I know all you 0Ls are waiting anxiously for the merit scholarship offers to come in, but we are starting to get busy in spring semester, so I figured I would preempt a number of questions that you will probably want to ask (and can’t be easily found out elsewhere) that are specific to USC. I’ll start this one off with more general/academically-focused questions that I wanted to ask during my 0L. I'll try to think of more as time goes on, but feel free to throw anything else out there. Other 1Ls feel free to chime in/add anything you want. Off the top of my head:(1) What is it like being a 1L at USC?
It’s hard to generalize, but I have honestly really enjoyed myself. USC can be a lot of work and stressful at times (like all law schools), but the environment we have is honestly very friendly and low-key. The school really does a good job of hand-holding during the first few weeks to make for an easy transition, and programs like our orientation (which was week-long) and the ASIST tutors really help familiarize you with the school and advise you on the “law school process” early on (though, as TLSers, you will have heard a lot of it before.) I have also been blown away at how many opportunities to engage the legal community outside of the classroom USC provides to its students. Whether it’s lectures from big name attorneys (or SC justices
), student organizations, or clinics/outreach programs, it seemed like every week there was something worth going to. That said, you have to be pretty judicious with what you go to in your 1L (as your free time is limited), but there a lot of great things to keep you busy during your lunch hour. Our school also has a lot of social events for the law school at large (Bar Review is on Thursdays, and always good fun), or other local schools.(2) What is the general curriculum your first year?
Like most schools, USC has a fixed curriculum for your 1L. At orientation, you will be randomly placed into one of 13 or so “sections”. I think they try to get a good cross-section of the GPA/LSAT makeup of the class as a whole in each section. Basically, the approx. 15-20 people in your section will be in all of your classes with you. This will also be your only classmates in your legal writing and research class. These sections are then generally blocked into “super-sections” of 4 sections, which will be your core of classmates for your substantive law classes throughout 1L. One class (LLV) combines only two sections from the supersection. What this effectively means is that there are three different “super-sections” in which all the students share the same schedules and many of their classes together. Although this means you become somewhat isolated from a large part of the 1L class during that first year, sharing most of your classes with the same people means you get to be really close with all of them. This is probably not unique to USC.
Your 1st semester here you take 5 classes (6 if you count LW and research separately) – Contracts, Torts, CivPro, LLV and LRW. Not surprisingly, the class schedules were pretty heavy when you are in there, but the admin tries to give most sections a 4-day week (at least for one semester), which is REALLY nice. Most classes (outside of LRW) will be taught in the Socratic method, but how rigid/painful that really is depends greatly on your professor. All my professors have been great so far.
Second semester you’ll continue LRW, and take Con Law, Crim, Legal Profession, and Property. For some reason, 2nd semester is much more relaxed in terms of class participation – which is a double-edged sword if you are prone to not do the readings. The first half of second semester is particularly relaxed – I think it’s because they are sensitive to the whole job search/interview process that goes on that time.(3) What the heck is LLV?
LLV (or “Law, Language and Values”) is a mandatory course your first semester that is unique to USC. The class basically covers statutory interpretation and adjudication theory: basically, how to go about piecing together an answer to “hard” legal questions (eg. Does selling a gun to buy drugs constitute violation of a statute attaching greater penalties is a drug dealer “uses” a gun during a drug transaction?)
The class itself has a fair number of (ungraded) papers, and a lot of reading, most of which is very esoteric. The general feeling about this class is very mixed – some people really dislike it, but others find it valuable. I personally thought the class was a good addition to your core 1L curriculum. I honestly was not very good about reading, but I think the class does a solid job of introducing you to “general legal theory,” and teaching you a solid framework for raising legal arguments (which becomes valuable especially during finals.) My professor also really impressed me – it is really hard to corral a socratic discussion when the concepts are so broad, but he managed to get the point across.
My advice in this class is to not sweat the readings, follow your professor’s recommendations for organizing for your papers (it really does help), and listen to the comments you get back – it will pay off come finals time. It’s also the only class where all professors use the same final. As a side note, the general consensus was that the multiple choice part of the final was INSANELY hard (citing obtuse references) – but worth very little of your overall grade, so don’t sweat it.(4) How are grades awarded? How tight is the curve?
So, all your 1L classes at USC are curved to a 3.3 (a B+). USC does not rank its students (other than letting people know that they are in the top 10%.) You can look up the fixed variance somewhere on their website, but it won’t do you much good in estimating what a GPA translates to in terms of ranking (nor will USC let you approximate it for your resume.) Grades are awarded in increments of 1/10ths of grade points, which is how they get their variation, but the actual letter grades are fairly generous (A- = 3.5). The curve itself is pretty stressful as a measurement tool, but that's pretty universal to all LSs. While a lot of people complain about not being ranked, but I don’t think it really matters; almost all employers (particularly those in OCI) are aware of the curve, deal with many USC grads, and will be able to place you. l(5) Does it suck that Legal Writing is graded?
A lot of people complain about this, mostly because it is fairly subjective and it requires you to put a lot of effort into the papers that don’t have the same requirements elsewhere (or if they got a bad grade in it, and it is worth 5 total units over the year.) However, having the class graded means you put more effort into it, and subsequently, makes you a better legal writer/researcher. USC grads are very well-respected as legal writers out in practice, and really, it is the most practical class (and in my opinion the most valuable skillset) you will learn in your first year. Also, anecdotally, it seems that there is a pretty high correlation between success in LW and success in other classes, so I don’t think that it generally “drags down” anyone’s GPA too significantly. (6) What advice do you have about the 1L summer job search at USC? What is everyone doing?
There is a lot of good material on TLS for advice on finding 1L jobs, so I will defer to them on the broad strokes. USC has a number of events to help put you in contact with employers, include spring OCI, IP career day, or Small- and Mid-sized firm career day, and a number of more informal hiring events. We also get bi-weekly emails for other hiring opportunities. 1L summer hiring is far from over this year, but so far there a few general categories that have emerge:
-judicial externships – there are a lot of 1Ls going this route, ranging from 9th Cir. spots to specialty courts. In general, these people started early (before the end of 1st semester), and the more prestigious the court, the better their 1st semester grades were. Most of these jobs involve taking the initiative yourself and submitting to judges cold. If you are worried about your competitiveness in the LA market, consider applying to Orange County and (if you are willing) Riverside courts.
-small-mid law- these make up a large portion of our class, and range widely from BigLaw-esque SAs (at market rates) to single-person shops that are unpaid. Obviously, the latter is more common, but these jobs tend to be found either through the more formal hiring events or through person connections.
-in-house work - a lot of in-house opportunities have started to crop up at USC through every hiring venue, and a lot seem to be in entertainment or technology.
-Clinics / RA – as I mentioned above, these jobs can be pretty competitive (the clinics I think more than the RA positions), but they represent an interesting paid summer position through the school, and will lead to good letters of rec.
-BigLaw SAs – Like anywhere, these are extremely rare. We had a few hires out of OCI and a few from other sources, but I can’t imagine that there are more than 10 or so in our class so far.(7) What does everyone do for fun (IE when not studying)? Any recommendations?
Like I mentioned before, LA is a big city with a lot to do. 1L is pretty hectic, but most people here still make time to explore the city a bit, go to clubs/bars, hike, bike or surf. My recommendations:
-Make use of the good weather. Whether you are just studying outside on campus, or escaping to the beach, the sunlight can do wonders to lower your stress level. I make it a point to study outside at least 1-2 hours a day.
-The food/bar scene in Los Angeles is amazing. I am not a big clubber (though I head there are good clubs too), but the sheer variety and quality of food and drink in this city is fantastic. It would be a disservice to yourself if you stuck only to chain restaurants and bars.
-Get to Malibu/Topanga Canyon. The first time I took the 30 minute drive up the coast there, and then went hiking up in TC, I was blown away at just how beautiful this area can be. Zuma beach on a weekday can definitely make you think long and hard about giving up law and just surfing every day.
-Take a pilgrimage to Las Vegas if you have not been. I am not a fan myself, but I think most people have spent at least one weekend in Sin City.
-Don’t be afraid to get out of the city. If you are getting stressed, take a weekend off and go see some of the sights that SoCal has to offer. Some of my recommendations include Joshua Tree, Yosemite, Palm Springs, Julian, or San Onofre. Or hop on to a SW flight for $40 and check out the Bay Area. At the risk of sounding like one of those cheesy California tourism ads, I really do love CA, and there is a lot it has to offer.
*Sorry for any typos, etc....and let me know if you have any questions. -Foxes