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Ten Survival Tips for Incoming Law Students

Taylor Maxston (3L)

advice#1 – Put Your Past Behind You and Focus on the Road Ahead

While there was a brief stint in your life when the LSAT was the center of the universe, the subject will seldom (if ever) come up in law school and your career pursuits. Take pride in all the hard work it took to get here, but also realize that everyone starts on virtually equal footing when they arrive and the steps you take from here on out will define you.

#2 – Don’t Miss Out! Get Involved in Your Community 

With the huge variety of activities at the Faculty of Law, there is truly a niche for every type of student. Student Legal Services provides an opportunity for first-year students to volunteer and assist the low-income community of Edmonton. Law Show allows students to come together and put their efforts towards a final dramatic production. These are two of the many options, so don’t waste the opportunity to get to know the people around you. Your peers will end up being your professional colleagues when all is said and done.

#3 – Organizational Skills and Sustainable Study Habits Pay Dividends

Simply put, you will have a lot to manage in law school. It is like a full time job in many ways, especially as it pertains to the time commitment. Attending class, going over notes, preparing outlines, attending study groups, and doing assigned readings takes time. To avoid missing deadlines and any unnecessary stress, disciplined students will keep track of their schedule on an external source (such as a Day Planner or Google Calendar) and maintain consistent study habits. Remember, success in the Faculty of Law is about organization, not necessarily memorization.

#4 – Keep an Eye for Networking and Career Opportunities

Career services is an immensely helpful resource that can help make the path to entering the legal profession clearer. Make it a priority to speak with them and generate a roadmap for how to approach finding a job while in law school.

If you don’t have any strong connections to the legal community that you want to work in, Career Day and other major networking events will help you get your foot in the door. The Canadian Bar Association also has a number of sections to give you immediate access to practitioners and exposure to a wide number of areas of law.

#5 – Reading is Important, but Spend Your Time Wisely

There is a reason why professors emphasize the importance of keeping up with the reading schedule. A good chunk of your time outside of class will be spent scanning through case law and legislation, materials which will be foreign for most incoming students. An understanding of those materials is extremely beneficial for following lectures and responding to questions, but don’t waste your time creating detailed briefs for everything you cover. As you develop the skills to read legal writing throughout the semester, you will become much more efficient at knowing what you need to do to prepare.

#6 – CANs are Supplements, Not Replacements

The wide availability of condensed annotated notes (CANs) makes them an easy temptation for first-year students who are looking to find their footing in a new environment. That being said, how you use these handy summaries can mean the difference between success and failure. In the end, bet on yourself and do not rely too heavily on other people’s CANs to comprehend the course material.

#7 – If Available, Study Groups Can Help With Flexible Thinking

Not everyone studies effectively in groups. However, there are a number of benefits to being part of a group of hard-working and reliable classmates. With so many areas of law being complex, bouncing ideas off of each other can help to make you a flexible thinker and answer questions that you may have before the exam. Personally, I find that studying individually to grasp the course material before group studying is extremely productive.

#8 – Don’t Wait Too Late to Start Outlining Your Courses

You want to be focussing on understanding the law and each class’s bigger picture as your exams near, not synthesizing the course material. If you have been following along and keeping detailed notes from lectures, you can avoid the mad dash to create your own CAN at the end of each semester.

#9 – Avoid Comparing Yourself to Others

On the surface, law school seems to be a breeding ground for competition. There are small classes, grading is curved, and the legal profession is certainly adversarial in many respects. You will frequently overhear discussions about your peers’ experiences, from the ease of understanding today’s readings to how much work they are doing outside of the classroom.

There is a natural inclination to think you are “not doing law school right” from what you see and hear amongst your peers. The reality is that everyone has their own way of preparing for class and being successful. So long as you are not neglecting your studies by, say, not coming to lectures whatsoever, trust in your work ethic and be confident in what you are doing.

#10 -  The Importance of Work-Life Balance Cannot be Understated

Being a successful law student requires dedication, but it is as important to avoid being too obsessive as being too nonchalant. Your mental health is important and ensuring that you have a life outside of law will keep you on the right track. Take breaks, hang out with friends, go to the gym… find those outlets to mitigate the stress of law school.