The first year of law school can be a daunting experience and a big adjustment for new students. Law school is very challenging because the course material is hard and the workload is endless. Some adjust easily and thrive, but many struggle.
Beginnings are important. They set the tone for academic excellence. They can be the difference between a successful or challenging university experience. Studies have shown that a positive early start to school is beneficial for our academics, and to our social and emotional well-being. Conversely, students who experience a bumpy start are more likely to experience difficulties throughout their school life.
Students with a great start tend to have a sunnier disposition for life while having a poor beginning might cast a cloud over your future law school studies. When students become disengaged in the beginning, they can under-perform or choose to drop out completely.
The first year is a period offsetting expectations for learning and reinforcing routines. This is when you build new habits and break bad ones. You will quickly realize that what you did in high school may have to change as law school requires a new set of skills.
To reach your full potential as a law student you need to be a planner. If you aren’t, you need to become one. Early in tertiary study, self-management skills are vital. Organization is key in keeping track of classes, assignments, and other appointments.
If you were the type to wait until the last minute to study for exams, this method may fail you. There is too much to read and catching up at the end of the semester is nearly impossible. So, build a regular study plan and realise that studying should not be a one-time affair.
Some classes will come easier than others, but all of them will require time. If you wait until exam time to figure this out, you will end up paying with your grades. To help, you can take exercises that will improve your concentration, reading speed, comprehension, memory, and problem-solving abilities.
Another stressor in the first year of law school is that it can be isolating. University is a big step and living away from home, meeting people from different backgrounds and cultures is a big life adjustment.
This is hard for students who have no one to ask for help because it is a combination of not knowing your peers and not knowing what to do. Support, both academically and socially can be limited. Rarely is the support students need to succeed provided by the school and you may have to find it for yourself. This is the reason why the Young East African Aspiring Lawyers Network (YEAALN) was founded. The network gives East African law students a support system on their journey through law school and into their legal careers. You can use this network to ask questions, get advice, engage in useful discussions, share experiences and much more on various platforms (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the YEAALN website).
I would also advise you to get comfortable with seeking help. Try to initiate conversations with older students to guide you on campus. You may also approach your lecturers who often have consultation hours you can take advantage of. You have to go to them because they will never come to you.
Additionally, first-year students arrive with very different academic and social expectations. Most frequently, these center on perceptions of the course, teaching quality and engagement but there is often an expectation mismatch.
First year is a time when students are introduced to the curriculum, which is the centerpiece of learning. You start reading new and confusing material and lecturers ask hard questions you may not have answers to.
The concepts may seem difficult to grasp but they make sense as time goes by. Employ patience to this, added with a lot of extra reading. Soon after, the unknown and indecipherable becomes easier and more familiar.
Law school success is all about knowing the how and the why of taking action, and always being clear about which steps to take next. Getting a good start doesn’t always come naturally, and effective study takes some planning.
If you find your first year difficult, don’t worry about it. There’s no law that says you have to have the perfect beginning in order to progress
Sometimes, it’s not until you have finished the first year that you realise what would work better in your studies. If we are intentional about student success, you can anticipate and mediate known first-year obstacles. Mastering your craft isn’t nearly as important as pushing yourself. You don’t need to have a perfect start; you just need to push yourself.
It will be awkward. It will be humbling. But it will be brilliant.