What We Think About When We Think About Being A 1L

by Amy Taylor

During the first month of each fall semester, I spend a lot of time thinking about what it’s like to be a 1L. My own memories are of being overwhelmed and confused – struggling with briefing cases, looking up unfamiliar words in the print Black’s Law Dictionary, trying to stay caught up with the reading (who were those people who were somehow ahead in the reading?), trying to learn how to cite using the Bluebook, and on and on.

One thing I don’t have a memory of, though, is using Westlaw and Lexis. We weren’t given our passwords until the spring semester, and we researched our open memo using print Shepard’s and the print South Eastern Digest. When I went for a consultation with my legal writing professor, I didn’t have all of the cases I needed. She told me they were all in the Digest. When I think about a legal writing professor uttering those words in 2015, it makes me laugh. There is no more one-stop shopping. Not only are Digests and Reporters and Shepard’s no longer on our shelves, unpublished cases are searchable on Lexis and Westlaw, adding to the number of results.

This got me thinking about law students’ relationship with technology and how it shapes their 1L experience. In the last 10-15 years, technology has progressed from heavy laptops with limited battery life to apps and new online platforms that integrate and manage much of what each 1L has to reinvent for herself. There’s no doubt that this technology is transformative, but will we also look back on it as reductive? Or in a day and age where information is practically infinite and time is definitely not, is this a necessary step to preparing law students to manage technology? Why not begin as a 1L?

At our library, we provide students with an institutional subscription to Quimbee. (Students can also purchase individual subscriptions if their law school doesn’t have an institutional account.) Quimbee provides case briefs written by attorneys and law professors and tied to casebooks, video tutorials, an outline tool, and practice questions. Are canned briefs a substitute for struggling with the material? No, but one could argue they have a place in teaching students how to brief. 

Another new platform is LearnLeo, a free service available to students in U.S. law schools. One of their tag lines is “simplifying the law school experience.” They provide the text of cases online and students can highlight the text in different colors and then generate a class brief, storing it all in the cloud.

Both of these platforms make some things seamless that were a thorn in my side when I was in law school. And both raise as many questions as they answer: Are the students that use these platforms different from the ones who don’t? Do these platforms change the way students interact with substantive law in a significant way, i.e., do these give students more time and energy to focus on substantive law or do they reduce substantive law to something that students can pull together without as much thought? 

In the end, it’s the thinking 1Ls need to do that I think about the most. Learning the law is a struggle and no amount of simplification can take the place of being in the weeds with personal jurisdiction and coming out on the other side. Whether these tools make that struggling more or less meaningful is a question yet to be answered.

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