What To Do In Your Last Summer Before Law School?
My Dear Wormwood,
The year's over.
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One year ago, I had just gotten back from England. I'd moved back in with my parents in the sleepy little town of Big Rapids, Michigan. There wasn't much point in getting a job, so I was supporting myself with freelance translation, sailing a small sunfish, and practicing for a half-marathon. (I chickened out of the last when Legal Methods started.) And what I really wanted to know was: what should I be doing with my summer?
The traditional 1L answer is: nothing. Spend your time enjoying your freedom. Catch up with friends and family. Laugh, watch TV, do all the things you want to do before you get to Columbia. All of which was good advice, but at the time, it was deeply unsatisfying to me. I'd just emerged from a relatively high-pressure job, and this was dead time. Obviously, I was doing something wrong.
So for you about to step into my inadequate shoes, here a few things I think you can do with your summer to make the entire 1L process easier. The advice below is most appropriate for those going to Columbia, but it's not useless for others. It's not going to put you ahead of the pack unless you're the kind that's already there. But if you think you've got to be doing something, otherwise you're wasting your precious time, you could do worse than the following.
Read Some Books: In your 1L year you may read more than you've ever read in your life. If you're assigned my particular Prof. Con Law, you may read more than you or your immediate family has read in their lives. Still, you didn't apply to law school because you dislike reading, and you might as well warm up.
I'd really recommend you read something like Quicksilver or The Diamond Age. Nonetheless, you're going to want to read something about law, because otherwise you're wasting your time, right?
So, here's some options. First, Professor Chirelstein's treatise on contracts. In your first semester you will take contracts, and no matter who your particular Prof Contracts ends up being, you'll feel a lot more comfortable if you've read this. Besides, someone forgot to tell Prof. Chirelstein that when you become a law professor, you have to start writing in a style that's either dry or incomprehensible.
My second suggestion would be either Constitutional Law Stories or Torts Stories. This series of books takes major cases in law and puts them into historical perspective. Since each chapter is written by a different author, some are more approachable than others--don't worry if you can't make it through a chapter or two. But if you've read these, your 1L Contracts and Con Law courses won't be completely terra incognito.
My final suggestion, however, would be to remember that you got into law school because you were passionate about something: read about that, particularly in how it relates to the law. If there's a particular area you're interested in, leave a comment, and maybe some of my readers can make suggestions.
Buy Your Computer: First, check to see how much financial aid you can get to purchase a notebook. Then determine how much you love technology. There's a lot of notebooks out there, and I'm not going to take it upon myself to give you definitive advice on a specific model. But here's a couple of things to look out for:
- Choose weight over functionality: I bought the Dell 8500, largely because I wanted a large screen for my graphics work. While this seemed like a good idea at the time, I would have been better off choosing a cheaper, lighter computer, and then buying a docking station and monitor (or another computer--networking is easy these days) when I needed it at a later point. After lugging a huge computer around all year, let me suggest: get the lightest thing you can afford. (Another advantage: when you're out in the working world over the summer, small and slender notebooks fit more comfortably in briefcases.)
- Don't choose a Mac: For once, this isn't just a slight a the World of One Mouse Button. At least at Columbia, the exam software that we use does not support Macs. If you're not going to Columbia, at least check with your IT department to see what is compatible. Nothing's more annoying that finding out that you can't use your computer because you've got the wrong OS.
- If All Else is Equal, Choose Dell: Here's where I'll probably get the most opposition in my suggestions, and I should probably preface this by saying that you should pay attention to that first caveat: all else must be equal. Nevertheless, after having spent a good proportion of this past year fixing people's computers, I don't think I ran into more people with Dell troubles than any other brand, proportional to the number of that brand at CLS.
So I recommend Dell--or whatever the most common machine is at your university--simply because if all else is equal, there are advantages to having common hardware with your friends. For one thing, the hardware is more easily interchangable: if your notebook is having problems, and you need to get data off of it, it's easiest if you can just slot your hard drive into a friend's computer and burn a CD.
Again, though, please don't overemphasize that point. If there's something else you like, for some other reason, get that. Your computer will be a good friend by the end of the year, so make sure you start out with one you'll want to get to know better.
Get Your Work Style in Order: Time pressure is going to be your worst enemy in your 1L year. The quicker you settle into an efficient method of working, the quicker you'll be making progress in your studies. There's a lot of good books out there about efficient 1L work processes, most of which I never read. (These would include Law School Confidential, which apparently advocates a system of 'book-briefing' that involves a bewildering color-coded highlighting system. Some swear by it, I never read it.)
I can't give a lot of help here, except to tell you what I did. After several years in business, I will almost certainly live and die by an Outlook task list. Probably the most useful trick that I learned was to categorize my task list by class, and assign myself tasks for each day's worth of reading.
Also, it helps to look at each course as a project, with a definite output (generally an outline) to be accomplished to a definite schedule with a hard deadline (the exam). If this means nothing more than remembering to add the exam schedule to your calendar as soon as you get it, it's still worthwhile.
I'll add a little more as I get to it. In the meantime, I hope all you rising 1Ls have an excellent summer.