For new law students, the next several weeks will introduce new ways of thinking and learning, new friends and colleagues, and new mentors and teachers. We’ve already explored some of these new things, like the Socratic Method and law school grading systems, and we will continue to explore many others in the coming weeks. Today I want to focus on one specific new requirement for law students: the first-day assignment.
Many of you may have already received a letter or email from your law school that includes a first-day assignment or directs you to a first-day assignment link on the law school website. On the surface, the first-day assignment seems pretty self-explanatory: it’s an assignment for the first day of class. In reality, there are some things you should know about first-day assignments that will set you up for success in your first week of class.
(1) You should read the first-day assignment before you go to class. In undergrad, the first day of class was often a really light day, with no real stress. Your professors probably went over the syllabus, their expectations, and what assignments and exams would be like, but often there is no substantive material covered on the first day. In law school, you will hit the ground running on the first day of class. You professors expect that you have done the reading before coming to class, and what happens in class builds upon that reading. If you don’t do the reading before class, you will be unprepared if the professor calls on you, and you will not have a foundation for anything that is covered during that class. Don’t fall behind in the very first week—come prepared!
(2) Make sure that you allow enough time to read each assignment. As I’ve mentioned before, law school reading assignments take much longer to read than most undergraduate assignments. You might have budgeted half an hour to an hour to read one assignment in undergrad, but that same number of pages could take your three hours (or even more) in law school. Don’t wait until the Sunday afternoon before your first day of classes to get started on your reading. If you wait until the last minute, you’ll run out of time before you’re finished.
(3) “Read” means something different in law school than it means in most undergraduate classes. Don’t just skim your assignments. Read them closely. Look up words and phrases that you don’t understand. For most assignments, you will need to read the assignment a second time, and even a third time. If it’s a really difficult case, you may read it over even more. Especially during your first semester of law school, you will have to read your assignments multiple times to understand everything you need to know before going into class.
(4) Brief the case—don’t just read, but take notes of important information from the case. We will spend more time talking about how to brief cases in the next couple of weeks, but one of the key aspects of being prepared for class is knowing how to take the right notes from what you read. Your case briefs will be an essential foundation to your classroom learning and later synthesis of course materials (commonly known as outlining).