Decode the first three weeks of law school

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Decode the first three weeks of law school

First year students are bombarded with useful and useless information, and advice ranging from sage to bone-crackingly stupid. How they decode the first three weeks of law school can set them on the right path.

Here are three clues that 1Ls can use to begin to understand law school.

 The Library’s Books Look Alike

The library is full of books, and, if you look closely, they all look alike. Pay attention to every scrap of information that is offered in your Legal Research and Writing Course and from the research products’ trainers. Legal Writing Teachers and the vendors’ instructors work incredibly hard to help you understand how the information is organized and the best ways to retrieve it without becoming a poster child for legal research malpractice. You will spend a lifetime using these resources online, but knowing how they are organized in paper can make your work go faster and save your clients thousands of hours of your billable time. It can also be a career-life-saver should your employer rely on books instead of the web.

The most curious thing about the twin skills of legal research and writing is that they are 17th century skills that must be performed in a 21st century technology box that doesn’t come with an owners’ manual. You should not be shocked to find that performing nuanced research and drafting eloquent memos isn’t as simple as writing a term paper in History 101. Do not despair. You must practice research and writing with the same diligence that you applied to baseball, the piano, Italian Meringue or to X-Box 360.

Your Classmates Are All Different

Some of them smarter than you will ever be, and some will be able to get straight-A’s while tap dancing backwards during exams: accept that those may not be the same people. Some have traveled the world; others haven’t left the state; some have multiple graduate degrees; others have bachelors’ diplomas with still-damp ink; some are chefs; some are tap dancers; some are Olympic athletes; some are champion needle workers; some are so painfully shy that they will hide under their desks rather than be called on by scary professors; others will talk so much that you will want to cast the “Shut-Upious” spell.

Do not be too quick to dismiss any of them. Everyone is just as scared as you are, and you are joined to the hip with these people for the rest of your professional life.

Your Coursework is Hard, But Not Impossible

You have been invited into law school only to find that professors are speaking in a new language and not giving you the dictionary. Words that you have used since childhood have new meanings, which you will discover when you use them incorrectly in this new world. Skills of speed reading and glibness that have been the underpinnings of your life-long academic success will turn on you like mad warthogs.

Reading cases requires understanding and retaining their meaning, which will call on skills that you have not yet identified. Learn to rely on all of the patience and humility that you can find.

It also helps to focus on the one lawyer who is known to you to be a complete dork/idiot. Remind yourself daily, “if she can be a lawyer, so can I.”

Susan Gainen will be at the 2013 NALP Annual Educational Conference to present “Alternative Careers: Making Your Market.”

About susangainen

Whimsical Wildlife Documentarian. Abstract Painter. Writer. Teacher. Explorer.
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2 Responses to Decode the first three weeks of law school

  1. Jim Miller says:

    I’d like to add a bit to Susan’s comments regarding classmates, particularly addressing those of you who have been away from school for a while or might be a bit older than some of your classmates. Don’t panic! Early on, your classmates who have gone straight from undergrad or grad school to law school, and are likely a bit younger, may seem to “know” more than you. They may appear more comfortable with some of the “new” language or the research protocols. Hang in there. That glow wears off rather quickly. Soon you, and they, will find that you are your own little community. Each of you attempting to weather the storm. The old saying that it takes a village to raise a child isn’t far from the mark. Often each of you will be part of a village helping one another get through the 1L days. Best of luck. Let the games begin! It’s worth it.

  2. I’m an attorney who also teaches and mentors prospective law students, current law students, and young lawyers. I would like to echo Susan’s point regarding “patience and humility”. Do not get caught up in a “rat race” mentality. You have to be patient with others and yourself and one must also remain humble. You can’t blast a classmate in open class without burning a bridge. Also take advantage of study groups and academic support programs that your school offers before getting too far behind. As a 1L you are not only working for grades for second year hiring opportunities; moreover, you are working to develop skills and habits that will follow you throughout your career as a legal professional.

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