Ten Things I Learned My 1L Year…

by Jessica Unger

With the Class of 2014 just weeks away from the start of their first-year, Jessica Unger, shares a few thoughts on what she learned during her 1L year.

10. Be patient about the adjustment to law school. It’s not a quick flip of a switch where everything fits perfectly immediately. Especially since I came straight from undergrad, there were a lot of things I had to change about my perception of school and studying. Law school is very different from undergraduate and other graduate schools (see my post about studying for law school exams). Try not to get too stressed out, and try to learn some things during orientation. But most of all, remember that everyone else is feeling the same way that you are. It’s a hard change. It’s normal to be overwhelmed. You will adjust, and you will survive.

9. Get to know your professors. The professors at W&L are ridiculously smart. That paired with the fact that almost all of them have open door policies and are extremely eager to help their students, means you should take advantage of this great opportunity. I have found that when I am having trouble understanding material in a class, the easiest, fastest, and most effective solution to that problem is talking to my professor. Sure, you could probably figure it out by searching online or perusing commercial study aids. But the best way to do it? Go directly to the source. At W&L we are so fortunate to have professors that actually care about our well-being and our understanding of the subjects they teach. So go on up to that open door and walk right on through it.

 8. Take advantage of your resources! Aside from professors, W&L provides you with tons of different opportunities learn about everything from how to prepare for an exam to how to network with alumni. Go to the outlining seminar first semester! If you don’t outline, go to the seminar about how to study in lieu of outlining. Study with classmates, and do mock interviews with alumni when they come onto campus. I could name about 25 other resources that are provided, but I think you get the point. All of these things help make law school just a little bit easier and a little bit less stressful. The fact is, these resources are incredibly valuable and useful. And on that note…

7. Law school provides you with the opportunity to hear a lot of incredible speakers. Go hear them when they visit campus. I cannot even remember all of the amazing speakers I have heard at W&L this year. These lectures offer fresh perspective, tremendous insight, and often showcase practical application of what you’re learning in class. For example, as our 1L class learned about one of the staple administrative law cases, Overton Park (Citizens to Preserve Overton Park v. Volpe, 401 U.S. 402 (1971)), we had the pleasure of attending a lecture by John Vardaman, one of the attorneys who actually argued Overton Park in front of the United States Supreme Court. I also heard from a leading NFL agent, multiple circuit court judges, a number of law professors discussing everything from legal ethics to the civil rights movement and even a former clerk for W&L Law alumnus and Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell. Hearing all of these people speak really enhanced my experience of 1L year and helped broaden my legal interests.

6. Law school is hard. There is no doubt about it. But it is doable, and it helps a lot if you don’t procrastinate. I think one of the hardest things about law school is the fact that you have to sit down in
October and tell yourself “Okay, I have an exam in three months and I have to study for it starting now.” If you can convince yourself that this statement is true, accept the fact that it is true, and stick to it every single day, you will make your life a lot easier at the end of the semester.

5. Don’t get over-involved in extracurricular activities. During the first week of law school I was so excited by the prospect of all the clubs I could join. I literally wanted to do everything. There were flyers for activities to fit every possible activity or interest. Now, I definitely don’t mean to say you shouldn’t participate in any extracurriculars, because you should. But as with many things in law school, it’s all about finding a balance. I was thrilled with the couple of activities that I participated in this year. But I can easily see that if I had joined more I would have felt overwhelmed and torn by my commitments to those activities and my commitment to my studies. My advice? Find one, maybe two activities that pique your interest, join them, and enjoy them. But you can’t do it all! And remember: There’s always next year.

4. It’s probably a good idea to relax and enjoy your summer before 1L year. Of course it’s okay to read maybe one book in preparation for law school (I recommend Getting to Maybe). I actually found this calmed my nerves a bit. But for the most part just relax and enjoy a summer of freedom. 1L year is tough. It’s best to conserve your energy for once school begins.

3. What a shock! Law is an incredibly exciting field. It is constantly changing and constantly adapting. I love that the law applies to so many different fields and practices, ranging from criminal law to securities and trade issues to entertainment and far beyond. 1L year is a great “lay of the land,” as it exposes you to a wide variety of fields of law. My problem? I don’t want to choose just one field in which to practice. And don’t feel like you have to make this decision now or even during your 1L year. You have plenty of time to figure everything out. As you know, at W&L, you do not have to pick a track, concentration or specialization during your second-year, so you have plenty of time and freedom to pursue your various interests.

2. Keep in touch with your friends and family. W&L is a very small, tight-knit community, so we as students lean on each other for support every single day. My class is the biggest of the three and it is still less than 140 students. We know each other and we care about each other (a little bit cheesy, but really true). There is truly nothing better during stressful times than to rant about it to a friend who knows exactly what you’re going through. The friends you make in law school will be friends-and colleagues-that you will have for life. But also remember your friends and family. These are the people who know you best, and if you’re having a rough day or feeling a little stressed out, it can be nice to talk to someone who is not in law school and can offer some much needed perspective.

1. Finally, enjoy the ride. Being a 1L isn’t the easiest year of your life, but the challenge can be very rewarding. I can’t believe how fast it has gone by, and now that I have the great pleasure of looking back on it, I am still thrilled about my decision to attend law school-and more specifically-my decision to attend W&L.

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