Tips for law school success

Harvard Law School faculty and staff share wisdom, tips, and tricks for making the most of your time in law school

Do the readings. Take notes. Participate in class. Most of the advice about success in law school tends toward the obvious. Who didn’t already know that studying for an exam was crucial?

As many Harvard Law School students prepare to set foot on campus for the very first time, we asked faculty and staff to share what they wished they’d known about doing well and staying well in law school — useful whether you’re a first-year student just beginning your journey, an LL.M., S.J.D., or a 3L preparing to make your mark on the world.

Susannah Barton Tobin ’04, Ezra Ripley Thayer Senior Lecturer on Law: “I would remind new students that eating, sleeping, and exercising are the three essentials to maintaining a balanced and happy existence, law school or no law school, so try for at least two of the three each day!”

Black and white photo of a student resting his head on book on a table, surrounded by open books.

Credit: Harvard Law School Yearbook 1965

Kenneth W. Mack ’91, Lawrence D. Biele Professor of Law: “Among the rich resources of your law school experience, probably the most important are your classmates. They will be steadying influences during your first year, and study partners. Many of them will become your friends for life. They are extraordinary people, as are you. Get to know them. Your relationships with them are among the most important aspects of your time in law school.”

Eloise Lawrence, assistant clinical professor of law and deputy faculty director, Harvard Legal Aid Bureau: “Try not to forget what brought you to law school. You will face a number of prevailing winds that may throw you off course, but keep redirecting yourself back to the values and goals that motivated you to set out on this journey. Hopefully, you will discover opportunities that you didn’t even know existed to achieve your goals, but be wary of the things you supposedly ‘have to do’ or ‘everyone is doing.’ Instead, let your lived experience and core values guide you.”

Students in the Prison Legal Assistance Project on the phone.

Credit: Martha Stewart Students in the Prison Legal Assistance Project on the phone with a client.

Sheryl Dickey, attorney advisor for the LL.M. Pro Bono Program: “Your legal career is long, with many twists and turns, and you can put your legal training to work in a wide variety of ways. I have worked in big law, taught as a law school clinical instructor, and now work in higher education administration. It is so important to remember there is no one single path to success! An additional word of wisdom: Find people at HLS who make you laugh, challenge you, inspire you, and make you happy. The friends you make through your study groups, classes, student practice organizations, clinics, student associations, sports, moot court teams, or student government are the backbone of your HLS experience.”

Ruth L. Okediji LL.M. ’91, S.J.D. ’96, Jeremiah Smith, Jr. Professor of Law: “Time goes by very quickly, and it’s important to cherish the opportunity to build new relationships without abandoning the old ones. Law school has a way of pressuring time, and often what gets lost are the people or the loved ones that have been significant in our lives up until then. While three years will go by really quickly for you while you’re in law school, it can go by very slowly for those outside of that bubble. You may think you can pick those relationships up where you left off, but often people feel left behind and abandoned because we get so immersed in our legal study. Cherish this time and make new relationships, but don’t abandon the ones that have been so critical to your life thus far.”

Professor Ruth L. Okediji facing the camera, gesturing and talking with students.

Credit: Lorin Granger Professor Ruth L. Okediji with students at a section welcome reception.

Jill Crockett, associate director of clinical programs, Harvard Law School: “Join an SPO [student practice organization] — it makes the law school so much less big and overwhelming. There are a lot to choose from.”

Cindy Zapata, lecturer on law: “With everything going on in law school, do your best to not forget why you came to law school in the first place. Always remember that you belong here and you’re here for a reason.”

Richard Lazarus ’79, Howard and Katherine Aibel Professor of Law: “I wish I had known before I started law school how many close, life-long friendships I would forge at HLS. If I had, I might have been even more ambitious in discovering my classmates, especially those with very different life experiences than my own.”

Six people gathered around a table in a conference room.

Credit: Tony Rinaldo A meeting of the Harvard Defenders, an SPO that represents low-income people in criminal show-cause hearings.

Rachel A. Viscomi, clinical professor of law and director, Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinic: “Law school is there to serve you; not the other way around. Try to remember why you came to law school and be intentional about how you make use of your time. Also, ‘Keep your eyes on your own mat.’ I had a yoga teacher many years ago who used this phrase to remind everyone not to focus on comparing your own practice and experience to others. In any given moment, we can get caught up in measuring our own performance against others and assessing whether someone else is more or less flexible, balanced, or focused than we are. The law school equivalent might be to imagine that everyone is smarter, more experienced, or more prepared than we are. That’s often an illusion and always a distraction from our development. We each have different strengths and challenges. The more we lean into who we are, on our own terms, and work on making progress from our own starting point, the easier it is to move forward.”