Finding Your Way as a First Gen Law Student: Tips to Embrace and Traps to Avoid

Post authored by Natalie Elizaroff

When I decided to apply for law school, I knew it would be an uphill climb. Not only was I an immigrant who initially pursued medicine – but I was also the first one in my family who decided to go into law. Keeping this in mind, I embraced the challenge and took things one step at a time. Here is a short list of tips that helped me survive my 1L year (and some traps you should avoid at all costs).

The Tips:

1. Build and Nourish Your Support System – They will be your saving grace when times get tough.

Always remember that you are not alone. No matter your background, law school is a challenge – but it is not a challenge that you have to tackle by yourself. To survive law school, you need to find people who will be there for the jokes, the study sessions, the 2 am ‘why-isn’t-my-brief-finished?’ rants, and the inevitable tears. Make sure to diversify your friend group – you never know when you will need an expert on tort law or simply a different opinion outside of your own. Each law student has unique qualities that will allow one another to challenge each other at times, but remember, it’s these unique qualities that make it best to work together as you will be more likely to excel in a group of differing ideas than you could by working alone.

2. Get involved but know when to say no.

It is important to get involved in law school. Your network and connections get you much farther than any grade ever will. On the flipside, you still must preserve your sanity and know what to prioritize. Consider joining one organization, instead of all of them. You are the best judge of your capabilities but remember that you are only human. Keep things in perspective and you’ll be great.

3. Caffeine is a supplement, not a solution!

This one goes hand in hand with #2. Caffeine might keep you awake for a period of time, but it will not set back the clock and it will not push your deadlines. Despite what some may say, caffeine is also not a meal replacement! You have to be smart about law school, everyone says it’s like learning a new language – and they’re right. If you have a midterm the next day, no amount of coffee will prepare you for the rule against perpetuities. Moreover, if you pull an all-nighter guzzling coffee and trying to cram 6 weeks’ worth of property law in your brain – you will either sleep through the exam or your brain will be mush. Neither of these are particularly helpful in getting a good grade.

The Traps:

1. I failed my test; my law school career is over.

As law students, we are at risk of failure, especially during our first year when we are adjusting to the new learning and teaching styles. Success will come in time, if you put in the work, but failure is not to be discouraging. Just like with new languages, you’re not going to be great on the first day — and sometimes you won’t be great by the end of the semester either. It takes time to figure out what methods work specifically for you in law school and a bad grade or two will not ruin your future career. For instance, I met a student who was actually academically dismissed but he was able to return to school and climb to the top of his class. It just goes to show you how key persistence is.  Keep in mind, as your network expands, so does your support system. So don’t give up if your first try doesn’t go the way you hope, because failure is not the end.

2. Survival of the Fittest.

Many folks start law school with the misconception that in order to get ahead, you must be ‘a shark’ and you have to look for the ‘blood in the water.’ This could not be further from the truth – there is a distinct difference between being cutthroat and realizing that your success is only based on your own individual efforts. Our section did everything in its power to accumulate outlines, schedule study sessions, and foster our growth as future lawyers. We did not sabotage our peers and we were not afraid to share resources or knowledge. We understood that our biggest competition was ourselves and our section really thrived in the supportive dynamic we created.

3. Learn the law through osmosis.

Sitting in the law library with your contracts text is great – as long as you’re actually reading it. Just because you are on campus, does not mean you are actually accomplishing anything. You have to stay diligent and focused because it is all too easy to get distracted. Distractions come in many forms – friends, notifications, and that snack-break-turned-to-dinner-break-turned-to-Netflix. There are only so many hours in a day, use them wisely. Create and hour-by-hour schedule or a list of tasks that you must complete by a certain point.

Law school is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t forget to take time out for yourself and remember that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.

About the author:

NatalieElizaroff - HeadshotNatalie Elizaroff is a 2L at UIC John Marshall Law School. She is the President of the Video Game Law Society and Secretary of the Intellectual Property Law Society. Prior to law school, Natalie graduated with a B.S. in Molecular Biology from Loyola University Chicago. Natalie plans to take courses in U.S. Trademark Law and U.S. Patent Law and hopes to work in the Patent Clinic in the upcoming year.

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