brief cases? Fine, maybe that’s a worthy investment of time. But if your professor focuses on policy questions and barely touches on the facts of a case, it’s probably a waste to write out detailed briefs. (And in any case, never lose sight of the real task – preparing for exams.) Notice, too, I said to experiment early. By mid-semester, you shouldn’t be casting about for new ideas…just pick what seems most effective and go with it. You don’t have time to be switching horses at that point.
- Good confusion vs. bad confusion. I totally stole this from one of my favorite professors, because it’s important. In law school, there’s “good confusion” and “bad confusion” and it’s critical to understand the difference (because you’re going to spend much of your time feeling confused, one way or another). Bad confusion is when you have no clue what something means. Good confusion is when you understand all the arguments, but you can’t come to any firm conclusions. Good confusion is okay, helpful even. Bad confusion needs to be ruthlessly eradicated as soon as possible. Using a timely example, let’s take the Prop 8 case that was just decided by the Supreme Court. They threw it out on “standing” grounds. Bad confusion = having no idea what standing means. Good confusion = not being able to say with any certainty whether the appellants had standing in the Ninth Circuit. If you’re unclear about that, join the club. Maybe you should be a Supreme Court justice! There’s rarely a clear-cut answer in law school, so don’t panic about being confused. Just make sure it’s the right type of confusion.
There you have it! If you follow these suggestions, I think you’ll find law school isn’t impossibly hard, and might even be kind of fun. Best of luck.
Alison Monahan is the founder of The Girl’s Guide to Law School and the co-founder of Law School Toolbox and Bar Exam Toolbox. If you’d like help getting ready for law school, check out her Start Law School Right Course, which begins in early July.