Well, enough of poems for a brief moment. Purr Se was wondering if I had any last minute advice for incoming Section 3 students. Hmm.
As to nuts and bolts, you should probably assume that if it can be lost, the school will lose it. Keep extra copies of anything you might have to provide (transcripts are requested by the oddest people), and certainly make a file of key documents and information. You should double check to make sure your financial aid is in order, update your resume, etc. I’ve blogged about most of this before. I figure that most of the little things, like wearing comfortable clothing to school, will be something everyone fill quickly figure out for themselves.
As to the work. . .the important thing to realize is that everyone has their own way of learning – and that this learning, your self-education, will sometimes have little to do with the actual grades you receive (and yes, most everyone is thinking about grades out of the gate). Heading into law school, it’s important to realize that almost everyone will have a weak area or two and a strong area or two. (And then there’s Scott Scheule: boxer, pipe smoker, ladies man.) Don’t get freaked out. Be honest about any nervousness you have and simply work to address it as the semester goes along. So you don’t know some of the words the professors use – not a big deal – you’ll learn them.
With that said, I’m a bit hesitant to give studying advice. However, this is what I did/did not do. I didn’t hi-light, let alone in multiple colors (I underlined in red pencil and wrote in the margins.) I treated my legal research and writing class with contempt and put in minimal effort (I can honestly say that I think almost everyone hated the class, but realized the subject was important and so taught themselves in spite of the class). I “briefed” 5 or 6 cases all year (although I jotted a handful of notes on most of them). I went to all my classes regularly (missing perhaps 5 classes on the year?) and took detailed notes in class. I used old outlines in some classes and modified/fleshed them in when the professor was speaking. I didn’t use study groups during the year, but I talked over old exams with my classmates at the end of the semester. I ended up in the middle of my class.
In terms of not waiting for the professors to teach you (a wise move), I would advise everyone to learn both Lexis and Westlaw and put in some time bombing around on them. It’s not only the programs you ought to learn, but the way they organize legal resources. You need to have a really clear picture in your head of where you might begin looking for information. At first it will seem overwhelming, but with time it becomes more manageable in the sense that you know where you ought *not* to look on your first path through your research.
Part of that first year overwhelming feeling is that at the very beginning you’ll be trying to learn several things at once: you’ll be learning about the institution you’re in, it’s various written and unwritten rules; then there’s the way the law is organized and presented; then there are the “big issues” that the law touches up on. It gets much easier as you go. Keep telling yourself that.
I’d also advise that you consciously try to get the section to gel, socially, early on. Have open group outings to affordable and nearby venues at convenient times (many of us ended up at Cap City post deadlines, rather than the “Irish” vomit bucket up the road). Don’t form cliques. Encourage information sharing and respect for others views, no matter how opposed to your own. Be patient with people the first few weeks. They’re going to be all hopped up on nerves and looking for some kind of solid social footing, but they’re also all smart and quirky individuals with fascinating lives and diverse interests. Do what you can to encourage that individuality. It’s important to keep in mind that these people will be your peers – you’ll see largely them day in, day out, for the next year. They’re going to graduate with you, perhaps work in the same cities as you will. They are (potentially) 100+ attorneys, working in a dizzying array of fields, which you might have access to in the future. That’s pretty cool, and the price for cementing those bonds is simply not being an asshole. That said, in any group there are going to be a few tools. Let ‘em go their own way.
I’d argue that it’s much better to have a sense of community and camaraderie, than to start playing the zero sum game. Don’t let the structure of law school socialize you into that game (it will try). All the sudden people around you will start pretending the world is now somehow different, and that you’re playing a new game by new rules. The debt might start to gnaw on you, and the lack of meaningful feedback from your professors certainly will. You’ll look at the numbers, do the math and think – “if only I come out in the very tip top of my class, if only I cultivate the *right* friends, who will all study hard and exceed the rest of our classmates, then we all can be brilliant and successful together.” I’ll leave it to you to figure out how likely that is. The sad fact is that 70% of you will not be getting As, no matter what you got in the past. (I’m most sad for the few who do take the bitter and defensive zero sum route and do get As – they’re probably not in for great lives.)
Two more pieces of advice (that float to mind): the rumor mill is something awful, perhaps due to orientation and alcohol. I tended to associate the more outrageous rumors with section other, but even within the section there were odd moments. All the stuff you learned in undergrad/grad/whereever still applies – don’t tell stories, and just ask people if you’re curious about something or if you’re curious about them in general – the more direct asking, the better.
The last is that you should not wait for things to happen. If you’d like to do something, or see a service, or have an extra tutor, or see a change in the structure of the school, or reschedule classes, ask about it, then make it happen. Generally there will be about 10-15 people in your section who will have a similar interest or concern. It’s a “professional school” and you’re paying an assload of money – make sure you get what you pay for.
There are a number of 2Ls (and 3Ls) who are deeply interested in Section 3, and want to put together a kind of Section 3 alumni society, to become a shared resource for each other. I’ll talk with a few people about putting together some kind of informal Section 3 legacy session, getting a bunch of different views on the first year experience, etc. I’m sure there’ll be an interest among the 2Ls. If you’re interested in such a thing, it might be best if you chat it up with your new section mates, try to agree on some kind of time that will work for the 1Ls, book a room, (not this upcoming week!) and we’ll see how many 2 and 3Ls we can drag into it. Or just throw a dinner party. I’ll be having a get-together in Sept. and shall pencil you in.