A 2L’s Guide to 1L Year: How to Go From Surviving to Succeeding

SucceedPlease welcome back Gabriella Martin, our now 3L guest writer from Quinnipiac University School of Law. Now that you’ve got your bearings, she offers some great insight on what to expect and how to thrive!

So you’ve gotten through the first couple weeks of 1L year—you know where your classes are, you know what the professors are looking for, and you’re probably starting to breathe a little easier. But of course, because you’re a fast paced person like the rest of us, you’re probably thinking . . . now what?

Well now, baby shark, now that you’ve discovered your legal super powers, it’s time to start learning how to navigate the waters and begin your journey to becoming a legal superhero. To get you started, here are a handful of tips I wish I would have known just over a year ago.

Tip #1: DON’T EVER EVER EVER compare yourself to others.

You may think, “I would never do that because I never have.” Well trust me when I say that law school is a breeding ground for comparison. Some of it has to do with the nature of the beast—the legal field has always had an element of competition—but part of it is generated by your classmates.

Because in your 1L classes you are with many of your classmates and the class itself is much smaller than you are probably used to, it’s difficult to ignore someone bragging (usually under the guise of venting) about how they read eighty pages the night before or how they stayed up studying until 3 in the morning. Of course, they just have to mention that this is in addition to juggling some clerkship or other position they have.

And naturally your brain immediately thinks “wow, I should be doing more.” But this couldn’t be further from the truth. You know how much you can handle, and furthermore, everyone has their own way of studying and preparing for class. Sometimes that means that you can only sit and read for twenty minutes at a time or it might be that you can read and absorb information quicker because your brain just has an innate understanding of the law.

What you have to remind yourself is that as long as you are not spending all your time on Netflix, not reading at all or ditching law school all together, you ARE doing enough. It may surprise you, but you’ve been educating yourself for at least twenty-three years and as a result your brain is an expert as to what it can and cannot handle (say, all-nighters, for example).

Don’t second guess yourself and worry about what others are doing. That’s how downward spirals start. Also, shockingly enough, many of those same braggarts are usually lying or at the very least exaggerating.

Tip #2: Disentangle yourself from the drama because there will be plenty of it.

Just like comparing yourself to others, getting involved with the inevitable drama that a law school student body can generate is a massive drain on your energy, focus, and peace of mind. Like anything else unhealthy, it can sometimes be difficult to distance yourself from conversations of whose sleeping with whom, who’s mad at whom, and so on, but even getting involved for a moment can potentially send you down a slippery slope.

It’s best to wall yourself off from all of that early in the year. This doesn’t mean you can’t be involved and social with your classmates, but remember to keep at the forefront of your mind why you’re in law school in the first place: to become an incredible lawyer. You’re not there to recreate high school.

Finding a balance between focusing on your success and not becoming a total hermit may be difficult at first, but it will pay off in spades.

Tip #3: Not having a study group does not equal law school failure.

I’ve spoken with a lot of people who either have or know people who have gone through law school without a study group and have been just fine. Of course, they won’t tell you that at orientation, but it’s true.

Study groups are not right for everyone. In fact, you may find that joining a study group is more distracting than it is beneficial. It may seem like a good idea to have a group to bounce ideas off of, but it’s a lot easier to get distracted in a group setting. You’ll start off talking about your contracts homework, but before you know it the conversation will have moved to weekend plans and the aforementioned law school drama.

If you do want to bounce ideas off of another student, which I recommend, take time to find someone who studies the same way as you do and who will come prepared to your study sessions.

Another idea is to study with your family. Going through your outlines and notes with a so-called “layperson” can be incredibly helpful because you’ll sometimes need to break down ideas to make it easier to understand.

Friends and family also come with a different perspective from your law school colleagues so engaging in a discussion about why a concept is the way it is and the case law that’s affected it can help you understand it at a deeper level. After all, as the saying goes, you’re truly a master of a subject when you can get up and teach it to others.

Tip #4: Start outlining from the get go.

Anyone who tells you to wait until October or November is either an idiot or someone who pulls numerous all-nighters around that time. Even if you don’t feel comfortable doing a formal outline, make sure you have detailed notes typed up and ready to be consolidated.

Take time once a week or so to type your handwritten notes or book notes as a way of review. Then take time to review them and make note of anything the professor particularly emphasized or anything you don’t understand.

As the semester progresses you want to look back and make sure the questions you had earlier on have been answered. If not, don’t wait until the end of the semester and hope you’ll figure it out. Go to the professor and get answers.

Reviewing your notes every so often will help you keep the material fresh and allow you to understand and absorb it, rather than merely memorizing everything during the reading period. Such memorization may have worked in college, but legal concepts are a lot denser and more complex than they appear. And your professors are looking for answers that go beyond repeating legal concepts and actually, in most cases, act as the role of the court or attorney in their deeper analysis of the fact pattern.

Tip #5: Decision trees are your friend.

They’ll be the Robin to your Batman when you take your finals. Decision trees are one of the easiest ways to make sure you understand the process you need to go through to answer the question. It’s a good way to make sure you’re not missing steps and that you’re applying the facts in the right way.

Decision trees are not one size fits all. For some people they’ll be color coded, for others they’ll be a series of questions, and for others they’ll be a road map filled with boxes and arrows. Take time throughout the semester to figure out what style makes sense for you so by the time you get to exams you’ll feel comfortable.

Making your own decision trees is also a great way to get your understanding of a concept on paper. This is a good thing to have when professors start hinting at office hours for finals and you’re not sure what to talk to them about. Use that time to review your decision trees with your professors to make sure what you thought the legal concept was is what the professor meant to get across. Waiting until the professor is grading your exam to sort this out is a gamble that might not always pay off.

Now I know these tips might seem intimidating in some ways, but it’s better you hear them now instead of the end of the Spring semester when your running around, scrambling. These tips aren’t meant to be cookie-cutter in any way; the most important thing to remember is that this is your law school journey. As we say frequently here at my school—you do you.


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About Gabriella Martin

Gabriella Martin is a law student at Quinnipiac University School of Law in the Intellectual Property concentration. Gabriella graduated from Florida Atlantic University with a degree in English Literature which furthered a passion for creative writing and analysis. Gabriella is involved in several ABA committees and numerous student organizations--including a 1L mentoring program. When she is not writing for Law School Toolbox or The Girl's Guide to Law School, Gabriella can be found catching up on TV shows, discovering new music, and going on adventures, both big and small.

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