8 Things Every First-Year Law Student Needs to Know
Law school isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes hard work, dedication, passion, and commitment. After undergrad classes and hours spent studying for the LSAT you may think you’re ready for what lies ahead, but law school is an experience unto itself.
Most likely, you’re at a new school and, in addition to a rigorous course schedule and academic challenges, you’re faced with making new friends and settling into a new life. Before you embark on your first year of law school, here are eight things you should know.
1. Time Commitment
While questions like “How many years is law school?” are probably behind you, it’s a good idea to truly understand the time commitment ahead of you. Universities approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) generally require three years of full-time study in order to earn a Juris Doctor, or JD, the degree you need to practice law in the U.S. Some law schools offer part-time programs that can take anywhere from four to five years to complete.
There are also joint-degree programs, such as a JD/MBA, that may take four to five years to complete, likely a shorter time frame than getting the two degrees separately.
While you’re in law school you’ll have to organize your schedule to make time for all your classes, lengthy reading assignments, intense studying, and writing. It’s important to start planning ways to make sure you can focus.
2. Reading Speed and Comprehension
If you’re preparing for law school, one thing to work on is your reading speed and comprehension. During your first year of law school (or 1L)—and perhaps through your entire law school career—you will be reading and writing more than you ever have before.
Most law schools in the U.S. use the case system of instruction , which encourages students to review appellate court decisions, analyze the judge’s reasoning and findings, and deduce general legal principles from each case. You’ll be reading case after case and you’ll be required to write briefs on each one.
Before you start your first year of law school, it might be wise to take the time to work on your memory recall, problem-solving abilities, and reading speed and comprehension. All of these skills can be critical in your success as a law student.
3. Course Selection
Regardless of where you go to law school, your first year of classes will almost always cover the same subjects. Consider your 1L year the foundation of your legal education. You need to lay down the building blocks before you can move forward with more complicated and ambitious courses of study.
You can expect to take classes on the following subjects during your first year of law school: torts, contracts, civil procedure, property law, criminal law, constitutional law, and legal methods.
4. 1L Grades and Teaching Methods
Another big adjustment you’ll likely have to make is to the law school teaching and grading methods. Many law school professors use the Socratic method, where they choose random students in the class to discuss the case at hand and they expect them to be able to summarize and discuss the details of the case using legal principles and reasoning.
Grading in some law schools is done on a curve. Your achievement is measured against that of your peers, with most students falling somewhere in the middle.
Your first semester grades might come as a shock but think of it as an opportunity to gather feedback and improve. In some classes, grades are based on just one exam, but there are professors who offer additional “participation points .” It’s always a good idea to be prepared and ready to contribute.
5. Routine and Balance
During your undergrad years, you may have found yourself having to adjust to all the new free time you had. While you are in law school, however, there likely won’t be much of that free time to go around. With pages and pages of reading, classes, and writing briefs, there is almost always something you can be doing for your classes.
But, as tempting as it is to spend 100% of your time studying, it’s important to understand that your mental and physical health could impact your academic results.
If you find it helpful, you can start your first year of law school with a schedule, outlining time for studying and reading—and don’t forget to include time for yourself, whether it be a workout, cooking, or even a 15-minute break to walk and clear your head. In the long run, taking a break may help you focus and improve your results in class.
While there will be days where you might rely on caffeine to keep you going, try to find balance so you can be better prepared for what might be a bumpy road ahead.
6. Preparation and Campus Resources
As mentioned above, the academic environment at law school can be competitive and most classes will run on the Socratic method, so you should expect to be called on in class. Spending time completing the readings and writing case briefs will pay off in the long run.
Another tip: Take advantage of campus resources. Some law students are afraid or too intimidated to ask questions, but this is an important part of the learning process. You can go to your professor’s office hours and check out other academic support resources available at your school. Taking the time now will allow you to set yourself up for success when finals roll around at the end of the semester.
A summer legal internship could be a great way to finish your 1L-year. You can usually begin applying for 1L summer internships starting in December of the previous year.
Students typically refrain from applying for internships until finals have been completed, so they can have their first semester grades in hand. You can take advantage of career counseling available at your law school and if you have a specific interest, try to secure an internship in that field.
You might not be bringing in the big bucks during your 1L summer internship. But you can find valuable experience and connections at your internship, whether you end up at a big law firm or at a mid-sized or smaller firm; many offer worthwhile opportunities like a clerkship.
Aside from seeking out law firm internships, government agencies, public interest organizations, and judicial externships are just some of the options out there.
8. Paying for Law School
When it comes to paying for law school, many students rely on student loans to help make ends meet. The average law school student borrowed about $112,776 to finance their degree. Because of that hefty sum, when you are deciding on a law school, it’s almost certainly worth reviewing the average return on investment from a particular school.
If you’ve already taken out student loans, you can get a head start on repayment by creating a repayment plan while you are still early in your law school career. There may even be a few federal student loan forgiveness programs worth looking into for law students—especially those looking to work in the public sector after graduation
If you qualify, programs like an Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) Plan, or Public Service Loan Forgiveness, could also offer relief for federal student loans. Do your research to see what might work for you, but note that under certain forgiveness plans, such as IDR, the amount forgiven could be considered taxable income by the IRS.
Being Financially Savvy
Another option to get your undergraduate student loans under control, or your law school loans once you’ve graduated, is refinancing. Before you refinance, you may wish to see if you qualify for any other loan relief programs, especially if you have federal loans, since you could lose benefits like income-driven repayment plans, deferment, or forbearance.
If you refinance your student loans with a private lender, you’d take out a new loan with new terms. With a strong credit history and strong earning potential (among other factors), you might qualify for a lower interest rate, which could reduce the amount of money you pay in interest over the life of the loan—depending on the new loan term you choose, of course. If you are interested in seeing how refinancing could impact your student loans, take a look at SoFi’s student loan refinance calculator.
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