It's time again to dust off the backpack and start a new school year. Whether you're a 1L just beginning your law-school journey or a veteran law student, you may be wondering what you can do this year to stand out in a sea of, well, standouts. It may feel like rising to the top of the curve amidst such intelligence and drive is impossible. Law school can be overwhelming for a 1L as you try to navigate a new way of thinking and the mountains of work. And 2Ls and 3Ls who haven't achieved their goal grades may feel less confident about prior study tactics. Below are some tips to get off on the right foot this school year so you can best position yourself for success.
1. Forget the Noise: It seems virtually impossible to block out the hype in the law-school environment. Nowhere in the world—except a law firm, of course—will you be surrounded by so many Type A, overachievers. If you're the type who thrives off competition, then by all means, immerse yourself in the drama. But if you find the environment just further stresses you and distracts you from meeting your goals, tune it out. Instead of spending an hour talking about how harsh the Corporations professor is, learn the material inside and out so you're ready for her Socratic assault. Rather than lamenting over how steep the competition is at your top-choice law firm, spend your time learning more about the firm, understanding its practice areas and notable cases, and researching alumni who work there so you can stand out in your interview.
2. Prepare for the End from the Start: When I was in law school, a lot of my friends waited until a few weeks before finals to start outlining and cramming information. They were understandably frantic. Save yourself the stress, and have a study plan from the first day. Yes, this means you'll have to read all of the cases and assignments in time, tackle case briefs as you go, and start outlining from day one (or craft whatever type of study materials works for you). You should also allot time to actually digest the material and tackle some practice questions as the weeks roll by. This approach means less free time in the early months of the semester. But by the end, you'll be focused on reviewing information, rather than scrambling to create the materials and then cram them.
3. Work Smart: Preparing from the start doesn't mean you should be a slave to your desk, however. Time management is key. Consider creating a schedule for each subject and dedicating that time to class and exam prep (which means, hide the smart phone, close Instagram, and turn off the TV). A set schedule will keep you in check and allow you to spread your time across classes appropriately. You'll probably be amazed by how much you get done when you solely focus on the task at hand, and this will give you more me-time to decompress at the end of the day.
4. Find a Routine: Everyone studies differently. Some people need total silence in a library, others settle in at a coffee shop, and some like working on an outdoor bench on campus. (I always did my best studying at my own dining room table at 1 a.m. with my cat on my lap). Whatever your preference is, design a routine that helps you maximize your time and output, and stick to it throughout the semester. By the time exams come—and eventually bar study—you'll be a well-oiled study machine, and the familiarity of the routine will help ease any test jitters.
5. Keep a Favorite in Your Back Pocket: It's smart to choose your law school classes carefully so that you take classes that will prepare you for the bar and those that relate to you practice area of interest. But sometimes those classes can be the most intense. Select one class each semester that is more of a “guilty pleasure”—a unique subject or one that sparks your passions. I found that these classes were often in seminar form and without fail, they were my favorites each semester. Attending these classes and completing assignments didn't feel like work, and it provided me more balance in an otherwise difficult schedule.
6. Don't Be A Stranger: Sure, staying on top of the work is a huge time commitment, but you should also carve out time to connect with your fellow classmates, professors, and alumni. Your legal career is just starting in law school, and the connections you make here can prove invaluable as you develop your professional life. Join clubs, attend happy hours, stay after class to chat with a professor, and—if it's useful—join a study group. While being around fellow law students can sometimes breed stress, it can also be a great stress reliever because this group of people is going through the same rigorous program as you—you get each other.