The first week of law school is an information overload. First, take a step back and breathe. There are lots of social events and lots – I really mean lots – of readings in the first weeks. It is hard to be prepared for law school and it will not be like any other schooling experience you’ve had.
This is a compilation and a breakdown of how to survive 1L. Just know that everyone you see at school, even your professors, have been here once before so we all know what it’s like. One thing you will notice quickly at Dalhousie is that you can always find someone who’s willing to talk and help.
Studying for Law School
- CANs and Class Notes
If you don’t have access yet, you will get access to the CANs (AKA Case Annotated Notes) database. It’s a compilation of notes from those who have come before you. You will hear people who rely heavily on CANs. It can be especially noticeable when everyone misspells a case name in the Tax Law assignment and the professor calls everyone out in class.
You will also hear people who swear they only make their own CANs and do all the readings themselves rather than relying on someone else’s notes. I believe those people are lying or are insane.
That being said, everyone has a different style when it comes to class notes. Some people can learn just fine reading someone’s already-prepared case summary and others need to read a case themselves to get a grasp. My advice regarding CANs is don’t always trust they are perfect, because the person who wrote them was also a 1L at the time and also knew nothing.
- Study Tips for Exams
The best studying advice I have heard is from the great LMT (if you don’t know who that is yet, you will): “Do what works for you! Don’t get caught up in the tide of ‘you have to do x to get an A.’ Everyone learns differently!”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Some people will swear by study groups others prefer to study alone. Some people will just study CANs, and others will insist making their own CANs for exams is best. You will hear different strategies from every person you talk to and it is helpful to hear those perspectives, but remember you do you!
This brings me to another crucial point – fail safes. I’m sure you’ve heard of these by now and it makes it sound like December exams aren’t a big deal since they might not count for your final grade. But, they are important in their own way. They give you a chance to try different study strategies and see how things work. As in how early to start studying, whether things like flashcards work, whether doing practice exams help and lots of other study ideas I could bore you with.
Ultimately, law exams are not like any other exams. They consist of the dreaded hypothetical scenarios and December is your chance to figure out what you can do personally to succeed.
Social and Extracurricular Activities
The best advice I can give is pick a few things you are passionate about and stick with them. There are lots of great societies and Pro Bono opportunities at the law school. It can be overwhelming when you first get here want to be a part of everything, but don’t sign up for too many extracurriculars. You could find yourself unable to meet your commitments mid-semester. These types of activities can be a helpful thing to put on your resume but don’t stress about doing enough. Do what you are comfortable with and what will be enjoyable.
There are lots of law school events that happen throughout the semester, whether it is riveting seminars from visiting scholars or Domus. It’s good to get out with your colleagues, since everyone you are in school with now will become your work colleagues one day. Even if you come from away, you will meet other people from your province and they will be an invaluable resource later in your career. Make use of the events and networking opportunities offered at the school.
With that in mind, there is a drinking culture within the law community. If that is your cup of tea, then great! If not, don’t feel like you can’t still go out to things like Pith and Law Ball. We strive to be a supportive group to everyone in law school and there is Sober Support at all major events. You can always seek them out for someone to engage in sober and interesting conversation.
- Work-Life Balance
Lastly, you will have surely heard this phrase before, but one place it is truly important is in law school. There will be times when your workload seems to overwhelm your life, but remember not to give up those other things in life you love. It’s important for both mental and physical health. So, as you start law school think about the one thing you loved to do before law school whether it’s running, painting, or baking. Make sure you continue to factor your favourite things into your schedule.
Just remember that if you need help don’t be afraid to reach out. We all made it through 1L – you will too!