The best pieces of advice for “surviving” 1L is 1) do not feel like you have to follow the herd and 2) stay in tune with yourself.
To the first, there will be masses of first years (and second and third years) headed in the same direction, sometimes with the encouragement of faculty and advisors. You do not have to blindly follow them. You are a valuable person who is here for a reason, and whatever that reason may be, you have lived and have experienced, and you know better than anybody else how to be the best you can be this year.
Welcome to HLS! My name is LaurenStanley and I am the president of the Harvard Law School chapter of the American Constitution Society, more commonly known as ACS. We are an organization of progressive lawyers and law students who seek to promote individual rights and liberty, genuine equality, and access to justice.
The first year of law school is challenging and I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of advice about reading, outlining, study groups, etc. But in my experience, there is more than one way to be a good law student and certainly more than one way to be successful here. A lot of law school happens outside the classroom, and my advice is to 1) find your people, 2) be generous with your time, and 3) remember why you came to law school in the first place.
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.
Welcome to Harvard Law School! On behalf of the Harvard Jewish Law Students’ Association (JLSA), we would like to congratulate you on joining the Harvard Law School (HLS) community. JLSA is a cultural, social, educational, and religious organization that reflects the varied interests of the Jewish student community of HLS.
JLSA organizes a wide variety of activities throughout the school year. Our annual events include a Law School Shabbat Dinner, a Bagel Brunch, and religious and social events that pertain to Jewish holidays. We also host many notable speakers, both from the Harvard community and elsewhere. Please visit our website at hlsorgs.com/jlsa to review our upcoming events, sign up for our weekly email newsletter, and learn more about our organization.
HLS is an amazing place with a vast array of incredible resources and opportunities. We have a great lineup of events and programming scheduled for the upcoming school year, and we look forward to meeting you. If you would like more information about JLSA or Jewish resources in the Cambridge area, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Welcome to Harvard Law School! If you’re anything like me, even next year you’ll probably still be shaking your head in disbelief as a 2L.
I could give you general life advice, like “don’t judge people by the first impression,” or “say what you need to say,” or “don’t buy polyester suits or plastic shoes,” but those are easy enough, so I’ll give you some longer ones. Like all terrible things, my advice comes in threes.
Congratulations on your acceptance to Harvard, and best of luck as you embark on the new exciting chapter of your life. Whether it was Atticus Finch or Elle Woods who inspired you to pursue a career in law, you have successfully achieved high academic scores and made your families proud. While you bask in this hard-earned euphoric glow and prepare for the first week of classes, it is equally important to focus on maintaining your well-being, and to develop an awareness and action plan to promote your mental health throughout the next stages of your career.
Many law students are surprised to discover that the law is not as settled as they thought it would be. As it turns out, the law is an ungainly and ever-changing accretion of precedent, opinions, rules, and custom, not entirely beholden to context and personalities but also not independent from interpretation and ideological bents. Much of what you study requires an understanding of things you have not yet studied, but because you cannot study everything at once, you are always operating in an incomplete, contingent state.
You’ve just been accepted into one of the top law schools in the country. Chances are, you’re feeling a whirlwind of emotions — from disbelief to excitement and anxiety. My emotions were all over the place!
I know that it can be overwhelming and even (yes, I’ll be the first to admit) quite intimidating. You’re entering a student body, largely comprised of —wait for it —people who are just like you! Whereas you’ve created quite an impressive admissions profile and are used to excelling and being at the top of your class,now you’re in a section of 80 individuals who’ve been acclimated to similarly diligent academic performances.
You’ve surely noticed by now that your first year of law school is divided into discrete subjects — civil procedure, criminal law, property, torts, contracts, and legislation and regulation. This is a necessary, but artificial creation. Most lawyers will go their entire careers without having a client walk into their office and proclaim, “I have this really tricky personal jurisdiction problem.” (A civil procedure professor can dream, right?) Instead, clients tell you their convoluted stories and it’s up to you to identify the relevant substantive and procedural aspects of their dispute, hence the “issue spotting” aspect of law school.
Disclaimer: I cannot claim credit for this clever footnote advice, as I shamelessly appropriated it from Professor John Goldberg’s advice for last year’s 1Ls.
We have been conditioned, by years of wanton Internet use, either to ignore fine print and boilerplate language or to attempt a reading, only to find that our mind has long since wandered by the time we hit “I accept.” When it comes to legal materials, important information is often buried, not obvious, and difficult to detect, whether by the authors’ accident or design. Read it all, and then sort it out.
My 1L professors consisted of a person who could hold a handstand longer than most of the United States Olympic Gymnastics Team, a cat enthusiast (three cats for one person is just too many), Pooh Bear, and the most endearing, sweater-vest-wearing, criminal prosecutor you’ve ever seen. And I haven’t even mentioned the students yet.
Needless to say, people at HLS can be pretty eccentric. But that is the whole point. You are here because beyond killer LSAT scores, great academics and exceptional recommendations, you are unique and probably a little eccentric. I am here to tell you to embrace it and then learn how to make your eccentricities mesh with others.
Last year, I wrote a Very Serious Piece for 1Ls with advice on how to succeed at law school. However, given the events of the past year and the current state of the world, I thought I’d write something more lighthearted.
But then Charlottesville happened.
According to the President, there were “very fine people on both sides” in the streets of Charlottesville. According to the President, there were “very fine people” chanting “Jews will not replace us.” According to the President, there were “very fine people” waving swastikas and torches.
Welcome to Harvard Law School! The two of us are still finding our ways through the journey that is law school, but we’d each like to offer you a couple personal pieces of advice to help you along the way:
Liz: Find a community
Law school can be an alienating place, from the big focus on firm recruitment to the mere fact that Cambridge is not, well, home (wherever that may be for you). Having gone to undergrad at a place where professors and students were on a first-name basis, suddenly being called “Ms. Gyori” was weird for me, to say the least. Finding that my school and social life were inextricably linked with 80 strangers brought up horrible kindergarten flashbacks (you know, the ones in which you are asking why someone didn’t want to share their toy with you during free play).
Ariel: I still remember sitting in class while my section discussed the place of environmental deprivation in criminal law. Of course we should consider this, I thought. As my brain scanned every example that popped up in my mind, I started doubting the relevance of my lived experiences. They didn’t carry the same cold, neutral tone of our cases and readings, and I started to wonder if the discomfort in my voice when discussing these issues would expose my working-class background. Before I could even resolve this tension, my professor interrupted my train of thought and asked, “Ms. Stone, what do you think?”
Kamala: I spent hours upon hours of my 1L year learning how to cook Filipino food. I bought my own wok and claimed way too much space in my dorm’s communal kitchen for ingredients from the local Asian grocery store. I wrapped dozens of lumpia when I should have been working, and experimented with four different types of pancit noodles. I even called my friends over in the middle of one night to try pan de sal fresh out of the oven. I’ve always loved Filipino food, but I never had any interest in cooking it myself. Before law school, I had always been around other Filipino people. At HLS, I was the only Filipino person I knew.
I remember the first time that I walked the vaunted halls of HLS. After years of dedication, I felt blessed and privileged to be an incoming Harvard Law student.
And yet, despite Dean Minnow’s reassurance that the admissions committee had not made a mistake, that in fact they had searched the world for us, I shared the nerves and insecurities of my peers.
Worried about showing up late to my first class? Check. Worried about not getting my books on time? Check. Worried about embarrassing myself beyond repair during my first cold call? Double and triple check.