For those of us transferring from smaller regional schools, Harvard Law School is a significant change. As such, it is natural to wonder how to approach your first year here. Personally, I have never been the smartest person or hardest worker in the room, but I pride myself on staying balanced. This past year I participated in three different clubs, flew back to Oregon monthly for military training, built stronger bonds with my partner and my friends, and performed well in the classroom without ever working past 6pm. In my biased opinion, I think you should try to make balance your biggest priority as well. Here is my (possibly controversial) list of the ten most important things a transfer student can do to stay balanced and take advantage of all the opportunities at HLS:

  1. Reassess and Reconnect with Your Priorities

If you are like me, you worked your tail off as a 1L to put yourself in the best position you possibly could. When you arrive at HLS, you will be surrounded by brilliant students who take a similar approach to everything they do at school. My suggestion, however, is to make a list of things that you care about, in order of importance. This list can (and probably should) reflect different priorities than the ones you had at your 1L institution. You are entering a huge school full of incredible people and taking the time to socialize and explore should become a more substantial priority (as expanded upon in suggestions #4 and #5). Here is what my priorities were to maintain a balanced life as a transfer:

1 (most important)Personal, physical, and mental health
2Personal relationships (partner, family, friends)
3Army National Guard service (monthly training throughout the year)
5Classwork and studying
6Physical exercise
7Exploring the region
8Extra-curriculars unrelated to law
9Law-related extra-curriculars
10 (least important)Everything else

2. Create a Schedule that Reflects Your Priorities

Once you have your classes set, build a weekly/daily schedule. When somebody looks at your schedule, they should be able to tell what your priorities are. Here is an example of my schedule for two random days this past year:

TimeSample February WeekdaySample October Weekend
6am-12pmBreakfast with Partner/Class or StudyingBreakfast with Partner/Study
2pm-6pmClass or studyingFlag Football/Hang with Team
6-8pmDinner/Parody RehearsalDate Night/Explore Boston
8pm-10pmGo out with Friends/Partner
10pm-6am8 hours of sleep

As my schedule indicates, I never study after 6pm. I think having a boundary like this is important to maintaining balance. No matter how much studying you do, you could always do more and there will always be another student who does do more. I believe an hour bonding with your sectionmates or an extra hour of sleep will almost always be more valuable than a seventh or eighth hour of classwork.

3. Work Smarter

Coming from a smaller school, I was struck with how many incredible resources are available through the HLS library and databases. These resources will allow you to streamline studying so you can spend more time doing things you love. For example, the HLS library had a companion for my criminal law casebook with briefs of every case, allowing me to substantially cut down on reading time. I also made use of the HLS exam archive to see how I should organize my outlines to specifically tackle my professor’s exams. Leverage these resources, as well as past outlines, and you can make your studying far more efficient.

4. Pursue Personal Interests Unrelated to the Law

Pursuing interests unrelated to the law allows you to decompress. It gives your mind a break from academics, offers ways to meet people you would never otherwise meet, and helps you become a more interesting person in general. Harvard has over a hundred student clubs, many of which focus on non-legal interests. Try to reconnect with any passions you had before law school and don’t be afraid to try something new!

My favorite 2L experience was doing Parody, an originally written musical put on every year to poke fun at the law school, its students, and its professors. Parody introduced me to some of my closest friends at HLS, many of whom I would never have met otherwise due to different career interests and coursework. I also participated in the Armed Forces Association and Harvard Law Flag Football both semesters. I can’t recommend these organizations enough. 

5. Take Your Social Life as Seriously as You Take Class

This is the single most important piece of advice I have for HLS transfers. At my former school, I kept to myself and focused on class. You can certainly do that at HLS, but you will be missing out on the most valuable part of your degree: the Harvard Law School community. Your peers will go on to clerk for important judges, change the world through public interest work, make partner at leading firms, and become future world leaders. Ten years from now, they won’t remember the elements of adverse possession or whether you graduated magna cum laude, but they will remember you and the memories you made together — so make those memories! Long after graduation, you can use resources like HLS Amicus to stay connected with your HLS peers.

6. Be Purposeful with Your Time in Cambridge

For those of you not planning to remain in Boston, make these two years count! Make a bucket list of everything you want to do while you’re here. Then, when an open weekend arrives, try and knock something off the list. Go try all the cannoli in the North End, hang out at Walden Pond, take a day trip to Salem, watch the Red Sox lose to the Yankees at Fenway, or take a day trip to Cape Cod. The year will fly by, so treat each weekend like an opportunity.

7. Find What You Really Love Doing

One of the biggest surprises for me at HLS was the huge variety of coursework. HLS has leading experts in every field, and you can perfectly cater your coursework to whatever you want to do. This, however, might lead you to ask what I asked myself as a 2L: what do I really want to do? My suggestion: try coursework in different areas until you find something you love. Although I now want to do commercial litigation, I loved Professor Brennan’s Taxation course so much that I took another Tax course just to see if it was something I wanted to practice. HLS saves class spots for transfers, so take your first year to try new things and refine your idea of what you would like to do.

8. Once You Find What You Want to Do, Do It!

Once you find something you love, stay true to that pursuit. Online forums are full of people who are constantly questioning their decisions. You will likely stumble across online debates about which practice areas have better exit options, job stability, partnership prospects, or whatever else. Remember: you will have a degree from Harvard Law School. Do the work that you love doing and don’t worry about the rest, every door that matters will be open to you.

Moreover, doing what you love makes it easier to find balance. When you are personally interested in your coursework, it will be easier to stay focused, allowing you to do more work in less time. Everybody will have advice on what classes to take to maximize your opportunities, but I recommend following your gut and taking courses you want to take.

9. Seek to Learn from People You Disagree With

I have one small caveat to the previous point. Harvard Law School has some of the finest professors in the world, many of whom have completely different perspectives on the law. In addition to taking courses in which you are interested, I challenge you to explore courses that offer perspectives different from your own. Even if you ultimately disagree with another’s conclusions, charitably engaging with opposing views is critical to success in the legal field. Take advantage of the diversity of views at HLS and seek balance in your coursework just as you do with your schedule.

10. Focus on the Process

Finally, I recommend thinking about how you want to define success going forward. If you were in the position to transfer, you were doubtlessly “successful” with respect to your 1L performance. At your previous institution, grades may have even been critical to securing certain opportunities. With rare exceptions, however, this is not the case at Harvard. Graduates of the law school achieve incredible success regardless of their grades. Accordingly, I recommend becoming process oriented: define success by the quality of your effort and the balance you maintain with the rest of your life. I believe that if you (1) commit yourself to your wellbeing and personal interests, (2) take time to build strong relationships, and (3) find something you love to do, then you will have every opportunity you could ever want.

Jaimeson is a rising 3L student that transferred to HLS after his 1L year.

Filed in: Student Voices, Transferring to HLS

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