What To Expect During Law School
If you are an incoming 1L, you are probably wondering what to expect during law school. One thing to accept straight away: law school is not simply an extension of college. It differs in many ways and can be a major adjustment from your past school experiences. One way to make the transition easier is to prepare for what to expect during law school. That way, you are in the best position to succeed even before day one! In this post, we lay out our top 10 things that students should expect during law school.
What To Expect During Law School
Expect to Attend a Law School Orientation
First and foremost, you can expect to attend a law school orientation. Orientation acts like an introduction to law school. Even if you previously visited the school during the application process, or even talked to students and faculty, there is a ton more information that you will learn during orientation! In fact, a lot of what to expect during law school will be covered during orientation. That is, after all, the point of orientation – to orient you!
The exact agenda and schedule differ from school to school, but there is some definite overlap in law school orientation. Some examples of what you can expect to cover include the following.
- Meeting People. You most certainly will get to meet your classmates, professors, law school staff, upper-level students, and maybe even some alumni.
- Attending Information Sessions. You will attend information sessions concerning what to expect during law school and relevant school policies and procedures.
- Participating in Introductory Classes. Most schools have introductory classes during orientation to go over basic skills such as how to brief a case or identify the holding of a case. These classes prepare you to jump into your class assignments (and do them correctly!) right from day one.
- Going on Tours. There likely will be the opportunity to take campus tours (which can be especially helpful if you did not get a chance to take a tour prior to applying!) and trips to the bookstore.
- Attending Convocation. Many law schools hold a convocation towards the end of orientation and formally welcome you to the legal profession. In addition to speakers discussing the importance of acting morally and ethically, you may be required to take a formal “oath of professionalism” alongside your new classmates.
For more on this topic, check out our ultimate guide on what to expect during law school orientation here. And, prior to attending orientation, you can read about how to prepare and succeed at law school orientation here to ensure that you get the most out of your experience!
Expect a Standard 1L Curriculum
After orientation, your law school career truly begins. Many incoming 1Ls are most curious about what to expect during law school classes. The answer to that is multi-faceted. One major thing to expect, though, is an established 1L course curriculum.
The 1L curriculum is fairly standard from school to school. You’ll be provided with a class schedule that is pre-set for you during your first year. No matter what law school you go to, you will be taking courses addressing the same subjects as students at other law schools. That makes the 1L curriculum one of the most predictable things to expect during law school!
First-year courses usually include:
- Civil Procedure
- Real Property
- Criminal Law
- Constitutional Law
- Legal Research & Writing
Some of the subjects, like criminal law, are fairly self-explanatory, while others like torts, may leave you wondering exactly what the class is about. To learn more, we have a post that has an overview of each of the first-year law school courses here.
After 1L year, you can expect to have much more flexibility in the courses you take. You will have more control over your own schedule. When that time comes, for advice on the best courses to consider taking, check out this post on what classes you should take in law school after 1L year!
Expect the Occasional “Cold Calling”
The standard 1L curriculum is not the only way that law school differs from classes you’ve taken in the past. Another way is the method in which professors go over reading material during class. You may have already heard about “cold calling,” which is a common term to describe the Socratic Method. For better or worse, cold calling is a law school tradition. Not every professor cold calls on students, but many will.
Cold calling is when the professor, rather than asking for volunteers to answer a question, simply calls on one student to answer. In many cases, that student will be expected to answer a series of questions. It is sometimes the case that one student will be expected to answer questions for half of the class period (or even the full class period).
Keep in mind that cold calling is not designed to embarrass students. Rather, it helps prepare students for the rigors of the legal profession. In your career, you will need to be adequately prepared – whether for client meetings, conversations with law firm partners, or court appearances. Cold calling is one way to help students prepare for their post-law school jobs.
With that said, if you are adequately prepared for class, being cold-called is not so bad – because you will know the answers! Check out this post with four vital tips for surviving cold calling.
Expect to Spend A LOT of Time Preparing for Class
Whether or not your professor cold calls, it is important to be prepared for every class. Expect during law school to spend a lot of time preparing for class. Seriously, most students underestimate the amount of time that they will spend outside of class doing work. You will prepare for class by, among other things, completing reading assignments, briefing cases, and/or consulting secondary materials (as well as the critical task of outlining, which we discuss below!).
Most reading assignments will likely be case law, but could also include treatises and secondary sources. Keep in mind that reading assignments in law school are time-consuming. Not only are they often lengthy, but the material is dense and difficult to parse through. This is especially true in the beginning of law school – so even a short assignment can take a few hours to get through.
Expect to Outline and Memorize Course Material
Source after source addressing what to expect during law school will undoubtedly discuss outlining. The importance of outlining in law school is well emphasized – and for good reason!
A strong outline is one of the most powerful tools a law school student can possess. It not only helps you to understand and study the massive amount of material that you will go over in class, but it also is your study guide for final exams! Since, as discussed below, the final exam likely encompasses the entirety of your course grade, a well-executed outline for each course is key for success in law school.
Generally speaking, you should begin outlining at the very start of the semester. Add to it after each class or on a weekly basis to keep the task manageable. Working with smaller chunks of material is always easier than trying to tackle multiple concepts at once!
Learn more about how to outline from our in-depth guide on how to create a law school outline here.
Creating the outline alone isn’t enough. It will be your study tool. As you create an outline, you can begin to learn the material, review it, and memorize it. Check out these tips on how to learn and memorize your law school outlines!
Expect the Importance of Grades & Class Rank
As if all of the work you can expect during law school wasn’t stressful enough, there is the added pressure to do well in your courses, particularly 1L year. Many students wonder: does academic success during 1L year really matter? The answer is YES. For better or for worse, your grades as a 1L are important and largely define your law school experience because:
- Grades and class rank determine your eligibility to participate in certain student organizations (read more about this extracurricular below!).
- Scholarships are often impacted by grades, with a certain minimum GPA required in order to maintain your scholarship award.
- Your grades and class rank will affect what On-Camus Interview (OCI) invitations you receive from top law firms, which in turn can greatly affect your job prospects after law school.
We say this not to scare you. But, it is better to know what to expect during law school when it comes to the importance of grades and class rank rather than be blind-sided! And this topic will most certainly be discussed during law school orientation or the first few weeks of the semester. Getting in the proper mindset ahead of time is key to setting yourself to succeed in law school.
Expect to Formulate a Study Plan or Join a Study Group
Studying for exams in law school is not as easy as exams you previously took throughout your life. The entire law school exam structure differs (more on that in the next point!). One way to help prepare for this newer format is to formulate a solid study plan well in advance of the final exam period. This should include a weekly study plan to stay on top of your assignments and not fall behind, as well as a final exam-specific study plan.
You may also consider joining a study group. Your classmates are in the same boat – trying to learn and understand complex concepts of law, craft helpful outlines, and retain a massive amount of information. Study groups can help students understand complicated concepts and case distinctions and see things from a different point of view. Of course, there are pros and cons to joining a study group, so consider what works best for you and your personal learning style!
Expect the Final Exam Structure to Differ from Undergraduate Exams
Expect during law school to take final exams that differ from exams you’ve taken in the past.
Format-wise, you likely will generally 3-4 hours to complete an exam that gives you fact patterns and requires you to issue- spot and then write essay answers on those issues. Your answer will include a discussion of the applicable rules that you learned throughout the semester (and which should be part of your outline!) and then analyze each issue based on those rules in order to reach a conclusion. The final exam may also incorporate some multiple-choice or short-answer questions. Be sure to check on your professor’s chosen format before you take the exam, so that you can study, practice exams, and prepare properly!
Additionally, in law school, your entire grade for a course is often based on your performance on one final exam. That makes adequate preparation throughout the semester – and for the final exam – that much more important. Check out these final exam tips from a #1 law student!
Expect to Get Involved in Extracurricular Activities
Although your academic success is vitally important, law school isn’t just about classwork. You can (and absolutely should!) participate in extracurricular activities during law school as well.
Extracurriculars are important for a couple of reasons. First, it is a great way to get involved, get to know your classmates, and build skills or knowledge important to your post-law school career. It helps you become a more rounded student and future lawyer! Second, employers will look for certain extracurriculars on your resume, and it can set you apart from others during the job application process. In fact, some employers require law review or moot court experience and may not even review your application without one or both of these on your resume.
Extracurricular offerings may vary slightly, but the main ones that all law schools offer include:
- Law Review / Journals (students can focus on their research and writing skills by, among other things, selecting, editing, and/or cite-checking submissions for an academic journal)
- Moot Court (students improve their research and writing skills by writing a set of briefs based on a set problem and then practice their oral advocacy skills during competitions)
- Mock Trial (students are assigned a written problem and then asked to stage an entire trial based on the information presented, which is an excellent experience for future litigators)
You can also expect during law school some form of the following common law school extracurricular groups:
- Practice Area Clubs (clubs that focus on certain practice areas, such as business, sports, entertainment, tax, criminal, or public interest law)
- Political Groups (which may be partisan or non-partisan)
- Public Interest Organizations (organizations focusing on helping indigent clients to access the legal system and protect their rights)
- Club Sports or Leisure Groups (such as club softball, basketball teams or book clubs)
During 1L year, law schools often hold a “participation fair” where you can speak with the students on the boards of groups and learn more. Be sure to join one or more of the groups that fit your interests, as this is a great way to boost your resume and is one of the more enjoyable aspects of law school. Just be sure to avoid stretching yourself too thin! You will be busy. Although it would be nice to spend all your time on extracurriculars (and not read for class), it’s simply not realistic.
Expect to Put off Part-Time or Full-Time Work during 1L Year
Last but not least – you may be wondering what the expectation is around holding a job during law school. If you are a part-time student, you may be working part-time or full-time during law school. Check out these tips for part-time law students, which cover ways to balance work and studies!
If you are a full-time student though, most law schools recommend that you do not work your 1L year. In fact, some schools even have policies in place that prohibit it, so be sure to check your school’s exact rules! Even if your law school allows 1Ls to work, your 1L year is the perfect time to take a year off from work. You can expect law school to have an incredibly demanding schedule and workload, which differs from undergrad. It is a major adjustment for many students. By not taking on too much, you can help ensure that you do not become too overwhelmed.
In general, you can expect during law school to avoid working during your first year, with the opportunity to take on work after 1L year is complete. Check out this post on the pros and cons of working during law school.
With the above items on what to expect during law school in mind, you are already ahead of the game. If you still want to learn about more about to expect during law school though, check out our how to succeed in law school guide – which broadly encompasses a variety of law school-specific topics!