So, I love this community because I posted this on Insta and how excited I was to have other low-ranked law graduates represented in the White House.
That’s my type!
Mostly joking (I have no clue if MY PRESIDENT graduated in the bottom half of his class, but if he did, then I’m in good company).
The reality is that I STRUGGLED my 1L year and when grades came out, I was disappointed but not surprised that I didn’t do so hot. More Bs and Cs than I had expected. I really didn’t know what to do, I was to embarrassed to go to the TAs and didn’t even know where to start. And the fact that we are only graded at the end of the semester didn’t help me gauge when I was not grasping the concepts. I made some changes my second semester and did slightly better, but it wasn’t until my 1L summer, during a summer course that I figured out a study routine that worked for me and that made all the difference. I made Dean’s List most semesters after but my GPA was pretty busted from 1L year.
I want you to do better! Even if you struggled 1L year (or need to make some changes after last semester), there are a lot of things you can do to study more effectively. Here’s what worked for me, maybe it could help you too!
1. I started handwriting notes during lecture. I know old-school, but not taking notes on my computer limited me scrolling the internet and made me listen to the professor so that I was writing down important points not just acting like a dictation machine.
2. Do a deep dive of your readings. One of the reasons I struggled so much my first semester was because I had no real study routine. I would stay after class in the library but that meant staying until late at night in downtown Chicago just to make my hour commute back home OR I would take HEAVY ass text books on the train for after class and inevitably I would not have taken the right books home and had no real study space at home. I know right now it’s Zoom School of Law so your study space is limited but my point is that not having a schedule or study routine impacted my ability to actually study (imagine that!). By my next semester, I would go the school library on weekends and read for the week ahead. As many cases as I could from 10-6. My poor eyes. This won’t work for everyone, but doing a deep dive and having a routine, let me stay on top of my cases, prep for the week ahead, have material to review before the classes, and I didn’t have to deal with an evening commute/skipping dinner/being distracted at home. This by far was the biggest change in my study habits that made a huge difference.
3. I splurged on examples and explanations supplemental to better understand the concepts. There are probably a ton of free content that analyzes most major legal theories (just make sure it’s a valid source), but having the supplemental, which most everyone uses despite what people say helped me get a grasp of concepts. I didn’t do it for every class (I couldn’t afford it), but for the ones I knew I’d have difficulty in (Biz Org for example) I did splurge.
4. Don’t feel embarrassed asking for TA support or going to office hours. I felt weird admitting that I didn’t get a concept and it wasn’t until I was a 3L that I felt comfortable emailing a professor to ask for clarification. That is what TAs are there for and (good) professors are open to supporting their students.
5. Most importantly, practice the IRAC structure because learning how to present information is as important on what you’re presenting. Mastering IRAC will make a world of difference in your finals. I have an old YT vid describing IRAC (I need to update because my hair doesn’t look like that anymore and I haven’t had a nose ring in years lol) that may be helpful in better understanding how to capture your answers.
Receiving your first set of grades (or every set of grade, really) can be filled with emotions. And I don’t want to dismiss how important grades are—they are important and you should prioritize studying and improving your analysis game as much as possible, but don’t lose hope if things aren’t as good as you envisioned. There are real steps you can take to address whatever misstep happened and the more you get into the habit of practicing case analysis and writing, the better you will become. Progress is the name of the game here, so even if your 1L grades are lacking, if you can show steady improvement that will be half the battle.