What I learned my first semester of law school

As the spring semester is about to begin, I find myself reflecting on my first semester of law school. Grades and class ranks have been posted. I have a pretty good sense of what worked for me last semester, as well as what I need to do to improve next semester. I know many 1L law students are in a similar situation. Here are four things I learned my first semester of law school:

Rachel Henderson
Rachel Henderson, 1L Student Ambassador
  • Everyone is getting better

Doing well in law school is a skill that students develop throughout their 1L year.  Learning to read and brief cases, outlining entire courses, and preparing canned answers are some of the challenges facing 1L students. Throughout the semester, our case briefs become more concise, our outlines more useful, and we realize that canned answers are actually worth preparing. Everyone in our class is developing and improving these skills throughout the year. If you are not focused on improving your skills, the quality of work that may have helped you do well on the midterm may not be enough to do well on the final. It pays to constantly analyze your work and look for ways to improve.

  • The right study group is key

The right study group helps you deepen your understanding of the material and improve your grades. Study groups hold you accountable—no one wants to show up to a study group unprepared. Study groups show you your blind spots. You may think you understand something, but your study group helps you realize you have got something wrong. In a good study group, everyone contributes, and everyone benefits. I am lucky to have found a great study group. However, if you have not found the right group yet, it is OK to keep looking!

  • Find the outlining method that works for you

There are several approaches to outlining. It is important to find the method that works for you. Outlining is not just about producing a document that can aid you on an exam. The best outlining methods will deepen your understanding of the material as you create the outline. This past semester, I experimented with a few different styles of outlining. I found that I prefer an outlining style that is organized around issue-spotting questions and lays out the steps for analysis. It takes more time to create but has been the most helpful to me on exams.

  • A routine makes it easier to manage your time

Law school can feel all-consuming. I personally found it very difficult to balance law school with the rest of my responsibilities. I remember having a conversation with a peer where we both confessed we were way behind on laundry. At the time, I was glad to know I was not the only one struggling. Next semester, I want to do a better job making time for non-law school activities and responsibilities. I know having a routine is key to school-life balance. Toward the end of the fall semester, I fell into a routine of being at the law school from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, attending class and studying. This allowed me to take Saturdays off to focus on relaxing and spending time with my friends. (During midterms and finals, I spent Saturdays studying as well.) This routine helped me stay dedicated and focused on my schoolwork without feeling burnt out.

Next semester, I want to create routines for my non-law school activities and responsibilities. For example, I want to spend 30 minutes cleaning when I get home from school every day. I want to do grocery shopping and meal prep on Sundays. Hopefully, building routines will help me achieve school-life balance.

— By Rachel Henderson, a 1L from Wichita and a KU Law Student Ambassador