For all the excitement attached to a law school acceptance, the anticipation of the first year is often met with great trepidation. Certainly, some of this anxiety is rational and warranted. Grading curves foster the competitive over the collaborative, and the Socratic method is clearly a form of psychological torture designed to place students on an island. With that said, let’s dispel some of the myths about the first year of law school.
First, a disclaimer: law school is hard, and the first year is important. Our point is simply that difficulty and importance should not equate to fear. Many of the myths surrounding the first year are embellished, generally by those who take pride in embellishing them. The following will serve as a partial set of recommendations to remove that unnecessary anxiety from the first year experience.
Avoid the library: Of course this is extreme (and unrealistic), so I caution you to ignore the advice — but not the rationale. The library is a haven for intimidation practices. Students sprawl out on tables with volumes of treatises and law journals in preparation for anything from a classroom discussion to a final examination. This would be of little concern to most students, except that law school places individuals in direct competition with each other. Thus, a student’s natural inclination is to assume one is less prepared if one does not match each student in the library, treatise for treatise, law journal for law journal. In reality, it is nearly impossible to do a significant amount of research beyond what is assigned on a daily basis. These students with their book collections are basically just a bunch of peacocks with their feathers up. Do only that which is necessary to retain the information assigned, and take other students’ library habits with a grain of salt.
Choose a study group judiciously: It is not always best to pair up with the brightest students, unless you are one of them. If you were training for a 5K race, you would not engage in track workouts with Usain Bolt. If you did, the experience would be nightmarish. The entirety of the workout would consist of getting lapped while begging for water breaks, and your will to run would be broken. Apply the same logic to study groups. If you like to take shortcuts when studying, attempt to identify others who wish to game the system as well. If you are deliberate and comprehensive, identify the students who grind away on the weekend. There are many paths to success. Choose wisely.
Embrace being wrong: The Socratic Method is designed for students to eventually work their way to the correct answer. It is also, in many cases, a producer of daily nausea. The general approach is for the professor to randomly select a few students each class, and subject them to a prolonged question and answer session. In that way, each class is like a law school “Hunger Games” lottery. So inevitably, you will one day be asked a series of questions to which you seemingly do not have the answers, in front of the whole class. The truth is that most students around you will be just as perplexed — the exercise is designed that way — and some questions will be answered correctly, others incorrectly. But just as is the case with the LSAT, there is no penalty for a wrong answer; any answer will do! Eventually, the spotlighted student will get to where he or she needs to go with responses, and the rest of the class will respect the hapless victim’s courage (if not preoccupied by their Twitter accounts).
Remember that the hype surrounding the first year is just that: hype. Horror stories and elaborate warnings are exaggerated and overblown. Know that the seemingly high-stakes exercises of the first year are designed for successful learning, not abject failure, and that you are more than prepared to rise to the challenge.