A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the Howard University School of Law Pinning Ceremony. During the event, all of the incoming 1L’s are pinned by Howard Law alum and are welcomed into the Howard University family. I got to pin a few incoming 1L’s and some of them asked me for advice on how to be successful in law school.
This post is inspired by the Howard University School of Law Class of 2020. Here are a few tips, some of which helped me and some I wish I’d taken more seriously during my 1L year:
1. Take Everyone’s Advice with a Grain of Salt
As a 1L, you will have 2L’s and 3L’s trying to give you advice left and right. Now of course, I always appreciated the fact that everyone was so helpful and willing to take some time to give me pointers, but all the advice can be overwhelming. Be choosey with the people you take advice from and the subject matter of the advice. All advice is not good advice for you. Some people will give you advice that conflicts with something that someone else told you, which will add to the confusion you’re already feeling when trying to tackle this new beast called Law School. Also, the advice that most people will give you is tailored to their experience, not yours. This leads me to my next tip…
2. Do What Works Best for YOU
When you first get to school, you may be like me, feeling super overwhelmed, confused, and a little lost. You don’t know what will work because you’ve never gone to law school, so you find yourself experimenting with different ways to take notes, study, brief your cases, retain information, etc. One thing you should always remember is to do what works best for YOU. You will see your classmates studying in study groups and some that will study solo. Try a study group if you want. If it doesn’t work for you, try studying alone. At any rate, don’t feel pressured to study like your classmates if it doesn’t work for you. Everyone has their own learning styles and ways they retain information most effectively and efficiently. Some people are visual learners and some need to hear the information over and over again until it really sinks in. Figure out what kind of learner you are and tailor your study habits to your learning style. Here’s a learning style quiz that can help you determine your learning style. Don’t waste time trying to do what your friends are doing if it doesn’t work for you. Keep in mind, yall are all 1L’s and are pretty much the blind leading the blind. This brings me to my next tip…
3. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
In a competitive environment like law school, it’s almost impossible not to compare yourself to others, but it can be very unhealthy. It can consume you to the point where all you’re doing is comparing yourself to your peers, watching how they always answer every question correctly when they’re called on, never seeming stressed, and looking like they actually got a full night’s rest when you can barely spell “rest” because you’re deliriously tired and don’t know if you’re coming or going. Been there, done that. It’s not fun and I know it’s hard to snap yourself out of it, but you have to. Try transferring all of that energy that you’re using up comparing yourself to others into motivating yourself to stay on top of your work. Just meditate on it and think about how unproductive comparing yourself is. You don’t have much time to waste so why spend it thinking about what other people are doing? This leads me to my next point…
4. Create a Study Schedule
Time management is KEY in law school. Implementing a study schedule really helped me a lot when the work started piling up and I was beginning to feel overwhelmed. I usually get overwhelmed when I start thinking about aaalll the things I have to do. What helps me overcome the anxiety is making a list of everything I have to do, even the smallest task, and figuring out how to schedule it all out throughout the week, day or month, depending on the task. It could be anything from my readings for school, to scheduling time to hit the gym, or paying a bill. It helps me to see it all out on paper (or a dry erase board) and realizing that it’s not absolutely impossible to get everything done that’s on my to-do list. Check out this super easy step-by-step guide on how to create a study schedule. Aaaand to the next point…
5. Remember Self-Care
You will be tempted to eat junk food and drink a lot more coffee (and alcohol) than you ever did before. You don’t feel like you have time to do anything but eat, study, and sometimes sleep. PLEASE try to steer away from doing this if you can. You perform at your best when you feel your best mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Make sure you’re checking in with yourself. Try meal prepping on a Sunday while you listen to a lecture. Try to get a workout in at least a couple of times per week, and if you’re of the praying.meditating kind, do it! All of these things help. They will make you feel like you have some control over your life and will keep you sane. And please PLEASE try to get some sleep. You are no good to anyone if you’re walking around like a zombie. Most people can’t retain much information if they’re exhausted so what’s the point? This brings me to my final and probably most important tip…
6. Don’t Burn Yourself Out
I went so hard my first semester of my 1L year that I burned myself out midway through my 1L spring semester and it showed in my grades. My brain was fried and no matter how much I wanted to, I couldn’t bring myself to perform at my highest level. So learn from my mistakes – don’t burn yourself out! If you feel yourself trying to study and nothing is working: You’ve read the same page 5 times and you don’t remember one word of it. You’re in class and you’re totally zoned out because your brain is so fried that you can’t even imagine what will happen if the professor calls on you because you have absolutely no clue what they’ve been talking about for the last 30 minutes. I’ve been there. I’m sure many law students have been there. When you start feeling this way, it may be time to take a break and that’s OKAY! Now don’t get carried away and find yourself out every weekend or at happy hour often, but remember that it’s okay to take a load off every once in a while. Your mind and body needs to recharge from time to time so that you can get back on your game. Don’t forget to take care of yourself!
I hope these tips help your 1L year go at least a teeny weeny bit smoother. Remember to breathe and that everything will be okay. You got this! I wish you nothing but success and grace as you begin law school. As always, feel free to reach out if you have any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To all my law school vets: Would you add any additional tips for 1L’s? Leave them in the Comments below!