‘A remarkable place’: inside the life of a YLS 1L
As Yale’s newest J.D. candidates begin law school, the News provides a glimpse into the social, academic and extracurricular lives of incoming 1L students.
Tim Tai, Senior Photographer
The first year of law school — known informally as 1L — is a chance for students to enter the legal world, find community and collaborate with their peers and professors.
During the final days of August, Ako Ndefo-Haven ’23 LAW ’26 and his 200 classmates arrived on campus to begin their 1L years and kick off their journeys at Yale Law School.
“I’m very excited to explore all that YLS has to offer,” Ndefo-Haven wrote to the News.
Before classes start each fall, YLS organizes orientation events to ease incoming 1L students into law school. The class of 2026, which represents the most diverse cohort of J.D candidates in the University’s history, began its weeklong orientation program on Aug. 22.
Classes began on Aug. 30.
Ndefo-Haven told the News that the law school’s orientation included social gatherings like one arranged by the Office of Student Affairs at Stony Creek Brewery in Branford, Connecticut. He also mentioned “really valuable” orientation events hosted by campus affinity groups, like the Black Law Students’ Association.
Some of the other activities held during orientation were panels on student life, tours of the Lillian Goldman Law Library, tips from professors and alumni on how to succeed in law school and even an optional movie night.
Mariah K. Smith LAW ’26 told the News that orientation helped her create connections on campus. She highlighted a casual interaction she had with law and economics professor Natasha Sarin ’11, whose enthusiasm made Smith “even more thrilled to join the community.”
Incoming students are also encouraged to connect with older peers. Ndefo-Haven told the News that all students were assigned to Dean’s Advisor groups during orientation, which paired groups of 1L students with second-year advisors who served as helpful points of contact during orientation.
For many students, fall orientation is not a first introduction to the YLS community. Many incoming 1L students also attended admitted students programs last spring.
“The admissions team hosted a phenomenal admitted students program where I met classmates, professors and staff,” Smith told the News. “The program helped me learn more about the culture at YLS.”
YLS keeps class selection simple for students in their first terms. Instead of choosing classes, 1L students take a predetermined set of four courses: constitutional law, civil procedure, criminal law and contracts.
1L students can register for clinics and other elective courses beginning in their spring semesters.
“At the moment, I’m most excited for my constitutional law class just because that’s something that motivated my initial interest in the law,” Carter Squires LAW ’26 told the News.
Squires shared that although he is particularly excited about constitutional law — driven by his interest in learning how a single document can serve as the basis for American law and government — he is going to try to enjoy all his classes. Squires told the News that his professors have done “an excellent job” of explaining why their classes are important parts of a well-rounded legal education.
One of each student’s four fall-term classes, chosen at random by the registrar, is conducted in a “small group” seminar format. Ndefo-Haven shared his experience, mentioning his small group contracts class with professor Yair Listokin LAW ’05. The other three courses students take are divided into larger sections composed of several small groups.
Each small group class has two Coker Fellows, who are third-year teaching assistants. They provide feedback on 1L students’ writing assignments, give study tips and eventually help them with second-semester course selection.
Ndefo-Haven additionally praised the “Credit/Fail” grading system automatically applied to first-term classes, calling it a “huge stress reliever.” Students who pass courses in the fall term receive grades of “Credit.” This grading system is intended to help relieve stress as students adapt to the law-school workload.
In subsequent terms, students transition to an “Honors/Pass/Low Pass/Fail” grading system.
Squires also told the News about YLS’s “Zero-L” online program, which is set prior to orientation and provides a general introduction to law school. It teaches students fundamental ideas like what a case is, how courts work, how to read cases and how to manage time in law school.
“[I believe that] it is explicitly intended to level the playing field,” Squires told the News. “Some people here are coming straight from undergrad where maybe they studied Biology, Physics or something not related to law and then there are some people that come in having worked at law firms.”
Housing at the Law School
At YLS, students may decide whether to reside on or off campus.
For those who decide to live on campus, the law school provides housing accommodations at Baker Hall. The dormitory, which has a capacity of 111 people, is managed by the Yale Housing Office. Applications for dormitory units typically open in late spring.
Styna Tao LAW ’19 previously told the News that she appreciated living in Baker Hall due to its convenience. The dormitory, located at 100 Tower Parkway, is an approximately four-minute walk from the Sterling Law Building.
Despite the availability of on-campus housing, many students opt to live off campus.
“I’m living off campus this year and am very happy with my choice,” Ndefo-Haven wrote in an email to the News. “It’s significantly cheaper, and I also like having some distance from the Law School for my personal work/life balance.”
Smith, whose decision to live off campus during 1L was also motivated by a desire for personal space, noted that while well-located, on-campus singles are often sparse and difficult to acquire.
Squires told the News that the Law School helped facilitate connections among individuals seeking alternative housing by maintaining a spreadsheet for students to search for potential roommates.
Yale Law School has over 70 official student organizations and nine different journals that allow students to engage with the law outside the classroom. Students can find all of YLS’s offerings on the Office of Student Affairs portal on Yale Connect.
Ndefo-Haven wrote to the News that, as an aspiring public defender, he was “especially interested in the Green Haven Prison Project, the Law and Political Economy Group, the National Lawyers Guild, the YLS Defenders, the Capital Assistance Project, and the Journal for Law and Liberation.”
Smith likewise expressed her enthusiasm for embracing YLS’s extracurricular offerings and affinity groups. She told the News that she intends to become a part of the Yale Law Christian Fellowship and an economics club.
Despite its breadth of student extracurriculars, the law school establishes boundaries for students’ out-of-class activities. Specifically, first-term J.D. candidates are prohibited from working for pay at YLS.
Ndefo-Haven said that this policy seems to align with YLS’s focus on active classroom engagement. He also told the News that the emphasis on coursework empowers students, especially those in their first-term, to balance academic commitments and extracurricular involvements.
Nonetheless, many 1L students are eager to begin hands-on legal work.
“I cannot wait until next semester when we can participate in a clinic, which is how law students can get hands-on legal experience,” Smith wrote in an email to the News. “I will slowly integrate new organizations into my schedule to keep a good academic-extracurricular balance.”
Yale Law School is located at 127 Wall St.