If you’ve gained admission to law school, you’re starting to realize the hardest part isn’t just getting in — it’s excelling once classes start in next fall.
We’ve asked seven Law Preview alums to reflect back apply 20/20 hindsight to some of your burning questions, like: “Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to students who are about to begin their 1L year?”, “What are the biggest mistakes that you saw classmates make during the 1L fall semester?” and “What were your favorite study aids during 1L and what made them so helpful?”… and, our personal favorite, “What is the one thing you wished you did NOT stress out about during the law school application process?”
Check out the article below to read their objective suggestions for navigating law school and, in some cases, learn what they wished they had done differently.
Solomon Furious Worlds
University of Michigan
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to students who are about to begin their 1L year?
Knowing yourself and your self-care are paramount above all else. It is easy to forget about you. In law school, I tried to be a robot. I attempted to devoid my entire being of anything that was not law and breathing. Like the “fine dining” episode of Spongebob, I failed; however, being an overachiever, I failed in two ways: (1) I co-founded a student organization (the Disabilities Rights Organization), I got a job (5 hours a week grading papers), and I had a romantic relationship; and (2) My attempt to be a robot caused a lot of personal strife.
Before law school, I managed a winning political campaign, wrote and performed poetry as a fundraiser for a non-profit organization, and watched a cute, curious infant. I was intentionally busy and social. I went to church. I worked out three times a week. I was a vegetarian. I should not have reasonably (a concept I now know to be quite amorphous and possibly fictitious) expected that only doing law school and abandoning my life routines would have no effect on my mental, spiritual, and physical health. Had I recognized my need for socialization, spiritual connection, routine, physical touch, and healthy food, I may have been able to avoid the deep depression I experienced.
I have military parents. I know how to move and make a new community a home. However, my community in Iowa City was different because it was mine. Not my moms, not my dad’s; mine. For many folks going to law school, they may be leaving the first community they ever chose and created. To those people: good! Leave! Come back, but leave your newly created home. If you feel as though you will be able to grow more in another environment, take the opportunity. Plants detest pots that are too small, pots they have outgrown.
Just remember to maintain the parts of you that you are able to transfer, keep in touch with your old community, and make your new community YOURS. It does not matter if you book every class you take in law school, become the Editor-in-Chief on every journal, or give an oral argument that makes Ginsburg weep, forces Thomas to re-evaluate his religion, and brings Marshall back to life so he can give you a personal standing ovation. None of it matters if your health (mental, spiritual, or physical) is so poor that you cannot get out of bed.
The best lawyer is hardly ever the smartest lawyer, but they have enough strength to get to the courtroom. Brief epilogue: I got help, I am seeing a therapist, I have come to terms with my physical disability, and I smile (not all the time, but more than I did in October). Nothing is impossible. While law school features many exceptions, it is not itself an exception.
What is the one thing you wished you did NOT stress out about during the law school application process?
I wish I had not stressed after I submitted the application. The worst part of the application process, for me, was the waiting period after and the endless thoughts. Am I good enough? Did they get it? Did I send it? Did my payment go through? What if they accidentally lost it? Did I miss the email? If you apply to appropriate law schools (a safe school, a handful or likely’s, and a couple of stretches), you are fine. You WILL get into a law school, and it hardly matters where you go. Now, between Yale Law and Mah&Pah Skool o’ law, the choice is easy. But, most times you get what you expect and you may even be surprised.
What were your favorite study aids during 1L and what made them so helpful?
Outlines made by the 2Ls. Repeat after me: 2Ls are friends; not food, foe, or anything else. Good 2Ls make superb 1Ls and they are eager to get maximum mileage out of their outlines and other study material. Yes, store-bought aids are useful for many, but nothing is going to be closer to your professors the class. I would highly recommend getting outlines, reading over them before classes start, putting them away until week 4ish, picking the one that works best for you, and editing it (either by hand or computer, whichever works best for you). It is also a great tin class guide to help with recalling cases, especially when your professor tries to relate day 1 to day 4 and kinda to day 3 but VERY to day 64.
What are the biggest mistakes that you saw classmates make during the 1L fall semester?
We have any open, Craigslist-style forum for selling/buying/finding/giving away tickets/books/outlines/etc. On said forum, someone thought it was a good idea after finals to complain that some folks got “extra time” on their tests. Those who got “extra time” got so as accommodations. It was rude, callus, a show of ignorance, and a good way to make sure no student or anyone who they are connected to wants to hire or work with you.
As the 1L Rep and co-founder of the Disabilities Rights Organization at my law school, and as an individual who received “extra time,” I responded, as did the Dean of Student Life and a number of angry students. Moral of the story: Jerk makes for good chicken, questionable dancing, and dreadful, less-than-ideal people. PSA: “Extra time” is given to students who need the time. I have acute and chronic tendinitis that is bad enough that taking notes in class is often impossible without pain medication. I needed breaks, which resulted in 5 “extra” minutes per hour.
That time was spent stretching in the hallway between questions. It was not spent typing, research, thinking, etc. If you think you need extra time for exams, express this to your student life office EARLY. At my school, they need 6 weeks minimum; though, there is an emergency form for accidents, etc.
What was your favorite 1L subject, and why?
This is a hard question for me because I can’t choose. Constitutional Law with Kate Andrias was very useful for my eventual career as a civil rights litigator; Torts with Kyle Logue was so entertaining and immediately useful (I hit a deer at hour 13 of a 50 hour solo driving trip this winter break); Legal Writing with Jessica Lefort was a NEEDED break from the doctrinal and gave me my first law school A (it was an A – actually, but it still counts); and, Civil Procedure with Len Niehoff made lawsuits digestible.
Each professor was wildly different, each class kept my ears perked the entire time. I would gladly have shortened versions of their exams as restroom literature. If I had to choose, Constitutional Law. I say this because the other classes, in my eyes, really helped me to understand Con Law.
Did you purchase new/used casebooks, or rent them? What advantages/disadvantages did you experience — and do you plan to do it differently in coming semesters/years?
My system, before my tinnitus got as bad as it is now, was to read, book brief while I read, and then to brief by hand from the book brief. New books were necessary for this technique. Because forearm strength is finite, I plan to type notes, print them, and then take hand written notes during class over my typed notes. So, this semester I will use rented books. I think it depends on if you and your tastes. Pros to a new book: all the markings were mine, worked for my note-taking style. Con: costs (but money is dumb and we are going to a barter system soon, so like whatever).
How did you handle the competition/stress of 1L? What tactics did you use to avoid the stress that many 1L students experience?
I do not perceive a competitive atmosphere. At my school we have 4 super-sections. Mine is, by all accounts, the chill one with the dope professors who are both tough and forgiving. Other folks were not as lucky. Regardless, the best way to avoid stress is to (I know) AVOID STRESS. Do not engage with stressful people, do not study in groups if it is stressful, do not subject yourself to unnecessary punishment.
Describe the outlining approach did you employed and when/how you began the outlining process.
I used outlines from the prior years amassed by affinity groups. I edited them to include this year’s information and Sol-specific phrases. Contrary to the advice Don gave me (in-person) during the BARBRI Preview, I started during Thanksgiving break for two of my classes. I say this for three reasons: (1) outlining one class early is better than not starting at all, (2) using that not-outlining time to get mental health help (cause YOU are more important than law school) was more important, and (3) walking in confident (as I did) is still a possibility.
My running theory is that Don assumes most BARBRI alums will not, for whatever reason, start outlining at week 4. Don et al., however, are not a bunch of silly-billies. They understand that aiming high is better than not aiming at all, and I agree.
My high school band director (now Dr. Gregory Whitmore, also a U Michigan alumnus) always said, “Stride for perfection and we may achieve excellence.” He also used to say musicians are thieves, so I am not sure if that is an original quote, but the sentiment remains the same.
What time management strategies did you employ to make sure you devoted the appropriate amount of time to each class during the Reading Period?
I had 3 exams and only had my outline for Exam 1 finished by the reading period. I studied for Exam 3 for the first full day, then left it until the day after Exam 2. For Exam 1, I read and read and READ my outline (about 30 pages). I also made an attack out, but only for the sections I was shakier on (time was running out). I spent the last day before Exam 1 studying for Exams 1 and 2 (morning 1 and afternoon 2).
After Exam 1, I solely studied for Exam 2 by finishing an outline; I repeated the process for Exam 3. I took a practice exam for Exam 1 and then could not type for more than 15 minutes straight for two days, because of my tendinitis. It was a good reminder that you should only do what you can, any more will hurt more than it helps.
If I had taken more exams, I likely would have needed a trip to the hospital. I outlined two more exams for Exam 1, outlined 1 exam for Exam 2 (I did the least studying for this class, and I am a tad worried), and 3 exams for Exam 3. Also, pace yourself! During the test, of course. With studying, possibly more important. I studied SO hard for Exam 1 that I did not properly recover until 2 days later (which is why Exam 2 got the least amount of study time).
Lastly, turn your brain off the night before. I re-watched Oceans 11, 12, and 13. I love a good heist!