Welcome to law school! Here’s a cookie, some coffee, and a lot of information about your world for the next three years. That’s the Reader’s Digest version of orientation at most law schools.
Orientation is designed to introduce you to the law school, its services, and the law school experience. Your first lessons in orientation will be about the expectations of the law school and the daunting days that lie ahead. So, what should you take away from law school orientation?
First, let’s talk about your social life. The understatement of orientation is this: During law school—especially the first year—you will busy. If, in addition to the rigors of being a 1L, you have a part-time job, a spouse, or a family, then you will be very busy. Therefore, it is crucial that you carefully manage your most important asset: time.
There will always be reading assignments, outlines, projects, study groups, and other important activities demanding your attention. Every one of these activities will also demand your best in preparation and performance. So, who has time for a social life? You do. And you must.
You will burn out before September if you fail to include “social life” on your calendar. My advice is to plan your social life first. It may be a Friday night off or spending Saturday morning with the family. It may be one block of time or several hours scattered throughout the week. The goal is to block that time on your calendar and keep it sacred. That is your free time. Then, do not let unplanned social activities creep into the other scheduled events on your calendar when you should be studying, writing, or outlining. This is especially important during this first year of law school. You will be much more successful if you calendar all events—including your social life—and then stick to the calendar like your career depends on it (because it probably does).
Next, you will meet your classmates during orientation. Here you all converge with your different LSATs, GPAs, and life experiences. Most of you have one thing in common, i.e., you are Type A over-achievers. Some of your classmates will be more unique than others, but this one thing is true: At this time, in this place, you are all at the starting line. You all have been given the opportunity to start this race and finish it.
Some of your classmates will approach law school like a sprint, and they will be gone by October. Others will approach it like a relay race, and they will fall behind when they depend too heavily on others to help them succeed. As with any race, there will be those who finish first. The most important goal is to do your best and finish well.
There are very few law students who do law school alone, but most belong to study groups. When considering a study group, there are three important factors to consider:
- Similarity: Some similarities—beyond law school—are important for the individuals to gel as a group. Common interests are a factor to consider. Night owls should not join the early bird study group unless they want to intentionally alienate classmates.
- Size: There is no magic number for the size of the study group, but two is probably too small and ten is probably too large. A typical size is 3-6 members.
- Smarts!: The most important factor when forming a study group is to invite people who are smarter than you. Then, contribute all you can to that group.
Finally, law school orientation introduces you to the numerous services and resources available to you. Clearly (a word not often said in law school) it would be easy to zone out during this session. Fight that urge! You may not need all of these resources, but you will need some. And, most of the time, you need them in a hurry. For instance . . .
- Library services. The law librarians should be your friends. You should know their names. They were there before you and will be there long after you. They are a plethora of knowledge, but they only extend help when it’s requested; and, they seem to be more accommodating to those students who treat them like fellow human beings.
- IT services. When your laptop crashes, will you know how to find IT services? Did you upload their email address, weblink, and phone number to your tablet or phone? Do they provide loaners? Or online technical support? Next to your time, your computer is one of your most valuable resources in law school. Listen up about these services during orientation; it will minimize your panic level when disaster strikes.
- Writing assistance. Most law schools have a graduate writing center to assist with the technical aspects of writing. The assistance may be available online or it may require an appointment. For lengthy assignments, you may need to submit the work a few days ahead of time for a proper review. This will also give you time to make changes before the assignment deadline. In the end, the feedback you receive will probably improve your grade and, possibly, your class rank.
In the days ahead, you will probably need the coffee, you may possibly need the cookies, and you will definitely need the valuable information you receive at orientation. Take advantage of this brief season of orientation so that you can be prepared for the next three weeks, three months, and three years. Best of luck!
Jackie Houser has enjoyed working as an associate with Walker, Allen, Grice, Ammons & Foy in Goldsboro, North Carolina, since 2009. Prior to quitting her job and selling her house to attend law school, Jackie was a certified paralegal and college instructor. Contact Jackie via email at email@example.com or via phone at 919-734-6565.