5 Non-Obvious Things to Do When You Start Law School

BasketballThere’s a ton of (virtual) ink being spilled these days over what to do as a new law student. Everything from “buy all your books and read ahead” to “hire a tutor to explain the Rule Against Perpetuities.” (I only wish I was making that last one up. For the record, don’t do it.)

Since I don’t like to be boring, here are a few less obvious things you can do, to make your life easier and better later on. Trust me, I learned most of these the hard way!

  1. Set up automated backups on your laptop. Seriously, if you only do one thing before law school starts, do this. Have you ever lost years of work in a hard drive crash? It’s a nightmare. Imagine you’re a week from exams, and your computer dies, taking EVERYTHING you worked on all semester with it. DO NOT let this happen to you. Go to Dropbox right now, and sign up for the free version. Make a folder called “Law School” and add it to your Dropbox. Save every file you create in law school there. Presto, problem solved. You can thank me later. (I don’t care if you use Dropbox, but it is really easy. Use whatever you like, but do something. I’m paranoid enough now that I back up to Dropbox and to an external hard drive, but that’s probably overkill.)
  2. Compile contact details for every job you’ve ever had and every place you’ve lived as an adult. Chances are good you’ll need this info when you submit your bar application. Yeah, really. Every address since you were 18. And every job you’ve ever had. Some states require actual contact info for your old bosses, so go ahead and compile this stuff now. It’s going to be even harder in three years! (If you can’t remember all your old addresses, download a copy of your credit report. They have everything.) While you’re at it, you may as well see what you need to do to register for the bar exam in the states where you want to be licensed. Some of them give a discount if you do things your 1L year!
  3. Sign up for a PE class. You’ve no doubt heard that law school is like high school. Here’s one more way to make it so! Find a local gym, and sign up for a weekly (or bi-weekly) class or sports league. If you don’t have your law school schedule yet, at least get the gym class schedule and think about what you might want to sign up for. Why a class? Because you’re more likely to go if you’ve committed to a specific time and place! And, seriously, you need to get some exercise. Sitting around all the time is really bad for you, mentally and physically. And you’ll get some social interaction, which is never a bad thing!
  4. Find three places to study that are NOT the law library. There will come a time when you can’t stand to enter the law library. (For me, that day arrived about two weeks into the semester, but your mileage may vary.) Go ahead and scout out at least three alternative locations where you can study. Maybe it’s a coffee shop, maybe it’s a different campus library, maybe it’s your kitchen table. Whatever, just find some nice places, and make a mental note of them. Then, when you can’t stand to be around your classmates for another second, you’ll know where to go.
  5. Do not sign up for a bar course. This might cause some controversy, but I’d encourage you to resist the pressure to immediately commit to a bar course. The bar exam is three years away. You haven’t even started law school. How can you possibly know what kind of class is going going be most suitable for you? You can’t. There’s new stuff popping up all the time — maybe by the end of your law school career someone will have come up with a way to just implant all the knowledge you need! Do you want to miss out on that? I think not. Save your money now, and decide later what you need.

So, there you have it! If you only remember one thing from this list, back up your files! You don’t want to be like this guy.

Best of luck!

Want more? Check out Surviving Law School 101.

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  1. I was told to sign up for a bar course to lock in the price. I’ve heard it’s not widely known, but they will waive the amount you paid a competitor if you decide to switch later. For instance if you sign up for Barbri and pay $150, and later decide to take Kaplan, they’ll give you a $150 credit. It makes sense because they’re still getting a lot of money out of you, knowing that many people would stay with the one they originally signed up for. And it prevents the cost from inflating. Don’t know if it’s true. I’m just a rising 2L.

    • Definitely companies use marketing tactics to get you to sign up early. Which, if you’re totally sure this is the program for you, can make sense. I guess my point was more that 1Ls shouldn’t feel obligated to sign up for something they don’t know much about, just because the company promises to raise the price later!

  2. I also agree on waiting to sign-up for a bar course. You need to learn more about how you study and what kind of tools are going to be out there (when you sit for the exam). And there are new courses being put together all the time. Three years from now the bar exam market may look totally different than it does today. Make the decision later, you will be much better informed.

    And remember the bar courses aren’t encouraging you to sign-up for YOUR own good. They want you to sign-up so they can lock in students!

  3. If you do decide to sign up for a Bar Prep Course, do research to make sure they cover everything for the states you are interested in. Not every bar prep course will cover every state. A friend of mine won a gift certificate ($500) to one bar prep course and read briefly they covered her home state, so invested a little more money to lock in a price with them thinking that with the gift certificate it would be the best deal. When her 3L year came around and the full amount was due, she only then found out that they didn’t cover the substantive law of that particular state and was only marketing for that state based on the MBE. If you are not sure about which state you want to practice in, it might be a good thing to wait for this reason alone. It will be more costly since the price will increase every year without the price lock in guarantee, though. The honoring other deposits deal at least can make up for the lost money for deposits on other programs, though.

    • That’s a very good point. The first bar exam I took was in a state I’d never set foot in when I started law school…so I couldn’t possibly have known to look into what courses covered it! Particularly if you’re outside of a “big” state that most companies cover fully, it pays to really investigate the options.

      And they can change over time, too. The course I used, for example, doesn’t do the state law part now, but it did a few years ago.

  4. Really agree with points 3 and 4! A class actually gives you the discipline to stay fit and healthy amidst all the stress of law school and the junk food one is likely to consume during crunch weeks. And of course, to get a a break from law school classmates (sometimes it’s needed).
    The law library can crowd up really fast so it’s always safer to have alternatives.

    • Totally, I loved taking weird gym classes like belly dancing and squash! It kept me (sort of) in shape, and made things more interesting, which is always a good thing.

      And don’t even get me started on the law library. I hated having to go there! Teachers College was nice, and had much better chairs.

  5. I 100% agree with all of this! After my second year, this is exactly this things I would suggest!

  6. Great tips – especially about the housekeeping items (backing up laptop files and compiling contact details for all jobs held). It’s easy to push these items to the bottom of the to-do list but they are important – thanks for the reminder!

  7. A lot of my friends and I have signed up for Barbri and Kaplan for the review materials they offer. I’m not sure if it’ll pay off, but $25 for two books + online lectures seems like a good deal.

    I’ve fallen off the wagon on point 3 and desperately need to get back on.


  1. […] a much more practical level, Girls Guide to Law School has a few items to add to your law school “To Do” list (thanks to Philip Guzman at NCCU […]

  2. […] just say losing a semester’s worth of notes because your laptop was not backed up is a unique way to harm all your hard work needlessly. This didn’t happen to me, personally, but I know a friend who had this happen. […]

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