New Term, New Me, New Stress: Trials and Tribulations of the 1L Experience

As us 1Ls welcome a fresh semester with open and loving arms, having just come off a two-week Netflix binge, we return to the familiar halls of the Jackman Law Building. Diving into two new substantive law courses, rekindling our passion for [insert small group course here], and learning about the wonders of civil procedure—we were certain this would be a blessed semester, right?

Wrong.

The courses!

Credits

The University of Toronto Faculty of Law Academic Handbook, under “Credit Requirements,” states that JD students are to take a maximum of 16 credits each term, noting that “in extreme circumstances, with permission from the Assistant Dean, Office of the Associate Dean, students may take 17 credits in a term.” Well, 1L must be an extreme circumstance, because guess who has 17 credits this term? We do.

To be fair, we had 17 credits last term as well. However, two of those were Legal Methods in its own intensive-style setting. That left us with about 15 manageable credits over the course of twelve weeks. In second term, with only one extra week, we have another two credits. This adds up to one hour and fifteen minutes of extra class each week (thanks to Legal Process being four credits instead of the two credits we hope we attained in LRW). Sounds manageable, right? Then why does it not feel manageable?

LRW vs Legal Process

When it comes down to it, LRW is viewed as the “bird course” of 1L. The readings aren’t mandatory, and the three graded assignments only inject pockets of stress throughout the term, rather than being a consistently taxing experience. Legal Process, on the other hand, is an entire set of readings on its own, culminating in a nearly 100% final exam. If you thought three reading-intense courses were tough to manage, second term comes in hot with a whole new set of less-than-riveting readings.

Small Group

On ACORN, your small-group credits are shown to be worth three per term; however, it would be more accurate to allocate them as two and four credits. Second term tends to ramp up the value of small group assignments, adding weight to an already heavy semester. It’s like second-term small group is a great mix of LRW stress and substantive course stress—fun, right?

But we have great faculty!

I spoke with Sara Faherty, Assistant Dean, Office of the Associate Dean, who has conceded that 1L is a very demanding experience, and indeed a huge adjustment. With that said, Faherty reminds us that we have fantastic faculty teaching first-year courses. These professors are highly attuned to our stress levels and are aware of the issues we face.

Ultimately, the Law Society requires certain courses, and a particular number of class hours in each one. There’s no denying it’s a heavy schedule, but Faherty emphasizes that faculty and administration are doing what they can to support us. Furthermore, the Faculty assumes that strong students—which, of course, we all are—will plan accordingly for studying and assignment writing from the beginning of the term to preventatively reduce stress.

The grades!

Hopefully having come down from the adrenaline of grades day, I’d like to bring it up again for us all to relive. At 2:53 p.m., while many of us were in class, we got the dreaded email informing us that Fall grades were available on ACORN. Screens dimmed to the lowest viewable brightness setting, phones darted under desks, and palpable panic ensued. But they’re just grades, right? Why are we so unnecessarily overwhelmed with the letter or two we get in a class? Well…

The future!

With the 1L recruit deadline a mere three days after grades release, tensions were high as students vied for a chance at the few coveted 1L firm jobs. But did grades really need to come out when they did? Couldn’t the administration have waited if they truly cared?

Faherty explained that grades are released as soon as they’re available, which surprisingly does take six to eight weeks after an exam. Instructors have a deadline to mark exams and assignments (a deadline that they’re apparently good at meeting), after which the grades are amalgamated in big binders and reviewed by the standing committee to enforce the curve and identify anomalies. After that comes the back-and-forth between the committee and instructors to ask for clarification, which can be difficult when professors are travelling or doing research. Once the grades are uploaded to ACORN, there is an error report that identifies issues with the input data. Finally, after everything is settled, administration can publish our marks.

There are several factors that cannot be controlled, so administration chooses to not make a definitive commitment to a particular release date, in case one of the cogs in this complex machine failed at the last minute.

While it is possible to schedule grades release on ACORN for a later time or date, the impending due date of 1L recruit applications had Faherty feeling like it would be incorrect to cheat students of an extra few hours—or even a full day—to get their transcripts printed and decide if they want to apply. After all, we can choose to wait to check grades, although that might require rather Herculean discipline.

Ahh, 1L…

Ultimately, 1L is a balancing act of the administration trying to meet certain requirements while also attempting to not unduly stress us out. With Fall grades in the past and second term well underway, we have to work together to move forward and manage these stressors as they arise. U of T Law has various mental health and wellness resources that you should check out if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Take care, friends.*

*If you require assistance with mental health and wellness, please reach out to Manager, Academic/Personal Counselling & Wellness, Yukimi Henry (yukimi.henry@utoronto.ca)