Wednesday, June 19, 2019
If you are starting law school in fall semester, you've entered the in-between times. The initial euphoria of being accepted into your school has worn off; Orientation and the first month of classes may feel either maddeningly distant or terrifyingly close. Even as you wrap up one phase of your life, you may be uncertain about how to prepare for the next. Here's some practical advice on bridging the gap.
Do What's Required
- Know what you have to do before classes start, and do it. Do you register for your own classes, or does the law school register you? Is Orientation mandatory or elective? What books must you buy, and when must you complete required readings? Is there any paperwork you must complete and turn in? Don't procrastinate: get these tasks done.
- Read all e-mails from the law school, respond as necessary, and save them in a separate, appropriately-named folder: chances are you will later have to refer back to messages that don't seem critical now. Check your junk folder regularly so you don't overlook mass mailings sent to the entire class.
- If you receive a summer reading list from your law school, make sure you understand which readings are mandatory, which are recommended, and which are merely well-meaning suggestions for incoming students with a lot of time on their hands. If you're not sure which among a list of suggested readings would be helpful to you, contact the law school's academic support office for practical advice.
Learn About Law School
- The world is full of books and websites that purport to prepare you for law school. Several dozens are wonderful. But much of the advice is -- shall I be blunt? -- ineptly well-meaning at best and positively harmful at worst. Be cautious of books, websites, and courses of the "how-to-go-to-law-school" genre, especially those heavily supported by testimonials, promoted by commercial companies, or written by a random "J.D." If your law school doesn't give specific suggestions, seek materials written by law school academic support professionals, who are experts in law school learning and the process of transitioning from novice to expert law learners.
- Don't go overboard on devouring materials about first-year success. One well-chosen book will give you more than enough grist for your mill.
- Don't try to learn the law before you enter law school. This is a waste of your time, and it often backfires because your early superficial learning can cause you to tune out the more nuanced understanding you should acquire in law school.
Make Practical Preparations
- Put your finances in order as far as possible. Retire any debts you can, create a budget, sell unnecessary stuff, and differentiate between your "needs" and "wants." Making these adjustments before law school will reduce your financial stress in law school.
- BUT -- Accept extra expenses if they will result in a significant academic or professional payoff. A more expensive apartment closer to the law school may be a better choice than a cheap house that requires a 90-minute commute. Buying physical casebooks almost always results in deeper learning than borrowing books or settling for e-books.
- Make the physical transition to law school early. If you will be moving across town or across the country, settle into your new digs before Orientation begins. Create a mental map of the grocery, coffee shops, bookstores, bike shops, or other physical spaces that you'll need to feel grounded.
- Learn the way between your apartment and the law school, and find at least one alternate route. Ask about traffic patterns and rush hours so you don't risk coming late to class. If you drive, purchase parking passes in advance and find at least two parking lots you can use.
- Buy your books early. Thousands of law students purchasing casebooks at the same time can create bottlenecks with booksellers; plan for delays.
Prepare Yourself Mentally
- Celebrate your reason for going to law school. Your passion is what makes the work of law school worthwhile.
- Determine what kind of person you will be during the three years of law school, both inside and outside the law building. The happiest law students maintain a positive mental attitude. They consider classmates to be collaborators rather than rivals; they feel comfortable asking for help when necessary; they maintain relationships; they practice gratitude; they "don't sweat the small stuff."
- Prepare the precious people in your life for your transition, and tell them explicitly how much they mean to you. Brainstorm in advance some ways in which you can keep your relationships vital even as you take on the challenge of law school.
- Tune up your brain for difficult learning ahead. One of the best ways of doing this is by hard reading -- that is, by tackling non-law books that are far outside your comfort zone. For example, an English major might plunge into tomes about physics and biology; an engineer might choose a work by a philosopher or economist. Talk back to the book as you read, and write a summary of each chapter or section as you go.
- Open yourself to accept new methods of learning. Even if you were wildly successful in undergraduate and graduate school, chances are that you will have to adopt new ways of learning to reach your potential in law school. Your academic support professionals will work with you to help you learn most effectively in this new environment.
- Consider adding a meditation or mindfulness practice to your life, which can pay off both in reduced stress and in mental acuity.
- Cultivate regular and positive habits of sleep, exercise, healthy eating, and effective stress management, which will provide mental, physical, and academic benefits over your three-year marathon.