Keys To Succeeding As A Second-Semester 1L


By Alison Monahan

I remember the night I landed in NYC at the end of Winter Break my 1L year. It was 5 degrees and sleeting at JFK. Having moved from California, where cold is anything under 70, I owned no real winter clothes. I went shopping the next day, only to find that all the stores had already moved on to their spring collections. Winter clothes were no longer available. I finally found a few warm sweaters at J. Crew in alternating colors which I wore with the oh-so stylish winter boots I got from Payless for the next few months until it warmed up

Suffice it to say, I was a bit of a mess!

But I wasn’t alone – being a mess seems to be a thing for a lot of second-semester 1Ls. During your first semester, you might delude yourself into thinking you were a law school genius (or at least about average), but those delusions come crashing down pretty quickly once grades arrive. Even if you are a strong student, it’s common to receive grades you’ve never seen before. (Thanks, curve!)

But let’s not dwell on the negative. One poor grade isn’t going to kill you. Now is time to build on what you’ve learned so far. There’s a lot you can do second semester to become a stronger law student, and – ultimately – a better, more successful lawyer.

Here are a few suggestions for your second semester:


1 | Focus on exams, from day one.

By now, you should know how to read and brief a case, and you should feel pretty comfortable in class. That is awesome, but don’t let that familiarity make you complacent. Having taken law school exams, you now have a much better idea how they work and what skills and knowledge they require.

So, use this experience to focus all of your prep work (class, outlining and practice tests, etc.) on what’s actually rewarded on a final exam. Did your exams ask about the details of each case you read? No! So don’t focus on that. Focus on learning the law in a way that makes it easy to apply to new scenarios.

Second semester is a good time to evaluate what worked (and didn’t work) when it came to exams. Did your long written briefs help you? If not, consider streamlining that part of your prep and using the time to build an attack plan on a topic you know is likely to appear on the final. Did you take every practice exam your professor provided? If not, look at your calendar now and schedule writing practice on a weekly basis. You can work on shorter practice questions from supplements in the early days, and move on to actual practice tests from your professor as you cover more material.

Having lived through exams, you should have a much better idea how to prepare effectively, so use that insight to build a study strategy for the semester that focuses on the end game, not on the day-to-day grind.


2 | Keep building relationships with your professors.

Sure, you might hope never to see some of your first-semester professors again (how dare they give you that grade!), but this viewpoint is short sighted. Whether you did well or poorly, make a point to stop by and see your old professors.

If you did well, you might want a recommendation or other assistance from this professor in the future. It’s going to be a lot easier ask for help if you’re more than “That person who got an A- in an anonymously graded class.” Just stop by, say hi and chat for a few minutes about your break or any other topic of general interest. Who knows, this professor might even need a research assistant or TA, and you could be it!

If you didn’t so do well in a class, it’s even more important to try to talk with your professors to find out why. Sure, sometimes a poor grade is random, but it’s useful to talk to your professors and try to identify patterns so you know what skills to work on this semester. Professors may bring up potential issues that you’re not even aware of which could be impacting your grades.

Even if professors are scary in class, most like talking to law students. Take advantage of the quieter time at the beginning of the semester to build relationships during office hours with your old and new professors. 


3 | Don’t forget about summer jobs!

Finally, second semester is critical for the summer job hunt. Now is the time to plan your job hunt strategy. Be sure your résumé and cover letter are ready to go. Your school may have 1L OCI interviews, and there are often Spring job fairs for public interest work, so it’s important to be prepared. 

Although it’s hard to believe in January, your first year of law school will be over before you know it! Now is the time to build on what you learned first semester and prepare for a successful second semester. Best of luck!


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Alison Monahan is the founder of The Girl’s Guide to Law School®, which is a leading resource for women (and some men) embarking on a legal career. Alison is also a co-founder of the Law School Toolbox® and Bar Exam Toolbox® which provide free resources, tutoring and a variety of courses and tools to help law students and bar exam takers succeed with less stress and anxiety.