Why the First Month of Law School is a Mirage

Law schools are shrinking incoming classes, but there are still plenty of 1L’s who are taking the plunge into the great unknown this fall.

The first month of law school is unlike any other experience, which can make it seem exhilarating, terrifying, and panic-inducing. And that’s all before lunch. Just remember that law school success is a marathon, not a sprint.

Most cases are not written in ye olde court of Chancery

My niche practice revolves around a federal statute that was enacted in 1977. So the oldest cited decisions are from the 1980’s, but usually nothing later than the 1990’s. Thinking back to those horrible property cases that were written in who-knows-when gives me a headache. Other than con law, your experiences with the courts of chancery should be limited to the beginning of law school (thankfully).

So, if you find yourself spending 2 hours reading a 4 page decision for property law, don’t panic. Here’s a little secret: look up the case on Wikipedia, then read it again. Most opinions will not be that bad. It will get much easier to read and digest cases—I promise.

Hold off on getting your new best friend’s name tattooed

You will make some great friends during law school. Those friends, however, might not be the friends you spend the first month with. Law school is like going to high school again, except it’s crazier. Some of your classmates will start dating the first weekend and get married. Some of your classmates will start dating the first weekend and start dating someone else the second weekend.

I still talk to most of the people I hung out with in law school. Some of us regularly get together and are pretty close. But I don’t think those friendships really developed until later in the year, or even the 2nd and 3rd years of law school.

I can remember stories about people moving in together, making plans to start their own small firm, and all sorts of other craziness during the first month. Do yourself a favor: hold off on those decisions until Winter Break. Of your third year.

Like it or not, you are going to change a fair amount during law school, so before making any life-altering decisions, keep that in mind.

Many of the gunners will end up firing blanks

I can remember people who didn’t shut up first semester, but magically stopped talking after grades came out. That’s not true of every gunner, but it will be true for some of them. The first time I was called on in law school, I probably said something stupid. Frankly, that trend continued throughout law school. I can remember literally saying nothing during a particularly embarrassing episode.

When you graduate, there are little notes next to everyone’s name: “cum laude, magna cum laude, etc.” I was shocked that many of the gunners simply graduated. People who never said a word, on the other hand, did very well. You can include me on that list.

Don’t feel bad when you have nothing smart to say about some weird torts case. Don’t go out of your way to look foolish (it’s pretty embarrassing), but separate embarrassment from knowledge. Talking in class does not equate to good grades. Apparently saying stupid things does though.

Remember the big picture

A lot can (and will) change over your law school experience. Using Wikipedia, avoiding tattoos, and not talking in class can definitely lead to success in the long run.



  1. Avatar Susan Gainen says:

    One more bit of advice: Hold off on demonstrating the high-consumption drinking habits that you floated on as an undergraduate. Law school learning calls on some of the parts of your brain that are dulled by alcohol, and your classmates’ memories of your alcohol-fueled behavior will never be dulled.

    You will be remembered, and not necessarily in a good (as in “I think I will send business to her”) way.

  2. Avatar Lindsey says:

    Just finished my second day as a 1L and I’ve definitely seen people panicking and misinterpreting this sort of stuff. I went to grad school, so I think I’m a bit calmer about it, but I’ve definitely heard people complaining at length about the language in the cases and also have had people convinced that those who are speaking in class the first few days are somehow smarter than the rest of us. It will be amusing to see how long it takes people to calm down.

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