Like the legal profession itself, law school comes with its own jargon. One key term to know is "1L," which refers to a law student's first year of enrollment. Similarly, 2L and 3L refer to the second and third years of law school.
1L is notorious for being the most difficult period of law school. Students must adjust to new learning and teaching methods, follow a rigorous schedule, and master complex legal concepts. While retention rates vary by institution and LSAT scores, some law schools see up to 37% of students drop out after 1L.
This page offers tips and resources to help incoming law students survive 1L and progress through their education.
What Is a Law School Survival Kit?
Law school requires both tangible supplies and mental preparation methods. The following lists detail what to include in your law school survival kit.
These sections focus on juris doctor students. Visit our law hub for more information about other law and criminal justice degree programs.
Law School Supplies
Undergraduate, graduate, and law school students all depend on laptops to take notes, conduct research, and write papers. Learners completing law school online also use laptops to attend class and access coursework. Popular college laptops include the MacBook Air, Lenovo IdeaPad, and Asus VivoBook.
Before selecting a laptop for law school, consider your university's technology requirements and suggestions. Some schools request that students use a specific operating system (Windows, macOS, etc.) to reduce software incompatibility issues. Other factors to consider include laptop weight and portability, reliability, memory, and battery life.
Bookbag or Backpack
Law students need a reliable way to transport heavy textbooks, notebooks, laptops, and other supplies to and from class. A sturdy, ergonomic bookbag or backpack can make all the difference in your frequent trips to the library or lecture hall. When shopping for a bookbag, consider your style, storage needs, commuting habits, and carrying preferences.
The timeless design of a leather messenger bag may suit some learners, while others may prefer a traditional backpack from a well-known brand like JanSport. If you don't want to carry so much weight on your shoulders, look into wheeled options. Some backpacks offer special features like waterproof material to protect your books from the elements.
A law student's success depends, in part, on their ability to meet frequent tight deadlines. A day planner can help you stay afloat once you dive into the busy law school schedule. Planners come in a variety of designs to suit every need.
You may want a portable, pocket-sized planner to keep track of weekly and monthly deadlines. Larger, more expansive planners offer options to help the meticulous law student plan out daily to-do lists. If you prefer full control over the cover and interior layout, sites like Plum Paper allow users to build a completely customized planner.
Colored Highlighters and Pens
To tackle the demands of law school, students should consider going beyond basic black or blue ink pens and No. 2 pencils. Including colored highlighters and pens with your law school essentials can help you mark important points when reading cases.
You can also use highlighters to color-code events in your day planner. Office supply stores typically stock basic highlighter and gel pen sets. Law students can also choose from more unique options like pencil highlighters and erasable highlighters.
External Hard Drive/Cloud Storage
Law school students rely on laptops to access and store important data, notes, assignments, and course information. Unfortunately, computers can be vulnerable to breakdown, theft, and malware.
Instead of scrambling to recover lost data once it's too late, choose a proactive option to protect your files from loss. To keep track of small amounts of data, a free storage plan from Dropbox or Google Drive may suffice. You can also invest in an external hard drive or larger cloud storage plan to back up your entire device. Perform backups often for maximum protection.
Desk Organization Supplies
Law students spend a lot of time reading and working at their home desks. A dedicated organization system can help keep your supplies and workspace in order.
To ensure an efficient and effective study environment, consider purchasing a workspace organizer for storing items like pens, pencils, Post-Its, and printouts. Using an affordable book stand to prop up large law textbooks maximizes surface area and makes it easier to shift between reading cases, taking notes, and writing briefs on your laptop.
Law school students generally attend class in casual, comfortable clothes. However, law students also need at least one professional outfit in their closet. Professional outfits come in handy for law school orientation events and on-campus interviews for internships, clerkships, and summer associate positions.
Depending on the school, orientation dress code may be business professional or business casual. At law school, the business professional dress code suggests conservative business suits in black, gray, or dark blue. When dressing business casual, your attire should represent your own unique style while remaining work-appropriate. Think button-down shirts or blouses, slacks, blazers, and skirts.
Understand the Socratic Method
First-year law students may encounter a form of classroom learning that differs from their undergraduate days. Through the Socratic method, professors engage law students by asking questions about assigned case readings.
This method helps students develop the critical thinking and communication skills key to success in the legal field. Learning about the Socratic method of teaching before your first day of class helps you know what to expect, which in turn allows you to perform at your best when the professor calls on you.
Form Study Groups
Joining an established study group or forming a new group provides several benefits, especially for first-year law students learning the ropes. Study groups provide important social support and positive peer pressure. They also offer the opportunity to discuss new concepts with others.
However, law students should take care to avoid common study group pitfalls. These may include unsupportive peer environments, meetings focused more on socializing than studying, and the risks of groupthink. Keep your law school study group small, friendly, and engaged with coursework goals.
Allow for Breaks
Experts agree that taking breaks while studying helps improve mental health, increase productivity, and boost brain function. To make your breaks the most efficient, keep them brief and frequent, and take opportunities to move around. Try to avoid distracting temptations like social media or mobile games.
Consider using timers and apps to build healthy study break habits. Apps and browser extensions such as Break Timer offer customization options to set desired work and break period lengths. The Bear Focus Timer app, available for $1.99 on iPhones and Androids, places a friendly, minimalist Pomodoro-style timer on your phone.
Review Before and After Class
Law school classes require careful preparation. Law professors expect their students to come to class having completed assigned readings and case reviews.
For maximum retention, set aside time to review case briefs and readings either the night before or the morning of class. After class, keep track of your notes and review them periodically throughout the semester rather than cramming before final exams.
Some law professors hold review sessions prior to exams. These sessions offer a great opportunity to clarify points of confusion and get exam tips.
Choose Healthy Options
Healthy exercise habits and eating choices deserve a priority spot in your law school survival kit. Avoid the temptation to reach for high-calorie, low-nutrition junk food and sweets during long study sessions. Focus instead on protein, vegetables, and fruit.
While caffeine provides an important energy boost for many law students, too much coffee can lead to dehydration. Remember to drink water or low-caffeine teas to encourage optimum brain function.
Many law students can integrate exercise into their daily routine by taking the stairs or walking longer routes to class. Another convenient exercise option is the brief but intense seven-minute workout, developed by a physiologist at the Human Performance Institute.
Application Necessities During Law School
The most successful law graduates gain real-world experience while in law school. These experiences typically take the form of a law internship or clerkship. The following sections detail how a strong resume and careful interview preparation can help you land a coveted professional opportunity.
Internships and Clerkships
Both internships and clerkships allow law students to engage with legal workplaces and learn more about judicial processes prior to graduation. Internships refer to paid or unpaid experiences law students usually complete during the summer. Clerkships refer to paid, one- or two-year positions for law school graduates who have not yet passed the bar.
Law interns commonly conduct legal research, draft briefs and motions, and observe proceedings in court. Law clerks work with a state or federal court judge. Clerks conduct research, draft orders, and prepare pre-argument memoranda. Both interns and clerks gain professional contacts, important real-world skills, and the opportunity to enhance their resumes.
Volunteer law internships typically accept applications from law students with at least one semester of completed study. Internships and clerkship candidates should start researching opportunities, eligibility, and deadlines early, as different offices and judges maintain their own application processes.
Your resume offers an opportunity to show off your biggest accomplishments. Include the following sections:
- Work experience
- Strengths and skills
Following your contact information, your resume should start with a brief summary detailing who you are and what type of opportunities you want to pursue. For example, "First-year law student with strong research and communication skills, seeking an opportunity to grow and learn in a professional work environment."
Next, provide information about your educational background. You can list a few relevant courses you have completed or are currently taking. The work experience section should list job titles and key duties for each paid position you have held. If you lack work experience, focus on volunteer and extracurricular activities instead.
As you write and polish your resume, reach out to your university's career services office. Most offer free resume critiques and related support services.
After submitting a resume and an application, law students must pass one last hurdle before securing their internship or clerkship: the interview. Preparing early gives you the best chance of success.
Like any activity, practice makes perfect. Take advantage of any mock interview sessions your university may offer. Anticipate what questions you might be asked and what answers you can provide. You can rehearse these scenarios with friends or family.
On the day of the interview, consider these tips:
- Dress to impress, with a clean appearance and properly fitted clothes.
- Bring copies of your resume, a bottle of water, and a list of questions to ask the interviewer.
- Pay attention to nonverbal communication cues. Smile, shake hands, and make eye contact.
- Practice active listening, and keep your responses concise and relevant.
- Be confident, but stay humble. Remember that you still have a lot to learn.
Most importantly, be yourself.
Read about law careers:
Frequently Asked Questions
What do you need to go to law school?
You need an undergraduate degree before applying to law school. Law school admissions requirements commonly include recommendation letters, a personal statement, and standardized test scores such as the LSAT or GRE.
What law school supplies should I buy?
Law school students need basic study essentials like pencils, pens, and notebook paper. Other key supplies include a laptop, a sturdy bookbag, and a daily planner to keep track of reading assignments and class schedules.
What do first-year law students learn?
First-year law students learn about torts, civil procedures, contracts, and legal research and writing. Professors traditionally teach using the Socratic Method. This method involves questioning individual students on case readings, rather than lecturing to the class.
Can you go to law school online?
You can obtain certain law degrees online. Common online offerings include the master of laws and the master of legal studies. Hybrid options are available, but few law schools offer fully online juris doctor programs, accredited by the American Bar Association.
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Helping you prepare and gain the most out of your educational experience.