Top Ten Survival Rules for Law School
- Mar 11, 2010
- Law School, Law School Advice
Law school is a scary place. There are gigantic books filled with absurd Latin words and many people who, all things being equal, would prefer that you failed. So from my perch atop the widening gyre of 1L, I’ve decided to lend some advice on how to traverse the pitfalls of law school.
10. Skip an occasional class: I had classmates during fall semester that prided themselves on attending every single class session. This is not elementary school and you will not be given a certificate for the Perfect Attendance Award. You will get burned out and that will start to happen towards the end of the semester when you approach finals. The adage is true: law school is a marathon and not a sprint. If you take some time off throughout the semester, you will go into finals feeling saner, healthier, and happier than many of your classmates. And since it’s graded on a curve…you win!
9. Do not date someone in your section: You look around during orientation and think “My God, what did I get myself in to? Where’s the brooding hipster hottie or the pastel-clad preppy that I’m used to seeing in undergrad?” But, law school is also like being in a war together; you’re battling in the trenches with your section-mates against the Socratic method and against the work load that comes with law school. Inevitably you see them at their worst (coming to class having not showered, hair not brushed, clothes disheveled, and embarrassingly stuttering their way through an answer in class) and vice versa. You start to lament the fact that you haven’t hooked up with anyone in a while. One day, that objective 5 from across the room lends you his or her notes from a class you skipped (see point 10). Suddenly, this five is now looking like an 8-9. Resist the urge. It does not end well. Of the couples that we had in our section from first semester, only one still remains. There has been drama including, but not limited to, one couple breaking up and the guy “generously” bringing the girl’s clothes to class that she’d left over his apartment. And when you start to cry your eyes out, almost the entire class will know your story in about five minutes (see point 7).
8. Make time for the gym: law school organizations are deceptive and nefarious. They woo you with offers of free pizza, burritos, and Thai food just to go hear a speaker or learn about some campus club. You think, “Hey, I’m in law school, so the more money I save, the better!” After lunch and classes, you’re tired, so maybe you go take a nap. After two hours, you wake up frazzled, realizing that it’s late and you have a lot of reading to do, so you start to read. But maybe you’ll have dinner first…except you didn’t have time to go grocery shopping, so you order pizza and tell yourself you will be on an all-salad diet next week. Rinse and repeat for all of fall semester. Then winter comes and the top button of your jeans starts to press uncomfortably into your gut. The gym not only will help you keep in shape, but also give you more of a school/personal balance that you need. Not all of law school can be spent working on law-related matters – it gets horribly depressing if that’s all you do. Plus, you’ll probably need the gym to burn off some of your sexual frustration (see point 9).
7. GChat in class: Yes, I said it. And for those who have visited other schools and seen people Gchatting and rather sanctimoniously thought “I would NEVER do such a thing when I’m a law student,” you need to get over yourself. Immediately. Gchatting has saved my ass on a couple of occasions when I’m just plain underprepared for a class. Although it has distracted me beyond measure in some classes, it has been invaluable when some kind souls have sent me answers to get the professor to move on from me. Plus, you get to stay abreast of section gossip!
6. Moderate yourself: Nobody likes the gunner who speaks in every class, every day. Nobody. I realize you had a life-changing experience when you were a Resident Assistant that you feel would be invaluable to the study of Civil Procedure. It’s not. And no one cares. The snickers and sighs you start to hear when your chair rockets backward and your hand flies into the air at warp speed aren’t coincidental. Even if you feel your commentary isn’t as banal as my example, consider the fact that your classmates aren’t taking out tens of thousands of dollars per year to hear your take on some rule. I know that as Millenials, we’ve all grown up hearing that we’re special and unique snowflakes and that every pearl of wisdom that drops from our mouths is just the smartest, wittiest thing that others have heard. Realize that your law school class is full of those types of people (with a handful of whackjobs, no doubt), so your take is likely pedestrian. If you have deep, burning questions or, bless your heart, hypotheticals you’d like to pose, please do so during office hours.
5. Make friends outside of your section: This also helps with point 9, in some respects (e.g. you’re not as desperate to substantially lower your standards for a “law school hot” person). You will see the same people all day every day for an entire school year. Please trust me when I say that after a couple of months in fall semester, you will be sick to death of seeing their pallid, computer-screen-tanned faces and hearing their same, boring stories. People from other sections are like a new toy you get at Christmas – shiny, new, and they take your mind off the other old junk strewn about the room. Plus, it will seriously reduce how much you talk about law school since they don’t know your section-mates or professors, so it forces you to be an actual human being and have real interests outside of law school.
4. Avoid classmates during finals: this has been the secret to my success. During finals I think I saw a handful of people in my section who were either 1) stressing out every day, 2) crying every day, 3) throwing up every day, or 4) a combination of the first three. It starts to wear on you. Your meals start to come from vending machines and the librarian starts to know your name. When it’s dark outside, you’re not sure if it’s day or night because you’ve been in the library for nearly 24 hours anyway. Don’t do this. As I said in Point 10, law school is a marathon, not a sprint. The final you have at the end of exam period is probably worth just as much as the first final. Pace yourself.
3. Work smarter, not harder: there are still some people I know who, in the second semester of law school, still brief every case. It’s a phenomenal waste of time and leads to pretty extreme cases of burnout. You shouldn’t need to brief every case. If you feel like you need to brief, try to limit it to at least just book briefing (as described in Law School Confidential). Truthfully, I find it much more illuminating to buy and read commercial briefs, then read the case (highlighting or underlining particular facts) and then go into class with that knowledge. An addendum to this tenet is that when the exam comes around, professors aren’t really testing how well you remember the details from Bell Atlantic v. Twombly as much as they’re testing the rule. In the end, your class preparedness and knowing the intricacies of cases doesn’t necessarily translate into a good grade. I got one of my best grades last semester in a class where I spent the majority of the time on GChat, reading Above the Law, and doing online shopping.
2. Don’t discuss your grades with classmates: Nobody likes a braggart. Similarly, no one likes someone who is just full of self-pity. Similarly, please do NOT rehash the final exams afterward. This is outrageous and really, we need to stand up as law students and say “ENOUGH!” Look, we all miss issues on an exam. I don’t think I’ve ever had a professor who has said that people caught every issue that was possible on a test. And yet, there are still people who get Honors or A+ or whatever your school gives out. Rehashing it afterward is cruel and unusual punishment (haven’t taken Constitutional Law, so don’t quote me).
1. Ignore all advice you’re given: OK, so I didn’t type this treatise to be completely ignored. These are some things that either work(ed) well for me or that I wish I had done. You might get advice that completely contradicts everything I just wrote. That’s OK, too. Try out some of these things and see what works best for you. Law school is strange in that it’s such a personal experience and I don’t think any two people feel the exact same way about it. Do what you can to make this experience the most enjoyable, intellectually stimulating, worthwhile thing you could have done with three years and tens of thousands of dollars!
Anastasia is a 1L at a T-14 law school, so she’s a baller.
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