We were once like you. Very soon, you will be like us. These two short sentences are arguably the most ubiquitous and ominous sentences you will find around of an existential meaning. However, do not worry, there is no intention of being deep on that level. Take me at my word, we (upper classmen) literally were once like you and you will be like us.
I know you are walking up and down these spiraling stairs wondering why in the world you chose to read law after you were hit with that Marbury v. Madison case brief assignment. You would be thrown into further despair once the scripts are returned and the highest mark recorded on that assignment turns out to be 2 out of 10. When you get those seven cases to brief after your first contract class, did you gush in agony? Did you fight the urge to raise your hands and inform the lecturer that you had just been given a number of other cases to read by the constitutional law lecturers? So in the midst of all the stress, you are probably wondering why non-freshmen seem to be walking around with more ease and less stress. That is what I mean by “We were once like you. Very soon, you will be like us.”
Just like criminal law, the study of the law is not meant to entrap you. The never ending list of cases you are being handed are not meant to break your back or your will. Neither is the library meant to physically keep you trapped for the entirety of the semester. Maybe in a sense it is. Your workload as a law student is like nothing any of your contemporaries reading other courses would ever have. Your constitutional law materials are probably the equivalent of a political science student’s four year course materials. But like I earlier said, your legal studies is not meant to entrap you into a bottomless abyss. There is a method to all the madness you think you are facing so here is a survivor’s toolkit from someone who (barely) survived year one of law school.
1. Attend Lectures And Tutorials: You will quickly find out that even though some lecturers might teach from textbooks, you are better off still sitting through their classes regardless of how boring it is and attending tutorials. Tutorials are even more important. This is where you will get the chance to ask questions you could not ask in class and get an understanding of how to answer law exam questions (which by the way, works totally different from what you already know)
2. Pace Yourself Well: One of the truest things about most human endeavors is the need to take things one at a time. Most people who start the calendar year with grandeur plans tend to fail in seeing it through. So kick start your legal studies in a well-scheduled manner. Draw up a personal study timetable. Keep a mental note as well as a physical one, of what you have to study. Make use of class periods your lecturer misses. Due to how heavy the reading material is, do study when you are not tired. But take breaks to keep yourself healthy.
3. Ask Yourself “Why Am I Reading This Case?”:One of my favorite lecturers said it took him 9 readings to finally get the gist of Marbury v. Madison. As you begin reading cases, you will find out that some of the materials in the cases are of little value to you. For every case you have been assigned, it will fall under a particular topic. In reading the case, ask yourself what about the topic is manifested in the case you are reading. That way, you are able to zero in on only the essential material. This does not mean reading the headnotes. Far from that. Headnotes are like sand at the beach. You want to get yourself immersed in the water but then you do not want yourself so immersed that you find yourself drowning. So find the relevance of the case to the topic in question and make your case readings more purposeful.
4. Make Use Of The Academic Mentorship Program: Yes we still do not know enough law to be strutting around like we are it. But you will find some great insights (not necessarily juridical knowledge) from Academic mentors (who are fellow students but upper class men). Bug the living daylight out of your assigned academic mentor. Ask her how she approached particular courses, ask him which tutorials to go for, ask them to lend you their notes (BUT NEVER THINK THEIR NOTES IS A GOOD SUBSTITUTE FOR ACTUALLY READING THE CASES AND ATTENDING LECTURES).
5. Take Breaks And Smile: like the popular saying goes, you can’t come and kill yourself. Yes you need to study. Yes you need to be serious about your studies. But NO that does not mean you need to frown the whole time and literally face your books 24/7. Take breaks away from your book. Go to the movies. Play basketball. Go cheer your favorite team. Law school does not mean your life must come to a stop. Again, you can’t come and kill yourself charley!