The first year in law school is like the first ten overs in a cricket match: you don’t need to be too fast or too slow. In either case, you will be frustrated at one point. The first year is all about being steady and moving forward at a fair pace. However, it’s not an easy feat as the challenges are inevitable. Adapting to a new environment while dealing with the onslaught of heavy academic pressure is undoubtedly a difficult task. This blog provides ten tips in an attempt to help you make the best out of your first year in law school.
1. Acknowledge the difference: First things first, law school is fundamentally different from the places you have already attended, such as your school and college. While this may be said about many disciplines, it is especially true for law schools. The reason is that law is never taught at high school or college level in our national curriculum. As for the other curriculums, although there are courses related to law, those are not exhaustive and are mostly optional in nature. Moreover, the teaching style and contents of those courses are vastly different from that of the law schools in our country.
In law school, you have to go through hundreds of pages of judgments and a varied number of sections from different legislations. Each section of the legislations is discussed in several case decisions with numerous principles. Thus, the reading materials are quite vast and without a handsome researching skill, it would be like drowning in the pages of books. Moreover, principles of law are always evolving which requires you to be familiar with their history as well as be updated with their latest developments. These are different from memorizing essays or solving math or physics problem. So, whatever strategies you might have applied previously, probably, won’t work in your law school. Therefore, you have to acknowledge this difference and tailor your strategies accordingly. For example, noting down the important principles while leafing through the pages of books and judgments; using page-marker or sticky notes in the books to find out the important stuffs later, using flashcards to memories the names of the cases, searching the internet to learn about the latest developments in any particular field etc.
2. Improve your language skill: It’s crucial for anyone in the legal field to properly understand the text. Seemingly similar words have different meanings and different consequences. For beginners, it is difficult to understand the language in legal books, judgments and statutes. Firstly, most of the legal textbooks and other resources are written in English. In addition to that, you will find books and judgments written hundred years ago in language or style that is obscure and now regarded as obsolete. Moreover, the texts use numerous legal jargons at which uninitiated minds can only look with surprise. The trick is to read and read. Take a dictionary to get the meaning of unfamiliar words in the sentence. If the sentence still appears confusing, re-read it. Trying to break the sentence into its subject and predicate can help you in this case. Upon reading the sentence a few times, you will find it much easier to understand. As a workaround, you can also buy books that are written in a much simpler language. Books written by Bangladeshi and Indian writers would serve this purpose.
Secondly, it’s not only English that students struggle with: most of the newest legislations are drafted in Bangla and there are no official English translations. Understanding the laws written in Bangla comes with its own challenges. For the better part of our legal history, we used English as the only language to draft the legislations and therefore the development of legal terminologies in Bangla was stymied. This made the transition from English to Bangla less smooth. You will find words that you never heard of and the structures that are too complex. Using a Bangla dictionary published by Bangla Academy can help you understand the words. Apart from this, you can find unofficial English translations in the book or internet. Reading the original text along with the translation can help you understand better.
3. It’s not all about memorizing: Contrary to what any layman would say, law is not all about memorizing. To be honest, that is partly true. You have to cite a bunch of legal decisions to score well on your tests. However, much of the legal sphere is about critical thinking. Law is nothing but common sense. So, in the case of the analytical aspect of law, the motto should be to think and think. When you read something, try to decipher the underlying principles. Take for example the following questions: Is the death penalty a deterrent against crime? Should the judges be allowed to use discretion when sentencing individual offenders? To get answers, you need to go deep into the philosophical backing behind the punishment, such as how punishment serves the society or what salutary effects punishment has on the criminals. Another example is evaluating the legal system in general and laws in particular and coming up with ideas as to how to make them better. In this area, the ability to think critically can set you apart from the majority of the students.
4. Attend the classes: You might think that you can get away with being absent in the class since you can read everything at home. This is not an effective strategy: attending the classes allows you to be familiar with how your teacher thinks. Writing from a textbook won’t get you the top scores although it might just be enough for an average. While you are in the class, take notes. Try to understand where your teacher is focusing. Chances are high, you will get more questions from that topic. Highlight them in the exam scripts. Scripts that reflect in-class discussions are often analytically more insightful and are deserving of better grades.
5. Cooperate with your friends: Believe it or not, your fellow friend might have a better shot at explaining something to you than your teacher does. This is partly because both of your knowledge is fairly on the same level. You will have different courses in your first year of law school: it’s hard to excel equally in all of them. For example, your friend might be very good at tort law while you’ve done more studying for contract law. Cooperation comes handy in this case and both of you can be benefited in the process. While you exchange your understanding on a particular topic, it brings out the areas of confusions and helps you understand the concepts better. If the question seems too silly or you did not get the answer after hearing it multiple times from your teacher, the person sitting beside you can be your best resort.
6. Explore the Extra-Curricular Activities (ECA): The first year is the best time to get involved in ECAs. There exists an inherent curiosity leading to an incentive to join and explore different societies and clubs. This incentive often gets lost over the years. While studying academic books can improve your knowledge, ECAs can help you build your soft skills. Explore different areas of ECAs and try to discover the ones that suit your career interest and, at the same time, provide opportunity to develop your desired skills. For example, working in a law review will improve your writing, researching, editing and organizing skills. Implementing these skills will improve your academic performance and later help you build your career. Participating in ECAs is also a good way to build rapport with your seniors at law school.
7. Master the art of presentation: If you have never participated in a formal presentation, your law school will be a good start. Try to build upon your public speaking skill in the process. Remember that expressing yourself is a prerequisite to success in almost any legal profession: you can’t be a good lawyer if you fail to be articulate in front of the judge and make your case; you can’t be a good teacher if you can’t speak eloquently in front of the class. To improve your presentation skill, you can join several online courses, ie BYLCx, an online platform, offers a short certificate course on public speaking. You can also search for free courses on Coursera or Edx. They provide courses of the world’s top universities. Presentation is also an opportunity to unfold your creativity.
8. Be steady and don’t procrastinate: You don’t have to bury your nose in your textbooks every day. However, the far end of the opposite side is no good either. Don’t keep everything for the day before the exam. Analyze your syllabus and determine the amount of time you need to cover that. Then have your time compartmentalized according to your courses. For example, if you need 10 hours to finish the law of torts, you can distribute that to 5 days as 2 hours per day. You can go even further and determine the amount of time needed for per chapter. An effective strategy would be to write down all your chapters along with the respective deadlines on a diary or application on your smartphone or computer. That way you can keep track of your progress anytime. Every time you study, revise what you read in the past few days. Make a list of the names of decisions related to your topics: take a look at it at least once every day. Keeping you prepared like that will help steer clear of that added tension to bone up on your courses right before the exam.
9. Prepare your exam strategy: It’s best to prepare an exam strategy in the very first year. Most people don’t have one, and they lose valuable marks. Incorporating simple tactical changes in your answer script can bring you better marks, ie using IRAC method to answer problem questions, creating logical consistencies between sentences etc. There are several books you may consult to prepare your exam strategy, such as Legal Skills by Emily Finch, Letters to a Law Student by McBride Nicholasetc. Don’t forget to be creative and unique in your answers.
10. It’s okay to feel frustrated: In your first year at law school, there will be times when you might feel frustrated. It can result from a number of things including your poor performance. This is a difficult time, but it’s not the end of the world. Remember that you are far from alone and failure is a part of success. The more experience -sweet or bitter- you will gather, the more mature and confident you will become.