Starting Law School this Fall? Advice for Pre-1Ls

If you are starting law school this fall, you are probably well aware that the clock is ticking on what remains of your summer; it may even be difficult to think of much else. There are two major schools of thought on how soon-to-be 1Ls should spend their last few weeks of relative freedom to maximize their chances of succeeding in law school. As with many debates between two extreme points of view, the best approach is somewhere in between.

Theory A: Prepare, prepare, prepare

The first theory of the pre-1L summer, which many law school types gravitate toward naturally, is that students should prepare as much as possible. Those who ascribe to this theory diligently seek out and gobble up everything they can find on the topic of law school and lawyering. They devour advice books and treatises, obsess over online forums, and memorize their color-coded highlighters. Some even take preparatory classes. This is not necessarily a good idea.

In moderation, of course, mentally preparing yourself for the first year of law school is an excellent idea. After all, it is likely to have a major impact on nearly every aspect of your life, in ways you may never have experienced before. Having some idea what lies ahead can reduce anxiety and smooth the transition. But after a certain point, too much preparation can do more harm than good, generating anxiety rather than alleviating it.

As you will soon discover, a big part of law school is learning when to stop; there is always something more you can do, whether it is reading one more case in a research project, studying for one more hour before an exam, or proofreading a written assignment one more time before turning it in. The same goes for pre-1L preparation. There will always be another book you can read or another note-taking strategy you can test out, but at some point you have to step back and trust yourself that you have all the tools you need.

Theory B: Party, party, party

The other main theory of the the pre-1L summer is that students should party as much as possible. Subscribers to this philosophy advocate cramming as much fun as you can into the summer before starting law school while thinking about school as little as possible, under the mistaken impressions that: (a) you will never have fun again after starting law school, and (b) purging your brain of all intelligent thought is the best way to make room for the massive amounts of new information it will soon be asked to store.

While you should avoid burning yourself out early through over-preparation, you don’t want to let your brain atrophy either. For one thing, by tuning out completely, you risk missing important information from your school about things you may need to do to be ready for your first day of class. For another, challenging yourself mentally—within reason—during the last few weeks before starting law school will keep you limbered up and ready for the challenges ahead. Just remember that it should be a warm-up run and not a marathon.

Recommendations: a little from Theory A, and a little from Theory B

To make the most of your last few weeks of summer, sample from the best of both theories of pre-1L readiness. Specifically, on the preparation side of things:

  • Buy your textbooks and plan time for your first assignments. Most law school professor assign reading for the first day of class, and some assign written work as well. Chances are good that these assignments will take much longer than you expect, so don’t bank on getting everything done in one day.
  • Plan your workspace. If you plan to do your studying at home, set up a place to work ahead of time. Make sure it is comfortable, pleasant, and free of unnecessary distractions—you will be spending a lot of time there.
  • Practice stepping back and knowing when to stop. If you think it will be helpful, go ahead and read a law school preparation guide or two, consult with a few lawyers and law students, or flip through your new textbooks. But don’t obsess about it; if you notice that these activities are increasing rather than decreasing your stress level, it’s time to back off.

And on the partying side of things:

  • Spend time with family and friends. No matter how well you balance your priorities during law school, chances are good that you will have less time for socializing than you and your friends and family might consider ideal. Law school can put a strain on even the best relationships, so stock up on quality time now.
  • Take a trip. The scenery can get monotonous when you’re tied to your desk all day and the commute to school and back is the closest thing to travel that you have time for. Before classes start, get out of town, even if it’s only for an afternoon or a weekend. The change of pace will be refreshing and it can help clear your mind before the big day.
  • Read a book for fun. Law students often lament the fact that they no longer have time to read books of their own choosing, so squeeze one more in while you still can. Not only will this help tide you over until winter break—at which point you may never want to look at another book again anyway—it will also (hopefully) provide some mental stimulation to keep you primed for your classes.
  • Pick something you enjoy and commit to making time for it later. Whether it’s learning to cook, playing on a sports team, or joining your friends for a weekly movie night, having something to do that is completely unrelated to law school can help you recharge—and in most cases, the time you spend taking these breaks will be easily made up by the resulting boosts in productivity.

Guest post by Ivy Swenson


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  • Jack

    Somehow law students “never have time to read for fun,” but they always have time to go out & party. There’s actually plenty of time to do both.

    IMO, the people who “don’t have time to read for fun!” are the ones who wouldn’t be reading a book for fun anyway. If you want to, you’ll make time.

  • memomachine


    Buy a Kindle. So you’ll always have something worthwhile or relevant to read.

  • Debbie

    My advice? Run away. As fast as you can. Do it now before you’ve wasted any more time or money.

  • pauld

    My advice is spend some time learning how to take law school exams. They are different from any other type of exam and there is a real art to studying for them and taking them. People who catch on quickly do much better with less work. There are definite risks in over studying, which can cause you to miss the forest for the trees in exam questions.
    I suspect some law professors have written some good tips somewhere on the internet. You might want to pick the brain of 2L’s and 3L’s who have done well.

  • Robert

    What Debbie said.

    Seriously, quit now before you get a six figure debt load. You will not find a job upon graduation, let alone a job that pays enough to cover our loan payments. I know what you’re thinking (because I thought the same thing when I got the same advice) – “Oh, that’s just a random horror story. I’m smart enough and hard working enough to be one of the people with a job. Plus, a JD is a great thing on your resume no matter what job you are shooting for!”

    Seriously, I am not joking, quit now. Take the hit of one semester of tuition – you’ll be miles ahead that way.

  • Kevin Houchin

    There’s a pretty good little book called Fuel The Spark: 5 Guiding Values for Success in Law School & Beyond that I recommend. You can get it on Amazon & B&N. Some of the more enlightened law school libraries also have a copy on the shelf. Check it out. I know the author pretty well & people say he does some good talks on the content around the country for law students, lawyers, & even creative business folks.


    [Kevin is the book’s author -ed.]

  • Californio

    Take a writing class or seminar – Garner gives one for attorneys which is very highly rated. No matter how hard you study, your grade – and by extension you options for employment – comes down to how you write your exam answers.

  • been there, done that

    Read Karl Llewellyn’s “The Bramble Bush: The Classic Lectures on the Law and Law School”

    It is short and full of wisdom that has, as they say, withstood the test of time. Llewellyn died in 1961; I don’t know when he gave the lectures. What he said was true when I was at Stanford Law in the mid-60s (stuck between Yale and Harvard then and now – and then, as now, the weather is almost infinitely better that New England’s and the same goes for the neighborhoods [particularly New Haven])

    The advice to learn exam taking technique is valuable – but should wait until you get some exposure to law school teaching methods, so you will have the necessary context.

  • PaulD

    My advice for taking law school exams is make a short, but complete list of issues that are covered in the course. This will help in several ways. First, it will help you spot obvious issues. I remember my first year contract exam, the questions were chock full of issues, some obvious, others more subtle and complex. I got bogged down in the subtle and complex issues and therefore missed at least one of the really obvious ones. One of the questions had an issue regarding a minor as a party to the contract. If I had identified the issue, I would have gotten a few easy points. I needed a checklist in my head to make certain I covered the obvious issues. I missed it and kicked myself as soon as the exam was over. When your brain is swirling with complex issues, it is easy to miss the obvious ones.
    Sometimes being aware of possible issues leads you to more subtle and complicated issues. On one of my torts exam there was a question about a person who was injured by an exotic bird he had purchased. This raises some obvious questions regarding tort liability arising from the behavior of animals. Everyone got that issue and could discuss it. The better students, however, added an analysis under product liability law whether the exotic bird could be considered a dangerous and defective product. With a list of issues to nudge your thinking, it is not too hard to ask, “hmm, are there any product liability issues in this questions/’ Once you ask the question, adding the discussion that distinquishes the “A” papers from the rest of the pack, is not that difficult. Spotting the issues is the key.

  • I read this entire article and while it was extremely informative and very helpful, I must say that the best advice I got my 1L year was from an upperclassman. He suggested I follow along in my classes with an outline from a previous semester. Most professors teach the same way, almost word for word, semester after semester, so a solid outline is extremely beneficial. I uploaded my old ones to this site so you’ll find plenty there to start with