Welcome to Harvard Law School and welcome to 1L year! After two full years of law school, I still feel like I’m just figuring it out. But here are a few tips I’ve picked up in my time.
You already know how to do this.
You’ve taken classes before, you’ve read books before, and you’ve taken finals before. And apparently, you did all those things well enough to get here. Don’t let people convince you that law school is somehow completely different – the details have changed, but the general idea is the same. If you study best in the library with noise-cancelling headphones, do that. If you’re better off reading on the couch with the Bachelor playing in the background, that’s fine too. You know yourself best.
The concept is true for self-care as well. If you know you need to be around people to stay sane, find your people and make time to unwind with them. If you’re the type to decompress by yourself, there’s nothing wrong with skipping that section bonding event. Exercise, diet, sleep, calling home, therapy, coffee – you know what you need, so listen to yourself.
Try new things…
The year will be over before you know it, and, with all due respect to Professor Henry Smith, Property class is probably not going to help you discover your new passion (unless it does, in which case, go you!). Get involved outside of the classroom. Join a Student Practice Organization and actually practice law. Go to an Affinity Group’s general meeting and learn about their advocacy initiatives. Make an appointment with that professor who used to work in an area of law you’re curious about. Law school doesn’t feel long enough to figure out what you want to be when you grow up, so make the most of it.
… But only do the things that you love.
You have no control over your class schedule or your sectionmates, but everything else is up to you. There isn’t enough time during 1L to spend it on things you don’t enjoy. People are going to start guessing at things you “should” do during law school. Work as a research assistant? Do a clinic? Apply for clerkships? Apply for BSA/HLAB/Law Review? Take Corporations? The secret is nothing in law school is dictated (except for all of your 1L classes). Figure out what activities make you happy, and drop the ones that don’t. A few sectionmates and I started a book club during 1L, where we read short, light-hearted novels and raved/complained about them over snacks. These law school-free hours continue to be a highlight of each month.
Find the people who lift you up and support you. Relatedly, lift up and support those around you.
Despite the best efforts of any advice listicle, 1L year can get tough. Find the people who empower you and remind you of why you came to law school in the first place. These can be people from your section or not, from HLS or not.
Also, be that person for those around you. The days of The Paper Chase are long gone, and there is no benefit to being cold or competitive. Go out of your way to compliment a sectionmate on an impressive cold call. Encourage a classmate to ask their question during office hours. Respond with patience and compassion when your SPO client has follow-up questions. Listen to your friend’s revolutionary take on a Contracts case, even if you hate contracts. You’ll both be better off for it.
Unlike the other groups writing in this issue, don’t think about the Law Review at all this semester. Find your passion and find your people in the many other groups on campus, and enjoy your first semester. We’ll see you at our information sessions in the spring!