When I first attended Fordham Law School I really did not know what to expect. I was working at the time teaching as an Assistant Professor of Naval History and Science during the day at the State University of New York Maritime College and Fordham University. Fordham Law’s New York City campus was the only top ranked school in Manhattan that offered an evening program for lawyers. I would drive there after work hustle my way into a free parking spot on the street and then study before class. Even if you’re not hunting down parking spots though the first year of law school will be challenging, intimidating and exciting. The material will be difficult and you will want to compare yourself to everyone else in your class. But you will survive and achieve the dream of being a lawyer.
Law school is more important than you think it is. The foundations of law are everything. I’ve went up against some lawyers who should have won cases but did not simply because they failed to grasp basic principles of law. I once attended a briefing by Admiral Phil Davidson the commander of US Fleet Forces Command who said that when a crisis strikes most people do not develop new skills to immediately rise to the occasion instead they fall back on the fundamentals. Solid fundamentals is the key to being a great lawyer. Use these tips to help you get the most out of your first year of school.
Maintain your mental health and get some sleep
Schedule time to “do-nothing.” Make plans with your non-law school friends, or take a road trip to visit your family. Turn off your electronics, take a nap, exercise, read a book for fun, just take a break. Making sure that you have downtime is important for surviving the long grueling days of lectures and hours of studying. Additionally, make sure you are creating good sleeping habits. Being well rested will help you focus better in lectures, but it will also help maintain your mental health.
Stay focused in long lectures
Treat your lectures as informal tests to help you gauge the understanding of the material. Make sure you note things in your notes that you missed or didn’t quite understand so you can revisit them during a study session. For some it is easier to take notes on a computer, but make sure to turn off the wifi on the laptop if you are easily distracted by social media.
Do not procrastinate
Avoid procrastination by keeping up with deadlines. If you aren’t someone who uses a planner or agenda, law school is the perfect time to start! Writing down due dates is one of the easiest ways to stay on top of things. It can be hard to keep up with everything so setting a soft deadline to give you additional time for something might be something to consider. I personally like to get papers and briefs mostly complete as soon as possible to give me time to reflect and critique my work.
Get ahead and stay ahead
Start reading for class early! Not only does it put you ahead, but it means you will be well prepared for the first week of class. This also helps beat procrastination in preparing for class during the semester. It is recommended to stay at least a class or two ahead of the readings if possible.
Create good study habits
Last minute cram sessions will not work your first year of law school. It is impossible to learn and memorize the large amounts of information covered throughout the semester in just a couple days. When the reading starts to pile up, pace yourself. Make sure to create detailed outlines and study the substantive and procedural law on a consistent basis. It also helps to create study schedules at the beginning of the term based on the workloads. Some people also find study groups helpful. It allows you to brainstorm ideas and gain input from your peers. I placed a lot of reliance on study guide aids available online or at the law school bookstore. Sometimes you can memorize a case but still have no idea what is important. The guides help you to understand what other lawyers felt was important.
Law school is not an easy accomplishment so be proud.