Chapter 02: The Power of Mindset in Law School – Part 1

As you get ready for your new endeavor in law school, you may have already started to receive unsolicited (or solicited) advice from others.1Ours is the only advice you should follow. Just kidding. Sort of. Some or all of that advice may be “to eat, breath, and sleep the law.” This is the belief that if you are not studying 24/7 then you will not make it through law school. I am here to tell you that is not exactly true. Yes, you will be knee-deep in a type of academic experience unlike any other you have experienced before. Yes, it will be hard. Yes, it will be frustrating at times. And yes, you may not have any free time to go to your second cousin’s cat’s birthday party. But that doesn't mean you won’t have time to take a break to refocus yourself and make law school a truly positive experience.2A lot people even enjoy law school and find it fun. Well, maybe not a lot of people, but some people. It was me. I enjoyed law school. In fact, you MUST give yourself that time to take a break. That is because learning the law is only part of what you need to succeed in law school. You also need to have a good mindset in order to properly learn the law and make the most of your studying. You can study as much and as hard as you want, but if you do not have a (mostly) positive mindset, if you do not truly believe you can do this, then you will not gain anything from your studying. 

So many people believe law school is hard because the law is hard, which is partially true. But if you are constantly working against yourself and your negative thoughts, it will be that much harder. This is not to say that you won’t have some bad days or days where you question yourself and think “can I actually do this!?” Those are perfectly normal feelings in law school, especially in your 1L year. But the quicker you can change that thought process at any given moment, the more effectively you study the law. So how do you keep a positive mindset to get the most out of your studying? I have several tips for you. So many, that we will have to make this post into a series of posts. So buckle up and get ready to positively influence that mindset!3Did I make it sound fun yet?

Remember that law school is job training, not gatekeeping: I may be dating myself4 I refuse to believe I am old., but if anyone has ever seen the movie The Paperchase5If you haven’t seen this movie and you are starting law school soon, don’t bother watching it. It will only cause more stress. , it is not a surprise that before getting to law school, prospective students already have a sense that everything is a competition. This movie portrays students in constant competition with each other to be on the top of the curve, get the best grade, make the best outline, be number one in the class, and get onto Law Review at all costs. You may have even heard tales of students stealing pages out of books in the law library so that other students cannot find the correct cases to use in their 1L Appellate Brief. But that is not how law school works (and I am not sure it ever truly was). 

First of all, no one uses books anymore, so fear not the missing pages.6Again, I am kidding. There are still law books, but online legal research tools like LexisNexis and Westlaw have become the norm. In fact, law students help each other more than ever before because of a sense of camaraderie that you are all in this together. And law schools want their students to succeed, which is part of the reason your Office of Academic Success or the like now exists. Yes, there will inevitably be that pressure to get good grades and a slight feeling of competition, but the reality is everyone in law school usually comes from an undergraduate education where they did very well. And not everyone is going to get an A. As much as that may seem like the end of the world to some students, it is ok to get a B. It’s actually quite likely you will get a B at some point in law school or even (cue dramatic music) a B-. 

What is crucial to remember is that law school is not trying to prevent you from becoming a lawyer, it is training you to become one. So, whether you are number one or number 98 in your class, you will be moving on to become a lawyer when you graduate. What will define you from that point is your career and what you do with your law license, NOT the B- you got in Property. Taking a step back to remind yourself of this is crucial to keeping a positive mindset for the next three years. So take a breath and remember everything you do in law school is to prepare you for your new and exciting future as an attorney. 


To be continued… 

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    Meet the Author
    Stephen Iannacone is Director of Academic Success at Cardozo School of Law and a Bar Exam Coach at Vinco. Prior to joining Cardozo School of Law, Stephen was a trial attorney at the law firm of Spiegel & Barbato, LLP. He specialized in civil litigation in all New York venues and argued several appeals in the First Department. He was also an adjunct professor at Pace Law School where he taught classes to third-year students preparing for the Bar Exam as well as classes to second-year students focusing on legal writing and analysis. Read more about Stephen >