Or welcome back. Whatever your current stage of legal education, I am sure you are relishing in these last days of summer. Maybe your internship is finally wrapping up, and you have a few precious weeks to do whatever you want to do before the semester begins. Maybe you are an incoming 1L and are starting to get your life and priorities in order so that you start law school with few distractions. However you spend the end of your summer, there are things you can do now that will make your life easier once you get (back) to school.
I remember the summer before my first year of law school at Pace being a mixture of fun and fear – fun because I knew it was my last summer of “freedom” for a while, and I wanted to enjoy it with my friends. Fear because I knew at the end of all the “fun”…..law school lurked in the shadows. I was particularly fearful of law school because I thought I was at a disadvantage – in undergrad, I was a science major. I had never taken a law class in my life! I didn’t know how to read a case, didn’t know who the Supreme Court Justices were….I didn’t even know that “tort” was a word, let alone know what it meant! (Sure, I knew what a “torte” was, but I was pretty certain we weren’t going to be spending a semester reading cases about pastries.)
What I learned when starting law school was – I was not alone. I was definitely not the only person in my class who did not have a pre-law or political science background. In fact, I would say the students that did were certainly in the minority. And even with a relevant undergraduate background, most of us found ourselves in the same boat anyway. Law school is unlike any other educational experience you have had up until this point. No undergraduate course can prepare you for what is expected of you now that you are a law student. It’s one of those things that you just have to learn by doing. And you will learn. Along with your classmates, you will learn how to read a case, how to brief, how to handle the Socratic method….and you’ll learn that there is a huge difference between a tort (“ a civil wrong”) and a torte (“cake made primarily with eggs, sugar, and ground nuts instead of flour”)(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torte)
But before you get to law school, there are things you can do to help your adjustment be a smooth one, and lessen your stress once the semester begins. Like I said before, it’s not necessary to know everything (or anything, really!) about law before you start. That’s why you are going to school, so don’t feel like you need to spend the summer before your first semester reading your casebooks cover to cover. The preparations you can do now are more about making your life easier and consequently decreasing your stress once school starts, than they are about learning “law stuff” before your classmates do. There will be plenty of time for learning come September!
So, what should you be doing? First, get your finances in order. Most people stop work (or seriously cut down on their hours) before starting law school. Do you need to get loans to supplement your income? Make sure that is taken care of now. Take a day to visit the Financial Aid office and make sure there are no financial surprises in store for you that will need your attention when you have more pressing issues (like mountains of homework) to attend to.
Second, decide how you will be taking notes, and get a good laptop if you need one. Don’t feel like you have to take notes on a laptop – if you’ve never done it before, or if you are not a particularly fast typist, a laptop may not be your friend. If you do get a laptop, take it to the IT department now if you need help getting on the network and internet. Just another thing you might as well check off your list before the semester starts!
Third, buy your text books. Register for your classes on TWEN and check out the syllabi. Yes, you will have an assignment for your first class and yes, you want to have it completed before that class……although you probably won’t be expected to be “well versed” in subject matter jurisdiction on your first day, don’t let this happen to you:
Read and brief the cases for your first assignments for all of your classes before school begins, because guess what? You are going to get more assignments once classes start and you don’t want to be behind before you even begin. (For a quick and easy-to-follow how-to on case briefing, go here: http://www.lawnerds.com/guide/briefing.html).
Finally, enjoy yourself! Go on vacation, read a good book, go to the beach or just stay home and relax! You will be working hard enough when school starts, so now is the time to enjoy doing nothing at all. Give your body and brain a break, and you’ll be energized and ready to learn once the semester begins.