It’s the end of August, which means that law schools are filling up with new 1Ls, excited to begin their law school journeys. I used to tell students not to worry about the bar exam yet – just focus about the first semester, and you’ll be able to get to the bar exam later. While it’s true that you don’t need to worry about the details of the bar exam yet, your legal career does start now, and it’s important to spend the time developing the learning habits you will need for the bar exam and for law practice.
Both the bar exam and law practice require you to work with a large volume of material – to understand it, synthesize it, and ultimately apply it to a new set of facts. Those are the skills you are learning from day one of law school. Beware of shortcuts. If you don’t figure out how to do this in the manner that works best for you, it will be harder later.
That means you’ve got to struggle through making case briefs. It means you need to struggle through making your own study materials – outlines, flashcards, charts. You may think that this doesn’t apply to you, that you can use other people’s outlines or canned briefs and still do well. Maybe you can, but it will be much harder, and you won’t graduate with some of the fundamental analytic skills that lawyers need.
The first semester of law school is difficult. Everything is new and different. But you can do it. Many people have done it before you. There are resources at your school to help – get to know your academic support professors and your Student Affairs staff. Really engage with your class material. All of that will pay off when you enter the bar study period because you will be able to hit the ground running.
Every year I speak to students who tell me that they don’t know how to study. They got through law school without figuring out who they are as learners. That makes bar prep much harder. I’m not saying never look at anyone else’s outlines or commercial study materials. It’s helpful to use them as a tool – as a reference point. But you need to know how to get to that place yourself too. You need to work with the material to make it your own. Now is the time to develop that skill set so that it becomes second nature to you. It will pay off for the bar exam, and throughout your legal career.