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Acing Law School: Proven Strategies for Earning Top Grades


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Law Student Guides

The 2020 Law School Guide to Success for Rising 1Ls

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

We’ve put together the most important tips to help lead you to success in your 1L year.

Written by:

Lawwly Contributor




Your Grades

1L grades are by far the most important element of your application in your search for a real job post-graduation. OCI, or on-campus interviews (online-interviews during the pandemic) will take place at the end of your 1L summer.

Activities in your undergraduate studies, such as joining a pre-law organization or holding an executive position, while impressive, can only marginally help you in relation to your 1L grades. 

Firms start every review by first looking at your 1L grades because it provides firms with a holistic and objective measure of all hiring candidates. For this reason, your 1L grades sets the tone for your entire legal career and will open or close doors for you in the industry.

Thus, your 1L grades and your 1L year in general is the gauntlet that you’ll need to throw down in order to maximize your future in the law.

Approach 1L with more intensity than would be sustainable over the course of the rest of law school.

Prepping Before 1L

Also known as 0L prep, many will tell you that it might help for you to read a law book or two to prepare yourself prior to starting law school.

On the other hand, many will say that learning material in a way inconsistent with how your professor will teach it will make things harder for you in the fall when classes begin.

Some would even say the general consensus is to not prep at all.

However, these are extremes, and the key to effectively prepping for 0L is to find things and practice doing activities that will make you feel comfortable and confident at the beginning of 1L, so that the transition into law school is smoother for you.

This means looking inward, and finding out what makes you tick. If you are the kind of person who enjoys having a clear break from academics and going into it with a fresh mind, don’t be afraid to de-stress and take it easy for the summer prior to law school.

However, if relaxing too much gives you anxiety, don’t be afraid to take a crack at some of the books to give yourself a leg-up and ultimately give yourself confidence for when school begins.

A word of warning: if you do decide to do 0L prep, remember that the key is to give yourself a running start before 1L starts.

Over-preparation or lack thereof will not make or break your 1L experience. Take it easy.

Reading Getting to Maybe

You’ve probably heard of this book. For some, it’s gospel. For others, it’s useful, but not dispositive. If you’re going to 0L prep, we recommend you take a crack at this book.

For many prospective law students, it was extremely helpful for them because the book helps you understand your objectives in law school and how to go about achieving them.

The book breaks down cold calls, case briefs, and legal writing and research. Most importantly, the book teaches you how to navigate final exams, which are, in all likelihood, 100% of your final grades in 1L.

Remember, 1L grades are everything. It doesn’t hurt to take a look at this book, and we can see why some regard it as gospel. Do what you will with it, but at least take a look.

Creating and Following a Schedule

The key to 1L success is to develop and follow a routine. Figure out a time slot for you to do your readings, outlining, and practicing.

Give yourself time to take breaks during the day or week, to ensure you don’t burn out.

Give yourself time to socialize, relax, and dive into your hobbies for fun. Bar review is a good time to make friends and socialize if you are moving to a new state and don’t know anyone there.

Develop relationships with your classmates and future colleagues, and factor in schedules for group study as well as independent study. If you’re restless, it’s good to figure out these scheduling and administrative tasks within the first few weeks of 1L as you start to get a handle on work. 

Preparing a schedule prior to starting is difficult, but if you must do it, go at it with an attitude that you’ll adjust the schedule as you start.

Remember, your schedule does NOT need to be ironclad. You do NOT need to follow it all the time, but having at least a skeletal, baseline routine will be extremely helpful as your semester inevitably gets more hectic and fast-paced.

Understand that studying in the second half of the semester is going to be a lot more valuable than studying in the first half of the semester. Expect to spend a lot more time in the library once school starts in the fall.

Preparing for Finals

The best time to start preparing for finals is around or after Thanksgiving, depending on your own studying style.

If you take longer to prepare, study earlier. If you like the grind of preparing under stress, give yourself a bit of a break around Thanksgiving to make sure you’re well-rested for the upcoming grind. We cannot stress the importance of these exams enough.

They will, in all likelihood, be 100% of your grades that semester. Remember, law firms look at your 1L grades as the most important factor in determining whether to hire you.

They are, quite literally, the only thing that matters all semester. Finals are graded blindly, so it doesn’t matter how well you did in your cold calls during the year.

Conversations with your professor during office hours will help you prepare, but will not give you a better grade. However, you should also remember that your professor is still the one grading your finals.

As a result, skipping office hours all together is not advisable, but going into office hours with the purpose of finding out what your professor cares about and is interested in is key to these after-school activities.

Learn what your professor likes, and outline accordingly and prepare. 

Recognize the important points of emphasis; these points will be what your professor will most likely test on the final.

While the exact nature of your exam prep is going to be dependent on your professor’s teaching style, the type of exam they will administer, and your school, there are some universal tips we here at Lawwly would like to give you.


Take every practice test and practice questions that are given to you. If you’re lucky, a good professor will give you a lot of practice tests and not focus too much on the details of each case.

They’ll have you start early on in the semester to give yourself valuable practice for the exam. These practice exams are usually ungraded, and how well you do (or terribly) will most likely not be shared with the rest of the class.

For many unsuspecting law students, this would mean that these are not as important as cold calls, which are, by contrast, seen in front of the rest of the class.

Here’s the trick: cold calls are not important. Nailing the reading is not important. Practicing for the final, that’s important. It is well worth your time to even politely email your professor or ask them in person if there are any exam questions or practice tests they might provide.


Take the time to create your own outline. Other prepared outlines, ours included, are helpful in saving time and making sure you have the right information, but they are not an end-all-be-all to succeeding on the final. Despite what other test prep companies may say, do not fully rely on an outline. We’ll even say that about our own.

They are helpful, well-written, concise, and well worth your money, but not to be relied on fully. Building your own outline comes with understanding how the laws and materials are organized, and will give you invaluable experience and a leg-up on the final.

There’s a reason why everyone’s outlines look different; it’s because everyone learns differently. An outline for an open-book versus a closed-book test is going to look very different. You might even scrap your outline entirely the day before the test.

That’s okay, so long as you took the time to make one. We can’t stress this enough. You must go through the process of making the outline, organizing the information given, digesting it, and then remembering it (i.e., active recall).

Exam preparation consists almost entirely of practice tests and outlining, and you’ll need to take it seriously.

Really engage with the material and take the time to put it together.

Finally, another word of warning. Don’t get overly competitive with your classmates. These people will be your coworkers and colleagues down the road, and you don’t want to build up a “gunner” reputation (see Lawwly’s “What’s A Gunner?” article for more information).

You’ll do great 1L. Just take it easy, go at it with full intensity when it’s appropriate, and remember to give yourself a break when you can.


Acing Law School: Proven Strategies for Earning Top Grades


The Drama of the Online Bar Exam, the NCBE, and 2020 Bar Examinees


2020 Survey Shows $165K Average Law Student Debt at Graduation


Building Bridges: The Critical Role of Networking in Law School

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