This post is part of the "Advice for Law School Series." This series of posts contains advice and opinions from current and former students at BYU Law School, and the ideas represented herein are not the official views or positions of BYU Law School.
Click on the names below to read their advice for successfully completing 1L year.
Advice from Bryson King, 2L
What three pieces of advice would you give a 1L?1. Consider how important your choice to attend BYU Law really is. Not only will you receive a legal education that is admired in a national arena of law schools, practitioners, and legal academics, but you will carry the name of the BYU Law School with you wherever you go. That name will create opportunities for you to succeed in and advance your professional career that might not have been available had you not come to this school. Consider as well, however, that with those opportunities comes the responsibility to honor the name of the school you represent. Your future associates and colleagues may expect more from you than they will from your peers. The reputation and standing of this school will be in your hands. Choosing BYU Law generates important opportunities and important responsibilities. 2. Take time to make friends, foster relationships, and be social. The individuals you surround yourself with for the next three years are just about the only people who will really understand the experience you are about to have. Support and strength come in numbers, and at the end of the day, the more friends you have on your side, the better off you will be. Don’t ignore this important part of the law school experience; it will pay dividends to your future legal career. 3. Have no regrets. Although law school exams and the forced curve can be unforgiving, if you give 100% to your education and law school experience, you can feel successful no matter what happens. Students who give all they have but don’t get that number one spot at the top of the class have no reason to blame themselves for anything. On the other hand, students who only give some effort and don’t get what they expect are often the cause and reason for the unexpected outcome. Having no regrets begins with holding nothing back.
What should a 1L expect in the coming year?Expect to grow more than you ever have before, and not just intellectually. Undoubtedly, each BYU Law student leaves the school knowing more about the law than they did before. The hope, though, is that each student will learn more about themselves than they knew before as well. A legal education at BYU Law focuses not just on the ability of each individual to learn something, but also on the individual’s potential to be something. It takes work for an individual to capitalize on that ability and potential. So, expect to grow, but expect to work for it. The truth is, the harder you work, the more you grow.
What was the most challenging part about 1L year? How can 1L's work through these kind of challenges?Surprisingly, the most challenging part about the 1L year for me was not the final exams or the dreaded curve. I felt prepared for each exam and confident that the curve would be in my favor. But, when I learned that the curve did not play into my favor, I wasn’t as disappointed as I expected. What became the most challenging part for me was watching the "pedestalizing" effect of grades. At one point, I started buying into the rhetoric that grades are what matters in law school, and if I didn’t have great grades, I wasn’t as “successful” of a student. Thankfully, that didn’t last long. I soon realized that despite my upsetting performance on exams, I had performed extremely well in other areas of law school that mattered just as much to me. In both 1L competitions I advanced to the final stages of competition, farther than I had expected. My performance in competitions completely overshadowed the results of my exams, and that was perfectly fine for me. I learned that even if my test-taking abilities were somewhat subpar, my performance in competitions was far above average. Interestingly, sometimes students who received high grades on exams competed poorly in the competitions. Law school has a way of balancing things out. Remembering that grades are not the decisive factor in evaluating one’s success in law school helped me get past the disappointment of my first exams. I hope new 1L’s learn this lesson well before exam time creeps up on them. Each and every student has widely different strengths, and those strengths play out in various parts of law school. Some students are superbly intellectual and will likely perform well on exams. Other students are eloquent and persuasive and will succeed in competitions. And some students are “go-getters” and will land jobs before the majority of the class. Just because you might not “succeed” in one area of law school doesn’t mean you’ve failed the experience altogether. Play to your strengths, knowing that you are one of the only students who have them. There is not a single student in my class who possesses each and every strength to make them successful in all aspects of law school. Where some succeed, others fall short, and where others fall short, some succeed. Trust that when the time comes, you will succeed at your own game.
Just because you might not “succeed” in one area of law school doesn’t mean you’ve failed the experience altogether. Play to your strengths, knowing that you are one of the only students who have them.
Based on what you've learned, what would you advise 1L's to do differently than you did during 1L year?If I could have done one thing differently in 1L year, it would have been to set a firm schedule. When I started school, I had a loose idea for when I wanted to do things--I did what I wanted to, when I wanted to. That was a mistake. Instead of walking into each day without a plan, I should have determined exactly what I needed to get done that day and prioritized that against what I wanted to get done that day. It’s amazing how much time you can save and how much headache you can avoid by telling yourself that you will focus on one thing for a specific time period. The point of scheduling is to avoid unnecessary interruptions and distractions. For example, I would get started on one project, and after I had barely started, I would remember that I needed to read for an upcoming class. I would switch gears and start on that assignment, only to remember minutes later that something else needed to be done. That process is exhausting and frustrating. Instead, take a moment to think about your day-to-day priorities, make up your mind about what to do, then give each assignment or project some dedicated and consecrated time. If you can do that, you’ll be surprised at how efficiently you can work, how quickly the work gets done, and how much time you save for getting those “wants” in every day. At least, that’s how it worked for me!
What fears and misconceptions did you have about law school when you started?From day one, the buzz around my 1L class was who would be “cold called” that day. Some of us feared cold calling more than others, but all of us had major misconceptions about that experience. I’ll share a few of those. First, you absolutely cannot be completely prepared for the cold call. When destiny calls, and it’s your time to go one-on-one with the professor, you might have a rough idea about what menacing questions will escape the mouth of your mentor, but even if you answer one or two right, you’ll never know when the exchange will end. Some cold calls last only a minute or two, like when a professor is looking for a specific answer to a specific question. Some cold calls will last the whole class period. For the especially long cold call experience, this is my advice: use your brain, not your memory. Professors don’t really want to know if you read the material, they want to know if you understand the material. There’s a huge difference between the two. Anybody can recite the facts or recall a line of reasoning from the case. The real genius of the cold call experience is to prompt a dialogue between the professor and student that goes beyond the text and theory of each case. Most of the time, the professor will want to know what you think, not what the textbook thinks. So, use your brain, not your memory. Think about the question and your answer, and say what comes to mind. It’s better to say something than nothing, and better to say nothing than what what the textbook says. Second, if you’re on the “lucky” side of the cold call--meaning that you don't get picked--know that you are indeed lucky. Students who don’t get called on in class benefit more from the cold call than students who do get called on in class. As you’re sitting there, observing your unfortunate classmate in the hot seat, you will probably answer each question the professor asks inside your head. I’ll even bet the answers you come up with are better than what your near-to-death classmate comes up with. Don’t forget to write those answers down, because chances are you’re getting the answers right! Students who get cold-called seldom take time to write down what they’re saying and thinking during the exchange. They miss out on the opportunity to take careful notes and instead have to rely on their memories to pencil in what the rest of the class has already inscribed. You get that information freshly delivered every time you escape the cold call. So, if you don’t get called on in class, remember, you’re the lucky one who gets to devour the feast of cold-called knowledge placed before you. Finally, if you do hear your name called from that vile list of souls who have yet to be offered up as sacrifices on the cold call alter, prepare to be wrong, and glory in it. You’re going to answer a question wrong, and that’s ok; you’re not actually going to be sacrificed on an alter for a wrong answer. Unless you clearly didn’t read the case and are flying by the seat of your pants, expect that a wrong answer will result in the professor patiently and kindly redirecting your thinking toward the discovery of the right answer. However, if you’re wholly unprepared, know that you could be tossed out of class. The law school professors want you to be right, and will do what it takes to get you there. There’s no shame in a wrong answer, only the opportunity to eventually get it right.
Advice from Jesse Houchens, 2L
What three pieces of advice would you give a 1L?1. Read 1L of a Ride by Professor Andrew McClurg and Getting to Maybe: How to Excel on Law School Exams by Professors Richard Michael Fischl and Jeremy Paul. Follow their advice about briefing, class preparation, and outline writing. 2. As a former teacher of mine said: "just reading is not just reading." Critically engage with the material you are studying. That is, never just read a case, but think about the principles and policies it is intended to teach you and why you are learning them. There is always some way to disagree with an opinion. Figure out its weaknesses. 3. Practice writing out answers to questions early on and get real feedback on those answers. A recent survey found that those students who had at least one professor critically analyze a written answer prior to an exam did far better than their classmates. Ask your professor and your TA. You can find practice questions in books and online. Early and frequent assessment will be key to making sure you are on the right track. 4. An extra tip: Manage your time. I would list out specified times that I would complete my reading. Seeing your calendar fill-up with all of the assignments you have to complete will give you a realistic picture of your schedule as well as motivate you to finish that case brief in the time you allotted.
What should a 1L expect in the coming year?You should expect, first and foremost, to have a lot of fun learning the law. As far as academic fields go, the law is an extraordinarily interesting one given its technicalities, nuances, and practical applications. Next, you should expect that you will have very intelligent people in your class and that you will develop great relationships with them. Third, you should expect that you will be disappointed with your performance. While no one should feel disappointed, I can't think of a single person who did not wish they did better in a particular class.
What was the most challenging part about 1L year? How can 1L's work through these kind of challenges?The most challenging part of the 1L year for me was the high anxiety levels that law school induces. To combat this anxiety, I made sure to make time for activities that were not law school related; e.g., dates with my wife, a run, cross-country skiing, a half-marathon, cello practice, serving my neighbor, and leading nursery. These activities consistently reminded me that there is more to life than the evaluation I will receive at the end of each semester.
Based on what you've learned, what would you advise 1L's to do differently than you did during 1L year?
- Keep up with your outlines. There is nothing more intimidating than catching up on 6 weeks of material on a Saturday.
- Be realistic about what you know. The class you feel most comfortable in will likely be your worst grade.
- Work frequently and consistently with your TA and writing professor. I incorrectly over-estimated my writing abilities my first semester and doing so significantly hurt my GPA. The next semester, I met frequently and consistently with my TA and writing professor and was able to do much better.
What fears and misconceptions did you have about law school when you started?I think every person has some anxiety about grades in law school. Even if they do not speak about it, it is a very real pressure and can be difficult to forget. My number one recommendation is to focus your time on learning the material to the best of your abilities and do not get caught in the grade gossip. There will be classmates who end up in the top 10 having spent less than 50 hrs/week on their schoolwork. There will also be classmates who put in 80+ hours/week and won't even end up in the top 1/3. In the end, keep balance in your life and make sure you are developing relationships while you are in law school. There are so many factors beyond effort, alone, that influence a person's grades. Further, there are still plenty of jobs if you happen to end up in the lower portion of your class. Be adaptable and choose to love what you're doing.
Advice to Spiritually Survive:
1. Pray often for your classmates by name. Law school is a competitive environment and without the reminder that your classmates are also children of Heavenly Father, struggling and striving in their own ways, anxiety can cause ill-feelings toward one another.
2. Do not forget your neighbor. During my first set of exams, my neighbor was going through a very difficult time and needed about two hours/day of support through friendship and childcare. I am so happy I took time out of my studying to help him. It provided me with a mental break, raised my self-esteem, and kept me humble and grateful for the opportunity to go to law school.
Advice from Shelby Thurgood, 2L
What three pieces of advice would you give a 1L?
- Nearly everyone will be having a difficult experience, so be nice.
- Don't let the competition get to your head. Just focus on doing the best you can.
- If you want a parking spot in the law school lot, don't get to the school after 9:30 am.