As a 1L, you should focus your energies on excelling on exams. This focus should be to the exclusion of everything else except other required work. If you don’t focus on exams, you’ll have far fewer opportunities down the road. And in this job market, you can’t afford to let that happen.
Grades: Do Believe the Hype
Like most 1Ls, you are probably listening very carefully when your law school tells you that your future excellence as a lawyer depends upon developing your skills as a legal writer, scholar, speaker, public servant, and so on. That may be true, but as a 1L, unless you already have a job waiting for you upon graduation or passing the bar, getting distracted from the one thing that matters most—exam grades—will hurt you.
I was one of those annoying people who enjoyed going to class. I was genuinely interested in the material. I enjoyed being called on. I raised my hand. I liked talking about cases with friends. Being a 1L was challenging, but I enjoyed it.
What I did not fully grasp was how ultra-important first-year grades are, and how they have nothing to do with your intellectual mastery of the material, and have everything to do with writing an exam answer that the professor will find easy to read and easy to give a high grade. If you get mediocre first year grades, it won’t matter much how much better you do later, because everybody does better later. It’s almost impossible to catch up.
Given my pedestrian academic resume (middle of the pack at a non-prestige law school), I am extraordinarily fortunate to have a job doing transactional work for a large commercial bank. I got the job because a friend lobbied for me for a long time.
A Long, Dark Shadow
But four years after passing the bar, my work opportunities are still limited by my grades and the school I attended. Is that fair? Does it even make sense? No, but it’s reality, and if you don’t confront reality now, you may become another member of the “lost generation” of lawyers.
You have choices every day on how to spend your time outside of class. A 1L should always choose to spend it figuring out how to ace exams. Note that I am not telling you to spend more time reading treatises or hornbooks. Exams don’t test the depth of your understanding, but your ability to spot issues and in a rather superficial fashion apply the law to the facts presented.
Given my mediocre grades, I’ll leave specific exam-prep advice to the experts. But once more, just so you don’t make the mistakes I made: The only thing you should think about as a 1L is exams, exams, exams.