Five First-Year Survival Tips

  1. Law is a web, not a silo.

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.

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The Top 5 Pieces of Advice for 1Ls

5. Read Footnotes and Disclaimers

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.

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Embrace Your Weirdness

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.

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Speak Now

We’ll see about that.

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.

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Making Time for What’s Important

Dear 1Ls,

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).

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Lean Into That Sense of Discomfort

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.

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Nervous 1Ls at Harvard Law School Should Open Up

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. 

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How to Make Professors Happy, Says a Professor

Oh, goodness. Another year, another round of people asking me what professors can do for Harvard Law School incoming 1Ls. As if I have a clue!

I mean, all the school asks of you 1Ls is that you take 18 credit hours in the first semester, 5 more than you’ll typically take in your 2L and 3L semesters. All we ask of you is that you memorize the names of 79 other people in your 1L section, learn your way around a new campus, learn to think in a wholly new way, etc. And it’s not like we’re in a hurry. We give you 13 whole weeks to do it.

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Resist the Cult of Smart, Embrace the Call of Citizenship

Dear 1Ls:

In 1967, at the 150th anniversary of Harvard Law School, Dean Erwin Griswold reflected:

“For some years now I have been concerned about the effect of our legal education on the idealism of our students. I have great faith in our students… they bring to the school a large measure of idealism. Do they leave with less? And if they do, is that something we can view with indifference?”

In the half century since then, Griswold’s concern has, with the exception of a few tireless reformers, been “viewed with indifference” by our community. The result is disturbing: for every Harvard Law graduate who enters into employment with organizations designed to advance the legal interests of the poor or public at large, four Harvard Law graduates enter into employment with organizations designed to advance the legal interests of the most wealthy and powerful corporations and individuals. If a significant change is not made in the coming years, this means that you can expect 64 of your 79 sectionmates to pursue corporate interest employment following their graduation and judicial clerkships.

This does not mean that new students do not arrive at Harvard Law with, as Griswold observed, a large measure of idealism. But the late Dean’s hunch was correct: students’ civic mindedness fades with each passing year of school. A 1992 study by Robert Granfield found that, among newly admitted students, 70% expressed a commitment to public interest careers and 55% wanted to work in something other than corporate interest law firms. However, by graduation, 71% of men and 65% of women in the Class of 1995 went on to work in corporate interest firms or business, meaning that 20-40% of students had shifted their preferences during their years in law school. Continue reading “Resist the Cult of Smart, Embrace the Call of Citizenship”

Class of 2019, Welcome to HLS!

Dear 1Ls,

Welcome to Harvard Law School! You are about to begin an exciting year and your legal career.

1L year can be many things: inspiring, demanding, happy, sad,  lonely, busy, and much more. You’ll engage with challenging texts, meet wonderful professors, and make lifelong friends. Of course, 1L year can also be difficult in many ways, whether socially, academically, or spiritually.

Below are links to pieces from students, faculty, and staff to help you navigate those difficulties and make the most of your 1L year. There are a variety of viewpoints from a variety of people. Some of the advice may be even be contradictory.

Nevertheless, we hope and think that these pieces will inform and comfort you, if for no other reason than to reassure you that others have gone through what you are about to go through and lived to tell the tale.

Again, welcome to HLS and welcome to Cambridge. We are so excited to see each of you join our readership and the HLS community.

Jim An and Brianna Rennix, editors-in-chief

P.S. Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @hlrecord to keep up with our latest stories and HLS news.

Now That You’re Here, Relax, But Stay Engaged by John Goldberg, Professor
Some Useful Things to Know by Brianna Rennix, Record editor-in-chief
Six Easy Steps to Fun and Profit in Law School and Life by Jim An, Record editor-in-chief
Dear 1Ls: Consider the Clock by Pete Davis, Record online editor
If I Did It All Over Again by Tyra Walker, Record contributor
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility by Kassi Yukevich, ACS president
Make the Most of Your Library by Meg Kribble, HLS librarian
Ignore These Lessons at Your Own Risk by Fenno, Perennial HLS student
Talk to Classmates, Professors, Mentors by Natalie Vernon, Paavani Garg, and Amanda Lee, WLA leaders
Don’t Forget to Smell the Roses by Jeremy Salinger and Jacqueline Wolpoe, JLSA co-presidents
More Than Classrooms by Kristin Turner, BLSA president
Speak Up by Stephanie Jimenez, La Alianza co-president
Thinking Like a Lawyer by Deborah Beth Medows, N.Y.S. Dept. of Health
You Don’t Have to Do It All by Jennifer Marr, RAP industry relations chair
HMP Members Offer Advice to New 1Ls by Lauren Godles, Victoria Hartmann, Alicia Daniels, and Benjamin Hecht, HMP board members

HMP Members Offer Advice to New 1Ls

  • If you’re confused, there is a very good chance others in the class are confused too. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions.
  • You will get faster at reading cases, so try not to panic.
  • Not all lawyers are court lawyers. The case method of teaching law biases us toward thinking litigation (specifically, appellate litigation) is what it means to be a lawyer. In fact, many lawyers end up doing something else and there are lots of opportunities at HLS to try your hand at policy work, academic research, business development, and alternative dispute resolution.

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More Than Classrooms

Dearest 1Ls,

There is something very startling about being asked to reflect on an experience that you haven’t fully realized is coming to a close. Nonetheless, here are a few words of advice as you begin this unique journey and what you’ll soon know is the very full experience HLS can be.

  1. Make the HLS experience yours.

Law school, and 1L especially, is such a peculiar experience that, at times, you’ll forget how to relate to people who exist outside of the bubble. As scholars who will grapple with nuances and haggle over semantics, you’ll somehow still struggle to describe the uniqueness that is the HLS experience—and that’s okay! This shared experience will form the basis for many friendships and connections. However, the current can also pull you under and lead you to go through law school the way other people think you should do law school.

As much as HLS is a collective of brilliant minds, scholars and people, don’t forget the individual that applied to HLS. Continue reading “More Than Classrooms”

Fenno: Ignore These Lessons at Your Own Risk

As the longest-serving member of the Harvard Law School student body, I am happy to offer a few words of advice to incoming 1Ls. As you embark on this exciting new phase of your life, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. The law is a terrible profession.

Judicial opinions are nothing but a mix of bad philosophy, amateur sociology, and half-remembered historical anecdotes. They are appallingly written as a genre, and reading too many of them will inevitably make your own writing much worse. Unfortunately, only those who fully steep themselves in this cesspool of verbiage will ever manage to become judges, and thus the hideous cycle of unreadability perpetuates itself forever.
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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. Continue reading “If I Did It All Over Again”

Six Easy Steps to Fun and Profit in Law School and Life

Hello 1Ls! You all have just entered a strange and wonderful world, and I hope each one of you has an amazing time. That said, I’d like to give y’all just a few tips to help you make the most of your time in law school.

  1. Go to class

It’s true that a lot of things can be learned directly from your casebooks. But sometimes professors say things during class not covered in the casebooks or talk about what they like to emphasize on exams. Sometimes somebody in your class says something smart, and you’ll want to know who the smart people are so you can ask them for their outlines. And sometimes a professor does a one-person reenactment of The Hangover and everyone has a nice laugh. I’m not saying that the last thing has ever happened to me, but if it did, you wouldn’t want to miss it. Continue reading “Six Easy Steps to Fun and Profit in Law School and Life”