A 1L Reality Check: Tips to Make First Year of Law School Better

By Zaynab Al-Waadh, 2L at uOttawa Law

For many of us, being admitted into law school carried with it the relief that all those long nights, extra curriculars, and go-getter attitudes during undergrad paid off. Law school was the dream and the admittance letter only stands proof of our intellectual prowess over everyone else.

However, if there is anything that 1L has taught me, it is that our high-achieving attitudes are in for a reality check. Being admitted to law school is only the beginning to a complete overhaul of your expectations.

Going to law school is that exhausting (but incredibly rewarding) transition where you relearn the art of note-taking, exam-writing, and critical thinking. To say that 1L was difficult is an understatement. Your readings are archaic and dense, the workload is intense, and the lack of accountability can make even the most diligent of go-getters waver amid the uncertainties.

I won’t lie to you and say that if you follow “xyz” steps you will never experience a low point in your 1L career; however, I will say this: when it comes, embrace the challenge. Stepping out of your comfort zone is difficult, and sometimes even isolating, but I can guarantee that having come this far, you will always come out more independent and self-sufficient than you were before.

1L is no joy ride—however, with every adversity, there lies an opportunity and 1L is an opportunity to re-discover and reaffirm your strengths. I know it’s easier said than done, so here are a few tips that may help you along the way:

  1. Surround yourself with people who motivate you to be a better version of yourself. And if making new friends isn’t your forte, learn to take comfort in your own company. Whether through club affiliations or in class, you are bound to come across the right people for you.
  2. Study smarter, not longer. Develop a weekly strategy to tackle your readings and make sure to set one or two days aside each week as ‘catch-up’ days. You don’t need to read every last word in your textbook—some days you simply won’t have time to even read your textbook and that is okay. There are plenty of resources and case briefs online to give you a general idea of what’s going on, supplemented with your class notes, trust me, you will be fine.
  3. Take charge of managing your time. Sometimes your family wants you to visit, your friends want to hangout, and washing dishes becomes your new favourite pastime but there are only 24 hours in a day and 5-8 hours are spent in REM. You spend another 2-6 hours in class and another 1-3 hours commuting, eating, or doing whatever other task in your day. Do the math and realistically confront the hours you have to devote to actual studying. Schedule and take ownership of your time based on your own realistic habits and work from there.
  4. Learn to balance work and down-time. The truth is, most people like to project that they are busier than they actually are. In fact, our society rewards the notion of working day and night at the expense of your personal life and well-being. This martyr image is all too known and aspired to—we probably even know one or two people in our lives who claim to manifest this image. But the reality is, you simply cannot give something your absolute 100% if your cup is half empty. Self-care is a fairly new buzz-word but what it truly means is blocking out some time during your day or week to do some activities you actually enjoy. Do you like cooking? Do you like watching Netflix? Do you enjoy colouring? You’re working hard at school, so carve out some time to do whatever it is that makes you happy—you owe it to yourself.

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