Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Tips to Becoming a 1L - Q&A Between Justifiably Blonde and Legally Foreign

Becoming a 1L presents many adjustments, hardships, failures & successes. There are thousands of unanswered questions that begin buzzing through your head as soon as you receive that acceptance letter. Want answers to some of those questions? Well then be sure to read through this amazing collaboration post with H, author of Justifiably Blonde, where we tackle some of those common questions about getting to and pushing through 1L year. This post is in two parts: the first part is questions that I had about 1L year that H is going to give insight on and the second is questions that H had for me about my law school experience so far. This is a long post but it is packed with a lot of helpful information so enjoy!! 

Meet H! The Author of Justifiably Blonde
Hey there, I’m H, author of Justifiably Blonde - a lifestyle blog sharing the crazy roller coaster ride I boarded three years ago about my journey to and through law school. In 2015, I graduated from the State University of New York at Fredonia with a degree in English. Fast forward two years and I am now heading into my 2L year at Syracuse University College of Law! But before I dive into 2L year, I am juggling a summer legal internship for a local real estate attorney (&& loving it), a part-time job as a waitress and finding time to enjoy my summer after surviving 1L year.

Tackling 1L Year

LF:    What should I be doing this summer to prepare for 1L?
JB: Enjoy your summer. It’s one of the last times you’re going to have nothing law school related. But I do think you should be reading something…. anything. You want to get into the habit of reading quite a bit each night. During the first semester, for Torts alone I was reading a minimum of 40 pages of just casebook material and it took at least 3-4 hours. My only suggestion is to read something you enjoy because leisure reading is a thing of the past once classes begin. You don't want to burn yourself out before the semester even starts so whatever you choose to read, enjoy it.

If you are looking for something to read that is law school related, there are a ton of “1L preparation” books out there. You don't have to read them all, if any. In fact reading too many of these can be hinder you because there are so many suggestions /opinions on how to prepare. Rather read one or two and pull the bare minimum from it. You want to go into your 1L year with an open mind especially when it comes to altering study habits, note taking exam prep. Two books that I have enjoyed are: “Coming to Law School: How to Prepare Yourself for the Next Three Years” by Ian Gallagher (one of the professors at my law school) and “Getting to Maybe” by Richard Michael Fischl and Jeremy Paul –I read this second one after the first semester.

LF: What should I expect out of 1L orientation?
JB: Orientation really depends on your school. At Syracuse, it was a week-long – check out my post for a more detailed run down of my orientation! The first day included headshot photos, class photo, the welcome ceremony and a convocation ceremony. The second day was paperwork and panels/ small group meetings with alumni. Day three we meet with faculty advisors and went through a ton of paperwork and campus policies.  Finally, day four was pro bono work at a local farm and then a baseball game.

LF:  I am going part time do you feel like the part-time students and full-time students interact? What extracurricular are you in? What do you recommend? 
JB: At Syracuse, part-time students attend classes M-F during the day like full time students but weirdly enough I don't think I’ve had any encounters with part time students. As far as extracurricular activities, I was advised to only try to take on 1-2 so I would still be focused on the 1L course load. I chose to partake in the Sports and Entertainment Law Society because when I came to law school I was dead set on pursuing sports and entertainment law – that has changed. But I enjoyed going to the general body meetings and the end of the year symposium.
When it comes to extracurricular activities, you don't want to overdo it. You need to remind yourself that you are here to learn. Don't bite off more than you can chew. It's a good range to join 1-2 extracurriculars because it's a great way to meet upper classman and see what a certain area of law entails. If you like it, you can run for positions as a 2L and so on, if not there are plenty of other opportunities for you to try new things – moot court, law journals, etc. Don't feel like you must join anything because you don't. Law school is what YOU make of it, so participate in things that you think are going to benefit yourself, your legal education and your future. Don't get caught up in the 1L ban wagon where everyone does or joins the same thing.

LF:  How did you study during 1L year? Do you think you are going to change your study habits? 
JB: When it comes to studying is you do what works for you and if something is not working try something new. 1L year is a complete adjustment and that include study habits. So for me I begin by margining my class notes and reading notes into an aoutline -Check out my post on outlining. Once I complete my first outline I’ll cut it down as much as possible as I’m going through it on my own and with my study group. From there I decide what information to create flash cards, flow charts, acronyms, really anything that will help me learn the material and jog my memory. It’s all a trial and error process – figuring out what works best for you but also works best for that specific class material. For ex: I used flow charts for Civil Procedure but flash cards for contracts. I used only an outline for Property but a combination of charts, flashcards and outlines for torts.

The “where” you study is just as important as the how - find study spaces that allow you to stay focused. Personally, I need complete silence when I do work to the point where I actually use ear plugs that my dad brings home from his machinist shop. I have a couple places in school that I’ll hide out in and an office at home. When I’ve been in one place too long, I’ll switch it up and go to the local public library, I have friends who escape school and go to Starbucks, Panera, the local park, wherever.

LF: How did you deal with stress during 1L year? 
JB: It really depended on the day and my level of stress. I needed to do things that kept me active and released some of that stress – gym, taking the dog for a walk, intramural volleyball. But I also am the type of person that needs alone time so that was usually my Sundays. I had to press that “reset” button to mentally prepare for the week. Getting good grades is important, I mean its law school – but if you are not at 100% youre not going to do well. So taking care of your health needs to be right at the top of the “to do” list.  

LF:  Tips on getting books? Are you going to go a different route than your 1L year?
JB: My first semester I opted to do the textbook prepack through school because I didn't find out my finalized schedule until orientation. This worked well. The second semester I got whatever books I could cheapest from amazon but this didn't work out the greatest because two of my books were the newest edition (and cost about $300 a piece) and the third book was a custom made one by my professor. Though for the other ones it worked well. In terms of textbook shopping, it’s like undergrad textbook buying. If you’re looking for used books try and purchase ones that are in decent condition without a ton of highlight and margin notes – its distracting and at times confusing to go over someone else’s highlights/notes.

LF:  Cold calling? What was it like your first time? and tricks for cold calling?
JB: HELL. Just kidding – it’s definitely nerve wracking but if you read and go over what you read, you’ll be fine. My first time was honestly a blur. It went by quick from what I can remember. My professor didn’t ask any questions that were not in the reading. I had a pretty easy going section my first semester where I wasn't the only person on call rather there was either one other person or four other “co-counsels”. It alleviated the stress of it because if you were stumped your classmates could help you out. But the other sections were a different story – some were on call for a minimum of 15 minutes and if you didn't have an answer the professor would wait. So it really just depends on the professor. My best advice for cold calling is do the reading, look over your notes and case briefs before class, and talk it over with someone else. Check out my post – Catching Up, Literately -  reflecting on the first month or so of 1L year, including cold calls.

LF:  Being prepared for class? How did you prepare? What do you recommend?
JB: READ. Always, always READ and take notes on what you read. You need to at least try case briefing at first, it helps pull out the issues, rule of law, application of the rule, holding of the case. After a while you might not have to do this or you’ll make your own version of it. Following case briefing/ notes, go through the class material for the day before class with at least one other person – I tried to sit down with a group about a half hour – and hour before class to go over the material for the day and it really helped. Talking about the material with others helps you learn the material.

I also used Quimbee. I found it to be extremely helpful to compare my case briefs to the ones one Quimbee – especially when I didn't understand the case. If I read a case all the way through and asked myself “what in the hell did I just read?” I would read the Quimbee case brief and then go back through the books case and do my own. It's extremely helpful as SUPPLEMENTAL material. I also purchase the Emanuel outlines  and book specific supplemental (just search the case books author on amazon) to give further aid.

If you can get your hands-on upperclassmen’s outlines for your specific professor those are helpful too but do not solely rely on those. You need to create your own outlines – it is its own version of studying.

LF: Dress in law school? Is it business casual all the time or really casual?
JB: It really just depends on the day and what you have going on – if you have interviews, you come dressed for those, etc. but honestly, I was just casual dress similar to undergrad – people in sweats, people in dress clothes, people in casual clothes. 1L year is mostly just classes, you don't really start doing interviews for internships and what not until the middle of the spring semester.

LF:  How is the financial aid process? Did you budget? Did you get any scholarships? If not, how was the loan process? Are there a lot of scholarships out there for future law students? Did you apply for any?
JB: It depends on your school and how the school year falls. I did budget, but thankfully I don't have to rely on my refund checks as much as other students do for things like housing, food, etc because I live at home (it has its perks and downfalls). But the process was fairly easy because my school was adamant on sending out reminder emails and had a financial aid timeline to keep track of things.
Budgeting was a bit more difficult in terms of having personal funds to go out and enjoy myself at times – I wasn't working so I didn't have a steady income coming my way. Budgeting is important especially if you have to pay for housing, food, car, car insurance, etc. etc. I would highly suggest creating some sort of spread sheet with all your expenses – I sat down and did this when I had to figure out exactly how much I was going to have to take out in student loans since my scholarship didn't cover tuition completely. I took into account books, gas, some spending money, parking, any service fees the school had (technology), laptop (I bought a new one for law school – check out my post on my laptop dilemma), school supplies. Look at your bursar account to see the break down and then add what is extremely necessary – housing, transportation, food, etc. don't take more than you need, you’re going to have to pay it back eventually.
In terms of scholarships, my school informed me of which I was eligible for / which ones I was going to receive. I honestly didn't do much additional research for additional scholarships but it’s worth asking your school if there are any additional ones that you can apply for.

LF:  Is it easy to make friends? Or are the people cut throat and very competitive? 
JB: Yes, but again it depends on the school. I made friends early on through the class Facebook page (highly suggest using this if your class has one)  and my participation in the Orange edge program -- we met up for drinks before classes and orientation started which was nice to see a semi familiar face at orientation.
Syracuse is not cut throat. For the most part everyone is extremely friendly and willing to help each other out. Towards finals is a bit of a different story, you mostly stick with your study group and focus on going through the material and completing hypos (practice problems). But I have heard stories about the competitive, cut throat atmospheres at other schools. I personally didn't mind sharing outlines or material, but there were many who felt that keeping helpful material from others was to their advantage and didn't pass it on. Which is fine for them but that's not how I saw things. At the end of the day, it’s you taking the exam. You have to know the material. You have to apply it. You could have a golden outline from someone else, all the supplemental material in the world to help you, but if you don't know it and know how to apply it, you aren’t going to do well.

LF:  Explain the curve? Were your grades what you expected?
JB: The curve is stressful. You can walk out of an exam and think you did great but actually did not and vice versa. It really just depends on how well the rest of the class did. Which sucks. The best way I can describe the 1L is curve is that for each class you typically have one grade for the entire semester and that is based on the final exam. But the “fun” part is that only so many people can get the A and so many people have to fail. Here is how Syracuse breaks the curve down: 

So say your Torts class has around 80 people in the class only 5% of that class can get the A (that's 4 people) and 2% have to fail (about 2 people) and so on. In other words, you’re competing with one another for your grade. That's why it’s crucial to be consistently going over the material, doing hypos, meeting with your study group and taking advantage of tutoring if there is that option. 

As for my grades, my first semester I did better than I expected which was a great confidence boost. Although spring semester I really struggled. I did well in all my classes except for one and I’ve been beating myself up about it. I’m still figuring out what I should do about it, in fact I will be addressing that in another post. But one thing I suggest is going back and reviewing your exam with your professor post semester. It is a great help to find out what mistakes you made and how to improve / see how your effective your studying habits were and where to make adjustments.

LF:  How did you deal with the culture shock of 1L year? if it was a culture shock for you?
JB: It was a big adjustment. I had taken a year off between undergrad and law school which was the best decision for me.  But I had to get back into the swing of being in school full time again. It wasn't as much as a culture shock for me as it was for some. I am from nearby and I think a lot of the students just had a hard time adjusting to the Syracuse area in addition to law school. For me it was more so struggling to adjust to law school and not being able to do all the things my family or friends were doing. I live at home and it was definitely a struggle to have to say no to a lot of things – it was equally a struggle for them to adjust to me being at school late, in fact I felt guilty staying late so I would force myself to come home when I should have stayed. You have to learn to balance, say no, and have your focus be on school.

Becoming a 1L

JB: What made you choose University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law located Baltimore, Maryland? (Is there a specific program they offer, area of study you are interested in, experiential learning opportunities, location, cost, etc. that helped you choose this school)?
LF: When I applied to law school, I only applied to four schools. Two were safe schools, one was where I thought I wanted to move to and slightly out of reach, and University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law was my dream school. I always knew I wanted to stay in Maryland and practice law in Maryland and Maryland only has two law schools to choose from. When all my acceptance letters came back to me, I was actually waitlisted to Maryland Carey Law and got into all the other schools I applied to. I was sad at first and disappointed in myself but accepted the fact that I had to choose from my other choices. I started planning my law life around my second-choice school; I even paid 300.00 for my first seat deposit for the school. Then, I got an email and it said that I got accepted to Maryland Carey Law school. It was a very hard decision for me and it took some time for me to make the decision to either go to Maryland or to the other school and lose 300.00. I asked around for advice and I got some great advice from some fellow law school bloggers. The reason that I ultimately choose the school for was because of the ranking of the school in the full time and part time program compared to other law schools, the fact that I got a scholarship, the campus is beautiful, and it was close to home. Lastly, when I went to visit the school I felt like it was right place for me to be.

JB:  Why did you decide to attend part time? 
LF: I chose to attend law school part time because I realized that I cannot afford to go to law school full time and eat, live, and commute around comfortably without waiting on a refund check. I could take out loans but I took out loans for undergrad and so the less amount of loans I had/have to take out, the better. I know it is not the norm and most people go to law school full time for three years but the part time program appealed to me because I could work and go to school, which I did all of undergrad. I weighed out my options and realized that is the best choice for me. I am not getting much help financially from anywhere else and am pretty much on my own so I have to afford basic necessities of life and I need to work and go to school.

JB:  What are the major differences between going full time and part time - for example - how long will it take to complete your degree as a part time student? How will it be spread out? 
LF: The major differences between going to law school full time and part time is that the full-time program is 3 years and the part-time program is 4 years long. Also, full- time takes place during the day and the part-time programs are usually in the evening so you would be taking classes at night because you have a job or other obligations during the day – for me it’s 9-5 at a law firm.

JB:  What will your schedule look like as a part time student - how often will you go to class each week / when you will be going to class, how many / which courses will you be taking your first semester?
LF: I haven’t received my official schedule yet but typically as a part time student you usually take a smaller course load than the full-time students. The full-time students take 16 credits their first semester, we take 10-11 our first semester. We still take all the same classes just at a different pace and at night. For my program, my first semester I will be taking contracts, criminal law and legal analysis and writing. Also, my classes are scheduled Monday through Thursday beginning at 6:30 going till about 9:45 or so. Hopefully, I’ll be able to survive! #PrayforCindy

JB: How did you come about working for a defense law firm? is this an area you are interested in pursuing? what will you be doing there?
LF: That is actually a post of mine, Bye, Bye Internship, Hello Paralegal But to make a long story short, Stevenson University has a mandatory internship program for all their legal studies students so that you can get practice in the field, as a paralegal before you graduate. My internship turned into a job opportunity and I got hired after my internship. Although my internship was focused on criminal defense, I am not sure what area of law I want to go into, I hope to figure that out in law school with all the specialty classes that I am going to take. Lastly, what I do at my defense law firm…… I work as a paralegal. I assist the lawyer with everything and since it is a small law firm, I get to see a lot of what goes on first hand. I manage the calendar, interview clients, draft motions and legal documents, go to court, manage bills, and etc.

Hopefully, you enjoyed this Q&A and Collaboration between H and I and found it to be very informative! I hope to catch you on my next post!! Happy Reading!

Cindy <3 

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