Six steps to prepare for law school

By Alison Monahan

 

In some ways, you’ve been preparing for law school your whole life. People talk a lot about how law school “teaches you to think like a lawyer.” But, as the dean of my school said at orientation, “Really, thinking like a lawyer is just thinking!” So, keep your wits about you this summer before law school, and remember that you’re already an intelligent, competent person (that’s what got you into law school to begin with).

 

It is true that certain aspects of law school are different from undergrad, and it can’t hurt to be ready for them. However, when people ask me what they should be doing in the summer before law school to ensure they’re ready, much of my advice focuses on the non-academic aspects of things. Since those are, ultimately, what can throw you badly off course when classes start.

 

So, let’s talk about some things you should be thinking about in the summer before starting law school.

     

     1. Sort out your living situation

 

When I was getting ready to start my first graduate program at Berkeley, I needed a place to live. Being totally naïve about the housing situation, I decided to drive up from Los Angeles for the weekend (with my new puppy!) to find an apartment. How hard could it be?!? Ha, ha! Do not be that person. I couldn’t find anything, and ended up moving in at the last second to a co-op full of hard-partying undergrads. This was a terrible idea, and made my first semester 1,000 times worse than it needed to be. Do yourself a favor and find a safe, quiet place to live – well before you need to move in. Any extra time you devote to this now will pay massive dividends later. (And be sure you give yourself enough time to move and unpack.)

 

     2. Consider your transportation options

 

Along with housing, it’s important to think critically about your transportation options, to ensure you can get back and forth to school safely and reliably. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to students in need of tutoring second semester, who explained that they fell behind when they had car problems and had to miss class. If you aren’t sure your car will survive law school commuting, and you can’t live close enough to school to use other transportation options, you’re setting yourself up for a world of hassle later on – probably at the least convenient possible time. Do whatever you can this summer to make sure you’ll be able to get to class when you need to be there, even if that entails exploring housing closer to campus.

 

     3. Get your relationships in order

 

It sounds harsh to say, but if you need to break up with someone, now is the time! Once classes start, you’re going to be busy and overwhelmed. Whatever relationship issues you have now are likely to get a lot worse, when you have no time or mental energy to deal with them. While supportive outside relationships are invaluable for new law students, a bad relationship is going to be a huge drain on your mental and emotional energy. If you know things aren’t going so well, make a clean break (and avoid being in the 1L betting pool for “relationships that will be over by Thanksgiving”). On the flip side, the summer before law school is a great time to invest time and energy in the relationships that are working, since you’re going to have a lot more demands on your time soon. Use this summer to hang out with friends and family, spend time with your children or significant other, and bank some good will before you’re super busy and stressed out all the time.   

 

     4. Put healthy habits in place

 

Any good habit takes time to develop, and the summer is a great time to work on healthy eating, exercise, and so on. It’s much easier to continue a yoga or gym routine than to try to start one from scratch after classes begin. So, take some “me time” this summer to make sure you’re as healthy as you can be before orientation. (And don’t neglect your mental health – a few sessions with a therapist or coach can help you start out strong, and have a resource to fall back on when things get challenging.)

 

      5. Make sure you know what you’re getting into academically

 

Personally, I think it’s a waste of time to stress yourself out trying to learn the substantive law before law school starts. But you do want to think critically about how law school works, and what you’re going to be expected to do there. And it can’t hurt to get a jump start on some of the skills you’ll need to survive in law school. You can talk to attorneys you know about their experiences, check out books on the topic (your local library likely has a lot of options), or listen to these podcast episodes for incoming 1Ls. Just be sure you have a clear idea what it takes to succeed as a 1L, and a plan for how you’re going to start thinking about exams from day one!

 

       6. Build up your reading stamina

 

Especially if you’ve been out of school for several years, consider using the summer to build up your stamina for reading difficult material, so the volume of reading you’ll be doing as soon as the semester starts isn’t so shocking. Pick a few challenging non-fiction books, and spend an hour or two each day reading them. I’m not saying you should start with A Brief History of Time, but perhaps you can work your way up to that, if you’re feeling ambitious. Any serious book you tackle will help you build your stamina and focus, so law school reading won’t be quite as much of a shock to the system.

 

Best of luck in law school, and enjoy your last summer before classes start!