It can be a jungle out there, but these tips will guide you to success.
Written by: Nancy Rapp, JD/MAT
Law school is challenging and stressful. With these 10 tricks and tips, you’ll make the most out of your resources, get top grades and manage to have some fun along the way.
Law school survival is no joke. With your class rank and GPA so important for your career, it really is a “survival of the fittest” scenario. Take a deep breath, drink some coffee and read our top 10 tips for making it out alive.
1. Take notes. (No, really.)
Though many students are comfortable having a laptop in class, it’s all too tempting to spend a boring lecture reading CNN or celebrity news. Many students will try to rely on a professor’s slides or their case briefs and avoid the often painful courses, but that won’t lead to success. Unfortunately, law professors are notorious for picking obscure laws or their favorite cases on the final exam. Try to stay alert enough that you can jot down every time the professor reveals what they feel is a critical or noteworthy topic.
"Get serious about reading, and don’t get behind on reading assignments. Especially in your first year. Reading and briefing cases effectively and efficiently is a skill that takes time to develop. If you don’t master that skill during your first year you will be in trouble as the complexity of your studies increases throughout your second and third years."
With the Socratic Method ever present in law school classes, it may be tempting to try and hide in the back of the room. Unfortunately, many law professors are aware of this hiding technique and will call on you anyway. That or they’ll use last names to determine who to call on, so your last row seat won’t save you. Be brave and sit in the front and you’re more likely to get the respect of your professors.
3. Befriend upper level students.
As much as they wish they had more time, law professors don’t (usually) change their final exams every year. At the very least, the most important topics stay consistent, as do grading styles. Upper level law students, especially TA’s, are often willing to offer a pointer or two to panicky first years (1Ls), so ask away. Take what they say with a grain of salt, but if Professor Smith has been giving an essay question on grandparent rights for the past 12 years, it may be a topic worth spending some extra time studying.
“My #1 law school tip would be to use the resources around you. The best way to navigate your way around this brave new world is to go to those who have conquered it before you. Almost every law school today has professors with an ‘open door’ policy. Use them. Ask the professors how they run their classes and what they expect from their students. Most upperclassmen are happy to help 1Ls. Ask the upperclassmen what to expect from the professors and if they have any study tips or outlines you can use.”
Some legal concepts are much trickier than others, and you may not be compatible with your professor’s teaching style. This is where study guides become your friend.
Conduct a simple Amazon search and you’ll discover there are plenty of legal study guides available for each course. Some are better than others, and the formats vary from outlines to sample questions to textbook styles, though less dense, summaries. Though “horn books” are often suggested by professors, these can be dry and not much more helpful than your assigned legal textbook.
Ask for suggestions from your peers and the professors, but browsing sample pages online and visiting a bookstore will help you see which format helps you the most.
5. Consider a study group.
Studying in a group isn’t for everyone. Nevertheless, finding a study group can be particularly beneficial for law school. Outlining is a preferred study method for most law students, and dividing up dense topics will help with time management. You’ll also have the opportunity to see what other pointers your peers may have gained from their friends, advisors or extra help sessions.
A caveat to study groups, however, is that helping your friends improve their grade could harm yours. Law schools typically grade on a curve where your peers’ grades will impact yours. The pros typically outweigh the cons of study groups, but be mindful of the students who aren’t pulling their weight or seem to be holding back.
6. Make use of every resource offered to you—career, academic, etc.
You’re paying a lot of money for law school. May as well get the most bang for your buck and try to capitalize on every resource the school provides. Career services are available at every law school. Make an appointment with them and learn how to enhance your resume and interview skills.
Perhaps more importantly, most law schools have some sort of extra help program. Though you may have been top of your class in college, law school is a whole new world. You are more likely to benefit from trying these help sessions as opposed to struggling on your exams and seeking help after the fact. If you find you gain nothing from the sessions, simply don’t return.
Lastly, if a professor offers a review session for the exam: GO! Many professors are willing to give the inside scoop in these sessions. At the very least, you may hear a question from one of your peers that you didn’t even think to ask.
Again, with law school, try to level the playing field early on—before your class rank and GPA take a hit.
7. Learn to love the IRAC.
Whether your school calls it the IRAC, CREAC, CRAC, etc., it’s all the same thing. The IRAC is a writing style in law school that can make or break your grade and even your score on the bar exam.
Law school essays aren’t the memory dump that you may have experienced in college. Your answers must be structured in the IRAC format in order to get full credit for your response. Depending on the format your law school uses, practice writing in that format—even more than what you need to do for your Legal Research and Writing course. Ask professors or TA’s to look over your writing samples and make sure you don’t lose any precious points due to your writing style.
8. Try to join the prestigious extracurriculars.
Though your GPA and class rank matter, there are other ways to boost your resume and help you stand out to potential employers. Moot court, trial team and law review are extracurriculars that employers love to see on a resume. It shows that you can apply your legal knowledge to practical skills such as litigation and writing. You may have no desire to be a trial attorney, but having one of these extras on your resume or CV is worth the added effort. You’ll have trouble finding an employer who says otherwise.
9. Explain what you’re going through to loved ones and medical professionals.
Mental health is important throughout law school and in the legal profession. There’s no denying law is a high stress field and that can take its toll on your health and relationships. Don’t ignore your loved ones and be completely upfront with them about how you’re feeling.
Final exams are in December and April/May, so be honest if you need to spend Thanksgiving studying. Prepping for the bar exam will consume you at least one month before you take the test. Ask your loved ones to give you the space you need, yet be sure to lean on them when you need support, too.
In terms of support, don’t let pride or fear prevent you from seeking help from mental health professionals. Law schools have counselors available for you to express your concerns, and your primary care physician is also a good person to talk to. You may need counseling and/or medication to help you get through the strain of law school, and there’s no shame in that.
If, however, you find that law school or being a lawyer is a constant source of anxiety and depression, the best decision may be to leave the legal field or at least take a break. Your job and education matter, but your health is more important.
“Law School is going to be extremely taxing on your mental and physical health. It's important to develop healthy ways of relieving stress and recharging your batteries. Avoid unhealthy stress relief habits like excessive drinking. Practicing law can be very stressful. One thing that many law schools and lawyers don't often discuss is the prevalence of alcoholism in the profession. If you think you need help coping with stress don't be afraid to seek the aid of counselor or psychologist.”
Believe it or not, law school can be fun. Like college, you’ll have the opportunity to make lifelong friends. Your classmates will understand your life and career even more than your college and high school peers, so the friendships may be built to last. Allow yourself time to blow off steam with your peers who are probably just as stressed as you are.
Law schools also offer plenty of opportunities to enjoy yourself. Many schools have an annual “prom,” and activities are typically offered at least once a semester. Law school is also a great chance to enjoy sporting events as many schools offer free tickets to football and basketball games. After you graduate, you’ll have fewer chances to enjoy this kind of social life, so try and attend as many events as you can.