Breaking Down The Winter Break For 1Ls

Last Will And Testament

Congratulations, you’ve made it through your law school exams! What now? As a first-year law student, you have just endured the most grueling and stressful semester of your academic career — and are just now coming up for air.

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You’ve longed for a breather, and it is finally here. But before you crawl into bed for two weeks or kick off a bender you’ll soon want to forget, consider some suggestions for how to approach your winter break.

  1. Let it go.

A law student is more likely than not to be something of a control freak. You burn a lot of calories attempting to plan, predict, and prevent things under your control, and even some things outside it. Don’t wake up on the first morning of next semester having wasted your break pointlessly rehashing every final and fretting over your grades. Your first set of law school exams is over and done, kaput, and finis. Stop obsessing over them. They’re out of your hands. Your grades are not a mystery you can solve on your own. Embrace your ignorance. Enjoy the fact you don’t need to crack a casebook for a few weeks.

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Much of conventional law school wisdom would have you believe that your 1L grades will make or break your legal career and/or life. Of course, your first-year grades are very important. And, yes, if you completely bomb your first year, you’re not going to land that SCOTUS clerkship. Inevitably, your GPA/law school combination will be used as a sorting mechanism by employers. But it’s important, especially for 1Ls, to keep a little perspective. First, law school exam-taking is a highly specific skill. Students can and do figure out how the game is played. With experience, you can make up ground on your GPA. Also, although it might seem like cold comfort now, there will come a day when no one cares what your grades were, only how good an actual lawyer you are.

So even if you are constitutionally incapable of taking the Serenity Prayer to heart, try to take some comfort in the wisdom of Professor Orin Kerr:

[I]t’s important not to let lower-than-expected grades become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Recognize the psychological game going on here: many students expect their fall 1L grades to give them a lightning bolt of insight about their future in the legal profession. Grades don’t do that, though: all they can do is measure how well you did relative to your classmates on a few three-hour exams taken at a particular place at a particular time. Too many students think that grades are destiny, and begin to take steps to readjust their expectations to what they think is their destiny.

  1. Remember: “It’s not them; it’s you.

The holiday season is precious opportunity to reconnect with loved ones, right? Here’s the catch, though: you are no longer the same person you were back in August. Even just one semester of law school forces you to unlearn a lifetime’s worth of mental habits. It can’t be helped; you are now more critical and analytical than the person you used to be. Sorry, but some of you might even have lost a bit of your sense of humor.

It’s a difficult thing to simply flip a switch after a sleep-deprived and stressful stretch of weeks and pick up where you left off with friends and family. Be careful. On the one hand, don’t bore everyone silly by expounding on the Rule Against Perpetuities or tales of intra-study group bickering. On the other, be patient with well-meaning but clueless questions from your sweet aunt about how you did on your exams.

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  1. Flip your script.

Ideally, the semester break is a chance to recharge your batteries. How to go about this depends on your own personal wiring. Take long naps. Go skiing or biking all day. Catch back up with the Kardashians. Play video games for 12 hours. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Stare out the window. Eat. Pray. Love. Whatever. Just so long as: 1.) You feel like doing it, and 2.) It has nothing at all to do with studying law.

But only for a few days…

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  1. Reflect and question.

After you’ve got your head back more-or-less straight, take time to really think about what the hell just happened. What went well? What didn’t work? What should you do differently going forward?

This is the time to reexamine your study habits and schedule. Too ambitious? Not enough? By now, you should be able to spot some inefficiencies and modify accordingly. Maybe study groups aren’t for you? Or perhaps you need to find a new one.

Can you even remember why you went to law school in the first place? It’s not uncommon for your motivations and aspirations to take a sharp turn, and that’s okay. In any case, take time to revisit your long-term goals and think about what you can do in the coming semester to help realize them.

Some poor souls will be unable to see any light at the end of the tunnel. The grind and anxiety of classes is unleavened by any intellectual excitement or optimism for an eventual career. So, it should not be taboo to mention that there will never be a better — or less expensive — time to drop out than right now.

  1. Research and network.

For most of you, the very point of law school is to obtain a job as a lawyer. It’s time to get going on that. You’ll be glad you got started once next semester gets busy and deadlines start bearing down. Get your résumé in order. Make an appointment with your career services office. Your CSO exists to help you figure out what you need to do over the course of law school to put yourself in the best position to get a job you want. Take full advantage, but be sure to treat the CSO folks like the valuable allies they are.

Research your face off. Consider which professors might write you a recommendation or even take you on as a research assistant. Learn about possible internships and clinics. The Biglaw track is assured for no one, so consider a range of potential employers, from small firms to government agencies.

Many lawyers and law students claim to hate “networking,” but unfortunately for them, it’s a non-optional aspect of the profession, playing a central role in everything from getting a job to landing clients.  While networking over winter break might sound anathema to you, Jason Levin, a career coach and consultant for lawyers, suggests you reconsider: “Reality is that your winter break is prime time to further your professional relationships. Too often a voice in our heads tells us that people are too busy to take a phone call or a meeting during the holidays. That is only half true. Some professionals actually go to the office to catch up on administrative things because the office is quiet. Pick up the phone. While it may be easier to email and see if they are available, a phone call shows you care.”

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