Preparing for Your First Year of Law School

Young law students in classroom
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If you beginning your first year of law school, below are a few tips to help you prepare for and survive your first year.

Improve Your Reading Speed and Comprehension

Law schools teach students to “think like a lawyer” through the appellate case method developed by Christopher Langdell of Harvard Law School in the late 19th century. This method of instruction, embraced by nearly all U.S. law schools, encourages students to review appellate court decisions, analyze the judge’s reasoning and findings and deduce general legal principles from specific cases.

During the course of your first year of law school, you will be required to read and brief hundreds of cases. Students are typically assigned about 30 pages per credit hour which amount to approximately 450 pages per week. To tackle this large volume of reading, you must learn how to read quickly while comprehending complex material.

Experts say that the brain is a complex information processor capable of processing and comprehending complex information at greater speeds through practice. Before you begin your first year of law school, you may want to complete exercises or take courses that will help improve your reading speed, comprehension, memory, and problem-solving abilities.

Sharpen Your Writing Skills

Exceptional writing skills are essential to every first-year law student. A large part of the law school grading process rests on your ability to craft a well-written essay. You must analyze and gather information, identify issues, organize your data, draft a well-reasoned argument and sum it up with a conclusion.

Moreover, your response must be delivered in clear and concise prose under tremendous time constraints.

Like any skill, essay writing takes practice. You can brush up on your writing skills by taking pre-law writing courses, completing practice exams or reading resources on the craft of writing. These seven tips to improve your writing may also help you refine your writing skills.

Create Solid Study Habits

Were you the last-minute crammer who stayed up all night in college to study for exams? That strategy will not work in your first year of law school; it is nearly impossible to learn or memorize the large amount of information covered during the course of the year in a few short days.

Time management is essential to success in law school. The tremendous volume of reading will require you keep up with course materials and assignments. You must pace yourself and learn, outline and study the substantive and procedural law on a consistent basis.

How much time will you need to study as a first-year law student? One rule of thumb is three hours for every hour of class but every course will vary. Create a study schedule at the beginning of each term and adhere to it. Join study groups to brainstorm ideas and gain input from your peers.

Purchase Commercial Study Aids

Briefing cases and outlining black letter law can be tedious, time-consuming and confusing. Fortunately, a variety of commercial study aids are available to help you master complex concepts, supplement classroom notes and aid in preparing for law school exams. Study aids can be helpful if you use them appropriately but they should not replace your own efforts in preparing course outlines.

A few of the most popular study aids are:

Stock Up on Important Resources

A number of important tools can increase your success in your first year of law school. These include:

  • Black’s Law Dictionary – this “bible” for lawyers defines legal terms and provides pronunciation (so you don’t look like a fool in class).
  • Strunk & White Elements of Style – this classic manual on the basics of English usage can help you ace legal writing assignments and essays.
  • Law School Pre-Reading - Incoming and first-year law students may want to read up on issues surrounding law school such as how law school works, the fundamental workings of our legal system, the Socratic Method, and the law school experience in general. This summer reading list is a great place to begin.

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