How to Navigate Your First Year in Law School

Published on August 21, 2023 Lawyer Life Featured

You nailed the LSAT, you’ve been accepted to the law school of your dreams, and your life as a law student has begun. However, the excitement may quickly dissipate into a sense of uncertainty as you embark on your first semester.

When it comes to graduate studies, law school often ranks among the most difficult. Low acceptance rates mean the competition will be cutthroat. The work may be overwhelming. The hours spent studying may seem endless. In fact, the entire venture might feel like a Sisyphean task. But at the end of three years, you’ll be on your way to becoming a full-fledged lawyer.

But before that, you need to actually get through law school.

The first semester is often considered the most important and for good reason. As you begin your law school journey, it’s necessary to start with the right mentality, so keep reading to learn more.

Be Prepared to Participate in Class

A law professor lecturing a class of law students.Participating during lectures will be mandatory as most law schools follow the Socratic method of teaching. This means your professor will eventually call on you without warning to answer a question or participate in a debate. There is no way to avoid this situation.

Cold calls will be a major part of your 1L year, so it’s a good idea to be mentally prepared. Be ready and pay attention throughout the lecture so you’ll be able to answer the professor’s inquiries. But remember, you’re still a student. If you don’t know the right answer and it feels as if the professor is making an example out of you, take it as a learning experience.

Even if you do the required reading and complete the week’s coursework, your mind might draw a blank as soon as you’re called upon. Law professors employ this method as a way for students to gain confidence in their public speaking and debating skills. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know” or to ask for clarification on topics you’re unsure about.

Join or Form a Study Group

A law student study group meeting in the library ask their professor a question.Study groups are a common way to parse through your coursework with your classmates. But in order for a study group to be efficient, it’s necessary to avoid wasting time or getting distracted.

Whether you’re forming your own group or joining an existing one, try out these recommendations to get the most out of each study session:

  • Stick to a regular schedule,
  • Stay focused,
  • Don’t let the group get too big (4-7 members is often the sweet spot),
  • Participate in healthy debates,
  • Be open to hearing differing opinions, and don’t be afraid to share your own.

Since not everyone thrives in a group environment, you shouldn’t feel pressured to join a study group if you don’t think it will benefit you or your studies. But before you say no, give it a shot! You never know, you might make lifelong friends all while gaining a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

Build a Habit of Managing Your Time

If you already feel like you’re drowning in coursework, then it may be time to implement a time management method. Not only will these habits help you stay up to date on coursework, but they will also be incredibly beneficial for your future in the legal industry. The immense amount of coursework is just a taste of what your day-to-day life will look like when you become a full-fledged lawyer.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. While there are many time management methods out there, you can try out the following simple tips:

  • Use apps, planners, and calendars to keep track of the tasks you need to complete.
  • If you’re already overwhelmed, take a step back and prioritize the most urgent work.
  • Establish goals for you to have something to work towards.
  • Get rid of distractions.
  • Remember to take breaks.
  • If you can help it, try not to multitask.

Whether you implement one or all of the above-mentioned tips during your first semester, you’ll be able to complete your coursework and get the most out of your time in law school. It will be a steep hill to climb, but with the right tools and mindset, you’ll reach the summit without losing your mind.

Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself

If left unattended, the strain of law school can easily turn your life into a never-ending stress fest. Even if it feels as if you have no free time to relax and let off some steam, try finding time to take a break.

You can factor this into your time management methods. It may feel as if you’re wasting time, but relaxing (in moderation) can improve your studying by boosting your ability to retain knowledge, improving overall focus, and increasing learning concentration.AdobeStock_500656525

Some ways to take a break include:

  • Going for a walk,
  • Exercising,
  • Eating a snack,
  • Stretching, or
  • Chatting with a friend.

Mental health concerns are a real issue among law students. According to recent Bloomberg Law survey, “over 75% of student respondents reported increased anxiety because of law school-related issues, and over 50% reported experiencing depression.”

If you’re experiencing problems with anxiety, stress, depression, substance abuse, or other mental health disorders, the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program is here to help. TLAP provides law students with confidential support, wellness programming, referrals to quality professionals and programs, and more. Contact TLAP by calling or texting 1-800-343-TLAP (8527) 24/7 for confidential help with mental health issues.

Make Use of the State Bar’s Available Resources

A law student using a tablet to access digital resources.Law students are privy to a myriad of free or affordable resources. Texas Bar Practice offers law students free access to digital versions of all our publications, including the Texas Pattern Jury Charges, practice manuals, and countless forms.

Simply create a “Law Student” account on Texas Bar Practice, and you’ll be on your way to accessing the best of what Texas Bar Practice has to offer. To learn more about Law Education account, check out this post.

The Texas Young Lawyers Association provides resources to law students, including the Law Student’s Toolkit for Students from 1L to 3L [PDF], scholarships, and competitions.

You can also join the State Bar of Texas’s Law Student Division for just $15 per year and gain access to scholarships, discounts, publications, and much more. Above all, by being part of the Law Student Division, you’ll be able to interact with other law students and local attorneys alike. If you’d like to learn more about the resources the State Bar has available for law students, click here.

Making the Most of Your Law Education Begins with the First Step

Law school is nothing if not difficult. While your first semester has only just begun, it’s the perfect time to adjust your mentality and pave the way for your future career as a legal professional.

Before long, you’ll be taking the bar and anxiously anticipating the results. Ensure your path to that final moment is well paved by implementing the tips mentioned above.

To learn more, check out the following TexasBarCLE resources:

Otto Nicli

Otto Nicli

Otto Nicli is part of the State Bar's Web team and serves as the blog writer for the Texas Bar Practice website. He also plays a part in marketing and video production. In his free time, he enjoys watching Top Chef with his wife, collecting records, reading, and going to shows.

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