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Eight Tips for New Law Students
Things They Don't Tell You At Orientation

By Steven S. Long
Apr 13, 2012, 8:49am

So, you have finally finished college and are preparing to start law school. Congratulations! Law is a challenging and exciting field, and you will enjoy studying it, but they do not tell you everything you need to know in orientation. Here are a few tips and inside secrets to get you off to the right start at law school.

Prepare To Be Mystified:
When you first get to law school, professors will inundate you with dozens of new terms, concepts, and ideas. Part of what law school does is alter your view of the world to make you "think like a lawyer." So, it is likely you will spend most of the first month or so a little confused, wondering if you are comprehending anything and whether you made the right choice. Stick with it! After a few weeks, things start to sink in and you will no longer have this problem.

Learn the Lay of the Land:
Before your first day of classes, take a couple of hours and familiarize yourself with your new neighborhood. Locate the grocery stores, drugstores, parks, and other commercial and public facilities you will want to use. Law school is enough of a challenge; do not make it even harder on yourself by trying to find the supermarket for the first time at 2:00 a.m. after you have been studying for six hours.

Similarly, take some time one day and learn the layout of the university. Do not just limit yourself to the law school building; find the administration building on campus, library, student union, and other key locations. After all, you may need a book from the undergrad library someday.

Prepare Your Spouse:
If you are married or have a "significant other," prepare him or her in advance for the law school experience. Not only are you likely to have less time to spend with him or her during the next three years, your personality will probably change, at least a little. You will probably become more picky, more precise, and more argumentative. If your loved one is ready for this, it will have a lot less impact.

Meet the Librarians:
The school's law librarians know the library and its resources better than you ever will. At the first opportunity, introduce yourself and get to know them; you will find them a big help when it comes time to research your first legal briefs and position papers.

A Helping Hand:
Law school bookstores sell many different "summary of the law" products, study aids which boil down the essentials of each area of the law into an easy-to-study format. Law professors often discourage students from buying these, but you should check them out and see if they are the sort of thing that might help you. Sometimes you will find them easier to understand than the reams of material in your textbooks. Do not substitute them for the reading your professor assigns, but use them to supplement your primary reading.

Rules, Rules, Rules:
Almost all law students have to study something called "civil procedure" in their first year. This course introduces you to the rules for preparing and conducting trials in federal court (and, in many cases, state courts as well). Pay attention! Unless you plan never to enter a courtroom during your legal career, civil procedures is one of the most vital courses you will take in law school. You will win or lose many trials, not before the jury, but in the pretrial maneuvering which is governed by the rules of civil procedure.

Use and Abuse of Computerized Research:
The two big legal research services, Westlaw and Lexis, offer their databases for free to most law school libraries. The intent here is to get you "hooked" on using them, so you will turn to them in private practice when they charge you hundreds of dollars an hour for the privilege. Even the largest law firms do not use computerized research casually, because it is so expensive; and small firms may never use it. So, before you learn the wonders of the computer, learn to do legal research the old-fashioned book way first. You will thank yourself in years to come.

Lawyers say, "In law school, the first year they scare you to death; the second year they work you to death; and the third year they bore you to death." Do not think of law school as a Paper Chase-esque crushing burden of terror-inducing academic work. Law school is tough, there is no question of that, but it is not that hard. Approach it as you would a job by applying yourself diligently, working at it eight to twelve hours every day, with a little time off on the weekends, and you will do fine. Panic and worry will just impair your ability to do the work well.

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