How I Survived my First Year of Law School

by Doug Zanes | Last Updated: June 20, 2014

Guest blog by Brian Riley

Hi, my name is Brian Riley, and I just survived my first year of law school. Heading into the start of class last fall, my legal knowledge was limited to watching various episodes of the show COPS. Not going to lie, I felt extremely behind in comparison to my peers. I knew I was going to need to put in the extra time to ensure success, and I’m happy I realized this early on. Below are six things that I did to successfully get through my grueling first year of law school.

    1. Plan

Planning and being organized was key. Not only did it keep me organized on a day-to-day or even an hour-to-hour basis, it allowed me to prioritize the things I needed to get done. My peers actually used to make fun of my old school ways of tracking every minute task down in my planner, but I know they were envious of my ability to create free time. The big takeaway is to find a planner or calendar that you know you will see and use every day. Whether it’s on paper or digital, make sure to use this tool to your advantage!

    1. Compete

Law school is an extremely competitive environment, and you need to welcome the challenge. Most people will help you succeed and some will not. It’s important to stay focused on the things you need to do to learn the material but at the same time be aware of people who may be trying to gain a competitive edge.

    1. Be detail oriented

One of the biggest lessons I learned during my first year of law school is that specific words matter. If your teacher continuously uses a specific word or phrase to describe a rule, it’s most likely extremely important. Law professors look for exactness and preciseness. It’s not enough to describe a rule. You must be able to recreate the rule or phrase the way your professor prefers.

    1. Have a clear mind

During your first year of law school, you will encounter bumps and roadblocks as you wrestle with trying to understand and keep up with the material. The material is sometimes going to be confusing and lengthy. It’s important to realize that your professors do not expect you to be perfect and that you are going to fail. Just do the best you can and take every failure as a learning experience.

    1. Have discipline

Going back to my first tip: planning. If it is part of your plan, you must stick to the plan. This requires an extreme amount of discipline. When it’s time to read and brief cases, that’s exactly what you need to do. Conversely, when it’s time to have fun and relax, that’s what you need to do as well.

    1. Family

Lastly, having some type of support system is extremely important to being successful in your first year of law school. As I stated earlier, there are going to be some rough bumps and road blocks and you are going to need somebody to at least talk to through your struggles. Make sure to include family members on your quest to succeed in your first year. It’s not so important to keep them up to date on a day-to-day basis, but definitely make time for them. Do not push them away during this highly stressful time in your life.

Doug Zanes: Founding Attorney Raised in Douglas, Arizona, and went to college at Arizona State University and graduated from law school at St. Mary’s University School of Law in Texas. Doug began practicing law in Phoenix Arizona in 1997.
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