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The Guide to the First Year has been designed to equip you with the information you need to successfully jumpstart your 1L year of law school and plan for success.

Guide to the First Year

Check out some of the most frequently asked questions from the guide below.

What will my first year academic experience look like?

During the first year of law school the courses in which you are enrolled are all required courses. They are of two basic types: doctrinal courses (such as Torts, Property, Civil Procedure, Criminal Law, etc.) and skills courses.

The method of instruction used in the first year doctrinal courses will vary somewhat from professor to professor. However, significant emphasis in each course will be placed upon developing your analytical skills. These skills are honed through the use of the “case method” in class. After reading and studying cases, students will be called upon in class and expected to identify for a given case such features as the relevant facts, the issue(s) presented by the case, the court’s disposition (or “holding”), and the rationale for that disposition based upon applicable rules of law.

The classroom experience is an indispensable part of a student's legal education, and every student is accordingly required to come to every class fully prepared and on time. The professor shall be responsible for monitoring compliance with this policy, for determining whether a student's failure to comply is excused, and for determining the consequences of an unexcused failure to comply, and shall advise the class of his or her approach to these matters at the beginning of the semester. Students who need an excused absence due to a religious observance should notify the professor in the first two weeks of the semester, consistent with the University's Religious Observance Policy.

Because the purpose of the case method in first-year instruction is to achieve far more than familiarity with legal doctrine and principles, the classroom experience and effective class participation are essential to the first-year academic experience. First and foremost, of course, this requires a full and careful reading of the assigned materials for each class. Starting at the beginning of the semester, students are often surprised at the amount of time they have to spend to feel fully prepared for class. This time required to fully digest and understand a case will diminish with practice, but for the first few weeks, be prepared to spend a lot of time mastering each case.

 Learn more: page 4-6 of the Guide.

What resources are available to me to ensure academic success?

The law school created the Academic Success Program (ASP) to help students adjust to the first-year of law school, reach their academic potential during law school, and ensure that all graduates are fully prepared to meet the challenge of the bar examination. As first- year students, you will work with Professor Margaret Ann Walker, and as third-year students preparing for the bar exam, you will work with Professor Emmeline Reeves.

ASP is an open-attendance program providing ongoing support and education through weekly/biweekly academic skills classes, workshops, and individual conferences throughout the academic year. Everyone is encouraged to attend, but attendance is strictly voluntary. 

First-year students can attend classes and workshops covering case briefing, efficient note-taking, how to create a course outline for exams, effective legal writing, the Blue Book, and exam preparation. ASP also provides coaching on time management strategies and stress management workshops.

Law Student Advisors (LSAs) are upper-class students who volunteer through the Student Bar Association to advise first-year students. They supplement the advising offered by faculty and often address social and other student issues. You can find the listing of LSAs in your Fall Orientation Brochure.

Every student is assigned a faculty advisor upon entry to law school. You can find the listing of faculty advisors in your Fall Orientation Brochure. Your advisor can provide advice throughout your tenure as a law student. Many students maintain contact with their assigned faculty advisor throughout their law school career. Many others gravitate to a faculty member with whom they have established a close professional bond. Faculty advisors serve as counselors, mentors, and collaborators.

 Learn more: p. 7-8 of the Guide.

How do I need to start preparing for the bar exam at this early stage?

Yes, we know that you are only a 1L. However, there are a few important things pertaining to bar admission that you should be thinking about during your first year.   

To protect the public and justice system, all jurisdictions require that applicants to the bar complete a character and fitness investigation prior to licensure.  Through such investigation, bar admissions authorities seek to ensure that bar applicants are “worthy of the trust and confidence clients may reasonably place in their lawyers.”  Accordingly, when you apply for admission to the Bar, you will fill out a detailed questionnaire concerning your education, work history, criminal background, credit history, etc. Each Bar admission authority will consider evidence of any of the following cause for further investigation:

  • Unlawful conduct
  • Academic misconduct
  • False statements, including omissions
  • Employment misconduct
  • Acts involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation
  • Abuse of legal process
  • Neglect of financial responsibilities
  • Neglect of professional obligations
  • Violation of a court order
  • Evidence of mental or emotional instability
  • Disciplinary action by a professional agency

Additionally, in weighing the significance of such background information, the authority will consider various factors such as the applicant’s age at the time of the conduct, the recency of the conduct, the seriousness of the conduct, the cumulative effect of the conduct, the applicant’s candor in the admissions process, the applicant’s positive social contributions since the conduct, etc.

As part of the character and fitness investigation, the bar examiners will, among other things, review your law school application. If there is a possibility that you failed to disclose any misconduct on your application, please contact the Admissions Office at your earliest convenience to amend your application.  Additionally, you have an obligation to keep the law school informed of any misconduct during your tenure as a law student. Please contact the Associate Dean for Student Services with any questions.

Character and fitness questionnaires will seek financial information and inquire into your credit history.  “Neglect of financial responsibilities” is another factor considered by bar admissions authorities as cause for further investigation. Nearly all law students have debt and simply having debt is not a cause for concern; however, unpaid, overdue debts are.

In short, it is essential to remember that your conduct during law school can significantly impact – both positively or negatively – your character and fitness investigation. Again, criminal activity, academic misconduct and employment misconduct, particularly when such conduct occurs close in time to your bar application (e.g. during law school), could prevent or delay your admission to the bar. While serious criminal conduct naturally may jeopardize your admission to the bar, please note that bar examiners have also investigated applicants for more minor infractions, such as speeding tickets. Finally, pay careful attention to your finances during law school, and be sure to pay debts as they come due.

Certain state bar associations have special conditions or requirements that must be met before you are eligible to sit for the state’s bar exam. Notably, the New York Bar has instituted a requirement of 50 hours of pro bono service. Even if you are not sure where you will practice, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with various requirements.

 Learn more: p. 10-11 of the Guide.

What resources are available to me regarding financial aid and loan repayment?

Detailed information regarding financial aid for law school can be found online.

The financial realities of your legal education are important factors to manage. Most students leave law school with student loan debt; however, there are ways to help limit indebtedness.

You should develop a realistic budget and borrow only what you need, not necessarily the total amount for which you are eligible. The old adage is really true: If you live like a lawyer when you are a student, you may need to live like a student once you are a lawyer.

One way to help reduce borrowing is to work while you are in school. First-year law students are strongly advised not to work during the academic year so that they may focus on their studies and transition into law school. However, you may choose to work during your second- and/or third-year of law school. Before accepting work as a 1L, please discuss this option with Dean Henderson and/or Dean Gibson so that you are best informed about the potential impact of working on your law school career.

You also can lower your debt by considering paying accrued interest on your interest-bearing loans while you are in school. Unpaid interest will be capitalized and added to principal once you enter repayment, thus increasing your loan debt.

We will discuss this topic in more detail as part of our Balancing Act Program.

 Learn more: p. 14-18 of the Guide.

How do I stay connected with what's going on at the law school?

The Law School is abuzz with activities. The best way to find out what is happening around the School is to consult The Docket, our internal newsletter. You'll find The Docket in your email inbox each Sunday and Thursday with a listing of events coming up this week, next week, and beyond. You can also follow us on Facebook and on Twitter.

Learn more: p. 23-24 of the Guide.