Reflections on First Semester From a 1L

A 1L’s Reflections on First SemesterThis week we welcome guest writer Briana Borgolini, current 1L at Villanova University’s Charles Widger School of Law, to discuss her experience going into second semester 1L year.

No matter how prepared you think you are, the first semester of 1L year is a challenge. Anyone who is beginning law school has most likely been a great student for most of their lives, but there is just something different about the pedagogy of law school that makes it a little bit harder to figure out. Even if you think you have the perfect plan, first semester will probably be a bit of trial and error. For me, this definitely held true – there are things that I will continue to do, and there are things that I will certainly change.

Things that I Will Keep Doing
Make a Schedule and Stick to it

When I say make a schedule, I don’t just mean print out your class schedule and call it a day. There are a lot of adjustments to be made when beginning 1L year, and one of them is juggling all of the work. To successfully manage that, I highly recommend actually blocking out chunks of time on a calendar for your assignments and activities each week. I found that doing this had a couple of benefits – first, it obviously helped me keep track of my work. Second, and arguably more importantly, it helped to reduce some anxiety when I felt overwhelmed because I could literally see when all of my work would get done. However, this only works if you actually use the schedule, so make sure you stick to it! 

Leave a Few Free Time Blocks per Week

When you make your schedule, it is important that you also consider where things besides school work fit in – you still need to take care of yourself! I found it to be very helpful to leave blocks of time completely open that could be used for whatever I wanted (AKA nothing school related). Having free time blocked into my calendar really helped me stay sane because I was able to relax without worrying that I “should” be doing something – I knew that I had made time for everything. I would advocate giving yourself a few solid blocks off each week. For me, Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons (at least) were usually blocked off as free.

Handwrite all of my Notes

We’ve written about this before, but there is a lot of evidence supporting the benefits of handwriting over typing, and I am firmly committed to handwriting. I handwrote everything, literally. I handwrote my case briefs for class, my notes in class and ultimately even parts of my outlines. Not only is there a lot of evidence linking handwriting to memory, but I found that it forced me to simplify my information. I literally couldn’t write as much as I could type, so I had to decide what was actually important. 

Start Outlining Early

This is a really important point that we’ve emphasized before, and this is most certainly something that was helpful to me. While I wasn’t always perfectly up-to-date, I did my best to make sure that my outlines were consistently updated throughout the semester, so as to avoid having too much to do at the end. Perhaps even more importantly, it was also helpful in identifying where there were gaps in my knowledge so that I could clarify those issues with my professors sooner rather than later.

Things that I Will be Changing
Spend Less Time Scrutinizing the Class Reading

To clarify, I am NOT saying that reading for class isn’t important or that you shouldn’t read carefully. However, thanks to the Socratic method I found myself spending far too much time reading and re-reading the assigned cases out of fear of getting called on in class and not being able to answer perfectly. Turns out, this still happened even when I scrutinized the cases so I’d definitely recommend preparing for class more efficiently. Reading cases is time consuming, and I would much rather have spent that extra time working on outlines, reviewing notes or practicing hypos. 

Start using Supplements Earlier

When used correctly (that is, as a supplemental source, not as your primary source), supplements can be a valuable tool. I didn’t actually buy a supplement until about halfway through the semester, and I started using it even later than that. I hesitated because I was afraid that trying to use a supplement would create a sort of “information overload,” and that I would get distracted from what was actually being taught by my professor. This did turn out to be partially true for me – I never liked just reading a different explanation of something I had already learned. However, in my opinion, the Examples and Explanations series is pure gold because they provide TONS of short practice hypos in each chapter. In retrospect, I would have gotten them sooner and used them more throughout the semester to practice each topic.

Don’t Worry about Studying the “Right” Way

There is no “one size fits all” for studying in law school, and there are an infinite number of ways to prepare for exams. In theory I knew this when I started, but I still found myself spending too much time worrying that I wasn’t studying “right.” Typically, this happened after I heard other people talk about what they were doing- at which point I started to panic that the pictures I was drawing (I’m a big fan of diagrams and flowcharts) were not the “right” way to prepare for exams. This was not a good use of my energy, and it won’t be a good use of yours either. I firmly believe we all know (or are capable of figuring out) what works best for us, and I highly recommend sticking to it with confidence!

The first semester of law school is challenging for anyone, and can be a complete whirlwind. However, viewing it as a learning opportunity, regardless of the outcome, will be invaluable to the rest of your law school career. 


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About Briana Borgolini

Briana Borgolini is a law student at Villanova University's Charles Widger School of Law. She received her undergraduate degree from Brown University, where she graduated with her B.A. in Human Biology with Honors. Briana worked in public health research for four years before law school and hopes that her non-traditional perspective can help others navigate the law school and legal career process.

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