First Semester Down, I now Know Law School was the Right Decision
The first semester is finished, and it has been quite a ride. Throughout my four years of studying biology and chemistry in undergrad, and the eight subsequent years that I spent in the biotech industry, I knew that law school was what I really wanted. I just never had the guts to take the plunge. I thought about going to law school often, but it was difficult to make such a radical change in my life. I had a family and a good job. Now that the first semester is over, I finally know that I did the right thing. It was the best decision that I have ever made.
This first semester was aggravating, scary and difficult. However, I can finally say that I am doing what I have always wanted to do. It is hard to figure that the first semester is one full course lighter than the second, and I must admit that the thought of having an entire other class to worry about is scary, but I applaud Albany Law for doing things this way.
You need to be eased into law school. About half way through the first semester, I came to realize that the way I was preparing for my classes was completely inefficient. Everyone does things differently. My advice is to trust your instincts. Orientation week will prepare you in the most conservative and time-constricted way. If you follow the advice given to you during orientation, and you work really hard, you will succeed. But if you are like me (kids, wife and mortgage) you are going to need to refine your strategy. Efficiency is the name of the game. The brute force approach (thorough case briefs and non-stop work) is a guaranteed path to success. For most of us this is not a real option as much as we try to tell ourselves that it is. In fact, a few professors have admitted to me that the overall plan for 1L students is to bombard them with more work than they can do.
If you work hard at this thing and you discover an efficient way to approach it that works for you, then you will succeed. Everyone tells you as much when you go to law school, but once you get there it is difficult to believe. EVERYONE around you is very intelligent and dedicated to what they’re doing. You can count the number of true to form slackers that you observe on one hand and everyone seems brighter than you are. Then you come to realize that many of the so called slackers are not slackers at all. The truth is, everyone is worthy of being where they are. It is all about what you make of it. You will doubt yourself. You will question your decision to go to law school many times. But in the end you really do get out of it what you put into it. My advice is to work hard and discover your own path to being efficient. Treat this thing like it is a 9-5 job where you have a boss hanging over your head and good things will come of it. The catch is that you have to be your own boss and at times it is very difficult to maintain the kind of self discipline required.
The main thing I learned in this first semester is that you have to work over-time. Come finals week, you’re going to have to study your outlines. Prepare them early and often. My outlines were comprehensive and fantastic (worthy of selling in my opinion), but I often completed them only a day or two before the final. I realized that law school is about being in a constant state of preparation. Don’t neglect to start your outlines early. It should be a semester-long process, not something you put together in the final month or week. Here too, there is a method to their madness. In most courses your entire grade is based on one final exam. But if your plan is to cram everything into the last month, you will not be pleased with the result. You have to stay on top of it even though finals seem far away.
When this semester began, I was paralyzed with fear. I think that I experienced no less than three bona-fide panic attacks – sitting there in class asking myself what in the world I had done. Then the middle of the semester arrived and I realized that I could do things far more efficiently. In the week or two before finals, I realized what I needed to do in order to prepare for courses where your entire grade is based on one final exam.
Next semester will be more difficult. But my approach will be so much better. We all have an entire 5th class to worry about now as opposed to the mere four we had to deal with first semester. Learning to be efficient and preparing well for class is the key. You have to go all in. Think about what you are paying to attend law school and remember that the rewards you attain from joining this profession are directly proportional to the work you put into studying it.
Another important lesson I learned is that if you help your classmates, they will help you. Don’t get me wrong, this is a competition, but compete with honor. If you’re not ready to give it your all and build relationships with your classmates, then you are wasting your time. Albany Law will prepare you if you are willing to do what is required to be prepared. Everything you need will be provided as long as you take it. Every professor is more than willing to help. Go to them with your questions. Ultimately, this semester taught me that anyone can succeed if they work hard at it – even a burnt out 32-year-old parent of three with a background completely dissimilar to this field. The ball is in your court and yours only. That is the primary thing I have learned in my first semester of law school.