Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Advice for New Law Students

I figured, every now and then, I should write a law-related post. I often get emails asking for advice about starting law school, and sometimes I just offer it unsolicited :)

So, since I don't have a huge amount of time right now, I thought I'd offer the first 5 things that come to mind. There is a decent chance the first 5 may also be the most important.

This is advice for people similarly situated - older students going back to school, married or partnered, possibly with kids. For those young, singles, well, maybe there's a tidbit or two that you'll find useful, too.

1) Make time for your partner. Set up a date night/date morning, something. You will be going through a life-altering experience that your spouse cannot even imagine, and so will she. It's not easy being married to a law student. Not only can we be challenging to get along with, but you being in law school may bring out her insecurities. You have to keep talking to each other, and recognizing the potholes.

2) Almost no one else in your class gets "it" either. When you are feeling really stupid because you have no clue what your Con Law professor just talked about for the last hour, look around, listen as you walk out the door. No one else understood either. That's not to say that you shouldn't try to understand, just don't beat yourself up over it. You are not stupid. You should be in law school. (Almost everyone at some point tells herself she shouldn't be there.)

3) Seek Balance. You still have a life. Live it. Don't forget your friends, your family, or your dog. It is more healthy and will make your study time more effective if you take regular breaks, socialize now and then, and develop at least a bit of life outside of law school.

4) Purchase study aides before the end of the semester. Talk to others who had the class, or ask the prof what she recommends, for the best study aides for her particular class. In some classes, you may feel like you don't need them. Fine, but if you are feeling lost, pick up an Examples and Explanations (one of my favorites), Crunchtime, Emananuel Outline or other, and use it in conjunction with your casebook. Sometimes, the guide will present the material in a way that is more clear than your prof. and will really enhance the lectures.

5) Set up a study/homework schedule and stick to it. Keep up on homework - you don't want to fall behind. If you think it is hard to read 40 pages for one assignment, try doubling or tripling that. If you do get behind in reading,it is better to borrow notes, skip the reading, and stay current than falling behind while you try to catch up. For me, since I work almost full time, go to school and have a family, it is really crucial that I do the work at the planned times, because there isn't a "slush" time to do it later.

That's it - all the wisdom I have to share on this fine Tuesday morning. I hope someone finds it useful.


Audra said...

great tips! I e-mailed this post to my wife, she starts in about a week and we're both starting to get a little on edge about it! any other tips will be great!

Anonymous said...

Good advice. I'd also add that there are old school professors who may tell you not to use study guides at all. Listen to why they don't recommend them, then go and see for yourself. I didn't do that first semester, and I regretted it.
Also, you can see what study guides the law library has in stock and try out different ones before buying one. Do not wait until finals to do this though, as they will all be checked out.

PT-LawMom said...

Very useful. Thanks Dakota! Two of my professors so far have actually assigned recommended study aides, but they have been younger. Seems like the older teachers are more of the "don't use them!" school of thought.

Dakota said...

Anon. and PT-Law Mom - Yes, I've had some of the "don't use them" or the "you don't need them for my class" and mostly, for the way they taught, they were right. However, I've had a few classes that I would have been lost without them, or at least, found the practice questions really useful to help me start processing the vast amounts of info we were supposed to know.

yankeegirl said...

Dakota- thanks! I was thinking about emailing you about this anyway. I'm finishing my bachelors and I'm thinking of taking the LSAT in September. I never imagined I'd be working on my bachelors and thinking of law school at this time in my life. Your advice about balancing school and family life is great.

Holly said...

It's all great advice! So, so true! Every single one of them!

patti_cake said...

I am seriously thinking about going back to school next Spring. Great tips. It's very daunting at my age. I might get my degree in Early childhood development so I can teach school while my little one goes to school in three years.

Dakota said...

Patti_Cake - It is sometimes daunting going back to school as an older student. One of the best thoughts I ever read on this was essentially that the time was going to pass anyway; you can come out of it with a degree, or not. Good luck with whatever you decide!

Googie Baba said...

Thanks Dakota! I am book marking this post. Googie

Brian Cavner said...

Thanks so much for this list. I'm going to be brand-spanking-new 1L in about a week and have been spending time doing little things to help me stay focused. I actually wrote a list of resolutions on my own blog (for my later review if I lose focus), but I didn't think of your fantastic tip in #2. I'm actually going to make a bunch of little post-its that say "don't worry, other people are confused too" and stick them all through my books to remind me when I get lost.

Thanks again!

Heahter said...

Good advice thanks, Any thoughts on what prep course to take for the LSAT? I need to take it in Feb or june next year so I can start applying in the fall. thanks

Dakota said...

Heather (Heahter?) - I did not take a prep course. (Not that I didn't need to! They just tend to be very expensive.)

As for related advice, I can recommend The LSAT Logic Games Bible, as that is a great book on the topic, and the area in which most people have the worst time. Take lots of the real, previously administered LSAT tests - they are available on-line through LSAC or even E-bay.

Good luck!