How To Succeed in Law School



The Ones Who Put in the Work

One of my first memories in law school is chatting over AOL Instant Messenger (okay, okay, I’m dating myself) with the partner for whom I had worked as a paralegal about how intimidated I felt during my first few days as a law student.  My classmates seemed to raise their hands to contribute during class lectures with such ease.  They seemed so confident; how could I possibly compete?

As a paralegal interested in law school, I had vaguely known that the partner (we’ll call him Partner Tom) had been on law review when he was a law student.  I didn’t really know what that was exactly, but I did understand that it was the thing to strive for.

Having always been an over-achiever, I arrived at law school thinking, I want to be on law review.  But then I learned that only the top 25 students out of 350 earn grades high enough to join the law review.  I realized with a sinking feeling that all of us—every single one—had been at the top of our respective classes all our lives.  And now we were all going to be measured up against each other.  And my peers seemed to “get it” so quickly, such that they were actually volunteering to participate in class, while I was sitting in the back row, absolutely terrified that I would be called on.

I messaged to Partner Tom about all of this, and he told me something that I will never forget.  “Don’t worry about those guys.  The people who get top grades in law school are the ones who put in the work.”

The people who get top grades in law school are the ones who put in the work.

Guys, listen to me:  this is true.  I did not come into law school with the most confidence, and the material did not come easily to me.  But I worked it.  I studied really hard (and during the weeks leading up to exams, really, REALLY hard).  And I got one of those 25 grade-on spots because I put in the hours.

Yes, there might be a few people—the Good Will Huntings of law school (am I dating myself again?), the ones who sat for their first LSAT with no preparation and banged out a 178—who just get it and don’t have to put in the work.

But the overwhelming majority of top law students are the people who put in the hours.  The “butt in the chair” hours, I call them—as in, your butt, in the chair, at the library.


In this How To Succeed in Law School series, I’m going to share a method for smart law school study that I have imparted to many mentees over the years as they were heading off to law school.  But make no mistake.  These aren’t shortcuts.  These aren’t law school hacks.  You need to both work smart and work hard to rise to the top of your law school class.

A common cliché is to treat law school “like a job.”  And to some extent, this is true.  Especially for those of you coming straight from undergrad, you may find the level of study required by law school to be a bit of a shock.  People who have experienced a 9-5 job post-college may have an easier time transitioning to the expectations and discipline that law school requires.

But the problem with the “like a job” trope is that it doesn’t tell you any of the “how.”  What exactly am I supposed to be doing when I’m like-a-jobbing?  I need to put in a lot of hours, but doing what??  (Same for another perennial favorite, “do what works for you.”  Um ok, but how do I know what that is, exactly?)

These aren’t shortcuts.  These aren’t law school hacks.  You need to both work smart and work hard to rise to the top of your law school class.


Before we dive into my method, I want to say one other thing to the incoming 1Ls in particular:  For many of you, the next year is going to be the most challenging of your life.  You are going to experience periods of self-doubt, stress and mental exhaustion.  But it is also going to be the most intellectually expanding year of your life.  You are about to embark on a process that will make you much smarter and help shape a new prism through which you view the world that most people never receive.  You’re learning to become a lawyer.  Whatever you choose to do with that training, you will always carry with you the concepts, modes of thinking and mental discipline along the way.  (And if these high-minded notions aren’t persuasive, let’s be real:  in today’s hyper-competitive legal job market, it’s hard to overstate the importance of your grades in law school, especially first year.)

So, I know it’s going to be hard.  Trust me, I know.  But it’s also going to be great.  I encourage you to not resist it.  Embrace the fact that it’s going to be a little painful and that the pain is going to be worth it.  You worked hard to earn the seat in that 1L class that you are about to occupy.  Step up to the plate, and do everything you can to hit it out of the park.

This series is here to help.

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