First Steps for First Gens: Finding Your Way to Law School (Even When the Path is Foggy)

What to Do When “Just Ask For Help” Sounds Less Like Advice and More Like an Unconquerable Mountain

No matter what new challenge a person is exploring, it seems like the advice everyone gives is “Just ask for help!” On one hand, that’s good advice. Definitely ask for help. On the other hand, when I’m just starting something, I often feel like I don’t know what questions to ask. I don’t know enough (yet). And then “just ask for help” doesn’t feel like very good advice at all.

We get the best help when we can be specific about what we need, right? Going to a grocery store and saying to a clerk, “I need to make dinner—help me” just isn’t going to be as successful as saying, “I want to make lasagna. Where would I find pasta and sauce?”

Similarly, approaching an attorney with a generic, “Tell me what it’s like to be a lawyer” isn’t going to be fruitful for you. Posing a super-generic question asks them to do the intellectual labor for you: they have to determine what information you’re really looking for and hope they land somewhere in the right ballpark. That can mean one of two scenarios: 

  1. The attorney you’re interviewing might feel overburdened and pressured to launch into a personal monologue—a broad question puts too great an onus on them. It’s inconsiderate. Plus, you want to make the best use of the limited time you have with them, and hearing about how much they love their new puppy won’t achieve that.
  2. Or they might turn the question back on you: “What do you want to know?” And then, of course, you’re right back where you started.

So how can we get to where we can skillfully ask for help?

In order to figure out what I need to know and what I don’t know, I first focus on low-stakes, mostly-passive information-gathering methods—ones through which I’m not directly interacting with a Real Live Person. This way I can immerse myself in information without any intimidation or being subject to anyone else’s timeline. Plus, this low-stakes approach eliminates the risk of “looking stupid”—no one will know if I pause my reading to Google a concept, jot down twenty-three questions, or rewind and repeat the same 60 seconds of a podcast three times. Thank goodness for the internet.

As I listen or read, I make note of what I find most intriguing or confusing. Sometimes I make five or six notes from a single blog post. Other times, I might listen to a 90-minute podcast without jotting anything down. Here are a few ways I absorb new ideas:

  • Law school jargon in context: I had never heard of a “hornbook,” for instance, when The Law School Toolbox mentioned using these summary treatises for open-book exams.
  • Concepts to research: I keep unfamiliar and interesting ideas listed in a Google doc. Sometimes I can research them right away and other times I make note of a question to ask once it’s applicable. (“Are we really allowed to wear noise-canceling headphones in the exam room?” is a question I added to my list this week, waiting to be confirmed by my professors when the time seems right.)
  • Saving questions for later: These are questions I want to ask current students, alumni, or other practicing attorneys—folks who have walked the path before. I’ve found that they’re often willing to lend me a flashlight.

I find that once I’ve gathered a base layer of information, I organically begin to synthesize it. From there, I learn what questions to ask next.

Try starting with a podcast. 

I have a steady rotation of law-related podcasts I plug into on my commute or while I work on a project. For me, listening to a podcast remains a let-the-information-wash-over-me type of experience, but I know that a lot of folks can more actively engage with material they’re listening to, and that’s great, too.

I first dove into the Thinking LSAT Podcast. You can read reviews on your favorite listening app, so I’m not going to gush about it here, but there are two benefits I want to point out:

  1. They’ve got years of material to listen through if you’ve got time, but if you don’t have unlimited hours to listen to two opinionated dudes debate the finer points of the LSAT, you can use their index (it’s admittedly incomplete, but still useful).
  2. Although the focus of the podcast is LSAT prep, they broadly cover the entire application process. You can find episodes about how to study for the LSAT, how to approach test day, lifestyle strategies, application advice, essay examples and feedback, scholarship negotiation tips . . . these guys will hold your hand through your whole application cycle.

And podcasts are also helpful once the application cycle is complete. Since I selected a law school, I’ve turned to a handful of other podcasts that continue to shape my understanding of the profession and guide my research and preparation.

  • The Jabot focuses on women in law practice; its interviews and discussions give me a sense of how to find my place in the legal profession.
  • The Law School Toolbox covers study strategies, career guidance, interviews with lots of legal professionals (including FirstGenJD’s Hafsa Mansoor!). I’ve gotten a ton of actionable advice from it.
  • Thinking Like a Lawyer is all about current events viewed through a legal lens. Their discussions help broaden my understanding of the industry and how it intersects with the world in various ways, whether in relation to elections systems, human psychology, or technology.

Blogs can expose you to a ton of good information, too.

I didn’t read many blogs while I was working through my application cycle, but there are so many out there if you’re a cozy-up-with-a-good-blog kind of person. Here are a few places you might start:

  • The Spivey Consulting Blog features updates about the legal education industry and issues related to early-career attorneys—for instance, amendments to LSAC and ABA policies or major law school changes (like the pass/fail updates during COVID-19). I didn’t check the blog regularly throughout my application cycle, but I know other applicants read him religiously, so it might be worth a glance.
  • The Law School Toolbox Blog is hosted by the same women who lead The Law School Toolbox Podcast but features regular guest writers and different content.
  • The Girl’s Guide to Law School is a great resource even if you aren’t female-identifying. Hosted by Alison Monahan (of The Law School Toolbox), The Girl’s Guide addresses study habits, social guidance, and career advice that everyone, regardless of their gender or expression, can benefit from.
  • LSAC’s official blog: If you’re the type who wants updates from the horse’s mouth, you might want to keep an eye on the LSAC blog.
  • FirstGenJD! You probably already know about FirstGenJD since you’re reading this post, but if you haven’t really dug into the archives, I recommend it! This blog features stories that will certainly help guide your path as a first generation law student—and make you feel a little bit more at home along the way, too.

Discussion boards can be enlightening (in all sorts of ways).

The beauty of discussion boards is how simple it is to share—and receive—information about infinite topics. The flipside, of course, is that it’s simple to share—and receive—misinformation, inflated opinions, and judgment about infinite topics. So be safe out there, folks. (Oh, and—just in case you need a reminder—be nice out there, folks.)

I spent a lot of time on Reddit after taking the LSAT, as I was applying to schools. I found it useful (in small doses) to share in a community who was going through the same process as me, waiting for responses from the same schools, and having a lot of the same anxieties. There’s a learning curve to it, but you might find it worth your time. Reddit houses separate communities (“subreddits”) for every step of the law school process, from folks studying for the LSAT all the way up through practicing attorneys. You can join as many communities as you’re interested in (and/or eligible for). If you’re like me, you might want to join only the community you’re currently in (for instance, I’m currently in a subreddit for the Class of 2023 and the general “law school” subreddit). Joining too “far up the ladder” might overwhelm me, and it’s not necessary for my success, so I’m staying on my own rung for now. In her article How Reddit Helped Me Excel on the LSAT and Get Into Law School, first generation law student Nayram S. Gasu shares her experience with the LSAT subreddit: “Being part of the communities of /r/LSAT and /r/lawschooladmissions gave me the resources I had spent four years of college looking for.”

A couple of other discussion boards you might like to explore are 7Sage and Thinking LSAT, the latter of which has an active Facebook group. On 7Sage, the folks posting are subscribers of the 7Sage course, but you don’t need to be a member to just read.

Just remember that, no matter what board you’re on, folks are sharing their opinions. Take everything you read with a grain of salt, and be a helpful community member when it’s your turn to share.

There are even a ton of LSAT materials available.

I’m not usually all about the I-did-this-and-you-should-too-it’s-the-only-way approach, I am going to tell you: you need to study for the LSAT. How well you do on the LSAT does make a difference in which schools accept your application and how much money they give you to go there. Luckily, there are a ton of methods you can use to study.

To get started, take a practice test under simulated test conditions (35 minutes per section, 5 sections, one break). Compare that score with those of accepted students at the schools you’re considering, using the schools’ ABA 509 reports (here’s a guide on how to do that). And if you’re not happy with your first score, consider what you can do about it.

Plenty of other folks have published in-depth analyses of LSAT study programs, so I’m not going to do that here. Instead, I’ll share a few potential resources:

  • LSAT Prep Plus subscription ($99/year): This didn’t exist when I was studying for the LSAT in 2019, but now LSAC requires this membership if you’re going to use any other online prep materials, and it allows you to access 71 digital practice tests.
  • 7Sage ($69/month): This program has an at-your-own pace curriculum that’s video and diagram-based, which was great for me as a visual learner. If you’re going to use 7Sage, plan to spend at least three months getting through the curriculum. (There’s also an annual subscription for $599 if you can afford it.)
  • The LSAT Demon ($95/month for basic): This was a brand-new program toward the end of my study period. I used it for one month. It’s designed as an adaptive drilling tool (the algorithm feeds you question after question, learns your skill level, and sends you questions that are at the right “struggle level” for you). 
  • Khan Academy (free!) partners with LSAC to offer a self-study course and access to 10 digital practice tests. I didn’t find Khan Academy super helpful and ended up switching over to 7Sage, but you might find their lessons helpful. (And it’s free!)
  • Your library (free!): There are about a gazillion LSAT test prep books out there. A few that people swear by are the PowerScore Bibles (one each for Logic Games, Reading Comprehension, and Logical Reasoning), the Fox LSAT Logic Games Playbook, and The LSAT Trainer. Check your local library or, if you’re a current student, your school library for these and other titles.

Bottom line: Your LSAT score matters. A lot. There aren’t any mandatory resources, and you might be one of the lucky few who get their ideal score the first time they take the LSAT, but either way—take the LSAT seriously.

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