Starting law school is an exciting experience, but it also comes with lots of questions. Check below for answers to frequently asked questions, prepared by the Victoria Quirk, member of the 2021 Orientation Committee.
What is "1L", "Section 1", "Section 2"?
1L, 2L, 3L are your respective year in law school (e.g., first years are 1Ls, second years 2Ls, third years 3Ls).
At UNB Law, you will be placed in either Section 1 or Section 2 (some other law schools refer to this as a "small group"). You will have all of your classes with your section in 1L ,but in upper years students are mixed, depending on what courses you sign up for.
What are CANs?
"CANs" is an acronym for Condensed Annotated Notes. At some other law schools they are referred to as "summaries".
Typically, CANs are made as reference points to be brought into an exam situation (e.g., open book exams). If you have a closed book exam, many people chose not to make CANs, but the act of creating CANs or modifying someone else's can be an excellent study strategy. I would suggest creating CANs or a similar method when preparing for an exam because it's a great way to organize yourself as you work through reviewing the material up to the exam.
How much you rely on CANs for studying versus other study methods is an individual preference. For me, the process of creating CANS forced me to review all of my materials from that semester, so that was how I did almost all of my studying. In terms of balancing methods, it depends on what works for you and the availability of materials in some cases. If there are CANS from previous years being passed around, some times people will find it helpful to use those as templates and to supplement them with your own class notes, reading notes, etc.
There is a CANs database which has CANs uploaded by students who took courses in previous years. Not every class / professor will have CANs available, but it can be a great starting point if you want guidance on how to formulate your CANs, etc.
It is important to note that other students' CANs are used at your own risk. Often there are cases/commentaries that will not have been covered in your class, even if it's the same prof teaching it. Typically, those who have uploaded theirs have done pretty well in that respective class, however, you don't *really* know how well those people have done, so it's important to remember that when deciding how much guidance you will take from other's CANs.
What is something you know now that you wish you knew as a 1L?
There were two things that really stuck out to me when I started 1L.
The first was that I would not be making the same kinds of grades I was used to. For myself, and I think for many 1Ls, you're working harder than you've ever worked before, but you're getting grades that are worse than you were getting in your undergrad. The idea that if you "just work hard enough" you'll get great grades didn't hold true for me. I was getting at best average grades (often below average) and that was a tough pill to swallow. However, I was finally able to come to terms with the idea that grades are not a reflection of your worth as a person. This didn't sink in for me until second semester, but looking back, I really wish I had leaned into that more in first semester. You're learning new material, you're learning a new way to learn in general, and you're probably being graded in relation to some of the smartest people you've ever met. 1L is HARD and it's important to give yourself some grace and to focus on the effort you are giving things (e.g., the things you can control) rather than the outcomes (e.g., your grades).
The second thing was how prominent toxic positivity would be. There's a lot of glamour around "the grind", which sometimes makes school feel like a competition for who works the hardest/the longest. People are different, and some people may be able to pull all nighters semi- regularly, but that absolutely does not work for me. You might hear stuff like "I'm drowning in school work and I've barely slept this week, but whatever! That's just law school!". There's no right way to get your work done in law school, but I think it's really important to remind yourself that you don't need to justify destroying your mental and/or physical health in the pursuit of being the hardest worker in the room. The ideology around law school being so hard that you have to put it over your health/relationships/etc. constantly can be toxic and it's OK to admit that you are struggling. Using this as a justification was really damaging for me personally, and I think it's important to be conscious of how you're reproducing that kind of mentality through your internal dialogues and when you're talking with others.
What is mooting like and how stressful is it?
Generally mooting is hyped up as a really stressful experience, and for a lot of people, it is. That being said, what people struggle with during moot season can be very individual depending on what kind of person you are. E.g., for some people, it's the public speaking aspect. For others who may be more comfortable with public speaking but who aren't great writers, they may be more stressed about the written component of moots.
Moots are a big deal because many of you will not have mooted prior to law school, so generally it's the anxiety surrounding a novel experience that is SUPER hyped up.
Personally, the thing I struggled with the most was balancing the workload of moots and other classes. It can be really easy to get so caught up in moot preparation that you let your other classes slip. Since moot season is about 6 weeks, allowing yourself to fall significantly behind in your other classes is something you reaaaaally want to avoid. I'm not saying you have to kill yourself to stay on top of everything, but be strategic when prioritizing (e.g., I really struggled with property law and found the readings to be really important for that class. I found criminal law a little bit easier, so I would prioritize staying on top of moot and property while falling a little behind in criminal law because I knew it'd be easier for me to catch up in that class).
The biggest tips I could give when it comes to moots are:
Choose a good partner. This doesn't need to be your 1L BFF (and actually sometimes it might be easier if it isn't), but you should choose someone that you think will compliment your work style. For example, if you're someone who likes to have things done a few days early, try to pick someone who isn't a leave-it-to-the-last-minute person. That's not to say there's a "right way" to work, but try to choose someone you won't be completely at odds with.
Don't let everything else go to hell in a hand basket. This goes for your other classes, but also your own mental health, your relationships, and your routines. 6 weeks is a long time to deprive yourself of anything non-school related. Moot is a bit of a marathon not a sprint, so don't kill yourself researching 20 hours a day. Sometimes me and my moot partner would meet just to chat for 30 mins because we needed to talk about something not moot related.
Have realistic expectations and remind yourself of them. For example, if you're someone who comes from an undergrad background with minimal report writing or writing isn't your strong suit, maybe don't expect to get 100% on your factum (written component of moot). Do your best, but don't beat yourself up for getting an "average grade" despite having poured everything you've got into it.
Do not be embarrassed if you "lose" your moot. 50% of all teams will lose. You are not the only one and no one cares about anything except the fact that you got through 1L moot.
1L moots are like a right of passage. Try to enjoy it as much as possible!
Is UNB Law accepting of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community?
Since I am not the person best suited to answer this question, I’ve reached out to other members of our Orientation Committee who identify as being a part of the community. This is their response:
My experience at UNB Law as a queer and trans person has been largely a positive one. There is an appetite among the student body for queer support and advocacy, as evidenced by the longstanding OUTlaw group as well as the Trans ID Clinic Pro Bono passion project. As with any place, I have encountered people who have shown varying degrees of support. I can’t lie and tell you that everyone has been fully understanding at all times, but I can tell you that there is an overall willingness to learn and connect with each other. My queerness is a very important part of my identity, and I like to think that I have made many deep connections at UNB Law not despite my identity, but because of it, whether it be my queerness, my personal values, or even my flaws and shortcomings. I was terrified to show any vulnerability in the beginning, but I have found that opening myself up fully to fellow students and profs alike has been worth it every time.
An on-campus resource is the 203 Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity. The Centre is located in the SUB (student union building), and they offer a place for 2SLGBTQIA+ students to socialize, study, and access resources.
Are there gender-neutral washrooms in the law building?
There are two public, single-stall gender-neutral bathroom in the law building. One is on the first floor, near the lockers. The other is outside of the library on the second floor. The rest of the bathrooms in the building are gendered.
How do I make friends in law school?
OK I'm going to sound like a classic mom here but honestly: be yourself, join extra curriculars (if you want!), and don't be afraid to put yourself out there!
Joining extra curriculars (clubs/societies) is an awesome way to make friends with upper years and to meet other 1Ls with similar interests. UNB Law has a clubs and societies fair every year where you can learn about all the different ones available and you'll typically get a chance to meet other members as well.
As a 1L I was SO SCARED about making friends and worried that if I tried talking to someone they wouldn't want to talk to me. Looking back, it wasn't worth the stress because YOU WILL MAKE FRIENDS. You're all put into a pressure cooker together, you'll at least make some bonds through commiserating.
As for the overused "just be yourself!" (I know I know), it really is important. There are a ton of different people with different backgrounds and personality types, and just like anywhere else, you probably won't gel with every single person you meet. Be yourself and you'll find people with similar interests/goals/whatever it may be, and you'll be set with a solid friend from day 1.
How do I balance my social life with law school?
For many, the majority of your social life will be comprised of friends from law school. This isn't to say
you won't be able to keep other relationships, but oftentimes school will eat up most of your free time. As a result, your social life might start to include study groups, meetings at the library or a coffee shop to study (pending the legality of gatherings, although things are looking pretty good now!).
A lot of people (including myself) found it difficult to keep up with a "regular pre-law school" social life. Some of that is definitely thanks to the pandemic, but a lot of it is having less free time. It's important that you carve out time to spend with your friends outside of school too, even if it's just a 30 minute Zoom call to catch up with a friend from home.
Another common theme is that you may feel like you have nothing else to talk about except school. For me, I felt like I was annoying my friends from back home because literally the only thing going on in my life was school. Again, I'm sure a lot of that was the pandemic, but most of my time was also being spent on school stuff. Law school can be a really intensive experience that takes up most of your time. It's fair that something that is such a big part of your life becomes a predominant topic of conversation. Whenever I felt like maybe I was annoying friends by talking about school so much I asked myself, "would I be annoyed with my friends always talking about work or school?" and the answer for me was always no. Try to be patient with yourself as you navigate this new chapter and finding the right balance for you. Chances are the people closest to you will be more understanding than you think!
How do I study for law school exams?
This is a personal preference. However for me, one of the most valuable study methods in law school is study groups. I was never a study group person during undergrad, but in law school they were a huge part of my studying and keeping me sane during the craziness of exams.
Within my own study group (5 people) we all had pretty different methods of studying. What works for you will be different from what works for someone else. Ultimately, you'll probably have to try different things out before you find what works for you!
How are law school courses different from undergraduate courses?
Differences between law school classes versus undergraduate ones will be very dependent on your undergrad degree, school, etc. and will vary from prof to prof.
Personally, I did a social sciences degree at a medium-large sized university. As a 2L, my only experience with 1L classes was virtual, however, I would compare law school classes to a larger seminar class (this looked like 40-60 students at my undergrad university).
There is generally some solicitation for student participation and room for discussion / questions, but a good portion of classes will still be traditional lecture style. The class sizes will be smaller than what some of you are used to, but as I mentioned, this will be highly dependent on the program and university you’re coming from.
Across the board, one of the more common differences cited by students is the volume of reading and preparation required outside of class. For most law students, this is a huge adjustment from the expectations of their undergraduate courses.
Ultimately, there will be some growing pains and a steep learning curve. As 1Ls, it’s important to remind yourself that every other student is in a *similar situation* (noting that some of you will have unique struggles that come with families, other life stressors, learning differences, etc.) and they are all adjusting at their own pace. Try not to compare your adjustment period or methods to other peoples.
Was it harder to adjust to law school than it was to adjust to undergrad?
This is a highly personal experience. I think a good indicator may be how difficult you found the adjustment to undergraduate studies. Personally, I found the shift from high school to undergraduate studies extremely difficult and my grades suffered significantly for the entirety of the first academic year.
With law school, it’s difficult to say how much of the transition struggle was due to the pandemic versus general growing pains.
I will say that the biggest difference I noticed in the adjustment period for law school was the intense workload. My first year of undergraduate studies did not carry even a remotely similar workload as 1L did. The general feeling of being overwhelmed by the volume of material was really difficult for me (as it is for most people), and my first semester grades of 1L were pretty below average. By second semester, I was (slightly) better positioned to manage the workload and my grades improved to be on par with the average.
The adjustment to law school is similar to that of undergrad in that it requires a mentality shift, but I think that mentality shift takes a few months (for many, this lasts until February ish when moots are done, if not later) rather than a few weeks.
My biggest piece of advice for handling the transition is to be patient with yourself and to allow yourself to adjust at your own pace. The adjustment period takes work but it also just takes some time. Allow yourself time to figure out what methods will work best for you and try not to judge those methods against those used by other people. It can be difficult not to compare, but in my experience, that can lead to more (unnecessary) stress.
What style of note-taking is best for law students?
The short answer is that the best style of note-taking will be the style most effective for you. Some people are great at listening to a lecture and instantly being able discern the key points and to organize their notes during lecture accordingly.
I am not one of those people, so I tend to write down a good portion of what the prof is discussing during lecture. Immediately after the lecture I will go through and highlight / emphasize the takeaway points and organize my notes after the fact. I used the same style during my undergraduate degree, so I knew this method would work for me.
If you’re someone who has a previously tried and true note-taking method, I would recommend sticking to it and modifying your methods as you see fit, or as required to suit your needs in law school.
What is the normal structure of a law class in terms of evaluation?
I can’t say there is a “normal structure” to evaluations. Some professors and classes will require multiple assignments throughout the semester and a final exam which are all weighted less overall, whereas other courses will have a final exam worth 100% of the semester grade.
The evaluation scheme for each class will be available when syllabi are released.
How much class participation is there from other students?
As with most things, class participation is dependent on the course and the professor, but it also varies across sections as well. Some students are more willing to engage / participate in class and will regularly ask questions, etc. This will inevitably affect how much class discussion and participation is had in a given class.
Do professors use the Socratic method?
For the use of the Socratic method (cold-calling on students), I would say it is generally falling out of practice. That being said, some professors will still cold-call on students and employ the method in their courses. Again, this is something that varies between classes and professors.
As a 1L, I found that more often than not, professors would give open questions up to the class and then only after a couple moments of no one volunteering would they then “threaten” to start cold calling. Usually someone will step up to the plate at that point. I’ve also seen professors do “hot seat” days where you are notified in advance of the days you will be expected to be prepared for cold calling. It’s kind of a modified / softer approach to traditional cold-calling.
All that being said, if you do get cold-called and you don’t happen to know the answer, it’s not the end of the world. No one is judging you for not knowing everything all the time, and chances are if you don’t know the answer, a number of your classmates don’t either. Don’t beat yourself up for that!
When should you purchase textbooks?
My understanding is that professors reserve the right to change their syllabus up until the start of classes. As a result, the required textbook(s) can also change until that date.
To avoid unnecessarily purchasing a text that you may never need, I would recommend waiting until the finalization date to purchase.
Where can 1Ls purchase textbooks from?
Most students purchase textbooks from one (or more) of the following three places:
(1) The UNB Bookstore: The bookstore is handy because it gives you more purchasing options (e.g., to buy new or used). It also allows you to search for your required textbooks by using the course code.
(2) The Publisher's Website: If you’re purchasing new, the publisher’s website is a good place to look. As a 1L, most textbooks assigned to us were from Emond Books or Thomson Reuters. Shipping times were on par or shorter than from the UNB Bookstore, which was a good option if the bookstore has sold out. The UNB Bookstore may sell out of a textbook, in which case ordering from the publisher’s website can be a good option if you’re looking to buy new and/or are on a time crunch.
(3) Other Students: If you’re looking to save some money, other students will typically sell their textbooks for half the bookstore price. Students typically sell their books in the buy and sell group on Facebook. Purchasing used textbooks can also be a great option as many students will write notes in the margins and throughout the textbook. As is recommended when using notes from anyone else, you should rely on these at your own risk, but in my experience they can be very helpful!
Some reminders re: textbooks:
1. If a textbook sells out, do not panic! The bookstore is typically pretty good about providing information to students about when something will come back in stock. Additionally, in my experience, if you don’t have a textbook for the first week or so because of delayed shipments, etc. your peers will be more than willing to send photos of the text or allow you to borrow. People are a lot more understanding than you would think, so don’t be afraid to lean on your peers as needed.
2. Purchasing used may not be for everyone. I found that more so than during my undergrad, used textbooks tended to be more heavily highlighted or marked up, which some students may find distracting. Purchasing used textbooks is a fantastic way to save some money. However, if you know that you will struggle with a heavily marked up text, I would recommend asking whoever you’re purchasing the used books from how marked up they are or considering purchasing new (if that’s an option for you!).
3. You can typically resell your books and make some $$$ back. Unless the textbook or edition changes, you can usually resell your textbooks relatively easily and recoup some of your costs. Alternatively, you've invested in a pretty fancy and sturdy monitor stand. :)
POST LAW SCHOOL: NOW WHAT?
How do students decide what kind of law they want to practice?
I think this is one of the most common questions law students (future or current) ask. Ultimately, many students will decide what areas interest them most based on classes and/or work/volunteer experience.
When deciding what kind of law you want to practice, there’s a number of considerations you can take into account. Please note the following considerations are not exhaustive, but can be good starting points:
What classes interest you the most?
The classes and the case readings that you find most engaging are a good way to discern which area(s) of law are most interesting to you. You don’t necessarily have to choose the classes that you find the easiest or those that you get the best grades in, but that may be taken into account as well.
What geographical location do you want to practice in?
For example, if Maritime law is of interest, but you want to move back to your hometown in Edmonton, AB, you may want to consider the plausibility of practicing this type of law in your preferred geographic location.
What work/life balance do you hope to maintain throughout your career?
Choosing an area of law that averages 70 hour work weeks may not be conducive to the work / life balance you want to maintain in your career. It’s important to consider the impacts a given area of practice may have on your lifestyle outside of work. Networking with lawyers working in a practice area is one of the best ways to discern what a work / life balance may look like in that area of practice.
Do you want to work at a larger or a smaller firm?
If you know you’d like to work at a smaller firm, this may be a consideration when determining which area you want to practice in. Some firms are what’s called “general practice” or “all service” firms. These firms tend to have multiple areas of practice (e.g., a mix of family, criminal defence, bankruptcy, wills and estate planning, etc.). In this kind of firm, you aren’t necessarily required to practice all areas. In fact, it’s not very common for a lawyer to practice every area of law offered at these general practice firms. However, the larger general practice firms may require you to experience most areas during an articling term and may expect you to practice 2-3 areas as an associate.
If you want to exclusively practice criminal defence, for example, this may play into your decision as you may steer clear of firms that would require you to engage in various areas of practice.
Reaching out to practitioners at both smaller and larger firms (specialized or general practice) can help students determine which kind of firm they may be best suited for.
How much money do you want to make?*
Sure, it can be difficult to ask this question, but it is important nonetheless. If making a ton of money is important to you, then you’ll need to incorporate that into your decision making process.
Some practice areas and geographical locations are more conducive to a larger salary, so it is important to consider this when determining which areas of practice you’re interested in for the long run.
*Also please note that this consideration should never be used to judge others *or yourself* for being good vs bad. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to engage in a lucrative practice area, just like there’s nothing wrong with wanting to engage in a less lucrative one, no matter the predominant reasoning for your decision!
How much hands on contact do you want to have with clients and/or other lawyers?
If you’re someone who thrives off of working hands-on with clients and other lawyers, then you may want to consider practice areas that are conducive to this. This consideration will likely also play into the size of the firm you work at and the geographical location you choose to work in.
Do you want to litigate?
Litigators, also known as “courtroom lawyers” or “barristers”, are typically what we think of when we think of a traditional lawyer that we’ve seen on TV. Simply put, litigators will appear before the court to represent their clients.
Some areas of practice that are conducive to regular litigation include criminal and family law, whereas someone who doesn’t want to litigate may choose to practice real estate law, for example.
This consideration takes some time to figure out. Some students will know going into law school whether they want to litigate, but for many, this is something you figure out after mooting, or even graduating and being in the field for a bit.
Ultimately, there’s a ton of different factors that play into what area of practice you choose. It’s important to remember that while choosing an area of law that suits your goals / wants / lifestyle immediately following graduation is beneficial, it’s not impossible to change your area of practice or to evolve your practice over time.
You will learn a lot in law school, but it can be difficult to learn what being a hands-on lawyer is like until after you’ve graduated. Keeping these considerations (amongst others) in mind over the course of the next few years can help you determine which areas of practice may be the right fit for you, but you shouldn’t put too much pressure on yourself to have everything figured out right away.
Additionally, lawyers, professors, articling students, and your peers with prior experience in the field are great resources for narrowing down which areas of practice you’re interested in. Oftentimes, people will be willing to talk to you, so don’t be afraid to reach out!