The following points are obviously not everything you have got to look forward to; they are largely based on my experience and things that I know most of my peers would relate to. I have included the odd tip but being relatively new at this, I can only give you what I know.
It is a lot of reading… and it is a lot harder than you have experienced previously
This is a law school cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason. When I first started, my first two weeks or so were relatively tame, and I was pretty cocky about it. Then the third week hit, and with it a lot of work did. It can be frustrating, and soul-sucking, but it is being set for a reason. Part of it is, yes, to enable you to answer the questions you have been set for a seminar. The other (unpleasant) part, which you probably don’t want to think about right now, is that you will have exams later on.
Your reading and the notes resulting from said reading will be integral to your success in these exams. Frankly speaking, you are only hurting yourself by not getting it done early. Furthermore, some of your reading will be oddly interesting. Yes, there is a lot of dull case law to go through, but there are also some wonderfully weird cases. It is worth giving them a read.
It can be insanely competitive
I have heard it compared – several times – to a rat race. There are few training contracts at the end and a lot of students vying for them. Employability, though probably better with law than other disciplines, is not as good as universities lead us to believe. This means, of course, that there is a lot of competition. People start going to events, networking, applying for internships early. I don’t advise you stress about it – that will, likely, get you nowhere – but think about it. Go to a law fair.
Compile a list of your top firms/chambers, and ask around. See what’s on offer for you, because there will no doubt be a lot. Take every opportunity you can, and try to find out what you are interested in as early on as you can. However, don’t worry too much about it. It is not necessary to know what area you want to go into before you make your applications. Many people have training contracts and pupillages before they really know what they want to specialize in, if at all.
Moreover, it can be really easy to stress about your future, and what everyone else is doing. Therefore I think you should just focus on yourself, and what you are doing right now. It does no good to spend your precious time attending events you don’t want to go to, simply because you think it is what you should be doing. You get a reasonable amount of freedom on a law degree. Make sure you are using your free time wisely, but the odd day off won’t kill you.
You will have a lot going on
I was under the impression that I would have time to settle in before I had to start attending events. In reality, I think career events started somewhere around my second to third week, and haven’t stopped since. This, on top of societies and your work, can get overwhelming – fast. Planning might seem like a waste of time, but in the end, it makes you so much more efficient. More importantly, it ensures that you don’t forget the random employer event you registered for on a whim last Wednesday.
Get yourself a planner. Another cliché, but again it is for a reason. As mentioned above, you will be invited to many events and generally have a lot going on in your life, on top of all of your academics. A planner will help keep your life in order, without forgetting and missing miscellaneous events or deadlines that could be important in the long run. Personally, I use google calendar to input my general events, appointments, and deadlines. Also, I use a planner to keep track of to-do lists and other things I may want written down to refer to in the future.
I would also recommend creating a routine with your work as it makes it easier to ensure you are getting things done. For example, I have an Obligations lecture on a Monday afternoon. Therefore, I make sure I have done my reading and notes for Obligations by the Friday before. If I can, I also read them on the following Monday morning on my way into university. When I get back from university, I tidy up my notes. Then, after having my seminar on the topic and adding my seminar notes to my main notes, I will condense them down into flashcards. Making sure I have certain times/days to do this ensures that it all gets done. Consequently, when revision time rolls around, I will have most of the work done, and it’s just all about reviewing.
Your world will probably revolve around your next seminar/tutorial
They are truly a really good way of learning. Hence, I recommend you attend them, even the early ones that won’t feel worth it at the time. They will be worth it in the end. Also, it can be intimidating but participate. It is your opportunity to ask questions and consolidate your understanding. It is also your opportunity to make sure your tutors know you as a result of asking inquisitive questions. This will no doubt come in handy at some point further along throughout the course of your degree.
You are the only one who can make or break your experience
Law school is a lot. All the way from your academics to the extracurriculars required to gain a highly sought after training contract at the end of your three years. It is your job to make sure you are doing the right amount for you. This is not the same as what is right for anyone else, as we all have different limits, interests, and capacities. My advice, based on my (still limited) experience, is to choose 1-2 extracurriculars that you’re interested in and will stick to. Then, keep them to blow off steam in line with your studies. If you want/need a part-time job, then, by all means, take one on. However, ensure that you can balance it with your studies. You do not want to end up drowning in all of your work.
I know some of these points have been inherently negative, but the truth is a law degree has its ups and downs. It is a lot of work, but I also personally find it extremely rewarding. It also gives you the opportunity to be involved in some amazing projects, both presently and in the future. This, alongside earning a well-respected degree, boosts your employability considerably. You are likely not going to be thinking of this the whole time in your first few months though.
Therefore, enjoy the newfound freedom you have got (if you are coming from school). Also, try not to obsess too much over whether everyone else is in the library constantly. Have a social life, and do things that are not just law related as it is good for your mental health. Remember, law firms have stated time and time again that they are not looking for robots when they are hiring. Make sure you take the time to schedule your work and ensure you are doing everything you need to be doing. Have fun, work hard, and don’t worry too much about what other people are doing.