My First Semester in Law School

Hello and welcome back! I know it’s been awhile, I think since before Thanksgiving. My explanation is that the last three weeks have been non-stop studying for finals and those were more important than the blog. Sad, but true. So, today I thought I would do a general post about my first semester of law school, as you may have guessed from the title. This means no running shenanigans and if you aren’t interested, feel free to click away. I won’t take it personally. But the running posts will resume sometime this week.

Before we begin, I think I should probably lay out some basics for you. First year law students are more commonly called 1Ls in the law school/legal world. The first semester of the 1L year is said to the hardest of any semester. 1Ls also do not get to pick their classes and the classes they take are the same no matter which law school they attend, although I’m guessing some schools handle the division between the two semesters differently. This semester, I took Torts, Property Law, Civil Procedure I, Contracts I, Legal Writing, and Legal Research. Torts and Property were 4 credits, so we had two hours of class two days a week. Civ Pro and Contracts were 2 credits each, so we had an hour of class two days a week. Legal Research was 1 credit so we had it one hour a week. You get the idea. The weird one is Legal Writing, which is a year-long class and doesn’t get any credits assigned to it until second semester (when it’s worth 5) but we had it two days a week.

Now, the basic premise of law school classes is that you read the cases beforehand and then you spend the class talking about them, usually through the Socratic method. The Socratic method basically means that a professor will ask a question and then cold-call a student (if the professor doesn’t get any volunteers or has decided to cold-call that day) to answer the question. “Lecture” is a foreign concept. One professor only used Powerpoint to show us pictures to go with the case names. As you can imagine, the fear of being cold-called and not knowing the answer provides strong incentive to get the reading done, especially early in the semester.

Since my background is in English, the idea of reading something and then having a discussion wasn’t entirely foreign. English professors don’t often lecture and they don’t often give you the answer. But they don’t cold-call. In my experience, that’s because they always have volunteers. I was nervous about being cold-called but usually, I did just fine. Why? Because I did the reading.

Something else every source I consulted prior to the beginning of the semester said, and what they told us over and over again at orientation, is that there is more reading in law school than we have ever experienced. They warned us not to fall behind because we would never catch up to all the reading.

Was it a lot of reading? Yes. Was it a different kind of reading? Yes. Case opinions are hosts unto themselves and require practice to read and understand. It got easier as the semester went on. Was it more reading than I’ve ever had in my life? Honestly, no. One semester in college, I took Shakespeare, British Literature, and Intermediate Fiction in the same semester. Shakespeare averaged a play for every week and a half, British Lit read 3 novels plus countless short stories and poems, and Intermediate Fiction had either 2-3 short stories or critiquing a fellow student’s story for workshop. That was a lot of reading. And while Judge Cardoza may struggle with clarity of language, he was writing 200+ years after Shakespeare so it wasn’t quite as difficult.

What was new and time-consuming was case-briefing. A case brief is basically a super-condensed version of the opinion. It’s what you consult when a professor cold-calls you. Mine has the procedural history, basic facts of the case, issues or questions, controlling law or rules, reasoning, and of course the outcome. I briefed every case all semester and I’m glad I did.

One of the reasons I think I did well this semester (more on that in a minute) is because I was so organized. I have a Passion Planner and I wrote down everything I needed to do and when it would get done. And I (mostly) stuck to the plan. That’s why I could take all of Saturday off more weeks this semester and also why I managed to train for a half marathon and then PR-ed that half (and broke 2 hours- it was definitely a highlight of my year, which is saying something. 2017 is a big year.)

And the thing is, for most of the semester, I loved it. I loved reading cases and seeing how the law reacts to weird situations that no one would believe were real except that they are. I loved arguing with my classmates over the correct application of the law. But everyone was right: this was the hardest I have ever worked and halfway through November, I was so ready to be done. And then came Thanksgiving break and then, finals.

Finals, at least in my law school, last for two weeks. All but one of mine were written to take the full four hours, give or take time set aside from outlining and checking the answer. They were brutal and then I had to start studying almost immediately for the next one. And then the next one. Until Thursday, when I finished my Contracts final and walked out of the school, free.

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Now, I don’t know how I actually did, grades-wise. For my classes, the final is either most or almost all, of the final grade. A few quizzes, a midterm, and nothing else. If those scores are any indication, then I did pretty well. But I won’t know until sometime next semester when the professors release our grades. Which is kind of stressful but right now, I’m just so happy to be done I don’t care.

Law school is a hell of a ride (I say after one semester) but man, it’s worth it. On Thursday night, I went out with a bunch of people from school and it just made my heart happy to know how much I like and respect all of them. Some law schools are competitive but that’s not how it is with us. Maybe it’s because with less than 60 students in our 1L class, we’re pretty small as law schools go. Maybe it’s because we’re the first 1L class at our campus. Whatever it is, I’m grateful. Without them, law school would be so much harder.

That’s it for now, beautiful humans. I hope you stuck with me to the end. Running posts will resume later this week.

-Elizabeth

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