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