How to Prepare for Your First Year in Law School?

You probably are an incoming law student reading this post hoping to find some golden advice on how to perfectly start your law school journey. And I bet this is not the first blog you have read – nor will it be the last – in your attempts to bombard yourself with as many tips as possible hoping not to miss anything out. And I’m not judging you or anything, because I have been there too 😀 There is this constant thinking on what to expect for at law school that you are beginning to be both anxious and excited at the same time. You’ve probably even read online threads of law students talking about the famous Socratic method of teaching, the verbatim memorization of the law, the 100+ pages of cases you have to read, and the stroke-inducing professors you might have in class. You’re probably asking now what you have gotten yourself into and why LOL!

I’ll go ahead and tell you that life in law school is exciting and memorable. The key is to keep calm and enjoy every moment you have in it. To help you get started, here are some tips that might help you (culled from own experience):

1. CHECK YOUR MOTIVATIONS.

I say this right at the very start because law school has a way of breaking you and turning your world upside down. It has a way of draining you, stressing you in ways you never expect, and terrorizing you every waking day that you have a class. It is not for the faint-hearted  and it does not favor those who are only in it for the fame or pride of being admitted to law school. If you’re motivation in entering law school is only so you can boast yourself and lift your status among your friends, big mistake! Superficial motivation will only get you as far as a year, maybe. But soon after, your world will come tumbling down and before you know it, you are already waving a white flag. It is true that not all who ventured into law school has the “it’s-my-childhood-dream” or “i-want-to-defend-the-poor” or “i-love-justice-and-the-law” motivation. Some are in it for career advancement/promotion, some are just fulfilling a dream passed down by grand-grand-grandparents, some are just for the ch-ching-ching bl-bling-bl-bling, and some are just for personal exploration. I do not judge whatever purpose going to law school may serve you. Just make sure that your motivations are rock solid that you can hang on to it whilst pressure in law school arises.

2. SET YOUR GOALS STRAIGHT.

When you now know your motivations, it is time to set your goals straight. The ultimate goal of a law student is, and should only be – TO PASS THE BAR EXAMS – ERGO TO BE A LAWYER. From this ultimate goal, arises other goals you may personally set for yourself. Like aiming to get high grades on your subjects, making it to the honor roll, involving yourself in legal causes outside of school, topping the bar exams, and so on and so forth.

A law student must always be a goal-oriented individual. If you are not one, you’ll learn it in law school to treasure and to be more organized with all the resources you have – time, being the most important. To set a goal of reading the assigned book chapters and cases within the time frame you have given for yourself, will help you a lot come the bar review days. Conversely, if you set goals for yourself and keep putting it off, this will be a habit of yours that will haunt you and torment you. Set your goals and make them happen.

3. FORGET EVERYTHING.

When you enter law school, you come in with a clean slate. What do I mean by that? Who you are or what you are before law school does not matter. You might be an honor student, a manager, a doctor, or just a student fresh out of college. You could be calling yourself great or you could be seeing yourself as a nobody. Whatever it is, I’ll be the one to break to you that it doesn’t matter. Sure, there are those eyes that can’t seemingly stop to cast judgment on you. Making you feel like you know nothing like John Snow, or you can’t handle the truth (or in this case pressure) like in the movie A Few Good Men. But at the end of the day, you are just at par with everyone. I say this firmly; do not be intimidated with their glories or entitlements. All of these do not matter in law school. Law school is a different game none of you and your classmates has ever played yet. Forget everything and focus on what is important. Focus on your goal! (Remember Tip #2 😉 )

4. DO NOT STRESS ABOUT READING IN ADVANCE.

Instead of jumping right in and popping your eyeballs out reading intensely the first book you can find for your subjects, may I suggest that you go and try reading first any book that is entitled Introduction to Law. It doesn’t matter who the author is, just go find an Intro to Law book. You may ask why this and not a book for your law subjects proper. Isn’t it that Introduction to Law is just a minor subject? True. But lemme tell you why.

Studying the law entails following a logical or methodical way, or at least that is how I do it. For example, I like to start my studying by (1) Reading first the law which is the subject of discussion; then (2) Reading the reference book for the detailed explanation of what the law means or intends to do; and (3) Read the cases decided by the Supreme Court that shows how that law is applied depending on a set of facts or circumstances.

Jumping straight ahead into reading without any guide for you to follow (like a syllabus given by the professor for instance) will only confuse you. You might even get discouraged without the classes even starting yet because you find it hard to grasp and understand what you have just read. Thus the importance of reading first a book introducing you to the general concepts/view of the law – its kinds, the differences, how it is created, who implements it, who interprets it, the presumptions one has under the law, and etc, before going any deeper to a particular field or subject.

5. INVEST IN MARKERS, BOOKMARKS, POST-ITS, AND SIGN PENS

These are the school items you are likely to buy over and over again every end of the semester. There’s going to be a lot of reading, a lot of highlighting, and a lot of writing. Use markers when reading your books or codals to highlight important words/definitions/explanations. Bookmarks (self-explanatory). Post-its for note to self reminders like when there are amendments to the law you are studying, or the doctrines in the case you have to remember. And of course sign pens, for the grueling case digests, quizzes and examinations.

6. PRACTICE YOUR HANDWRITING.

I want to say this with a lot of EMPHASIS and STRESSING, because it is probably one of the most unheeded advice in the law school world. Why should you do it? It’s because your goal of being a lawyer depends on it. That extreme? Yes! As you know, the Philippine Bar exams have shifted back again to the essay type of examinations. Meaning you’ll be handwriting your answer to these questions in a paragraph form. With the number of bar candidates increasing every year, there is but only 1 bar examiner for each bar subject solely responsible for checking the answers of all the bar candidates. The bar examiner usually has only 5-6 months to finish the checking of the test booklets. Of course, the examiner cannot be expected to have all this time checking booklets because he most definitely is a practicing lawyer, has a family, and has other things to do as well. In that limited time frame, do you think a poor handwriting would still be given a leeway? Some might, some might not.

But the point is this: You may well have beautifully and correctly framed and answered the questions of the examiner, but if he, upon seeing your booklet, is dumbstruck as to the handwriting if it is of human or a chicken, he might not give you full credit points for not being able to read it clearly. Worse, he might not even read your other answers anymore and fail you in that subject. Just remember,  the key is to write neatly and clearly for it to be well read and understood.

7. ENJOY THE TIME YOU HAVE BEFORE CLASSES START.

Enjoy time with your family, friends, partner, co-workers, colleagues, etc. Enjoy going home and turning on the television to watch your fave soap, or chatting with a friend till morning, or binge-watching on Game of Thrones or your favorite K Drama.

Once you started law school, everything will change. There are things you still want to do, but can’t anymore because you have to study for school. There are parties you can’t attend  because you have to prepare for a major subject the next day. Wedding invitations you have to decline because it’s your exams week. Romantic dates you’ll have to postpone because you have 50 cases to read and recite the next day. There will be a lot of NOs to be said once classes start. That is why, I say, enjoy the time you still have to spend freely on whatever it is you like to do.

8. TRUST GOD AND KEEP THE FAITH.

Like many passions and journeys of men to success and triumph, you need God to help you, guide you and lead you in your life. To balance everything and remind you that you cannot do everything on your own. That you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength. Keep your faith while in law school. You can only do as much as you can. When the going gets tough and you feel you are completely out of control of the situation, especially when pressure is overwhelming, surrender it all to God and trust Him.

          So, there it is! May you find these tips useful and may you have a happy start and stay at law school. I am truly happy and excited for you! Godspeed!

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