It’s extremely important to get all your ducks in a row the summer before law school. I remember the summer before I started law school I experienced a combination of excitement and a little anxiety at starting a new chapter in my life. The summer before law school is likely the last time you will have a decent amount of free time for the next three years.
Many of you may be relocating to new cities or even new states so it’s important to keep in mind the things you need to complete before you start law school. Luckily, this article details a checklist of things you should complete before your law school journey begins.
Jump Ahead To:
1. Search for law school housing as soon as possible
Finding housing the summer before law school is extremely important. You should focus on finding an apartment early in the summer because if you are attending school in an area with lots of students the rent rates will rise during the summer.
Challenges of Budget Housing in Big Cities
Finding a suitable apartment is even more time consuming if you are trying to save money in a big city. Rates for studio apartments are insane for graduate students in big cities like Washington D.C, Chicago, and New York City. I attend law school in Washington D.C where rent in areas such as Foggy Bottom and Dupont Circle approach an astronomical $1,700-$1,900 a month for a 400 square foot studio apartment! Living on a student budget in law school requires you to save money wherever you can, and it can take some serious research to find a well-priced apartment close to your school that isn’t contaminated with roaches, mold, or other miscellaneous problems. It was certainly a challenge for me, but deals are out there for the student who is willing to put the research in.
My advice for big city 1L law students is to do the research early, and secure a lease before the avalanche of students and young professionals hunt for leases in July. Stay away from Big City luxurious one-bedroom apartments. Yes, they are a lot nicer than a tiny studio, but they will eat through your student loans.
The Potential Pitfalls of Shared Housing
Stay away from shared housing/shared apartments unless you already know the person you would be sharing an apartment with. Law students are required to do a considerable amount of studying outside of the law school. A quiet place to study and sleep at your apartment is very important. In my opinion, the savings of moving into a shared apartment with a random roommate are simply not worth the risk for a 1L law student.
Evaluating On-Campus Housing Options
Something else to think about when you are searching for housing over the summer is on-campus housing. 95% of the time on-campus graduate apartment housing is over-priced and poorly maintained. There are some exceptions to the rule, but if you are considering on-campus housing you should thoroughly vet the apartment complex. Once you sing those papers you are stuck there for twelve months.
If you want more information on law school housing, you can check out my thorough guide on finding housing for law school here.
2. Get your school materials
It’s time to get back in the swing of things when it comes to supplies. A lot of the materials you need for law school are the same that you needed for undergrad but there are a few caveats. I find that it’s best to get everything you need over the summer because your law school bookstore inflates their prices and Amazon sellers raise their school supply prices in August.
Ensuring a Reliable Laptop for Law School
Do you have a laptop? Is it reliable or does the garbage company mistake it for a recyclable? Most law schools nowadays offer students the ability to take exams on their laptops. Make sure that your computer has the technical specs to be compatible with your law school’s test-taking software. Another good idea for your laptop is a screen protector, laptops get a ridiculous amount of usage in law school and every penny you spend toward keeping your laptop in good shape is a nickel saved.
Choosing the Right Bookbag for Law Textbooks and Laptops
One thing that is SUPER important is that your bookbag has a padded laptop sleeve and that the bag is well constructed to take some damage if need be. I got by just fine in undergrad without carrying my laptop to and from class. I personally prefer to take notes with pen and paper, however a laptop has been an absolute must in law school. You also need to ensure that your backpack is large enough to contain a few law textbooks (heavy and large) and your laptop. Picking a backpack just for style can come back to haunt you if it is to small for your school items and/or its flimsy.
Not all bookbags are made the same in the weather department. Some bookbags are labeled “waterproof”, these are the absolute king of the hill in terms of law student bookbags. You don’t know how many times I have walked to school and forgotten to check the weather, and suddenly it’s raining cats and dogs! Unfortunately waterproof bookbags tend to be pretty expensive. Bookbags labeled “water-resistant” are great, just remember not to leave them outside in a rainstorm because the rainwater will get through. I have a water-resistant bookbag and it has held up very well over the past few years.
Some people still wear the standard book bags that you would find in any undergraduate institution. Many others take a decidedly different approach and look for professional elegance in their school bags. I personally like the leather satchel bag, but there are a lot of companies that make professional two-strap backpacks as well. A professional backpack definitely is not a necessity, I just personally think they offer a nice touch to a law school students repertoire. On the other hand, I use the same bookbag I have had since my senior year in undergrad so I think leather bags look nice but I am too cheap to buy one.
Caffeine: The Essential Fuel for Law Students
Some source of caffeine is a must for most law students including myself. If your family/friends ask what they can get you to help with school, tell them coffee! Every law student I know consumes more caffeine than a doctor would advise. If you are a coffee drinker I would strongly recommend that you stock up the summer before law school.
3. Develop or maintain a healthy lifestyle
I’m sure you have heard it before, law school is demanding both physically and mentally. Your law school experience will likely be full of late nights in the library or in your apartment. Like a professional boxer training for his next bout, you need to be in good physical and mental shape to get through law school.
I don’t mean that you need to start running five miles a day and eat nothing but spinach and quinoa, but I advise that you take a look at your diet and habits the summer before law school. Healthy eating and drinking are good for the brain and body. If you frequently find yourself eating loads of junk food and drinking 24 packs of Busch light, maybe it’s time to reduce your intake.
My personal story on the subject is that my first time in a big city was when I started law school and for the first few months I drank heavily three to four days a week. I went clubbing and bar hopping several days a week and did very little actual school work. I eventually pulled it together after a few months and managed to get decent grades. Later on, when I took up boxing and recreational running I realized how detrimental heavy alcohol consumption and poor dieting are for your health. Don’t make the same poor mistakes I did, start off law school on the right foot.
4. Take care of your law school paperwork
There is a lot of paperwork that you have to complete before you can start your first day of law school. I strongly advise that you take care of it over the summer because I have seen what happens when a student procrastinated updating her medical records. She was not allowed to attend my law school for several days while she waited for her medical records to come in the mail.
Every school will require you to submit updated medical records are a must. Your law school will probably want an updated resume, although chances are it has not changed much since you applied. Some schools will have a cohort/section of students that have a different schedule than the rest of the cohorts. Most schools will ask whether or not you want to opt-in to this cohort. There is likely some additional paperwork you will need to provide.
5. Complete your financial aid and federal loan applications
If you are in the same boat as the vast majority of law students you are going to need some student loans and you might be eligible for financial aid. Your law school is not going to be happy if you failed to apply for student loans and suddenly you have no way of paying your first semester of law school. To avoid this, I strongly recommend that you take care of your financial aid documentation early in the summer.
The federal government is notoriously slow at processing student loan applications, and you must submit a FAFSA for your law school to determine your eligibility for financial aid. You should have all of your loan and aid applications submitted by July 1st, you might as well be playing with fire if you wait any longer.
Law schools don’t have the best reputation for being an efficient bureaucracy so give it a few days after you complete your applications, and then call your law school to double-check that it received your applications.
You can check out a detailed article on law school student loans here.
6. Spend time with loved ones
If you are moving out of town for law school the summer before law school is likely the last opportunity you will have to spend significant time with your friends and family for a while. Take advantage of the free time you have now before law school. Except for a couple of trips back home, I was pretty much disconnected from my family and friends during my 1L year of law school. Even during breaks from school, there is always something to do and a test to study for, so going back home tends to interrupt that.
What about if you’re going to a home town law school? The disconnect is not as bad, but you still need to be aware of the reality that your time is going to be largely consumed by law school. My school advisor’s advice to my incoming class was to inform your close friends and family of the realities of law school, and the fact that you simply won’t have as much time to socialize with them.
7. Consider taking a law preview course
There was some debate when I decided to take a law previous course on whether they are worth the money or whether they are even helpful. If you want to check out my article on law preview you can here. Suffice to say that my law preview course was extremely helpful and I believe it gave me a leg-up on the competition when I started 1L year. I am a little less supportive of law preview courses when it comes to their pricing. I believe that they are over-priced, but I was fortunate enough to get a law preview scholarship and I would have been insane not to take a law preview course for free.
If you have the opportunity to take a discounted or free law preview course the summer before law school I strongly recommend doing it. You can check out a detailed article on the benefits of taking a law preview course here.
8. Making the Mental Shift: Preparing Your Mind for the Challenges Ahead
The practical preparations for law school, like housing and paperwork, are important, but equally crucial is the mental transition you’ll need to make. Law school is not just an extension of undergraduate studies, it’s a unique beast that requires a distinctive mindset. Here’s how you can gear up mentally:
- Adopt a Growth Mindset: Remember, everyone in your class is smart and has achieved academically to get there. Embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, see effort as a path to mastery, and learn from criticism. Understand that your skills can be developed with effort, teaching, and persistence.
- Develop Resilience: There will be days when you’re overwhelmed or when a grade doesn’t reflect the effort you put in. Resilience is key. Instead of wallowing in disappointment, use it as a learning experience.
- Master Time Management: Law school will stretch your organizational skills to their limits. Start practicing time management techniques, such as the Pomodoro Technique or the Eisenhower Box. This will help you stay on top of readings, assignments, and personal commitments.
- Embrace Networking: Building professional relationships starts in law school. Start fostering genuine connections with professors, fellow students, and professionals in the legal field. Remember, your network can play a crucial role in internships, clerkships, and job placements.
- Engage in Mindfulness and Stress-Relief Practices: Considering the rigorous nature of law school, it’s essential to find ways to maintain balance and mental well-being. Techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and regular exercise can play a significant role in managing stress.
- Stay Informed: Start developing a habit of reading daily newspapers or following legal blogs and journals. Being up-to-date with current events, landmark judgments, and legal news can give you a broader perspective on the cases you study.
- Cultivate Empathy and Active Listening: As a future lawyer, understanding and empathizing with diverse viewpoints will be crucial. Practice active listening, not just to respond or form an argument but genuinely to understand.
- Find a Mentor: If you can, connect with a current law student or a practicing attorney who can give you insights, answer questions, and guide you through the ups and downs of law school.
9. Building a Solid Support System: Anchoring Yourself for the Law School Odyssey
Law school can feel like navigating turbulent waters, with unexpected storms and waves trying to throw you off balance. One of the best ways to stay steady is to have a strong support system. While you’re surrounded by fellow students who understand the immediate challenges, there’s more to consider in terms of emotional and mental backing. Here’s how to establish and leverage a support network:
- Strengthen Existing Relationships: While law school will introduce you to new people, it’s essential to maintain relationships that have been your foundation. Check in with family and long-time friends regularly, even if it’s just a quick call or text. They can provide a sense of grounding and a break from the law school bubble.
- Form Study Groups: Your peers can be your strongest allies in understanding complex legal principles. Collaborative learning not only makes challenging subjects more manageable but also fosters camaraderie and team spirit.
- Connect with Alumni: Many law schools have alumni mentorship programs. Engage with alumni who can give you a perspective on what lies beyond law school, from bar exams to practice areas and career trajectories.
- Utilize Counseling Services: Most universities offer counseling services to students. Even if you’ve never needed these services before, it might be beneficial to check in and know what’s available. Periodic mental check-ins can be as vital as your academic ones.
- Join Law School Organizations and Clubs: Whether it’s a moot court, a legal journal, or affinity groups based on shared interests or backgrounds, these groups offer both professional development and personal connections.
Overall, there are not that many things you need to take care of the summer before law school. But they are important, and starting law school off on the right foot is extremely helpful. I recommend that you complete all these things on your summer checklist and then consider anything else that you need to accomplish before law school.