At 43, with three children in tow, I began to prepare for my IL year. Even though I was a non-traditional student, my questions about starting Law School were similar to every other student: What tangible things do I need for my first year? And, are there any skills that could give me an advantage? As I scoured the internet during the summer after my acceptance, I found very little real advice. There was a bunch of “enjoy your freedom” and “get rest while you can” not to mention “spend time with family and friends because there will be no time for that once school starts,” but nowhere was there a “study this” or “buy that.” While there is some truth to all those statements of advice I read, it was little help to satisfy my need to be prepared. In an effort to pay it forward, I have put together some tools that were helpful during my first year.
1. A reliable laptop. Some law schools have specific requirements so make sure to check with your school’s IT department to ensure your laptop with meet their technology requirements. However, many schools do not have hard and fast specifications. The most important attribute is reliability. I will channel my college age daughter here and say don’t use a “janky” computer for law school. Remember, it will be used for precious tasks like writing briefs for class, making outlines, crafting legal writing assignments and taking your exams. I have found it really doesn’t matter if you go with mac vs. windows based so long as you are comfortable with the operating system.
2. Three Ring Binders. Most students soon learn three ring binders work better than a spiral bound notebook. You will be building your notebook all semester and it will likely include several different types of information that are considered law school gold. Each student has their own process, but the majority take notes and write briefs on their computer, print out the documents, make notes on them during class then store the notes in the binder. You will also have practice problems to work and notes from supplements that can be helpful. Don’t waste your time on small binders; get a BIG one.
3. Magic Bag of Supplies. It was funny to see by the end of our first 1L semester most students had their magic bag of supplies. This includes highlighters, colored pens, sticky notes, colored tabs and headphones. I recommend a leak proof bag to prevent a broken pen from ruining your day. Colored pens are extremely helpful to use for notes during class. This will allow you to discern information the professor is presenting versus information you thought was important. You can also make notes in a different color for items you need more work on outside of class. Headphones are a must for studying. The library is full of small noises that will easily distract focused reading. Also having your headphones in is a signal to your friends that you are in “DO NOT DISTURB” mode.
4. Large Backpack or Tote bag. Law school books are big and heavy. Most professors require you to bring your book to class so you will spend some time lugging them around. I always say when you don’t understand something in law school you just get another book; forever in search of the magic book of all the answers. In backpack department, its best to choose function over style!
5. A Nice Suit. Law School will involve many functions where you are required to “dress the part.” I suggest you have at minimum one nice suit with several options for coordinating shirts, ties or shoes to give you some variety. The first year will teach you the fundamentals of law and will begin to instill professional behaviors common within the field.
6. Lunch Bag. Time is a premium during IL year. Especially during the first semester there will be little extra time to leave school for lunch most days. Additionally, it is important to nourish your body with healthy food versus grabbing fast food. At little preparation in this area will make you feel better and save money.
1. Grammar. Locking down grammar skills prior to entering IL year will give you a large boost ahead. Legal writing professors are sticklers for proper grammar which means you can lose vital points on assignments for grammar errors. Also, clear and concise writing on final exams will make it easier to dazzle a professor with your brilliance! There are a multitude of sources to assist with grammar preparation that appear in online varieties, e- books, as well as paper books. Whatever source you choose, make sure it has a section for practice assignments. Practice makes perfect!
2. Briefing Cases. Being able to effectively brief a case will be a staple in your first year. The skill will be refined as you go to strike a balance of documenting enough in order to quickly recall key facts and the central legal rule without re-writing the entire case. They call it a “brief” for a reason. Prior to sitting in your first class, understanding the necessary elements of an effective case brief will place you ahead of the game.
3. Organization. The biggest challenge that will yield the greatest results is learning to organize information. This is simple to practice. Whenever you read, even for pleasure, make a basic outline of the material. Being able to distill volumes of information into a simple outline will pay off from the start of IL.
4. Scheduling. Take some time this summer to explore how technology can help with scheduling. Maintaining a tight, well defined schedule will keep you from going BONKERS! The first year will provide many time commitments that cannot possibly be managed without learning to schedule tasks. Embrace it and figure out what best works for you!
Good luck to all the future lawyers reading this article. Be sure to make new friends and realize law school is a process but most of all be ready to WORK