Most of us have heard contradictory advice about how to prepare for the first year of law school. While some people may recommend spending your summer memorising the entire Charter and Criminal Code (not my personal recommendation), others urge incoming students to take it easy and unwind. I’ve seen a number of debates on online forums about whether it is even possible to “prepare” for the whirlwind known as 1L. Since I am yet to actually begin 1L, it’s hard for me to accurately answer this question. What I can share with you are some useful things I have done this summer that have helped me feel organised and (somewhat) ready to tackle my first year of law school this upcoming September.
1. Get your finances in order: Figure out when and how to apply for a student line of credit and/or a government student loan in advance. I recommend applying as EARLY ON as possible to ensure that you have received your funding well before the tuition fee payment deadline.
2. Apply as early as you can for bursaries and scholarships: I was pleasantly surprised to learn of the substantial assistance that most law schools offer to their students. The school I will be attending this fall gives away $4.2 million in funding each year to law students.
3. Make a budget for yourself: There are a few pre-made student templates you can find online (I used the college budget template from Mint). Make an Excel document to keep track of living expenses, tuition, student fees, book costs, etc. Some law schools list approximate costs of all these expenses on their websites.
4. Plan AHEAD and visit your new city/campus: Try to get acquainted with your new home early on. As SFU undergrad students, we will all be forced to relocate. Whether you are relocating near or far, figure out good apartment locations, bus routes, commute times, where you’ll buy your groceries, etc. The more you plan ahead, the less overwhelmed you will be come September.
5. Try to get appointments out of the way: During the summer, try your best to get your medical, dental, optometry, and other appointments out of the way.
6. Spend time with family & friends: Even if you’re staying in the same city, when the workload starts to pile up in 1L, you will likely have less and less time to spend with loved ones. Make this clear to them over the summer and try to spend as much time with them as possible!
7. Try to get in the best physical and mental health of your life: Try to form healthy habits over the summer. Statistics show that 90% of the average law student’s diet is comprised of pizza, beer, and caffeine. Okay, I definitely just made that up, but regardless, don’t be one of those people. Try to plan a realistic workout regimen and plan some healthy, easy meals you can make for yourself throughout the year. I am a firm believer that your physical health has a huge impact on your mental health and well-being. On that note, if you are struggling with your mental health, try and get some help before you begin 1L. It is important to be aware that mental health problems may heighten with the stress that comes with 1L. Arm yourself with the tools you need to manage this beforehand!
8. Read: There are some great books out there that get you “in the mood” for law school. You do not have to read law textbooks or curriculum. In fact, it’s often discouraged. So read that dusty stack of books in the corner of your room that you never got around to reading during undergrad. Here are a few law related titles I have read this summer that I enjoyed and learned from (these differ from actual law school textbooks I mentioned above):
• Getting to Maybe: How to Excel on Law School Exams by Richard Michael Fischl and Jeremy Paul
• One L by Scott Turow
• To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
• Letters to a Young Lawyer by Alan Dershowitz
• Mindset by Carol Dweck
• The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly (enjoyed the entire series)
9. Travel if you have the means: If you’re like me and this isn’t an option for you, the great news is that most law schools have excellent exchange programs that will give you the opportunity to travel and study abroad at some point during your J.D.
10. Working is fine, but leave enough downtime for yourself: We all know that the decision to attend law school foots a hefty bill. By all means, work in the summer and save up some money to help cover the seemingly endless law school expenses. But please make it a priority to leave enough time for some well-deserved R&R. Do not shoot yourself in the foot by starting 1L burnout and exhausted from overworking yourself the summer before. Take the necessary steps to set yourself up for success in your first-year!
Best of luck my fellow 0Ls!
Natasha Rambaran was previously a member of the SFU Pre-Law Society and is an incoming J.D. candidate at the Queen’s Faculty of Law in Kingston, Ontario. We wish her the best of luck in her future endeavours.