What To Expect In Law School
Attending law school is an incredibly exciting – but also nerve-wracking – endeavor. As you have likely already heard, law school differs from college (or any other previous educational experience!). For that reason, incoming 1Ls frequently wonder what to expect in law school. Read on to find out the top 5 things you can expect in law school!
What To Expect In Law School
Law School Orientation
The first thing you can expect in law school is to attend some type of law school orientation. Law school orientation essentially serves as the beginning to your law school career. If you are nervous, read about how to prepare for and succeed law school orientation here. It truly is an opportunity to meet new people, make friends, and gain invaluable knowledge and skills – so you want to make the most of it!
The exact schedule and substance of orientation varies by law school. However, orientation typically lasts three to four days. It is very likely that you will have an opportunity to meet professors, classmates, upper-level students, and law school staff – and maybe even some alumni. It is also likely that you will attend information sessions concerning what to expect and introductory classes going over basic skills such as how to brief a case. There may be tours of the campus offered, or trips to the campus bookstore. There will also probably be social events – which you should absolutely take advantage of and attend!
Getting to know your school and classmates before classes begin is a great way to gear up for law school. To learn more about what to expect and how to prepare, check out our ultimate guide to law school orientation here!
Law School Courses
The next thing you can expect in law school after orientation is to attend classes. We’re including a brief overview of what they entail below!
The first-year curriculum at your law school is most likely set in stone, with you having little to no control over your course schedule. This makes what to expect fairly predictable. As an added bonus, your 1L courses will introduce you to topics that will appear on the bar exam (the light at the end of the tunnel!).
Your 1L courses will likely include the following topics:
- Torts. So, what exactly IS a tort, and why is there an entire class on it? A tort is essentially an action that could lead to civil liability – like battery, assault, trespass, or negligence. Your Torts class will cover these concepts and go over how to prove the elements for each claim, as well as possible defenses that can apply. Torts is one of the more well-liked subjects for many law students. The facts of the cases are usually pretty interesting, so it is a more exciting topic to learn than some of the other subjects you will take!
- Criminal Law. Criminal Law touches on subject matter that is probably closest to what you have seen in TV shows or heard on the news. It is another class that many students find more interesting than others. Your Criminal Law course will go over charging requirements, defenses to crimes, and more.
- Civil Procedure. More commonly referred to as “Civ Pro,” your Civil Procedure class will cover goes through the basics of how a lawsuit is filed in federal court, when federal courts have the power to hear a case, where to file a lawsuit, etc. Unfortunately, the subject matter is not quite as exciting as torts or criminal law. However, Civ Pro is helpful both in practice and for when you take the bar exam! This is a subject that almost everyone uses when they practice law!
- Contracts. You’ve likely signed many contracts over the course of your life. Your Contracts class covers all the things you probably didn’t know about those contracts you’ve signed. Topics include the different elements required for basic contract formation, what happens when there is a breach of contract, defenses to those breaches, and the calculation of contract damages in the event of a breach. There are many nuances to learn, so this class can be difficult for some students.
- Real Property. Have you ever wondered what it means to own land? How do you transfer property? How it is leased? In your Real Property class, you will learn concepts addressing these questions and more. The course does cover topics dating back to common law, and while it can be interesting, many students find the nuances to be tricky to learn – so be prepared to study hard for this class!
- Constitutional Law. Not all law schools require Constitutional Law (more commonly referred to as “Con Law”) as a first-year course, but most do! Your Con Law course will cover free speech, the Equal Protection Clause, and other fundamental rights. Some schools have additional Con Law courses that focus on the separation of powers and other areas of the constitution that do not focus on individual rights. It’s hard to say how your school approaches its 1L Con Law course, so be sure to pay close attention to the syllabus to see how your law school approaches this one!
- Legal Research and Writing. Even though you’ve probably done research and writing throughout your life, legal research and legal writing often have a different approach that will take some time to learn. Your Legal Research and Writing course will likely cover the basics of researching using different legal databases, require you to write a memo and/or brief, and require you to participate in an oral argument (usually at the end of the semester). Research and writing are two skills that are immensely critical to being an attorney, so it is one of the most useful classes you will take during law school!
Your second year of law school differs from your first year in many ways, but one key way is your class schedule.
After 1L year, you can expect to have much more control over the courses you take. Some of the options include:
- Classes that Cover Bar Exam Subjects. It is usually recommended that you try to take at least some courses that are tested on the bar exam so that you are not forced to learn it in a shorter bar prep session. In addition to your 1L courses, topics covered on the bar exam may include Family Law, Trusts & Estates, Evidence, Criminal Procedure, Corporations (or business associations), and Secured Transactions.
- Classes that Prepare You for Your Career. Law school aims to provide a well-rounded education. Classes that prepare you for your career are just as important as more substantive classes. Some examples include Alternative Dispute Resolution, Trial Advocacy, and Contract Drafting. Many law schools also offer legal clinics so you can get additional practical experience. Each of these will help you build skills that will be useful in your future career.
- Classes that Interest You. You can expect to develop some interest when it comes to certain class material while in law school. Those interests may stay the same or change – but one way to explore them is through the classes that you take. Students tend to do well in classes that interest them, so it can be a great GPA booster as well!
Check out this post on what classes you should take in law school to learn more about your post-1L course options!
You can definitely expect to get involved in extracurricular activities while in law school. Extracurriculars can be one of the most fun parts of law school! Just be sure not to commit to too much too soon. As a 1L, it can tempting to join every single organization that interests you, be cautious about overextending yourself. After all, 1L year is hard enough, and adjusting to law school takes time. You do not want to become overwhelmed or burned out which can cause setbacks. (Check out these 5 tips on how to avoid law school burnout!)
A reasonable amount of extracurriculars though is great for personal development – and for your future career prospects! Employers want to hire well-rounded individuals. While almost any extracurricular activity can boost your resume, some tend to be more popular than others. Law review, journals, moot court, and mock trial are all examples of extracurriculars that some employers almost expect to see on your resume.
These three extracurriculars work on developing and building skills useful to post-employment practice, such as research, writing, editing, and oral advocacy. They can also demonstrate your ability to do things like successfully multitask and work as a team.
That does not mean you are limited to those options, though! There will be a variety of practice area clubs, political groups, public interest organizations, and leisure groups you can join as well. If your law school doesn’t offer what you might be looking for, you could always try starting an organization yourself! Keep an eye out for an orgaization fair at the begnning of the school year where you can learn more about the extracurricular activities offered at your law school!
Final exams in law school differ from exams that you have taken in the past. For one thing, your final exam most likely will make your entire course grade for the semester. Additionally, although the final exam for a course may incorporate some multiple-choice or short-answer questions, it is more likely that you will receive a longer fact pattern that requires you to spot and address several different issues in an essay format.
In fact, “what are law school exams like?” is one of the most frequently asked questions we see! The pressure of having your entire grade ride on just one exam, and the introduction of a new format, can cause any incoming law student to panic. Rest assured though – you will be preparing for final exams all semester! There are steps that you can and should take to ensure that you score high on the final exam, including:
- Preparing for class. Law school is reading-intensive, especially during your 1L year. There is so much material on the final exam! It will be impossible to catch up if you do not stay on top of your assignments! Completing your assignments for each class in advance will help ensure you are prepared when it comes time to start studying for finals.
- Critical to exam success is outlining. Although your outline is intended to help you study for finals, you actually work on it throughout the entire semester. You should begin outlining as soon as classes start, with a focus on your class notes. Remember, your professor writes your final exam, so what they said during class is important to include in your outline! Outlining is so critical that we have written countless posts on it. We cannot stress enough that this will be key to preparing for final exams! Check out this in-depth guide on how to create a law school outline.
- Some people prefer to study entirely on their own, while others prefer to study in groups. Joining a study group has its pros and cons, but regardless of whether you do join one, expect to put a lot of time into studying and memorizing your outlines!
Check out this post with law school final exam tips from a #1 law student!
Job Searching / OCIs
Last but not least, you can expect to spend some time in law school searching for a job. After all, getting a job is the ultimate goal of law school! For better or worse, the jobs you find during law school have at least some type of impact on your post-law school job. This does not mean that if you do not get your dream job as a 1L, you will not get it after law school. Instead, it means the work you do during law school helps secure your first post-law school job.
Your 1L summer job search is the start of this process. You should start searching and applying for positions before the end of your 1L year. (Keep in mind, though, that your law school may have restrictions on when you can start engaging with prospective employers!) Read more about how to score a 1L summer position here!
Having something law-related on your resume for 1L summer will help you get a job for 2L summer. And 2L summer is the one that really counts! Often times, 2L summer positions turn into full-time job offers for post-graduation. If you get a good 2L position, you can breathe a bit easier. (Although, you still will have to continue to work hard to keep the job offer!). The application process for 2L summer jobs typically entails on-campus interviews (OCIs). You can read about how to prepare for OCIs here.