1L Experience: Advice we wish we had


With the first year of law school – or at least The RECORD’s publication schedule – coming to a close, it seems to be the perfect time to look back on the 1L experience and reflect. Eight months ago, we arrived on campus, armed with dog-eared copies of Scott Turow’s One L, resumes-in-progress with a few lines of blank space under “Harvard Law School” waiting to be filled in and lots of expectations. Have our expectations been met? I think the answer is probably different for everyone. But I think we can all agree that there’s a set of things we know now that we wished someone had told us back then, on the first day of orientation. I’ve come up with a few such pearls of wisdom:

Soup at the Hark: not a good idea (which, of course, leads directly to another pearl of wisdom: the code to the men’s bathrooms in the tunnels is [“You probably shouldn’t print that in the newspaper.” “Oh yeah, sorry.”]).

Pack your sweaters: you’ll need them. And your earmuffs, gloves and hat. And a portable space heater. And a snow shovel. And pajamas with feet. And, not that it’s really relevant for this paragraph, but before I forget, a plunger.

Lexis is better than Westlaw. I mean Westlaw is better than Lexis. I mean don’t bother buying any highlighters, because they’ll give you more than you’ll ever need. Don’t buy a coffee mug, yo-yo, miniature garbage pail basketball set, bouncing light-up ball, stale tootsie roll candies, fake velvet pen case or pocket-sized Constitution either. They’ll give those to you too.

The refrigerator’s not necessary. As long as you can make a meal out of chicken on a stick, miniature spinach pies, potato puffs and tiny hot dogs, and don’t mind putting on a button-down shirt and schmoozing it up with recruiters from a gaggle of interchangeable law firms, you can eat free every night.

Invest in a quality screensaver. Sometimes you need something more exciting than the Windows logo to jar you out of the occasional mind-stupor and remind you that you haven’t touched the keyboard in ten minutes, while the professor’s been talking all this time about what’s going to be on the exam.

The summer job search has already begun. Imagine how much more relaxing the winter would have been if only we’d spent all of last summer, before starting law school, looking for the next summer’s job. We could have beaten everyone else by five months and come to school relaxed and undistracted, avoiding hundreds of hours of lectures, panels, forums, information sessions, advising appointments, meetings, orientations, workshops, cocktail parties and clambakes, all devoted to making sure all the bullets lined up straight on our resumes.

Not joining Lincoln’s Inn won’t make you a social outcast. Uh oh – have I accidentally inserted a real piece of advice into my column? Does anyone who didn’t join Lincoln’s Inn wish they had? And if they did wish they had, is Lincoln’s Inn really going to refuse their money?

Subciting isn’t fun. I remember going to the journals fair in the fall and thinking about how much fun looking up footnotes in the Bluebook sounded like it would be. So I was definitely in for a shock when I realized it’s really not a particularly enjoyable way to spend a Saturday. If only someone had told me.

When you’re looking for a quiet place to study on Thursday night, the Kong is not that place. I’m sure that clears up quite a few misconceptions.

No one will remember if you give a dumb answer when a professor calls on you. However, if you do it twice, everyone will remember. And laugh at you. For a long, long time.

There are normal people here. Somewhere. I’m sure everyone had that moment during the first week of school when they looked around and wondered why everyone seemed so strange, and where all the normal people were. Hopefully, most people wonder about that less often by now, and not simply because all of the people wondering have now become strange. If you can follow my logic here, clearly you’re not one of the normal people I’m talking about.

And, finally, you will survive. We all have. Except for those who haven’t. But they’re surely not reading this column, so they don’t count. Eight months, approximately five hundred hours of class (you mean we could have done this all in three weeks if we didn’t sleep?), perhaps three hundred thousand pages of reading… and we’re almost there. We’re almost 2Ls. Just some pesky exams stand in our way.

To continue to receive my column weekly for the rest of the semester and throughout the summer, send an e-mail to jblachma@law.harvard.edu with the subject line “column.”

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