4 Steps to a Successful First Semester of Law School

Get ready to buckle down, but don't forget to bolster your studies with a social life.

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A man is studying.

The class of 2015 will be starting at law schools across the country over the next few weeks. As a new law student (or 1L, in law school parlance), you are likely receiving a lot of advice from parents, friends, siblings, college professors, and your new law school. As such, you may be wondering which tips are the most important to keep in mind during the first few critical months.

Having survived (and thoroughly enjoyed my time at) Harvard Law School myself, and having spent years prepping new law students for success, I am excited to share with you four simple pieces of advice to follow in order to make sure your first semester of law school is a success:

1. Come prepared: In college, coming in prepared on the first day meant having a pen and notebook in hand, and maybe a book or two. In law school, you should instead enter with a solid understanding of your classes, having completed the required reading for the first day of class.

[Find out other differences between college and law school.]

While gaining an overview of all of your 1L classes in the summer before law school is not an official prerequisite, it will give you an enormous advantage from day one. If you have time this month, buy and thoroughly read course-specific study guides, trying to make sense of the challenging new concepts.

You may also want to obtain a pre-1L tutor who can help you more fully understand these sometimes esoteric concepts. I am spending much of the next three weeks getting my students ready by reviewing the toughest concepts, such as res ipsa loquitur, the Rule Against Perpetuities and Supplemental Jurisdiction.

2. Focus on finals: Final exams may seem far away, especially during the first few weeks of the semester, but for the most part, your 1L grades are determined solely by your performance on your finals. Thus, make sure to spend each day working toward success on the final exam.

Writing law school exams is completely different from writing essay exams in your undergraduate classes. In undergrad, you could earn an A, in many cases, by just regurgitating information. In law school, you need to apply the information you have learned to intentionally ambiguous situations. This is an entirely new and critical skill that you must hone before your first real 1L exams this winter.

[Read more about what to expect as a 1L.]

3. Make friends: Many students become overwhelmed in the beginning of law school because of the rigorous coursework, high stakes, and seemingly endless reading. But, to maintain your sanity, you must still make an effort to go out and meet both your classmates and others in the broader academic community.

Sometimes, you will need a break from the "law school bubble," where the workload and competitiveness can overtake you, so branch out every once in a while and make other connections through volunteer projects, university-wide student organizations, intramural sports, and dance classes, for example.

4. Remove distractions: As important as it is to take a brief and occasional break from law school, you do not want anything to distract you from your studies regularly.

Try to recognize early on the specific distractions that could derail you, so that you can address them before they impair your studies. For example, consider moving your television from your bedroom to the living room, if possible. If you are in a long-distance relationship, reduce the potential for stress by clearly communicating to your partner the energy you will need to put into law school, and how this may limit your time for phone conversations and visits during your 1L year.

What are you doing to prepare for law school? Let me know in the comments below, E-mail me at shawn.oconnor@stratusprep.com, or contact me via Twitter at @StratusPrep.