I have to say, I found my first year of law school (at Duke — go Blue Devils!) like getting off the plane after a twenty-four trip to South Africa: profoundly disorienting. Current 1Ls, I hope your orientation group was better than mine (I called my Mom and cried), I hope that you understand your reading somewhat, and I hope that you have gone out a least once with the one nice person in your orientation group. So, now that stuff is over, what else do you need to know?
I divide this up into two sections: How to Orient Yourself as a Human and How to Orient Yourself as a Law Student.
How to Orient Yourself as a Human
1. It gets better. Well, kind of better, in a relative sense of the word: You will understand what your teachers are saying at some point. You will know how to write a legal memorandum well. You will be able to speak clearly when a judge is impatiently looking at you. It may not happen your first year, but it will happen.
2. You need friends besides other law students. I am not kidding on that. I, by random chance, ended up living with bio-medical engineering students and that was awesome. You need friends in the same city who care not one whit about law school or lawyers. It was healthy for me to hang out with people who did not care about what “injury” was in Torts and so forth.
3. Milwaukee is a really nice city: The other subsidiary benefit of Friends Who Are Not Lawyers is that they get you out. In my first year, my friend Natalie dragged me out to all sorts of interesting parts of Durham, North Carolina. And it turns out that Durham was really nice, and so was Raleigh, and I had lovely sweet tea and donuts at Krispy Kreme (before it blew up and went corporate). I like Milwaukee and highly recommend The AV Club: Milwaukee ( http://www.avclub.com/milwaukee/channels/eatdrink/2) for good tips.
How to Orient Yourself as a Law Student
Now that I have given you advice as a Human Being, let put on my Law Professor Hat:
1. Learn your study style: This is a lesson I learned as a professor. Most students have no clue what their study style is and spend most of their first year wandering, clutching their outlines, like lemmings. You might want to spend some time thinking about the best way you study, and how that might change in law school. I have found that VARK test on study styles is very helpful: http://www.vark-learn.com/english/index.asp. Take the test. It might turn out that clutching your outline like a security blanket is not helpful to you. For instance, you might be a visual learner who needs to break down different analytical elements of a rule spatially, rather than in words.
2. Practice the exam: If you have the opportunity in law school to practice the exam, practice the exam. And by practice, I do not mean casually read previous exams. No, I mean practice the exam in relevant exam conditions, and if feedback is possible (through your ASP, your professor, or your study group), get it. One question for all of you is: have you taken a law school exam, before? So, how do you know what you are doing? The last thing you want on the day of your exam is to be taking the test for the first time, while your classmate next to you is taking the exam for the second or third time.
3. I am always learning everyday: This is the best lesson from my first year in the law. I am always learning everyday. I learn from my colleagues, I learn from my students, I learn from our alumni, I learn from cases and statutes. So, this feeling that you don’t know anything — that you are disoriented — it stays with you every day of your career as an attorney (but it gets better — see above). But somewhere along the line, this reality — I am always learning everyday — becomes less scary and more like a grand adventure.