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What to Expect in Law School: A Guide

After getting accepted to law school, there are many factors to consider when deciding which law school is right for you. One of the biggest factors is the ranking, and therefore the prestige of each law school. Many lawyers will advise you to go to the highest-ranking law school to which you are accepted. There is certainly merit to that advice because higher-ranking law schools often attract more prestigious professors and have stronger alumni networks and relationships with employers, which collectively are likely to provide easier access to sought-after internships and jobs.

However, there are other, more personal, factors to be considered. If you know where you would like to practice law, you may want to consider going to a law school in that geographic area, so that you are more likely to make connections with potential employers. Likewise, if you know what type of law you would like to practice, you may want to research professors that specialize in that area or special programs tailored to your interests. Other factors to consider are the cost of tuition (after financial aid and scholarships), and whether a full-time, part-time, or evening program makes the most sense for you. Choosing a law school is a very personal decision, and which factors to weigh the most depends on your specific goals.

Prepare for The Life of a Law School Student

Overall, there is very little, if any, group work in law school. Largely for that reason, law classes online via Zoom or other online platforms do not differ greatly from law school in-person. The lecture and discussion that happens on campus can be facilitated similarly online. The differences are more likely to be felt outside the classroom, in settings such as student organizations or study groups. Many law students will join these groups, either formal organizations or informal study groups, to meet like-minded students and exchange study aides and outlines. In an online setting, these group experiences may be harder to obtain. However, in an increasingly online environment, many law schools have found creative ways to provide remote networking opportunities, and in some cases, have found ways for students to connect with organizations in distant locations that may have been inaccessible when school was entirely in-person.

In advance of each class, the professor assigns readings from the casebook. Most of the time, these readings consist of a few cases as well as comments on the cases from legal scholars. The readings vary in length from professor to professor and class to class, but know that they are often dense and time-consuming. Especially at the beginning of law school, while you are learning to process the language and reasoning used in cases, it is common to spend anywhere from 3-8 hours preparing for a day of classes. Combine that reading time with the time spent attending class, and a lot of full-time law students devote more time to law school than they would to a full-time job.

The Law School Classroom: Challenging but Fair

In class, professors draw on the cases from the readings to explain legal principles. Class is not just a review of the readings, but an elaboration on the concepts presented by the readings. Therefore, it is important to have read thoroughly, because the lecture does not repeat the details of the cases, but rather assumes you know the details and moves forward from there. Additionally, professors may call on you to provide information from the reading, and if you have not read and are not prepared to answer, the professor may count you absent for that class. These dreaded “cold calls” are often a source of fear for new law students, but if you have read the materials and are prepared to discuss them, they are nothing to lose sleep over. And do not worry about your classmates judging your answer; they are just glad they did not get called on!

Further, professors will also often use “hypotheticals” as an exercise in class. The professor will propose a scenario by giving the class a set of facts and ask you to apply a legal principle to the situation. There often is no one “correct” answer to these hypotheticals; instead, the professor is looking for your ability to make a plausible argument for several different outcomes. These hypotheticals are important to write down because they often are mini versions of exam questions where you are asked to perform a similar exercise. The hypotheticals proposed in class give you a taste of the types of problems your professor may come up with for the final exam.

Law School Grading: A Big Shift from Your Traditional Test

Compared to undergrad, one of the biggest differences in law school is the way law students are assessed and graded. In most undergrad classes, students have homework assignments, quizzes, projects, midterms, and other assessments throughout the course. For most law school courses, the only grade is the final exam. This can be challenging because of the lack of feedback on your understanding and performance throughout the semester; you do not have the chance to correct any mistakes or misunderstandings after learning you are off track by receiving a poor grade before the final exam. Additionally, this structure means the entire content of the course is fair game for the exam. Professors all have their own rules for what materials you can have with you during the exams, but even for open-book exams, many hours of study are necessary to be prepared to tackle any concept from the course. The exams are graded anonymously, so the professor does not know which exam belongs to which student.

Law School Grading: A Big Shift from Your Traditional Test

Compared to a work environment, law school is much more individualistic. Especially if you are accustomed to collaborating with a team of coworkers, the self-guided nature of law school will likely feel like a very different experience. Due to the lack of group work and the lack of assignments before the final, it is up to you to budget your time and hold yourself accountable. It can be difficult to catch up if you fall behind on readings. Additionally, especially in your first year, law school feels much less practical than work. You do not get a lot of chances to see the practical application of what you are learning in your first year. The first-year courses are foundational, and you may not see how that foundation gets put into practice until your second year.

Prior to your first day of law school, there is not a lot to do to get a head start. One of the nice things about law school is no matter what background or previous profession you and your peers are coming from, most likely no one has ever been to law school before, so everyone begins on the same page regarding the environment and material. If you are itching to do something to prepare, it would be helpful to get a basic understanding of the structure of the courts; look into how cases move from trial to appellate courts, and how geographical areas are divided into district and circuit courts. Also, tuning into current events could be an advantage, especially for cases the Supreme Court is hearing. Often professors will draw connections from decided cases to pending cases, and it is satisfying to be able to appreciate the application of what you are learning to decisions happening in real-time. But overall, since law school can be tiring and time-consuming, so some of the best things you can do to prepare are to rest up and spend time with friends and family!