Sunday, May 13, 2007


Now that 1L year is over, it seems appropriate for me to do a bit of reflection. Yes, I know this entire blog is me reflecting. What I mean is that it seems appropriate for me to write something that could conceivably be applicable to other people. Therefore, I give you:

Ten Things I Learned During 1L Year
  1. The answer to every question beginning with "Should I?" is either "it depends," "it doesn't matter," or "whatever works for you." Should I do journal tryout? It depends. Should I go to Dandelion, Foxfields, the PILA Auction, Feb Club parties, Barrister's, or bar review? It doesn't matter. Should I print out my outline or read it off of my laptop — or should I outline at all? Whatever works for you.
  2. The Supreme Court is just making stuff up. This is because, being the highest court in the country, the Supreme Court doesn't have any precedent to bind it. Whatever the lower courts have said, it can ignore; whatever the Supreme Court itself has said, it can overrule.
  3. There is no 1L class so horrible that you cannot learn the material well enough to pass the exam. I had two classes this year — one in the fall and one in the spring — in which I felt completely helpless for most of the semester. In both classes, I found myself some helpful supplements, buckled down during reading period, and learned the material well enough to take the exams without having any "what the heck is this question supposed to mean?" moments. You are not going to fail unless you give up completely.
  4. Grades, journals, interviews, and all the rest of it: nothing about law school is more important than retaining your sanity. Get enough sleep. Eat like a human being. Go outside every day. Have conversations, play games, go out to movies, be silly. Have fun, for crying out loud. We're all here in part because we have incredibly high standards for ourselves, so it's not easy for us to relax and let go, but we have to. Better to graduate with a soul than a killer résumé.
  5. Insecurity is the most dangerous trap into which you can fall. Insecurity can lead you to sign up for activities you have no interest in, waste days reformatting an outline you already have memorized, run yourself ragged trying to get a firm job 1L summer when you really want to work for a professor, and so on. You probably have a good head on your shoulders and a good sense of when you're doing something that makes sense and when you're expending a lot of energy on nothing much. Pay attention to that nagging feeling that you're wasting your time. You are good enough. One of my peer advisors repeated to me what one of his peer advisors told him last year: "Never let someone else's dream become your own." That sums up this point nicely.
  6. Staying out of the gossip mill is extremely difficult, but worth the trouble. What is it about law students that makes us so infernally nosy? For some reason, drama seems to fill every spare moment, as well as many that aren't spare, especially during exams. Rehearse the following phrases, out of which you will get a lot of mileage:
    • "I don't know."
    • "You should probably ask him that yourself."
    • "I don't know her all that well, but she seems nice."
    • "It's really got nothing to do with me."
    • "I don't give it a whole lot of thought."
    Also, pick a very patient friend in another city who's willing to listen to you babble about all the personal stuff you don't want entering the rumor mill.
  7. Cold calls are not to be feared. What's the worst that can happen? You look like an idiot in front of your classmates and your professor. That's likely to happen at least once during 1L year no matter how prepared you are, so it's no crisis. Don't freak out, just listen carefully to the professor and he or she will often lead you where you're meant to go.
  8. Understanding the question gets you halfway to the answer. This is true on exams and in class. Make sure you know what you're being asked. The firehose approach to question-answering is not popular in law school: it wastes everyone's time, and if it answers the question, it does so only by accident. Answer what you're being asked.
  9. Reading, taking notes and paying attention in class are not ends in themselves, but rather ways of preparing for the exam. Once you've been called on in a 90-student class, it's easy to justify skipping the reading for the next few weeks... after all, you're not going to get called on again, at least for a while. But after a couple of classes for which you haven't read, you end up zoning out, and by the end of the semester, you have nothing to go on but an email inbox full of your classmates' forwarded notes, a vague recollection of some class discussion that didn't make much sense, and a page of the syllabus on which none of the case names even rings a bell. Keeping up is easier than catching up.
  10. Get to know your professors. They're excited about getting to know you. They know a lot, and what they don't know, they can help you find out. There was more than one time in the past year when it was a professor who helped me get through a rough patch. And taking them out to lunch is fun.
I should note that I learned all of these things by screwing them up. And to be honest, I expect that most of next year's 1Ls will screw most of them up too. We all seem to fall into the same traps — I guess it's the nature of the beast, or maybe just the nature of the way the beast is marketed to us. So I guess the biggest tip of all is: ignore pretty much everything you're told about law school. There's nothing mystical about it. It's a job. You go in every day, do your work, sometimes feel inadequate, sometimes feel like the champion of the world, get sick, get tired, get bored, get frustrated, and count down the days till you're on vacation. But for me, and for many of my friends, this is a really great job. It's helpful to try to remember that.

And one other thing, apropos of nothing. Y'all have to watch this video: it's "Stand Up and Tell 'Em You're From Pittsburgh," a little motivational song that Pittsburgh's NBC affiliate, WPXI, runs during commercial breaks sometimes. It's so corny that I can't help but laugh when I watch it, but it still gets me a little choked up. The bridges! The stadiums! The parks! The architecture! The nighttime shots of downtown! I don't actually have to technically be from Pittsburgh to be allowed to "stand up and tell 'em" that I am, right?

Note to self: interview with Pittsburgh firms for next summer.


Blogger common_sense said...

Great post. However, I've learned one thing, and that's that no matter how good that advice is, it leaves you unprepared when you are actually experiencing it yourself. You come in, are caught completely by surprise, and then on reflection, you realize that the advice you got was exactly what happened, but completely not the way you understood the advice at the time you received it.

5/16/07, 1:19 PM  
Blogger TheGeneticGenealogist said...

What a great post! #9 (the Supreme Court) was a big one for me; being a science major I never realized that the decisions of the Supreme Court depended so heavily upon who was sitting at the bench. Along the same lines, I had no idea what was going on in Constitutional Law until I sat down with some great supplements.

I think I would add – use all the free time. I always read and briefed and outlined in-between classes, and I was always amazed at all my fellow students who were busy chatting and gossiping and goofing off during this valuable time.

All of your points were right on the money! I hope a lot of pre-laws find their way to this post!

5/28/07, 1:48 PM  
Blogger PT-LawMom said...

Of all the advice I've read, this is some of the best. Thanks. :)

5/28/07, 6:25 PM  

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