by Dania Saleh, Library Student Worker
The start of law school is certainly intimidating. Like most things in life, much of law school will become easier with time and practice. This article will hopefully serve as a cheatsheet to get you to the easy stage a little faster.
I aim to give incoming students a little insight into some of the unspoken realities of law school, specifically 1L*. Everything is written from my personal experience. My perspective may very well differ from other law students.
*not sure what 1L means? Scan below to the Law School Vocab section!
How to Handle Advice/Law School in Perspective
When you enter law school, everyone is eager to offer you well-intentioned advice. The key to not getting overwhelmed during orientation is remembering advice is merely suggestions. What worked for someone may not work for you.
1L is difficult because it is a major learning curve. The law school learning process is probably unlike anything you have experienced before. The purpose is to get you to think like a lawyer, which you will hear repeatedly. Hence, law school is difficult because you find yourself playing a guess and check game, trying to figure out what works for you and what does not. The advice you get during orientation provides options to start your game.
Maybe planning out every hour of your day is the kind of structure you need. Or maybe you are like me and simply go with the flow: you figure out what your Tuesday looks like on Monday night instead of a week in advance. The point is, take all advice with a grain of salt and do not fret if you try something that does not work for you. The key is to realize when something is not working, pivot, and adapt.
Another thing I find important is to understand that people genuinely want to help you. I understand it may feel unnatural to chat with a stranger and accept their offer to mentor you or stay in touch. But the thing is, many people in the legal world genuinely want to help.
I’ve found that after navigating the rough waters of 1L, you feel better about your struggle if you can offer others advice and help them avoid making the same mistakes you have made. So do not be afraid to reach out to 2Ls or 3Ls for advice or help.
This brings me to another point. THERE ARE NO DUMB QUESTIONS! You are paying a lot of money to be here, so at this point, I hope you realize you have earned the right to ask questions. With that said, do think your questions through. You do not want to come off as brash.
Example Question: Dressing for Law School
If you are a first-generation law student, like me, you may have questions that you might consider “dumb” because of your lack of exposure to the legal world. One question I had coming into 1L was, “how do I dress for class?”
I wondered whether students dressed business casual, in court attire – like in movies – or like undergrads (the answer is many students dress as if they have just rolled out of bed). During orientation and other campus events, students will dress in business casual. For competitions or other more formal events, people will wear court attire.
Law School Vocab
As a first-generation law student, I heard plenty of unknown words thrown around during orientation, such as “outline,” that were never defined in the law school context. So, I am here to explain some of the more important law school terms you may not know.
Class Year & More
Starting at the very basics: 1L, 2L, and 3L indicate your year in law school. For example, if you are a 2L, you would be a second-year law student. The term “rising” in front of a year level means entering that year. So, a rising 2L student is transitioning between their first and second year of law school.
You will likely learn that Chicago-Kent also has an LL.M program, a one-year Master of Laws program. Many of the students in the LL.M program are international students.
Black Letter Law
Black letter law is essentially an established legal rule. Often you will hear this phrase referenced when talking about cases. When you read a case, you must identify the black letter law/legal rule developed in the case.
An outline is a condensed version of all the semester’s concepts and black letter law synthesized into a single study aid. For example, see a Contracts course outline for Prof. Baker from the Labor Law Society outline bank. A good way to organize your outline is by the headings in your professor’s syllabus. This strategy will help make sure you do not miss any important topics.
You will hear many people say you should or should not use a commercial or another student’s outline. Personally, I find that both can be an incredible resource to help SUPPLEMENT your own outline. You should certainly make your own outline because it will help you study and test your understanding of the material but referencing another outline can help with wording.
I like to find an outline from a student who has recently taken the same course with my professor and reference it when I am confused while reading for class. Sometimes it is difficult to identify the big picture while reading, and having another student’s outline to reference while studying is helpful. Many of the school’s organizations have outline banks, and the school’s law library has some amazing tools to supplement your studies further. You can also ask upper-level students to share their outlines. Just remember not to rely on another student’s outline entirely.
Hypo is short for hypothetical. Hypos are made-up scenarios used to test your understanding of a legal concept. Hypos are a great study tool because they are like mini exam simulations. If you can properly answer a hypothetical question thoroughly, chances are you understand that legal concept.
The library and the Office of Student Affairs, on the 3rd floor, have plenty of books and study aids that you can pull hypothetical questions to tackle with your study group, though the 3rd floor print collection may be less current than the library’s online study aids. You can also try asking your professor or TA for a list of relevant hypos.
A case brief is a short summary of a case you have read. Typically used to help you prepare for class, it allows you to reference the essential parts of a case if you are cold-called. Most case briefs consist of a summary of the facts, the issue presented to the court, the rule/black-letter law which stems from the court decision, the holding, and the court’s rationale. With time, your case briefs will not be as detailed nor take very long to create. Practice will help you learn to spot the issues and rule faster and identify what information is most relevant.
See my example of a case brief template to see a fillable outline explaining each aspect of a brief. Or try this in-depth explanations from Lexis:
Usually, the first day of the exam period will begin on a Wednesday. Saturday – Tuesday before the start of exams is called the “read period,” and you will not have classes. Ideally, you should use this time to take practice exams.
Working While in School
I worked part-time during my entire 1L year. Although I do not recommend it, I understand that in certain situations, it is necessary. So here are some tips to help you survive working in law school.
First, I recommend trying to work on-campus. There are quite a few federal work-study opportunities available. Career services, the bookstore, and the law library are some of the on-campus locations that may offer work-study positions.
Second, if you are a full-time student, it is vital that you find a job that can be flexible to your law school schedule. Sometimes, you may have underestimated the amount of time you need to study for a final or realize you need to squeeze in a last-minute study-group meeting. When that happens, you will want your job to be sympathetic to your needs, and many on-campus jobs do just that. If you end up working off campus, my advice is to really work on your time management skills.
Another essential thing to discuss is study groups. In undergrad, I preferred to study alone. That changed when I came to law school. Despite my introverted nature, I learned that a study group was almost necessary for me to succeed during 1L.
During orientation, students and professors will recommend you form a study group early. I agree. Even if you are independent by nature, a study group is something I recommend or at least try. You will learn complex concepts in law school. Concepts may make sense to you in class, but after a few days or even just a few hours, it will all be gibberish. Unlike in undergrad, it is a bit more difficult to Google legal concepts and find an answer that aligns with what your professor wants you to understand.
Study groups are instrumental because you will forget things your peers may recall and vice versa. By bouncing ideas off each other, you will be able to study much more efficiently. Study groups help you work from shared notes and readings specific to the class. The library also gives access to study aids and legal dictionaries that can further help you develop your understanding.
How do you form a study group? Be bold. Do not be afraid to walk up to classmates and ask if they want to join your study group. During orientation and at the start of the semester, everyone is looking to join a study group. Take the initiative and form your own. If you wait too long to get a study group going, you will risk not finding members. After a few weeks, most people will already have a study group, so start a group early! Another great way to form a group is by asking for members in your section’s group chat.
That said, this isn’t Texas, and bigger is not always better. Although a larger study group may provide you with more perspectives, it is too easy for a study session to become a law school venting session. Moreover, it isn’t easy to get so many people to meet at the same time every week. That was ultimately the demise of my original 1L study group. Unfortunately, a large study group is difficult to maintain unless you have an incredibly focused and determined group.
One question you may have is, “what should our group study?” The main answer is all the material from the classes you took that week (obviously works best if you meet at the end of the week). If I could redo my 1L year, I would also carve out some time to review everything learned that semester so that it remained fresh in my mind. The last thing you want is to be studying for finals and realize you do not remember a concept because you have not reviewed it since September.
My study group would meet every Friday and review everything we had learned that week in our core classes (Contracts, Torts, and Crim). We also had a shared Google document where we would write down questions we had from the study session. That way, that following week, we could ask the questions during professor/TA office hours and write down the answers to the questions in the shared document for everyone to have. It is also nice to review those questions and areas of confusion when studying for finals.
Another incredibly important thing to do is incorporate hypos into your study sessions. Hypos will help test whether you genuinely understand what you’ve studied to a point where you can properly apply it in an exam-type scenario. Again, the Office of Student Affairs on the 3rd floor and the law library are great places to find hypo books.
It is essential to start outlining early in the semester to give yourself plenty of time to practice hypos. As mentioned above, you should use the reading period to take practice exams.
You really should not be studying, or worse, learning material that late. Hence, it is important to stay on top of your understanding. If you are confused about something, ASK!