What to Expect From Your Law School Experience

What to expect as a law school student

Get a sneak peak into the inside and outside the classroom during your law school career

There’s a lot of information out there about getting into law school. But what happens once you’ve been accepted? This article pulls back the curtain on the law school experience both inside and outside the classroom.

Congratulations! You’ve completed the 1st leg of the marathon. You’ve taken the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), submitted your applications, and been accepted by a law school. In 3 years you’ll be given a Juris Doctor (fingers crossed).

But what the heck happens in the meantime?

Let’s take a closer look at what you can expect during your law school career.

The first year (1L)

Most students consider the first year of law school to be the most difficult. The material is more complex than they’re used to and it must be learned rapidly. What’s more, the way students are taught and tested is very different from high school or undergrad.

Though every law school is different, there are certain things you can expect from your first year of law school, both inside and outside the classroom.

Inside the classroom during your first year of law school

Most law schools don’t allow students to choose any of their first-year classes. Rather, the vast majority of students take the same foundational classes, which include most or all of the following:

  • Civil procedure focuses on the litigation process in the United States. This includes motions and pleadings, pretrial procedures, alternative dispute resolution methods, and appellate procedures.
  • Constitutional law provides an introduction to the US Constitution with an emphasis on US Supreme Court decisions. The course explores the modes of constitutional analysis and includes topics such as the role of the judiciary in reviewing acts of the political branches of government, the separation of powers, federalism-based limits on Congress and the states, and individual constitutional rights.
  • Contracts provides an overview of the formation of contracts, breaches of contract, and the damages associated with breaches.
  • Criminal law and procedure examine the rules and policies for enforcing sanctions against individuals accused of committing offenses, and the rights guaranteed to those charged with criminal violations.
  • Legal writing provides detailed instruction regarding how to research the law and write memoranda dealing with various legal problems. 
  • Property law examines the legal relationship between people and land, buildings, natural resources, and personal objects.
  • Torts explores the methods and policies for allocating losses from harm to one’s person, property, relations, and economic interests. The course covers the various tort claims and defenses.

In your first year, you’ll be taught the law through the case method approach. In short, your textbooks will include judicial opinions from across the country (without accompanying explanations or summaries). You’ll brief each case in order to understand it. Then the class period will be spent analyzing the cases and discussing how they relate to other cases.

One method law professors use to ensure you learn the material is the Socratic method. The Socratic method is a teaching tactic in which the professor asks a series of rapid-fire questions intended to expose contradictions and flaws in your thought process, and then gradually guide you toward a more solid conclusion.

While first-year law students dread the Socratic method, most come to appreciate the experience and recognize its valuable role in preparing them for the courtroom.

For most of your first-year classes, you’ll have only 1 exam at the end of the semester. First-year law students generally prepare for exams by creating and studying outlines (lengthy summaries of the course material). The exception is legal writing, a course in which you’ll likely have several graded assignments (motions, briefs, etc.) throughout the semester.

Outside the classroom during your first year of law school

For many law students, the first year is a bonding experience. Students bond through common backgrounds, and similar interests and goals. But mostly, students bond through shared obstacles. You’re all in the foxhole together!

Unfortunately, while you’ll make friends quickly, you’ll also start to realize that there’s far more competition among students than in high school or college.

In your first year, you’ll begin thinking about making law review (or some other legal journal). These spots are reserved for students at the top of their class (usually the top 10%). Competition stems from the fact that many highly-desirable employers won’t even consider your job application if you weren’t on law review.

Enjuris tip: If the competitive atmosphere of law school makes you anxious, consider spending more time outside of the school. For example, consider studying at the undergraduate or public library. Avoid coffee shops and bars where law students gossip. Consider making friends in other schools and departments (such as the medical school).

During your first year of law school, extracurricular activities are limited. However, some people choose to join student organizations. Common student organizations include:

  • Moot Court Board
  • Law School Women’s Association
  • Sports and Entertainment Law Society
  • Student Bar Association

The second year (2L)

Well done! You’ve made it to your second year of law school. Most law students find their second year easier than their first. By the second year, you know what to expect and you know you’re capable of rising to the various challenges.

Unfortunately, while most law students find their second year easier, they also find it busier.

Inside the classroom during your second year of law school

In your second year of law school, you’ll pick most (if not all) of your classes. When picking classes, law students generally consider the following:

  • Whether the class is related to the practice area they intend to pursue
  • Whether the class represents a practice area they’re considering pursuing
  • Whether the class covers a bar exam subject

As a consequence of students being able to choose their own classes, you’ll notice that class discussion tends to improve in the second year (many professors stop using the Socratic method as well). Many law students who struggled to make friends in the first year will find it much easier to do so in their second year, as they'll find themselves surrounded by students with common interests.

Enjuris tip: Though you’ll likely find your second-year classes more interesting than your first-year classes, you’ll probably find them more difficult as well. First-year classes provide an overview of the subject matter, whereas second-year classes dig deeper into the relevant issues.

Outside the classroom during your second year of law school

In the second year of law school, most students increase their involvement in extracurricular activities. For example, students who were members of a student organization during their first year might take on a leadership role in their second year.

Similarly, many law students choose to participate in moot court competitions, take on part-time jobs, and edit legal journals.

Finally, in your second year of law school, you’ll begin to think more seriously about finding the right summer internship. The summer internship between your second and third year is particularly important because it may lead to a job offer.

The third year (3L)

By now you’re a seasoned pro. You’re no longer the anxious student you were when you walked into your first law school class. Unfortunately, you’re about to experience a new kind of stress as you turn your attention to finding a job and passing the bar exam.

Inside the classroom during your third year of law school

Most of your classes at this point are seminar classes within your future field of practice (although many third-year law students choose to complete the bar subjects they haven’t taken).

In addition, many third-year law students work in a legal clinic. A legal clinic is a program organized through the law school that allows you to receive credit for doing real legal work for real clients (generally, qualifying low-income clients in the area). For many students, the legal clinic is one of the most rewarding experiences of their law school careers.

Enjuris tip: Even if your law school doesn’t have a legal clinic that handles the type of cases you want to specialize in, consider participating in the clinic regardless. No matter what area of law the clinic handles, you’ll learn the valuable skills of interacting with clients and other attorneys.

Outside the classroom during your third year of law school

Students who made law review (or some other legal journal) are now in senior positions with the journal. Similarly, students who joined student organizations now have leadership roles within those organizations.

In addition, third-year law students must start focusing on 2 things: 

  • The Bar Exam. In your third year, you’ll begin working on your state bar application. This means you’ll have to decide where you plan to practice (and therefore where you plan to take the bar). You’ll also have to decide whether to enroll in a bar course. Finally, many third-year law students take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) so they don’t have to take it right after the bar exam.
  • Getting a job. Hopefully, you received and accepted a job offer from 1 of your internships. If not, you’ll want to begin scheduling mock interviews and real interviews with law firms and legal organizations.

Law school is intimidating. But the more you know about it before you start, the less scary it is. Believe it or not, most law students look back at their law school years fondly. So, try to relax and enjoy the ride.

In the meantime, check out our other articles for law school students in the Enjuris student center.

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