If I Did It All Over Again

Since one of the most exhilarating experiences of my summer was rotating between couches to watch Ezra Edelman’s five-part ESPN documentary OJ: Made in America, I felt inclined to share my own tell-all account of how I would do 1L, if I did it all over again.

Step 1. Start preparing for exams early.

What I have found to be, perhaps, the most difficult adjustment to the Bizarro World that is law school is the fact that no matter what you learn during the semester, the only factor that typically has a material effect on your eventual transcript is your performance on a three- or eight-hour exam at the end of the semester. If I did 1L all over again, I would let this single reality be my guide.

It is all too easy to be whisked away by the decorated language of Cardozo opinions, but unless Cardozo can teach you how to issue spot, your flowery friend might just leave you out of luck. I do not mean to diminish the importance of learning the substance of the law, but only to emphasize that for the first time in many of our educational lives, substance will only get you so far.

Exams and their execution are what count, and the more time you take to understand the anatomy of these exams and how to execute them, the better.

Step 2. Reserve time for the things you love to do.

Although admittedly unoriginal, this may be my most important advice, since the pastimes that keep you grounded usually become the first casualties at the very moment pressure begins to mount. I say this from experience.

I regarded myself as a master juggler last September. I was able to make time for all of my class reading, regular jogs, Sex and the City study breaks, and even a fleeting tune on my cello here and there. The hardest but most necessary balancing act you must accomplish, however, arises when the behavior of your peers suggests that you no longer have time to do what you love.

When the WCC study rooms start smelling ripe and lived-in and the libraries are packed end to end with students, these are the times when you must recall this advice most.

Step 3. Find “your place” off campus.

Your place might be at the end of a ten-minute stroll down the road to Porter Square. It might be a quick zip over to Fresh Pond. It might even entail an afternoon spent at Boston’s The Lawn on D.

If I did it over again, I would be a 1L who committed to “unplugging,” not just mentally, but spatially as well. This physical separation, even if brief, can be the key to effective recharging. Effective recharging can be the key to your endurance through 1L year.

Step 4. Use your HLS email address to unlock doors.

This is not advice exclusive to your 1L year, but it is nonetheless important advice because of the negligible time we have on this campus. We J.D. students have just three years to be a student at Harvard Law School — and LLMs, only one. To spend any portion of this time squandering potential opportunities is, arguably, to misspend a substantial amount of time.

If I did 1L all over again, I would use my HLS email address to meet with educators, local politicians, and community leaders from both Cambridge and the greater Boston area in order to supplement my classroom experience. I would ask more questions to help determine who I want to be when I, one day, bear my Harvard Law degree.

Step 5. Remember that your charge as a member of the legal profession is bigger than your own ambitions.

We have chosen a school that seeks “[t]o educate leaders who contribute to the advancement of justice and the well-being of society.” This charge set by HLS’s mission is bigger than you, your career, and your ambitions. This charge is a responsibility. Always think about the ways that this charge affects your education, both inside and outside of the classroom. Are you seeking other perspectives as much as you could be? Are you putting yourself in the shoes of other individuals? Are you inviting the opportunity to have challenging conversations?

All of these inquiries are crucial to the mission with which we have been charged, and if I did 1L all over again, I would keep the words of HLS’s mission in a place where I could read it daily, and recall its importance even in my times of greatest doubt.

Step 6. Watch the ESPN OJ: Made in America documentary.

If I did 1L all over again, I would enlist a team with the technical capacity to build a time machine so that I could send this documentary back in time and watch it during my 1L year. Released this summer, Ezra Edelman’s ESPN documentary holds up a mirror to this country through the narrative of a fallen ex-hero. The masterful weaving of this narrative has oriented me on race, law, and justice better than any other piece of media I have consumed in quite some time.

Gather friends and have a weekly screening of this documentary, part by part. Form discussion groups over wine and/or waffles. Consider how this documentary contextualizes the contemporary challenges that we face in America. Consider how this documentary frames the law versus the legal realities that you will be studying over the next nine months.

I enter my 2L year believing that this documentary can do a great deal to foster productive discussions between great minds in this country. Behold, and let me know whether you agree.

I hope that this advice will empower you to take 1L year by the horns as you embark on the audacious journey of becoming a Crimson lawyer. Warmest welcome to Harvard Law, and to all a good fall!

This piece was a part of the 2016 orientation issue. To read more, click here.

Tyra J. Walker

Tyra J. Walker is a member of theHarvard Law School Class of 2018.

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