I received a Facebook question from a 0L (who did not take my advice to run) about staying organized in law school. My response is below. Current law students should add tips/disagree in the comments!
Notes and Binders
Your organizational needs will differ depending on whether you take notes on a laptop or hand-write. I hand-write for some classes but I invariably lose my notes to coffee or car trunk gnomes if I do not transcribe my notes quickly.
UMN law forces us to buy school laptops, but possibly the one good thing about my spastic school laptop is that it came with Microsoft OneNote, which is amazing (and now free!)
OneNote is sort of like Word, but it looks like a binder. It has tabs, and auto-saves whatever you type. You can“print” PDFs and powerpoints into OneNote, so your folder for a class will contain everything you need come finals time. OneNote even lets you highlight the PDFs, and share your folders online if you’re feeling generous.
As far as binders and such… I would hold off buying anything other than maybe pens, one legal pad, and a bag (and please no rolly bags!) until you get the syllabi for your classes. Most of the stuff the bookstore scares you into buying (before you know what you actually need) will just collect dust under your futon.
Study Aids, Dictionaries
And please don’t buy and supplements or study aids yet. My friends and I wasted so much money on crap we didn’t need.
Westlaw and Lexis are the two online legal research systems that your school will probably give you passwords to during orientation.
Lexis has course outlines, and Westlaw has Black’s Law Dictionary, treatises, summaries of law, and topical digests. All of it is online for free. And even if you buy the print version you’ll probably find yourself using the online version anyway because of the convenience.
And, if you cannot resist wasting money, then just get a very small pocket law dictionary. But again, everything is online, for free. If find that you desperately need a print-form-something-or-other during the semester then your school bookstore will still have it.
Scheduling was a little crazy for me during my 1L year because my school had Lexis training, Westlaw training, special 1L seminars, club meetings, etc. and the people in charge were not very good about communicating exactly when things were.
Calendar alerts (smartphone or desktop) can also help if you use them consistently.
Also keep a print version of your class schedule. All of us forgot where our classes were during the first few weeks, and because no one knows where they are going, it isn’t uncommon to have a pack of 1Ls waiting in the wrong room because they saw “someone” go into it.
Don’t be that person.
One more time management tip! Make “no” your default answer to things that you aren’t super-passionate about.
An easy way to decline these invitations (to club meetings, bar night, canasta, etc.) is to say, “I have to decline because I think I have something scheduled for that time/day, but if anything changes I’ll let you know.”
Then, once you get in front of your calendar and reading assignment list, you can figure out if you really DO want to attend whatever you just declined.
(See also 5 steps to productivity)
I am not sure if this fits really into the organization category, but my friends and I noticed ourselves eating out a lot during 1L year.
It is far easier to suck it up and go to the grocery store once a week and take an hour on Sunday to cook basics – plain meat, rice, pasta, etc. and to throw in tupperware for the week.
Then every day you can just pull out your tubs of pre-prepared basics, do different combinations, dress them up with whatever fresh sides (fruit, etc.) or seasonings, and then have a quick original meal.
It sounds like a lot of work , but this is much faster and cheaper than waiting in line at Chipotle.
Hope this helps!