Being in my fourth year of a Law/Arts dual degree, I’ve had a breadth of different experiences at uni — I’ve tried all kinds of study methods, experienced both totally in-person and totally online modes of education, met all kinds of people across both of my degrees and tried out plenty of different study spots all over campus. After a diverse few years, I’m here to share some lessons with my younger self and hopefully others who are about to embark on their first year of law school.
1. Have a few mantras in your back pocket to battle imposter syndrome.
Law school is a great example of “big fish in an even bigger pond.” In high school, you grow used to being the most academically gifted student in most of your classes. You get comfortable with the pressure and deadlines, and maybe a tad complacent. When you get to your first year of law school, it can feel incredibly intimidating to be around people just as ambitious as you. You could feel like you don’t belong, and start comparing yourself — wondering if your classmates are struggling with the case readings like you are or if they understand this week’s content better than you. What I’ve found works for me is having a few mantras to remind myself that I’m here for a reason. Getting into law school is a huge achievement in itself! So give yourself some credit and repeat to yourself (as often as you need) that you are intelligent, ambitious and capable of whatever law school throws at you. And, arguably most importantly, everyone can win — celebrate others’ success just like you’d want them to celebrate yours. You’ve got this!
2. Use your first semester to figure out the study techniques that work for you.
You probably understand what worked for you personally in high school, but law school is a big step up. For instance, while I love the feeling of pen and paper, I switched from hand-written notes to totally digital notetaking in classes since most tutors speak faster than I can write. In my first year, I quickly found that I prefer to use flashcards for remembering specific case facts and principles, and mind maps for how legal concepts interact, like different approaches to statutory interpretation. I handwrite test revision sheets before exams to help with retention and also type up a digital “master document” with the entire semester of content in one place to make searching for keywords easier. This was all found through trial and error, so use your first year to find what works best for you.
3. Schedule in downtime, just like you schedule in study time.
Law school, and law students, are often guilty of setting unrealistic goals for studying. The “hustle culture” of grinding out work at all hours of the day is extremely harmful, especially for freshmen. You do NOT have to pull all-nighters every week! To excel in law school, you need balance. Whatever planning system you use (from bullet journals to Google calendars), physically schedule in “downtime” as a task, just like you’d schedule in “read Chapter 3” for a law course. By adding it to your to-do list, you’ll start to perceive downtime as equally as important as time reserved for studying — and who doesn’t love the dopamine of checking off a box? Downtime can be whatever helps you truly “switch off” — chilling out and binge-watching Netflix, journaling, going for a walk or doing something creative like cooking or painting. What’s important is staying mindful while you do this to allow your brain to tune out of the frequency of constant productivity, and into one of meaningful rest.
4. Find your people.
Law school is tough. When the semester gets hectic, you’ll need support from people who understand the struggles you’re going through. I won’t deny that law students have a reputation for being a little obnoxious, and it can feel cutthroat at times (and movies and TV don’t help with this stereotype) — but I promise that there are students who have ambition and kindness in equal measure! Having a few quality friends who will share seminar notes, go through flashcards with you and listen to you rant about how busy life is over a latte are priceless and necessary. The friendships you forge in law school with like-minded, ambitious people will stick with you well beyond graduation.
5. Take advantage of all the scholarships you’re eligible for.
It shocks me how often people at my university say they didn’t look into scholarships when they were applying for law school. Many people assume scholarships just wouldn’t apply to them, or that there’ll be too many applicants and that the chances of getting anything are too slim. The truth is that universities (at least in Australia) often have a lot more funding for scholarships than you’d think and are just waiting for enough people to apply. For me, scholarships were one of the major factors when I was deciding which universities to attend. Aside from alleviating financial pressure, my scholarships also connected me with an entire network of mentors within the law faculty and peers from similar backgrounds (including two of my now best friends). Applying to every single scholarship that applies to you, no matter how slim of a chance it seems you might be selected, is my biggest piece of advice. After all, the worst they can do is say “no.”
Law school is a wild ride from start to finish, and the first year is especially daunting. But by the end of it, you will feel so much more prepared to tackle whatever challenges come your way. By the time you start your second year, you’ll know the campus more, know where to get a good cup of coffee and probably start seeing a lot more familiar faces. University is what you make it — so work hard, do your best and be kind to yourself, most of all. It won’t last forever, so enjoy every moment, even the piles of readings. One day, when you look back on this time in your life, you’ll be so proud of everything you’ve accomplished.