The differences between law school and college
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What are the differences between law school and college?

Understanding the primary differences between law school and college will help you in two ways:

  • First, it will help you to familiarize yourself with law school and what will be expected of you in law school.
  • Second, it will help you to understand that because law school is very different from college, you cannot use the exact same study strategies that you used in college to succeed in law school. Law school is a new game and you need a new skill set if you want to succeed.

What are the differences between law school and college?

Many of the differences between law school and college are as follows:

1. Casebooks

The vast majority of your assignments in law school come from casebooks rather than textbooks. You will be expected to read several cases each night. The cases are usually difficult to read at first since they use a lot of legal jargon that you will not be familiar with right away. However, it will get easier over time! Some cases that you read will be old. Others may be extremely recent. The goal of reading cases is to get used to legal vocabulary, see how parties argue, and see how judges determine cases.

2. Socratic method 

Most law school professors use the Socratic method to teach. That is, instead of lecturing, professors randomly call on students to answer questions about the law and the cases assigned. Many of the questions are difficult and do not necessarily have a right answer. The point of the Socratic method is to ask questions until the student does not know the answer. This is very different than the straight lecturing style you may be used to.

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3. One exam = entire grade

For most of your substantive law courses, one exam will determine 100% of your entire grade. There are not usually any graded quizzes, midterms, essays, or homework assignments in first-year law school courses, unlike undergrad. The exception to this is any legal writing and/or legal research class you may take.

4. Difficulty

Law school exams are difficult! They require you to be very analytical and write long essays in response to fact patterns (or stories) in a short period of time (usually three or four hours). You will be expected to demonstrate that you know the law and are able to apply it to a given set of facts. Usually, there are no (or minimal) short answer, fill in the blank, or multiple-choice questions. Law school exams test your knowledge of the law as well as your ability to apply it and think critically.

5. Strict grading curve

Many students do not receive A’s their first year of law school. First-year law school exams are graded on a strict curve with the vast majority of students receiving B’s and C’s. This strict grading curve often does not apply in the second or third years of law school.

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6. Workload

Law school is a lot of work. It requires that you put in a significant amount of time and effort. You will be assigned hundreds of cases to read throughout the semester, and you will have many legal writing homework assignments and projects to complete. You will also be expected to find time to make outlines of the law and take practice exams to prepare for 1L exams.

7. Anxiety

Many students feel a high level of anxiety in law school. This is due to the amount of work assigned, the method of teaching (the Socratic method), as well as the uncertainty most students feel about their grades given the lack of feedback throughout the semester. Many students also feel pressure to compete for the few A’s that are given so that they can get good internships and jobs and keep their scholarships.

While law school is a lot of work and students sometimes feel a lot of pressure, it can also be a very rewarding and challenging intellectual experience. Many students have a great experience in law school. You get to try new things, work on interesting projects, and will probably meet some lifelong friends.

Go to the next topic, What law school supplies do I need to succeed in law school?


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