collabIllustrated by Minji Reem (Original Photograph by Nolan Thomas)

Dear 1Ls,

It is November. I don’t recall much of last November other than the increasingly miserable weather, but I do remember it being when I, a then-1L, slowly started losing my mind.

November 1Ls are a completely different breed from August 1Ls. August 1Ls are generally friendly and enthusiastic; after all, they are passionately charged with the energy to change the world, being in one of the world’s best schools and best cities. November 1Ls are not as friendly or as enthusiastic, and understandably so. They have started to confront the daunting pressure (people say 1L grades matter so much) and the sheer amount of work to be done in the few, fast-paced weeks before sitting for their first law school exams. And these exams are a beast of its own kind. The idea of consolidating confusing opinions, complex doctrines and convoluted statutes into one 4-hour exam that determines your entire semester is crippling.

Myths about 1L year often scare you to death. But we battle-scarred, but still-living (!) upperclassmen think it worth noting that it doesn’t have to be that way. So to you, November 1Ls, I give you my modest two cents: 1) keep perspective, and 2) enjoy what you came here to do—to learn. Yes, cliché, but clichés are clichés for a reason, and this particular cliché is essential to tackling the November 1L life. To help you with your (emotional) exam preparation, I give you some fact patterns along with a few ideas on how to think about them, which will hopefully add some perspective in re 1L.

Fact Patterns – a list of things that may be happening to you as a November 1L:

–       You’ve checked your exam dates, and realized that they’re sooner than you thought. Mild panic attack, but it’s ok, there’s still time.
–       You feel like you are the only one who hasn’t really started/finished outlining – like really outlining (whatever that means); or if you have finished, you don’t know if you did it right (whatever that means).
–       You’re engaging in casual hallway conversations with your classmates about how behind you are in the most unstressed, nonchalant manner possible, while your internal self starts panicking because these classmates of yours actually seem to be on top of everything. (Fact: he/she probably is trying to do the same).
–       You’re suffering from intense FOMO when studying because everyone seems to be doing something more than you’re doing, like reading 10 different supplements and 15 different outlines. Your reaction may take the form of 1) frantically ordering hornbooks and/or any other commercial publication (thank goodness for Amazon Prime); or 2) collecting outlines that you will never even have the time to look at, let alone study.

You are probably overwhelmed to say the least, and the list isn’t even close to being complete. It sucks because the general perception is that the stakes are so high for 1Ls. But are they really?

A new way of thinking about things:

I’ve never been good with numbers, but let’s look at some numbers because we future attorneys like evidence, and proof makes us feel better. For the graduates of Columbia Law School Class of 2011, 97.6% were employed; Class of 2012, 97.7%; Class of 2013, 97.3%.[1] The curve, unfortunately, is most definitely not designed to have that percentage of students receive A/A- grades. That would defeat the point. But somewhat counter-intuitively, the curve doesn’t seem to differentiate much for Columbia Law students in terms of employment prospects. Read: you are going to get a job.[2]

Interestingly, even knowing these numbers, 1Ls still freak out. I definitely did. The often-used, “official” explanation is that you don’t want to end up jobless. And yet, the statistics clearly show that almost everyone gets a job. So why is there so much stress in the air?

Adjusting to law school academic life can be difficult because your grades may not always reflect the amount of effort you put into your work. Because this probably wasn’t the case for you before law school, this new phenomenon can unpleasantly surprise you with a blow to your intellectual pride and confidence. This is the real source of stress. But this should not be the case for the following reasons: You are still as smart as you were when you got in, definitely more educated, and probably more ready to tackle life than before. In fact, you should be even more confident going forward because after you get over the 1L hurdle, you will know for a fact that you can handle all sorts of challenges, both intellectual and psychological. If you can survive 1L, which you will, you’re good to go.

So here’s the takeaway point: Do what you’ve always done to learn, and enjoy it like you always have. Whatever you did, it was good enough to get you here, so it’ll be good enough to get you through this year and to get you where you want to be afterwards.

It is November. Keep warm, and don’t drown in stress; bask in the fact that you know more about the law than you ever did, which should boost your (nerdy) intellectual pride by a million points. After all, that’s what you came here to do: to learn.

Lots of Love,
From a been-there-done-that 2L



[1] http://web.law.columbia.edu/careers/employment-statistics/employment-salary-information. If you take into consideration people who weren’t looking/went on to do other things, the actual percentage of people who were seeking jobs but didn’t get them is less than 1% every year.

[2] I focus on employment here because this seems to be the most central source of stress for getting good grades during 1L year.