Take Work Seriously, Not Yourself

Reminiscing about and perhaps overanalyzing the first year of law school lends itself to identifying valuable lessons learned. These tips range from time-management minutiae to big-picture generalities.

Watch Legally Blonde and The Paper Chase before you arrive

Not because these films provide great insight into life at HLS, but because attending class will ruin those movies forever. After sitting in class for one day, I realized that the school doesn’t resemble the background shots of either movie. Legally Blonde was filmed in Los Angeles and only a few scenes of The Paper Chase were filmed on campus. Additionally, unless you’re fortunate enough to have Bruce Mann for Property, the professors are not nearly as intimidating as one would expect based on these films. In fact, professors are approachable and helpful — especially during office hours. Further, my sectionmates were remarkably kind. I was expecting invite-only study groups but instead found people generously sharing outlines and class notes. The films will be ruined forever. Watch them before it’s too late.

Review your notes

At a minimum, I recommend reading your notes from the previous class prior to the next class. This habit is helpful because it primes you for the new material and helps you commit the notes to memory. Additionally, the practice ensures that you’ve looked at the material at least one additional time prior to studying for finals.

Schedule time to think

This tip is obnoxious. It’s nerdy. It makes me want to steal my own lunch money. It also helped me tremendously. In the fall semester, I made the mistake of putting only reading blocks in my planner. I would finish reading for one class and immediately move on to the next topic. In the spring semester, I added an additional thirty minutes to think about the cases, analyze how they differed from one another, and place them within the larger scheme. In the fall, I approached reading in a task-oriented fashion. But in the spring, by intentionally scheduling time to analyze the cases, I began to see the bigger picture, which was the professors’ aim.

Connect with people outside of your section

Nothing bonds people like a sweaty palmed cold-call. You’re going to make friends in your section. But I also found great communities through extracurricular activities such as the Federalist Society. Members of the Federalist Society scheduled debates, brought interesting speakers to school, and hosted off-campus social events. They fostered a balanced and open conversation about the role of government and judicial restraint. I appreciated that membership was open to everyone and that the people involved held diverse views on a broad range of issues. The Federalist Society also has lawyer chapters, and the community I formed in Harvard’s chapter of the Federalist Society can carry over into my professional life after graduation.

In short, the students that seem to thrive take their work very seriously but tend not to take themselves too seriously. Variations of this advice have been attributed to Margot Fonteyn, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Judi Dench. So it must be true.

Sarah Catalano is a 2L. She is the vice president for membership of the Harvard Federalist Society.