Here's what I wish I could tell myself at the beginning of my law school career:
Do what works for you.
Despite what conventional wisdom or upperclassmen may say, the best study habits are those that are the most effective for you. That means you will have to experiment. Don’t stress about not having time to brief cases in the meantime, but do make sure to read them all. Once you find your study style, you’ll find the information easier to absorb. I promise you will eventually spend less time briefing. You will begin to jot down notes in the margins and a few bullet points in your outline highlighting the facts, holding, and reasoning of each case.
Speaking of outlines, you might survive using those created by other students or sold commercially. However, it really is much better for you to create your own. Sometimes that means starting from scratch. Sometimes that means heavily editing past outlines into your own “Frankenstein-like” outline. The act of condensing the subjects into as few words as possible will be what makes them stick because you will be constantly trimming the stuff you have already memorized.
At some point in those early weeks you’ll hear that studies show handwriting notes helps with retention. Great and almost certainly true. But if you’re like me you will probably type. Some people were blessed with the ability to write effective notes while fully engaged in class; others, like myself, were not. To make up for this, make sure to listen first and type later. Listen intently without looking at your screen while the professor speaks. When there’s a pause, type a quick summary of what was just said. Do not type every word unless you want to be the person asking the professor to repeat himself/herself all the time. Don’t be that person. Quality > quantity...
Also, do what works for your professors. Go to the library to check out any supplements recommended on your syllabi. These supplements usually have helpful summaries or practice problems that reflect how they view the subject. If the course’s past exams are available, type out answers to as many of them as possible. If sample answers are available, note how they are formatted and tailor your answers to the same style. Take your time at first. After your untimed answers are satisfactory, start simulating the time constraints of exam day.
Finally, time flies when you’re having fun. Getting cold-called for something you didn’t read is not fun. So, do all your assignments. Attempting to read while distracted or while on a few hours of sleep is neither productive nor effective. So, get plenty of rest. Manage your time wisely and set a list of goals each day in terms of priority. Working frantically at the last minute doesn’t work for most people. Start early. Appreciate every day that you get to learn something new. And Hang in there! That first semester will be over before you know it.