What To Expect In Law School
If you are starting law school soon (or thinking about attending law school), you might be wondering what to expect and what law school is really like. In this post, we give you an overview of what to expect during law school.
What To Expect In Law School
What classes will I take?
As a full-time student, you will probably have about four “core” classes during your first year of law school. These classes will be comprised of some combination of Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law, Real Property, and Torts. Additionally, you will probably have a legal research and writing class.
After your first year, you have more freedom to select your classes. These can include more substantive classes on other subjects such as Family Law or Wills and Trusts. They can also include less “traditional” law school classes such as seminars. You also often have the option of selecting practical courses, such as Trial Advocacy (in which you learn how to prepare for and litigate a trial) or Negotiation.
Be sure to check out our post on What Classes You Should Take in Law School if you are wondering what to sign up for during your 2L or 3L year!
How much homework will I have?
One thing that many students worry about before starting law school is the sheer amount of work that is involved. The rumors are true: law school is a lot of work! You should expect to be assigned anywhere from 10 pages to 200 pages of reading for each class! Then, multiply that number by 4-5 classes, and each class will likely meet 2-3 times per week! This is in addition to other assignments that you will have to work on. These include writing assignments for a research and writing course.
Given the large volume of homework that will be assigned, having an effective method to prepare for class is going to be very important to success in law school. It is very easy to fall behind in the reading and think that you will “catch up” as soon as you get a break. Unfortunately, there won’t be much of a “break” during the semester where you will have a chance to catch up! So, staying on top of the reading assignments throughout the semester is very important.
The good news is that there are lots of ways to use your time efficiently and get through that massive volume of reading. For instance, we recommend that you invest in a book of case briefs. These are basically summaries of the full cases that are assigned as reading in your case books (law school textbooks). That way, instead of reading the long, dense opinions written by judges and justices, you can read the quick summaries that are in plainer English and in which the important points have been distilled for you.
You can find more information about commercial briefs and preparing for class in our post, How to Prepare for Class in Law School.
What are exams like?
One thing that is very different in law school versus undergraduate programs is that in law school your entire grade is often based on your performance on one final exam. This can be rather intimidating as that means that the final exam is VERY important!
Each law school exam is generally 3-4 hours long. The final exams are often in the form of essays (although some professors might incorporate multiple-choice questions or short answer questions into their exams). The essays most commonly include a hypothetical fact pattern and you are instructed to spot any legal issues that arise in the fact pattern. You then have to discuss the applicable rules that you learned throughout the semester and analyze each issue. Most schools allow (and some might even require) you to type your answer on your laptop. The school will have special exam software that will allow you to type your exam answer on your laptop without being able to access other information on your computer.
Throughout the semester, you will read and discuss cases to learn and understand various points of law. Exams test a new skill often overlooked throughout the semester: application. Instead of regurgitating rules or information that the professor covered in class, you will need to apply what you learned to a brand new set of facts. Because this is a new skill that is often unfamiliar to many people, it is very important to take some practice exams prior to the actual final exam!
Be sure to check out our other blog posts for more information about What Law School Finals are Like!
What are outlines?
You may have heard people discuss law school outlines and wondered what they are talking about! An outline is basically a compilation of your notes from class. A good outline also has notes from the case book, and any supplemental information or guides that you use to learn the law throughout the semester, compiled in one convenient place. You can think of your outline as an all-encompassing study guide.
It is crucial that you make your own outlines during law school as it is the process of outlining that is really going to help you understand the material that you learn throughout the semester. You can use old outlines from former students and commercial outlines to help you prepare for class and understand the material. We, however, think that the best approach is to always make your own outline! Be sure to check out our in-depth Guide to Writing Law School Outlines for more information on how to make your own outlines!
Can I work during law school?
The American Bar Association previously prohibited full-time law students from working more than 20 hours per week during the school year. The ABA eliminated this rule. However, many law schools still have a policy regarding how many hours per week a student may (or should) work.
Most full-time students do not work during their first year of law school. If you can avoid working, it is a good idea to focus fully on your 1L studies. This is a very important year as far as developing your GPA and laying a foundation for the remainder of your time in law school. It is not uncommon for students to have a part-time job or internships during their 2L and/or 3L years.
Even if they do not work during the school year, many students take jobs or internships during the summer break (for those schools on a two-semester calendar). This is a great way to gain exposure to the legal field without sacrificing your precious time that you may want to devote to studying during the academic semester!
Do people participate in extracurricular activities?
There are many different types of extracurricular activities that you can participate in during law school. There are definitely advantages to participating in extracurricular activities. For instance, you will have a chance to socialize and network with your peers (and potentially other lawyers) outside of the classroom setting. Some extracurriculars such as moot court and law review look great on your resume. (Check out this post for more information on moot court and law review). Other extracurriculars may offer perks such as free lunch during their meetings!
It is important to keep in mind the “cons” of extracurriculars, though. First of all, you are going to be BUSY during law school! As mentioned above, there is tons of work involved in preparing for all of your classes and writing your outlines. You don’t want to spread yourself too thin! You also don’t want to lose sight of the big picture. If you want to graduate at the top of your class, extracurricular activities will not help you achieve that goal. Be sure to keep this in mind before joining too many groups!
We hope this post on what to expect in law school helps!
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