A year ago, our Pre-L advisors Rob Cacace and Jordana Confino wrote a blog for us on their best tips for 1L success—you can read those first three tips here. After another busy cycle of Pre-L advising and 1L Success Coaching, they've reflected on the last year and have one more piece of advice to add for those preparing for the challenges of 1L. More guidance coming throughout the spring!
Ready to talk more about your 1L prep strategy and how to hit the ground running when you get to campus? Send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll connect you to one of our Pre-L advisors to discuss an approach that makes sense for you. Pre-L spots fill fast, and sessions start as early as this month.
Tip #4: Analyze your syllabus early.
No two 1L classes are taught the same—even within the same subject. This means that your Torts class, for example, is likely to differ in substantial respects from the Torts class being taught to another section in the adjacent lecture hall. Professors make choices about which cases to read to teach concepts, what order to teach concepts in, and which doctrine to include and leave out. In a very real sense, the “law” that you are learning is what your professor presents it as.
In this environment, your syllabus can be a key tool for getting a macro-level view of the course... and in doing so avoiding getting stuck in the trees, as so many 1L students do. The syllabus in the vast majority of cases will set out larger themes of the course and then break those down into smaller concepts/doctrine. This can serve as a roadmap for learning. Early in the semester, take note of which themes you’ll be covering and in what order. Once a professor has wrapped up a particular section of the syllabus, it’s probably time to outline that section and begin practice problems related to concepts/doctrine within it (see our post from last year for more on practice problems).
Additionally, pay attention to whether the professor has included material other than cases in the syllabus. Often professors will include readings from Restatements, law review articles, sections of code, and other sources. They may do so in an effort to clarify a certain point, to introduce an alternate take on a point, or simply to get you thinking more expansively about concepts. The challenge is that you have to figure out how the additional materials factor in on your exam. Examine syllabi early to see if there are additional materials included apart from cases, and make a plan for determining how those additional materials will impact your exam prep.
Finally, the syllabus usually includes important nuggets related to studying. As we explain below, learning in law school is self-directed to a large degree. The syllabus can provide some clarity as you navigate the uncertainty of 1L. Details about the exam (format, timing, length), information about external resources (hornbooks, commercial outlines, practice questions), and/or grading policies are often included. This intel can help guide your study... and the absence of such information gives you a template for what to ask about in using office hours (spoiler: using office hours is more important in law school than undergrad).
Read our earlier blog here: 3 Tips for 1L Success.