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Welcome to Law School: What to Expect as a 1L

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

Congrats future 1L's! You should be starting your new career as a law student any day now. You should be especially happy with your choice, now that legal hiring is finally starting to rebound. Three years from now and you should be living it up as a greedy associate -- or maybe one of those happy lawyers.

But let's not look too far into the future. What should you expect right at the beginning, when you first show up on campus? Here's a quick overview of what to expect as you start out as a law student:

Sections: Notice that you didn't register for classes? That's because your 1L year's academic calendar is pretty much out of your hands, from the courses you take, to when you take them, to who you take them with. Most law schools organize their first year students into sections of 20 to 30 students who take all or almost all of their courses together. You will see a lot of these people. You will become friends with them, and you will get annoyed at every single idiosyncrasy each person has.

Seating: Where you sit on your first day usually matters. Many law professors have you stay in the same seats for the whole semester. This helps them know where to look when it's your turn to be tortured by "Socratic" questions. If you have strong preferences about where you sit or who it's with, think about getting to your classes early the first few days.

Socratic Seminar: You've probably heard about the Socratic Method. It's the default law school pedagogical approach: asking students probing questions with minimal lecturing to help them worth through the ideas, issues and rules of law in a case. That's the Platonic ideal of the Socratic method, at least.

In fact, much of what you'll experience is sitting through twenty minutes to an hour of a student, called on almost by random, struggling to answer rote questions about procedural posture, fact patterns, and why those fireworks were on the scale in the train station in the first place. Don't be disappointed if it's not exactly like Plato's Symposium -- and don't let to Socratic method stress you out too much. Read, take notes, come to class prepared and you should do fine.

Studying: You'll have a ton of cases to read. At the start, this can seem daunting, but you'll get the hang of it. Feel free to supplement with study aids, canned case summaries, outlines and the like, but for the first semester at least, try to do all the reading and take all your own notes. Remember, too, while it's easy to take 40 pages of notes on a 15 page case, the end goal should be to get a single case down to one or two rules. You won't have time for all the subtleties when exams come around.

Scheduling: You don't have much say over when you take classes, but you do control when you study for them. Law school will be easier and less stressful if you can make a schedule and stick to it. A clear schedule will give you enough time to read and outline and still be able to eat, socialize and take part in some extracurricular activities. Despite what people say, you don't have to spend every waking moment stressing about law school in order to do well. Really.

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