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8 Things I Wish I Knew Before My First Semester of Law School

Gold and black text that spells out "Future Lawyer"

If you read the last blog post, you know, law school is hard. Nobody expects it to be easy, but when only five percent of lawyers are Black, many of us don't know what to expect or how to prepare for success. As such, if you're thinking about applying to law school or getting ready to start your first semester of law school, this list is for you!

Let's get into it.

P.S. I would definitely read until the end for the extra value you cannot afford to miss out on. 👀

1. The Importance of Office Hours and Emails

I didn't learn the importance of office hours until my second semester of law school when I got a tutor (side note, getting a tutor is number eight on this list), and wow, it was a game-changer! Aside from the fact that you can get valuable information to help you complete assignments and meet specific expectations (do you even need another reason?), attending office hours and communicating with your professors is a MAJOR law school hack.

Law professors have a particular way they want things written (especially your first year). One reason for this is that they want to make sure you have the fundamentals down pact before getting creative with your writing, ensuring you have the necessary details in your explanations.

For example, one day, my tutor suggested emailing my professor and asking for feedback on an assignment. The result? My professor said I could send him my next assignment early for his review, so I could have a chance to revise it again before turning it in for my grade. Warning: if you get an offer from your professor to help you with an assignment, make SURE you take them up on that offer, or it will have the opposite impact on your relationship with them.

The moral of the story here is, spend time outside of class either during weekly office hours or by email to get extra insight on how they want assignments (case briefs, outlines, practice essays, etc.) done, build a relationship, and show them that you are putting in the effort to do the best you can.

2. How Easy It Is To Fall Behind

Once you fall behind, catching up will feel impossible. (I say “feel” because I don't like to say anything is impossible, but it's definitely very, very unlikely). In addition, the number of cases your professors assign to read will feel overwhelming, but it is necessary to read (and brief ...see number three below) all of them.

Each case your professors assign you to read is meant to drive home a specific law concept, element, or exception. As such, skipping a case will only hurt you (in class and on your exams). Long story short: each day or week you fall behind leaves you with twice as much to read, and the anxiety piles up -- it's not a position you want to be in.

A good study schedule (and sticking to it!) will help you plan out your workload over the week and month, so you know how much you need to get done each day and don't fall behind.

3. How To Brief A Case

This. Is. Crucial. Your school may or may not teach you this when you get there. Fortunately for me, they did, but my school has a non-traditional program, so I wouldn't count on your school to do the same.

Briefing a case helps you understand what happened, the important facts, the outcome, and why. Not only will you need to brief your cases to be prepared in case you're called on in class, but they will also be a great help when you're putting together your outline, and it's time to study for exams (see reasons six and seven below).

Furthermore, even though there are many books out there you can get to help you learn how to brief a case, Jas Talks Law's 1L Success Academy takes you further. The Academy provides examples, an entire video lesson, and access to your law school coach for questions, so you can hit the ground running your first week of law school.

Put another way, law school is similar to studying a foreign language where the teacher or professor only speaks that language, and you are expected to catch on and figure it out. As such, one thing that will help you get off to a great start is already being familiar with this foreign language.

4. How Isolated I Would Feel

I'm generally a homebody as it is and prefer staying in over being out around a bunch of people. Still, the pressure of school and the intense workload made me feel emotionally isolated, which was new. None of my friends understood what I was going through or how it felt, the pressure to get good grades and to meet deadlines, all while feeling like maybe I got myself into something I couldn't really handle.

My family would make comments like "save that for the classroom" whenever I disagreed with something. I didn't have time for anything but studying, work, and being a mom, and when I did make time for something else, I felt guilty for not studying. I had one friend studying for the LSAT, so I spent time with her on the phone going over my cases because it helped me retain information and helped her get a glimpse of what was in store for her.

On the upside, I did create a tribe of friends, most of who I met on social media, who were either newly licensed attorneys, recently graduated, or still in law school as well. They became my support system. They helped me with my writing (before I got a tutor and started reaching out to my professors more). They reminded me that law school's pain is temporary and encouraged me to keep pushing because people need me to be their attorney.

Accordingly, be prepared to feel alone at times, but know that you will attract the tribe to help get you through it. In fact, some of those fellow Black law students I met on Instagram are now my best friends.

5. How To "Buy More Time" In My Day

I touched on this briefly in the last blog, "4 Reasons Why Only 5% of Lawyers Are Black" (see the end of reason number three). It seems obvious, but I didn't start figuring this out until my second semester, probably because I was too busy wrapping my head around what I had gotten myself into.

Here are a few things that helped me, and I'm sure you'll be able to think of more:

  1. Paying for fluff n' fold laundry service. This helped me so much. I didn't have a washer and dryer in my apartment, and my building didn't even have a laundry room, so every week, I was going to the laundromat and trying to read cases while there to make the most of my time. A friend of mine introduced me to fluff n' fold services at the local laundromat, where I only pay $1/pound with a 20-pound minimum. It ends up only being $10-20 more than I would have spent if I did it myself (they provide detergent), and it saved me at least 2-3 hours a week. The best part? Everything is folded and ready to put away when you pick it up.

  2. Many people started getting groceries delivered during the pandemic, so that that started to become normal, but it wasn't normal my first semester in law school. Walmart offers free delivery for groceries, and Amazon offers free grocery delivery for Prime members as well. A perk is both accept EBT as payment. The only downside is sometimes it's hard to find an available delivery time, so plan accordingly, or worst-case scenario with Walmart, at least you can schedule a pick-up time as an alternative.

  3. Also, food-related, there are many affordable weekly meal prep delivery services that cater to different diets and lifestyles. Some like Hello Fresh are planned out quick meals with instructions that you have to cook, while others are pre-cooked meals you can pop in the microwave. A quick google search, and you'll find a variety of them and the way ads work today; if you visit the website for one, you'll start getting ads for a bunch of them anyway. 🥲

The moral of the story here is that if you can afford to pay someone to complete the task for you, these tasks should be delegated (no, you cannot delegate study time). Another time-saving tip: If you can afford to have a cleaner come and clean for you once a week or even twice a month, then do it. Anything you can do to buy yourself free extra hours in the week is worth it!

6. How To Study For An Exam

There is no one-size-fits-all formula for studying. But there are a few things unique to law school that can help.

  1. A good outline is priceless. Literally, because it's not a good outline if you didn't make it yourself. I know what you may be thinking: yes, there are many commercial outlines you can buy, or maybe you have a friend who offers to give you their old outlines, but it's really the practice of making the outline that is helping you study (see number seven below).

  2. Essay writing! Work on your exam writing skills early. The 1L Success Academy provides much insight into becoming a great legal writer (very different from writing in college). Moreover, there are plenty of books your professors can recommend! Furthermore, if you talk to your professors outside of the classroom (as mentioned above in item number one), you'll already have an idea of how your professor likes you to write exams.

  3. Your professors (yes, all of them) likely have all of their past exams on record at the library or online at the school. Start looking over them early and practice taking them! Ask your professor if they are willing to look over your practice answers and then give you feedback. I've only had one professor who didn't have past exams on file, but when I asked him about prior exams, he emailed the exams to the entire class.

7. How Important A Good Outline Is

What is an outline? Outlines are definitely something I never used in undergrad and, as such, were completely foreign to me, like briefing a case. And if you're like me, though you may not know what an outline is, you've probably heard a bunch of different people tell you this: make your own outline and start making it early. So I'm here to tell you the same.

Even if you were fortunate enough to know someone who took the same class with the same professor, you still need to create your own outline. Unfortunately, in my first semester, I was so overwhelmed with keeping up with all of the reading, case briefing, and writing assignments that working on an outline was not on my to-do list. Big mistake because the act of outlining is what reinforces what you learned in class.

As mentioned earlier, there are definitely commercial outlines available to buy. These can help figure out how to organize your own outline or if you need a law (or the exception to the law) explained differently, but commercial outlines are not sufficient alone. Why? For starters, you want your outline to be put together in the flow your professor has taught your class with specific examples they used in class (their examples change every year!). Furthermore, well actually, I'm not going to go into all the details, but for the full explanation of why you cannot rely on commercial outlines, how to create strategic outlines, and the type of outlines (there’s many depending on your learning type and on the stage of studying), be sure to enroll in Jas Talks Law's 1L Success Academy: Attorney Jas has you covered!

8. It's Possible To Get Accommodations and A Tutor

Lastly, but equally important, is knowing that it is possible to get accommodations and that your school most likely has tutors available. Accommodations come in many forms, from having someone take notes for you in class to taking your exam in a separate room where you won't be distracted or even additional time to complete your exams.

If you need accommodations, do not feel ashamed. Instead, use all of the resources available to you -- every single one. Specifically, if you suffer from anxiety, ADHD, or any learning disabilities, talk with the Dean of Students at your school to determine what accommodations are available and what you need to do to qualify. Note: A doctor's note may be required, so this is definitely something you want to get on top of early in the semester (and should even have documented in your medical records before you begin law school). It is also worth noting that it is possible to get accommodations for the bar exam, and verifiable history of receiving accommodations in law school will strengthen your request.

With that said, we forgot to say one thing: CONGRATULATIONS on making it to law school and for making it through all eight tips! Did you find them helpful? Please share your feedback in the comments!

With that said, here’s a final thought: Jas Talks Law's 1L Success Academy is here to help you with these eight tips and much, much more. You probably enrolled in many summer programs to prepare you for law school, but who helps you once you’re an actual student this fall? The academy will coach you THROUGHOUT your first semester and, as a result, ensure you have the best first semester ever and the best first year of law school. In addition, recent law school graduates and classmates designed the online course, Attorney Jas and Coach Eb, that both graduated law school with honors and passed the bar after the first try, thanks to the study habits they learned in law school.

The even better news? If you’re still reading, you can get 80% off the 1L Success Academy for the next week! All you have to do is visit the 1L Success Academy home page and enter discount code: ABUNDANCE at check out.

We look forward to welcoming you into and increasing the 5% of lawyers that are black! ✨

This blog post was written by a law student, Whitney Shepard, and edited by Attorney Jasmin Robinson. All rights reserved.


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