My liability statement would be that I’ve only been in school for two-weeks so take everything with a grain of salt. That being said, a lot of trial-and-error can happen in a short amount of time: a lot of myths about law school busted, some upheld, and then of course, the unexpected always pops up. Below is a quick guide to the things that were helpful and then things that were not-so-helpful during Orientation and the first week of school. Not all of them are strictly law school related so I hope you can find some meaning in this guide even if you’re pursuing a different program!
Do a “little” preparation…
Before law school, I had many many people tell me to just focus on resting, creating a good routine, taking up good habits, and not really focus on “preparing.” However, I view all of that as a form of “preparation” because all of those things: health, wellness, organization, rest, are critical to being a successful student! And I did actually read a few books before school starting because I wanted a better idea of “law school lingo,” I went into the books expecting to take everything with a grain of salt (much like this post). There are no attorneys in my family that I’m directly related to so the jargon often used and the lifestyle of a law career is very new to me. By reading books written by professionals and getting to hear their perspective on success in law school, helped prep me just by exposure to the words and ideas. I wouldn’t go much further than that in terms of preparation, i.e. don’t worry about trying to get a grasp on legal theories and rules before class. That’s why you’re going to law school! (That would apply to any program, honestly. If the program sends you certain prep courses to take then by all means, follow their instructions, but anything outside of that: save for when classes start.
Read everything twice, maybe three times…
Orientation can be overwhelming, it’s a lot of people, especially after over a year of isolation and intense social-distancing. It can also be a lot of information: honor code, school culture, technology requirements, class descriptions, class schedules…the list goes on. So, when you’re handed a document that the administration took the time to print out for you containing essential information about your classes or certain requirements, read it. Read it twice, and then maybe even a third time. There were questions asked, by both me and other students, that were outlined in documentation we received. I chalk this up to nerves, which is okay! But just make sure you’re taking the time to read the instructions given before going and asking what the instructions are – if it is very clear that something was left out or there was an error, then definitely ask about it.
Embrace the awkward…
There’s going to be an element of awkwardness to it – that is almost always the case for social interactions. Those first few minutes, that first hour or day can be like pulling teeth but it gets much better. Consider how you might be feeling: excited, nervous, maybe even scared…then multiply that by how many students are in your class. You’re not alone! So, embrace the awkward ice-breakers or team-building exercises, say “hello” to new people even if it feels weird, ask to sit with them to eat or grab a cup of coffee. Once you get over that initial hump of awkwardness, it is usually much, much smoother. Don’t let it hold you back from interacting during Orientation or classes that first week and getting to know other people.
Do not gossip or be overly sarcastic.
Common-sense, right? I believe that it is very easy for all us (myself included) to slip into gossiping or sarcasm as defense mechanisms. It’s a new school year, perhaps (like in my case) a whole new program that is known for being very intense. I did notice at times some students being VERY open in different group-chats started for our class and all I’m going to say about it is this: you are making first impressions for the first few WEEKS. Do not get too comfortable too early. Be professional, reign in the sarcastic jokes because not everyone has humor like that and please refrain from talking about others or at the very least, the WAY you talk about others. You may think you’re being “constructive,” but I would urge you to read out loud to a friend what you’re going to send in a message or even say to someone before doing so to make sure that it is coming across the way you intend it to. And take note of people who do gossip or are overly sarcastic in all of their responses…
Do not be rude or entitled to administration, even if there’s an error.
Again, it sounds common-sense but that first week or two is intense. As I mentioned before, there’s a lot of information, a lot of emotions filling the campus/room/building, and a lot to do. Our school gave us an Orientation Checklist everyone needed to complete that was frequently updated even up to the day of Orientation! When you are reaching out to professors or administrators to ask questions, (1) make sure the question wasn’t already answered somewhere else in your paperwork, emails, or online/during class and (2) make sure to be polite. If you’re nervous, that’s fine, but anxiety can often make us short with others so be mindful of your tone. Saying “thank you so much for your time!” and “Hello, how are you?” to the people who are teaching you and/or administrating the program you’re taking goes a long way. Think about how it makes you feel when people treat you that way versus the opposite…act accordingly.
Do not get stuck on people, expectations, or rumors.
This may not apply to you and if not, that’s great! But if you are someone who might get hung up on what other students are doing to prepare or get settled into classes, unrealistic expectations (set by you or others), or rumors about who the “good” professors are and who the “bad” professors are, then this advice is for you. When you hear or encounter these thoughts, treat it like a red flag. Make a note of it and then remind yourself of the good things that can happen, to set realistic expectations for yourself and others, and to not pay too much mind to rumors. Make your own judgment of people and classes after giving them ample time to display their true characteristics (or better yet, don’t judge at all). You are there to learn, get your degree, and get your dream job – do you really want to waste your precious time (that could be put towards studying or networking) worrying about other people and things that may not be true?
I could probably keep going on about the lessons I’ve learned, very quickly, from these past two weeks but I’m going to leave it here. These were the first things that came to mind and stood out to me very often during Orientation and the first week of classes! Good luck to you as you start your journey and let me know below of any advice or lessons you encounter that you’d like to share as well!