A lot of the following is advice that we received when we first started at HLS and some of it we learned along the way.
First, some practical advice. Buy your casebooks used, figure out which courses permit laptops for note taking purposes, and schedule your meals around lunch talks. Do your best to stay organised. Start a system early and try to stick with it, but whatever you normally do to keep your schedule, find a way to make note of personal and academic deadlines all in one place.
Do your best to keep up with the reading. It’s really easy to fall behind but doing as much of the reading as you can will mean you get the most out of every class, and you’ll become more efficient at reading cases as the year goes on. If you’re having trouble with any of the above, find the right person to talk to and get some help sooner rather than later. Take notes and read them before you have to, so you know in advance where everything is, what it all means, and how it fits together.
Cool – now for the real stuff. You did a lot to get here, but now that you are here, remember why you wanted to come here in the first place. Whatever it was that drove you to apply to and attend Harvard Law School – that drive is truly yours and yours alone. Whether you decide to share it with your professors and classmates, or whether it’s the quiet candle that burns through the night while you pore over a casebook, remember it and cherish it. Your motivation is unique to you. When you get through the icebreakers and the reading and the cold calls and the 1L summer job applications and make it through to finals, the reason you came to law school should ground you, inspire you, feed you. Side note on cold calls; don’t make them out to be some crazy scary thing. Maybe even try to participate on your own terms in each class early on so that cold calls start to feel less intimidating. Easier said than done, but just try it out and don’t be too hard on yourself.
Remember also that, despite the abundance of your metaphysical succor, you also have to take real care of yourself. Everyone says that 1L is hard, and it is. But make the time to do the things you’ve always done, or even try new things. Exercise, drink water, eat well. Play, paint, party. Sleep. You will know, or soon discover, what it is that will remind you that you are a human first and a student second. Stay in touch with the people in your life. It will help you keep this experience in perspective and remain authentic and true to yourself. Call your family and your friends. Again, these are the people that helped you become the person you are and can continue to remind you of your values. Bring them along for the ride and let them share in your success, but also support you on your harder days. Get to know the people in your section, your class and the school in general. Get to know the LLMs; they’re some of the most interesting people here – they come from all over the world with rich and diverse experiences.
Being a part of such a large school means that there are so many people with such varied interests and identities, many of them similar to yours. Find the groups who care about the things you care about and learn from them, remembering that even people who agree on the big picture will sometimes differ on the details. When you find someone who disagrees with you – and you will – treat them with respect and dignity. Learn from them and challenge your own beliefs; you may change your mind or you may become more resolute, but you should at least know why you know the things you think you know. When looking at student groups to join, note that many of them serve different functions: some advance political platforms, some provide opportunities to practice legal skills, some help you help others and some are just for fun!
Affinity groups aim to give you a place to feel at home and to make sure every group has a voice here at Harvard. MELSA (The Middle Eastern Law Students Association) serves as a community space for those who have grown up with the Middle East/North Africa/Central Asia as part of their lives. What’s special about MELSA in particular is that it reflects the diversity of the region and welcomes those on campus who are interested in learning more about the cultures and histories represented. We welcome anyone who wants to celebrate and support our community and encourage each of you to participate in MELSA, whether you want to join our board, or just attend a couple of events.
Most of all, be kind to everyone. Seriously, be nice to everyone, just because. Smile, say hello, make friends and invite people to things. Especially make use of the first few weeks of school when it’s not weird to chat with a completely random stranger. And then keep doing that all year round. Notice your peers who may be struggling and recognize the times they want to be left alone and the times they might appreciate another’s company. If you find yourself struggling (with anything) then you should talk to someone about it, when you’re ready. Affinity groups are a great way of building a support system of people who may be going through similar stuff. Go to professors’ office hours; it’s best to have a question or something to say but it’s also great to meet the people you’re learning from. Please thank the maintenance, cleaning and security staff regularly; they literally work all day and night so that you have a safe and healthy place to do your best.
Thanks for indulging us and please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to learn more about MELSA or if we can be helpful in some way.