Preparing for your first day of Law School is one of the more anxiety inducing events during your law school career. You might have just moved to a new city, found an apartment, and gone to orientation. Now, on top of that you need to prepare for the first day.
To prepare for the first day of law school you need to pay close attention to the syllabi, organize your schedule, get to class early, and do your readings ahead of time. You also need to consider when you will have to buy textbooks and whether your law school has a dress code.
That is the very basics of preparing for the first day of law school. But there is a lot of information within that to unpack so we can ensure that you start law school off on the right foot!
Jump Ahead To:
How to Make Your First Day of Law School A Success
Part of the reason why the first day of law school causes so much anxiety for students is because our expectations are influenced by movies like The Paper Chase. One of the first scenes is of a law student’s first day in class, he misses a question, gets berated by the professor, and then proceeds to throw up in the bathroom.
Luckily we can separate expectations and fears from reality. Your first day is nothing to seriously worry about if you make some of these necessary and basic preparations.
What can I expect the first day?
Your law school experience will be very different from your experience in undergrad. The first day of undergrad typically consisted of the professor going through the syllabus line by line for an hour and a half while the class remained in a barely conscious state.
Law school courses typically hit the ground running. You will almost certainly have assigned readings for the first day and all of my 1L professors started cold calling on the first day. You want to make sure that you have completed all of your assigned readings for the first day of class. Your professor will not excuse you if you did not know you had readings or did not have time to read.
You should be prepared to start your day earlier than you would have in recent memory. Since they are at the bottom of the pecking order, 1Ls typically get the least-appealing class schedule. Expect your first class to begin at either 8 or 9 am. My first semester Criminal Law course started at 8 am and it was painful having to get up at 7 am to catch the metro to D.C.
Do I need textbooks the first day of class?
Although you will probably have some assigned readings for the first day of class, you usually do not have to purchase your textbooks ahead of the first day of law school. In fact, I rarely purchase law school textbooks prior to the end of the first week of class.
Law school textbooks are extravagantly expensive, even more so than in undergrad. In undergrad you could typically hold off buying textbooks until a week or two into class. Waiting offered the advantage of identifying which classes you absolutely needed textbooks for and ones that you could scan, purchase used, or avoid acquiring entirely. The same situation applies in law school. Law school professors typically make the first week or two of readings available on the class portal for students. This takes some of the stress off of having to acquire textbooks ahead of the first day, but it also eliminates a potential excuse that you were not able to acquire the readings in time.
What if I want to go ahead and acquire the readings?
If you want to go ahead and purchase your readings the good news is that you do not have to blow a thousand dollars. There are other options besides purchasing brand new law school textbooks. Check every class syllabus, and look at the textbook requirements. Hopefully, some professors will allow students to purchase previous editions. If there is no notice in the syllabus it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Another option is scanning the textbooks in the library. At my law school, the lines of students waiting outside of the scanning room begin a week before classes commence. Many 2Ls and 3Ls have perfected the art of saving money in law school, and many of them opt out of purchasing the books by scanning them instead. I scanned my first weeks class of Torts, Contracts & Criminal Law, and then proceeded to scan the rest of my Torts & Contracts textbooks.
Should I go to the campus bookstore for textbooks?
Stay away from campus bookstores for anything more expensive than pencils and paper. They are overpriced, their customer service is poor, and the return policy is usually subpar. If you absolutely need textbooks for the first day of school, skip the campus bookstore and check out Amazon.
You can also check with your student bar association, mine hosts a used book sale at the beginning of the year for 1L law students.
Get to your classes very early
Law students fight like hyenas for seats on the first day of law school. Some brave souls will camp out well over an hour before class just to get the seat they want. It’s all a bit ridiculous and reminds me of my typical first day procedure in undergrad. I typically showed up late in sweatpants for the first day of the semester in undergrad. Looking like a complete bum I would trudge my way to the only seat available. If the teacher asked me why I was late, I would begrudgingly respond “I got lost”.
No one in law school will appear late on your first day of class. In fact, you might as well be late if you show up only five minutes early because you’re going to end up in one of the seats at the very back. Every student has different preferences for where they like to sit during class. Some people need to be the teacher’s pet and sit in the center front row. Others like to sit on the wings of the class or near the back.
If you have a preference for where you want to sit for the rest of the semester you should get to class at least twenty minutes before. I know it sucks getting to class early, but the good news is that you likely will only have to do this for the first day.
It seems odd on first glance that law school professors would have assigned seating, but it makes since when you consider the Socratic Method that professors use. Most law school professors have a classroom display with the names of all the students so they can distribute cold calls evenly. This requires that students stay in the same spot the entire semester.
What should I wear the first day?
I have been asked multiple times before whether law students have to wear professional attire to class. You absolutely do not have to wear a suit and tie to class no do you need to wear a button down. Personally, I have never worn sweatpants to class but I have seen plenty of people wearing leggings and sweatpants to class.
I have never heard of a law school requiring students to wear professional attire to class and honestly such a requirement would be ridiculous. Dress clothes are not known for their comfort, and a day at the law school in a suit is miserable. That being said, you are attending a professional school and it’s a good idea to project a respectable image of yourself. Jeans and a t-shirt are perfectly fine, but holey jeans or skater-style tight pants probably should not be your go-to wardrobe for law school.
What should I bring the first day?
What you bring to class the entire semester is going to be no different than what you bring the first day of class. For your first day, you should bring your laptop, notebooks, writing utensils, a snack (it’s probably going to be a long day), and whatever readings you were assigned for that day.
Pay Attention to Your Class Syllabi
A few things in the syllabus are really important to know on the first day of class. First off is electronic/laptop policy. I know, I know it’s the 21st century and your professor should adapt and let you take notes on your laptop, message your friends, and surf Facebook during class. Well, many of them allow you to do just that because what the heck, if you’re in grad school and want to spend all that tuition money surfing the internet in class, it’s not the professor’s problem.
However, approximately half of my professors had a zero tolerance policy for laptops, and they were spelled out in the syllabi. Even worse, my LRW professor yelled at a guy the first day when the poor kid began taking notes on his laptop.
Just double check the syllabus, most professors don’t care if you use your laptops but some of them certainly do.
Check first day reading assignments
Something else that is important to check is the first day reading assignments. Every professor should have assigned cases you will need to read and brief for the first day, at least mine did. Law school classes hit the ground running, and your professors will cold call the very first day of class.
Make sure you have your class schedule accurately written down
Some law schools are small and easy to navigate, others are large and can require an adjustment period to acclimate. If you attend a large law school it will be advantageous to perform a walk through of your various classes. That way you won’t be running around searching for class through crowds of people on the first day.
Regardless of your law school’s size, you should copy down your schedule and classrooms prior to the first day of class. You will find some of your professors to be incredibly unforgiving about tardiness regardless that it is the first day.
Creating the Right Mindset for Success
While a substantial amount of your preparation for law school will be logistical and academic, it’s equally crucial to mentally and emotionally prime yourself for this transformative journey. Establishing the right mindset can be the difference between a stressed-out law student and a more balanced, resilient one.
The transition to law school represents a pivotal shift from your undergraduate years. It’s essential to approach this transition not as a looming challenge, but as a golden opportunity for growth. The unique teaching methods and rigorous demands of law school are distinct, and embracing this change can pave the way for a smoother experience.
Developing a Growth Mindset
The landscape of law school will present its set of challenges. Instead of viewing them as insurmountable obstacles, adopt a growth mindset. This perspective entails viewing difficulties as avenues for learning, improvement, and growth. It’s comforting to recognize that every celebrated attorney started somewhere and faced their own unique challenges. It’s this mindset that sets apart students who thrive in law school from those who merely survive.
Resilience is an important cornerstone of success in the demanding world of law. It’s inevitable to feel overwhelmed at times, but reminding yourself of your previous accomplishments and the reasons you embarked on this path can be a great morale booster.
While it might sound basic, the significance of organization cannot be stressed enough. A dedicated study space, a comprehensive planner, and a consistent routine can drastically reduce unnecessary stress. More than physical organization, having clear thoughts, well-defined goals, and a meticulous study plan can provide stability even when the waters get rough.
Building and maintaining a robust support system is invaluable. Whether you find solace in fellow students, mentors, or your family, it’s important to maintain some sort of support system for when it really hits the fan.
Third-Party Tools Every Law Student Should Consider
Starting law school can be both thrilling and overwhelming. Beyond the obvious academic requirements, there’s a lot of third-party tools for your consideration. Some of them can certainly assist you with enhancing your efficiency, learning retention or organization. Let’s take a look at a few of them.
Quimbee offers summaries, case briefs, video lessons, and practice exams for law students. While it’s never a replacement for doing the readings and attending classes, Quimbee can be a great tool for review and reinforcing concepts. The practice exams and outlines are not that useful but Quimbee’s casebrief database is currently second to none.
OneNote or Evernote
Organizing notes is crucial in law school. OneNote and Evernote are platforms that allow you to create notebooks for each subject, tag content for easy search, and sync across devices. Whether you’re highlighting key points or inserting reference links, these tools are versatile and robust. There are several other note taking apps out there so spend a little time checking out your options before you decide on one.
Casetext offers AI-driven legal research assistance, helping you find relevant cases quickly. Especially useful when you’re trying to pinpoint specific case laws or references. This is a really cool tool and this AI legal space is developing quickly right now so stay tuned for more.
Forest is an interesting application, it’s a productivity app that encourages you to stay off your phone and concentrate on tasks. You plant a virtual tree, which grows the longer you remain distraction-free. It’s a fun, motivating way to maintain focus. There are plenty of other productivity apps on the market that you can check out, Freedom is another one.
Legal writing needs to be precise and error-free (or at least reasonably close). Grammarly is an AI-powered writing assistant that can proofread your essays, assignments, and emails. It’s more than just a spell-check, it offers context-based grammar corrections, tone suggestions, and style improvements.
Flashcard Apps (Anki or Brainscape)
Law school involves remembering a lot of information. Digital flashcard apps like Anki or Brainscape let you create custom flashcards for different subjects. The spaced repetition feature ensures that you review information just when you’re about to forget, reinforcing memory.
Personally, I’m a little old-school when it comes to flashcards and I have always preferred to simply write my own with pen and notecard but if you’re living in this century (unlike me apparently) then you might want to check out the flashcard apps.
Proper citation is a hallmark of legal writing. Zotero assists in collecting, organizing, and citing research materials. It automatically senses content in your web browser, allowing you to add it to your personal library with a click. Please don’t try and use a citation app like Zotero to replace learning how to cite things, but it can certainly be used to supplement your blue booking.
The first day of law school often looms large in the minds of incoming students, filled with a mix of excitement and apprehension. It’s completely natural to feel a bit overwhelmed, especially given the new environment, expectations, and challenges that law school presents. It’s essential to keep in mind that with the right preparation and mindset, you will be well-equipped to take on your day day and first year of law school.
By diligently following the guidelines and tips shared in this article, and equipping yourself with valuable third-party tools early on, you’ll not only navigate your first day with ease but also establish a strong foundation for the rest of your legal academic journey. Take a deep breath, trust in your abilities, and embark on this transformative experience with confidence.