Students entering law school often feel that they don’t need to prepare for the experience. They probably performed well in college and see law school as just a continuation of that experience. They are often rudely awakened. All students can benefit from preparing for the first year of law school.
Although different schools and different courses use different books, there are some basics that will be helpful everywhere.
1. Get a good general dictionary
A good general dictionary is important as is a good general handbook—one that gives comma rules and the like. These should be hard-bound books, not just the spell check and grammar check programs in your word processor. You need something with a larger dictionary, and you need a handbook that gives more detail than the online version. This will help you be prepared for the tremendous amount of writing required in law school.
2. Get a good law dictionary
A good law dictionary will also be invaluable. Black’s is the most commonly recommended. The law dictionary will be more inclusive than the general one, which will help you prepare. There is also likely to be a lot of Latin in legal texts, and those words are not often included in a general dictionary.
3. Prepare to do a lot of reading
The number of pages is estimated at 200 per week, and it is reading that takes longer for most first year students than other types of reading since the language is new. As you read, you will probably also need to take notes so you can put together a coherent summary for class.
4. Expect to be put on the spot
Many instructors will, indeed, choose one student to ask a number of questions regarding a case. You need to be sure you have done all the necessary reading and other preparation before class so you can respond to these questions coherently. You should use proper grammar and also speak loudly and clearly enough that the class can understand you. This is like a dress rehearsal to prepare for the courtroom.
5. Set aside study time.
You will also certainly need to set aside study time. Besides all the reading and writing, you will need to have time to review your notes, to look up sideline material, to formulate your own questions and prepare responses to things you read or cover in class. You will have little time for leisure. Study groups can be very helpful for maximizing the amount of material learned in a course. Besides sharing research requirements, groups can discuss issues, allowing students to hear dissenting ideas and further reasoning behind opinions. Some people and places suggest students set up groups on the first day of class, but others dissent, saying groups that form naturally tend to work better together and get more accomplished.
Such a group that forms halfway through the semester can be infinitely more effective than one forced together the first week that ends up being dysfunctional.
6. Get some nice clothes
You are entering a professional field and need to start preparing for that. Jeans are not appropriate even for law school classes, and a suit and tie or suit-type dress will be essential at one time or another.
Law school is not an extensive of college. It is a very different kind of learning experience, more like an intensive internship that gives you the necessary rules and knowledge as you go along. If you are not prepared for that kind of commitment, law school may not be for you. But if you enjoy a challenge and are willing to work hard, prepare yourself and go for it.