Law School Law school is a marathon, not a sprint. So, pace yourself.
Law school typically takes three years, if you are full-time, or four years, if you are part-time. It will likely be one of the most challenges things you undertake; there are thousands of pages to read, hundreds of legal rules to learn, and countless fact-patterns to analyze. You will be forced to think in ways that are not always intuitive and will explore subjects that may seem abstract or archaic. But you can do it. We have, and so can you. For many law students it is not until the end of their second or third year that all the pieces start to come together; so, be patient, do your best each semester, and make sure to always make time to take care of yourself both physically and mentally.
The first-year law school curriculum is consistent from school-to-school. These topics are foundational, and your subsequent coursework will build on them. You will take:
Legal Research and Writing
The first year can feel quite overwhelming. You will have a lot of information thrown your way with little instruction on what to make of it. Things might seem mysterious and impenetrable, but with some effort and practice, you can break through.
Let's demystify things a little. Here is what you can expect. For each class, you will likely be assigned several excerpted appellate court decisions about a specific legal rule or concept that you are covering for that class. You are expected to read the cases thoroughly before class and be prepared to discuss the case if the professor calls on you (more on that later). When reading a case, keep in mind that you are reading not to memorize the intricacies of the facts of procedure, but because the case illustrates an important legal principle that you are covering for that class. So, don't miss the forest for the trees. Read the case actively, looking for the underlying principles being discussed in the case.
Now, about cold-calling. Law professors use various versions of the Socratic method. They will call on you in class and publicly ask you questions about the case (i.e., the facts, the legal issue, the parties' arguments, the applicable legal rule, the court's analysis, and the outcome of the case). Some professors may give you advanced notice, while others may not. And some professors may be very vigorous in their questioning, while others use a lighter touch. For many law students, cold-calling is a source of great anxiety. It is understandable to feel uncomfortable speaking in public. But here is some good news. Your grades for each class will be determined almost entirely by the final exam. So making a mistake in response to a question in class is not going to hurt your grade. The stakes are quite low. The worst that can happen is you get something wrong and feel silly. But everyone in law school will get something wrong at some point, and making mistakes in class is how you learn to perform better under pressure and respond effectively to difficult questions.
Second Year and Third Year
In your second and third year of law school, you will have a lot more flexibility in course selection. We caution you, however, to remember that the ultimate goal of law school is to pass the bar and obtain a license to practice law.
We suggest you Begin thinking about the bar as early. Start by familiarizing yourself with the (i) structure of the exam, (ii) the subjects tested, and (iii) the test-taking strategies that bar preparation courses like BARBRI and others recommend. Used and modestly priced BARBRI books are available online to give you an idea of what the exam will look like. Free resources on the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) are also available on websites such as ncbex.org and jdadvising.com. Understanding the scope of the exam will also help you choose your courses wisely after your 1L year. These are the subjects tested on the bar exam (in addition to the first-year subjects):
Agency and Partnership
Corporations and LLCs
Criminal Law and Procedure
Trusts and Future Interests
Law school exams are daunting. Your grade for each class often depends almost entirely on your final exam. So, start preparing early. Final exams can be open or close book and can range from three to four hours. This is great practice for the bar exam! Your exams may include some multiple-choice questions but are typically longer open-ended essay exams. These issue-spotting exams will provide you with a hypothetical factual scenario and will ask you to identify and analyze any relevant legal issues. These exams will require you to quickly recall and write various legal rules and apply those rules to the specific facts in the hypothetical scenario.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to studying for law school exams, so you have to figure out what process works best for you. But we offer some thoughts from our experience. Creating outlines is helpful, but you will not be graded on your outline. Do not spend all your time creating outlines when you can be spending that time taking practice exams. An outline is a memorization and study aid. Either create or find an outline that contains the most important legal rules for each class that were covered during the semester. While the exam may ask a quirky esoteric question, more likely than not, the exam will test you on the most core and fundamental concepts in the course. In preparing for the exam, try to identify those areas and master them. If you have time after that, you can work on the more obscure rules. You will almost never be required to remember the facts or procedural history from a case. Once you feel you have an adequate grasp of the substantive, black-letter law, give yourself time to answer practice questions or exams. The more practice exams you take, the better you will perform on the real thing.
Social/Extracurricular You will meet great friends and colleagues in law school. We encourage you to make an effort to build meaningful relationships with your classmates and professors and to participate in extracurriculars like law review, moot court, and the various affinity groups. Also, do not lose sight of what is important. In the grand scheme of things, the curve in your 1L class is not going to matter that much, but the rapport you have with your colleagues will. So be kind, helpful, and supportive of one another. You are there to learn to be best advocates and attorney you can be for your clients, and not to compete with your classmates. Most importantly, enjoy the time you are in law school. While it is very difficult, it is also very rewarding and goes by very quickly. So make the most of it while you are there.