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1L Overview

Category Description

The first year of law school is a transformative experience for many students.  During this time, students develop the fundamental skills and abilities that form the bedrock of their training as lawyers.  By nature and by construct, 1L year is immersive.  Students will learn how to “think like a lawyer”:  distilling law from cases, separating material facts from immaterial ones, and constructing legal arguments.  They will also begin the process of learning to act and communicate like a lawyer, drafting legal analyses and practicing a range of other legal tasks and skills.  The reading load will be significant, and the demands placed on 1L students are considerable. 

Given the intensive nature of the first year curriculum, Penn Law students should commit themselves fully to the experience.  Academic development and performance are of principal importance during this year, which provides more reason to commit fully to this endeavor.  Specifically, the bulk of the 1L curriculum is required, and students must concentrate on learning the key skills – discerning legal rules from cases and other sources of law, applying those rules to new fact patterns, and communicating legal analyses effectively and efficiently – that will help them succeed at Penn Law and in their legal careers. 

To this end, here are some helpful links for 1L year:

  • A link to the 1L Student Handbook (17-18 version will be available in mid-August 2017) - which includes critical information on student life nuts & bolts (e.g. where our lockers are, how to print and copy at the law school, etc.) and contains descriptions of resources available to students (e.g. Counseling and Psychological Services, Penn Women’s Center, etc.). 
  • For an overview of the specific 1L requirements, students can go here.
  • For an overview of Penn Law’s Academic Support Program, please go here.  The Academic Support Program offers guidance on the nuts-and-bolts of academics, with advice on briefing cases, outlining, etc.
  • Review other portions of the “1L” slice of the Guide (Classes, Skills, Pro Bono)

Even as 1Ls, law students ought to look beyond their first-year requirements and think actively about their upper-level curriculum and their (probably fluid) career aspirations.  Further, students should strive to fulfill their requirements and engage in co- and extra-curricular activities in ways that contribute to their personal fulfillment and professional development goals.  To facilitate such strategic thought, general considerations (presented chronologically) can be found below. 

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Considerations for 1L Fall Semester

Gauge your interest in active advocacy

Lawyers, it has been said, oftentimes fall into two broad categories: those who advocate (usually on behalf of a client in an adversarial context, and through a court or agency of some kind), and those who plan (i.e. making plans for a client, either in terms of a transactional deal, estate and tax planning, etc.).  Many lawyers, of course, engage in a mixture of the two, but 1L students should at least begin considering which broad path appeals more to them. 

Further, 1L year focuses a good deal on learning legal analysis.  Although this skill is often taught in the context of advocacy (i.e., by focusing on appellate opinions, which are the natural result of the adversarial process), legal analysis is necessary and sound training for any lawyer.  Lawyers of all types must be able to spot legal issues and determine how the relevant law applies to their client’s situation, whether that entails a dispute before a judge or structuring an investment fund to comply with federal regulations. 

Think critically in the Legal Practice Skills Course

One of the goals of this course is to expose students to a variety of the skills that different types of lawyers, both planners and advocates, use.  Fully engaging in these assignments and honestly assessing strengths, weaknesses, and interests with respect to various skills may help students determine whether they prefer advocacy, planning, or a mixture of both types of activities.  Such an assessment can then inform course selection and students’ choices about what pro bono, Center on Professionalism, skills development and other co- and extra-curricular opportunities to pursue.

Explore interdisciplinary options

One of Penn Law’s greatest strengths is the range of cross-disciplinary opportunities that are available to students.  Students interested in gaining exposure to another field through a course or certificate, or fully integrating their legal education with advanced professional training in another discipline, should begin considering options during 1L year.  To this end, Penn Law holds a Cross-Disciplinary fair in early October.  At this event, students can learn more about the joint degree and certificate opportunities, along with the possibilities for taking courses outside the Law School.  Also, note that some joint degree programs, such as the JD/MBA or the JD/MA in International Studies with Lauder, require application submission during 1L year.  For general information, students can see here, along with the “Cross-Disciplinary Opportunities” section of the Guide. 

Attend Lunch-time Panels and Speakers’ Events

Throughout the fall, students have the opportunity to attend presentations that feature accomplished practitioners, jurists, and scholars.  1Ls are welcome to attend relevant presentations – as these events can help students gauge their level of interest in a particular field or practice.  Pay attention to the morning announcements for info on events!

Get to know TPIC

The staff in the Toll Public Interest Center (“TPIC”) is available to discuss experiential opportunities and Penn Law’s pro bono offerings.  A half-hour meeting with a TPIC representative in the fall could expose a student to an array of meaningful opportunities.  (Students should take care, of course, to explore opportunities in moderation as the class demands of 1L fall are significant.  Even a 5-8 hour/week commitment first semester could be taxing.)  TPIC staff Arlene Finkelstein, Emily Sutcliffe, and Joanna Visser are here to help!

Get to know the International Programs Office

The practice of law is now very much a global undertaking.  As students assess their interests in 1L year, they may think about the international context for those interests.  On this front, students ought to consult the International Programs Office and learn how to gain valuable international understanding and overseas experience while in law school.  Please feel free to stop in or set up a time to meet with Associate Dean Amy Gadsden and International Programs Director Lauren Owens about international opportunities both on campus and beyond!

Be mindful of course registration periods

Registration for Spring Semester usually begins in early November.  Following the first couple months of law school, students should have a sense of the Spring electives that may be of interest.  Please refer to the “1L- Choosing Electives” portion of this guide for more guidance. 

Explore (in moderation!) Penn Law’s Clubs and Student Organizations

Penn Law boasts more than 90 student clubs and organizations. 1L students are free to peruse the list of student orgs and may want to attend a meeting or event or two.  This is also a good way to begin networking with like-minded peers (i.e. for the clubs organized by interest area, such as the Law & Business Club or the Intellectual Property Group).  Should you need more information on a given club, please contact Dimitri Islam in Student Affairs (mdislam@law.upenn.edu).  

Meet with CP&P

After October 15th, 1Ls can meet with the CP&P team and begin discussing their career objectives.  Many students may have questions about their summer employment plans and general career goals at this time.  CP&P presents wonderful resources for students.

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Considerations for 1L Spring Semester

Actively explore other areas of this Guide

Following first semester, the Penn Law curriculum and experience opens up a bit for 1Ls.  In the Spring, 1Ls can think more about how to shape their upcoming semesters.  To aid in this endeavor, students are welcome to explore other portions of this Guide.  Students can research Areas of Focus that could be of interest (such as Employment Law, Criminal Law, etc.), and could learn more about the various pathways that are popular for Penn Law graduates.  This exploration can then inform course selection down the road.  In exploring the Guide, students may want to keep considerations from 1L Fall (e.g. interest in advocacy or planning or a budding interest in certain topical areas) in mind. 

At this time, students ought to explore the “Pathways” section of this Guide.  It’s best to begin exploring career goals and reviewing such destinations early.  Additionally, many of these “Pathways” sections encourage cultivating strong relationships with faculty and engaging in significant self-reflection.  Consequently, it’s useful to consider various pathways early in the Spring Semester. 

Form relationships with faculty members

After 1L Fall, students often have a better sense of their interests.  They should feel free to stop by a professor’s (either from the Fall Semester or otherwise) office hours, discuss the professor’s research pursuits, and stay attuned to a faculty member’s work.  In essence, students can find out more about what professors do outside of the classroom.  Such relationships can lead to recommendations and references down the line. 

Participate in “Conference Season”

In the Spring, Penn Law’s Journals and various student organizations host nearly 20 symposia and conferences.  Conferences range from an IP-focused event to an interdisciplinary meeting on education reform.  1Ls should review the conference schedule (usually posted in the Fall) and consider attending various conferences.  These events are a great way to learn more about topical areas and network with legal professionals. 

Increase involvement with TPIC and International Programs

After Fall Semester, 1Ls have a sense of what the first year of legal study entails, and have more time in the Spring to explore other areas of the law school.  During the Spring Semester, 1Ls are welcome to begin exploring experiential opportunities through TPIC, or at least learning more about what TPIC can offer.  Internationally-oriented students should be in touch with the Office of International Programs to discuss summer opportunities abroad.

For joint degree students:

Make contact with administrators and faculty mentors in your joint degree program.  Consult with them about potential summer opportunities and begin to understand course offerings for the upcoming two years.  Attend a conference or speaker-event hosted by the joint degree program. 

Continue coordinating with CP&P

Involvement with CP&P may increase during the Spring Semester as students begin thinking more about summer employment.  A range of employers also host 1L lunches, dinners, and receptions during this semester.  Students should attend relevant events, and look to meet attorneys practicing in a given area of interest. 

Increase involvement with Student Clubs

As 1Ls gain a better handle of their schedules, they can continue collaborating with classmates and upper-level peers through Penn Law’s student clubs and organizations.  These clubs can present leadership opportunities in the future, and also allow students an outlet for their interests outside the immediate academic setting. 

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The Post-1L Summer

CP&P can offer a tremendous amount of counsel relating to maximizing the post-1L summer work experience.  From a curriculum exploration perspective, students simply ought to make sure to head to their summer jobs with an open mind, and to explore practice areas, assignments, and possibilities to learn content and skills as vigorously as possible.  Summers can be a wonderful chance to discern interest in a particular field of law and a particular set of skills (e.g. trial lawyering, real estate, IP, etc.).  Students should observe practicing attorneys closely, and may also want to make the most of any chance to sit in on depositions, hearings, client meetings, etc.  Throughout the experience, students can refer back to the baseline consideration: interest either in active advocacy or planning. 

To sum, take advantage of the exploratory opportunities the summer can offer! 

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Closing Thoughts

1L year can be a very rewarding experience, but students must be fully engaged in the process, and be prepared to take active ownership over their education.  In this vein, it bears noting that Penn Law offers a plethora of resources for support.  Should you have general questions about academic advising and course selection, please feel free to contact Dimitri Islam (mdislam@law.upenn.edu) in Student Affairs.  For any issues relating to life at Penn Law, please feel free to contact Dimitri or Dean of Students Gary Clinton (gclinton@law.upenn.edu).  Further, the Registrar’s Office (reg@law.upenn.edu) can answer questions about credit requirements and course registration.  Jessica Simon (jsimon2@law.upenn.edu) can provide assistance regarding academic support.  Indeed, faculty and staff in all Penn Law departments are here to support the Law School’s students.  Feel free to reach out as needed! 

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