Once you have decided where you will attend law school, you must begin preparing for life as a law student. Preparation for law school is something that you should take very seriously. Law school will be unlike anything you have ever experienced, in college or otherwise. Law students are responsible for completing massive amounts of reading on a daily basis, and law professors employ unique methods of teaching -- such as the Socratic Method -- that are unfamiliar to students in any other discipline. These features ensure that success in law school cannot be achieved based on intelligence alone.
Success requires dedication, discipline, and efficiency. Students who fall behind become overwhelmed and demoralized, and often cannot recover, regardless of how smart they are. In short, the first year of law school will be the most rigorous and challenging academic experience you will ever endure, so you need to be properly prepared.
Preparation For Law School
Your efforts to prepare for law school should be focused on two interrelated tasks: 1) developing a strategy for academic success, and 2) getting mentally prepared for the awesome task ahead. The primary objective for most law students is to achieve the highest grades possible, and a well-defined strategy for success will help you direct your efforts most efficiently and effectively toward that goal. You must not begin law school equipped solely with some vague notion of hard work. Success requires a concrete plan that includes developing a reliable routine for classroom preparation, a proficient method of outlining, and a calculated strategy for exam-taking. The further you progress in law school without such a plan, the more time and energy you will waste struggling through your immense workload without moving discernibly closer toward achieving academic success.
You must also become mentally prepared to handle the rigors of law school. Law school can be extremely discouraging because students receive very little feedback during the school year. Classes are usually graded solely based upon final exam scores. Mid-term exams and graded papers are uncommon, and classroom participation is often the only way for students to ascertain if they understand the material and are employing effective study methods. As a result, a winning attitude is critical to success in law school. Faith in yourself will help you continue to make the personal sacrifices during the first year that you need to make to succeed in law school, even when the rewards are not immediately apparent.
Incoming law students should begin preparing for law school during the summertime prior to first year, and preparation exercises should be aimed at gaining a general understanding of what law school is all about. A solid understanding of what you are expected to learn during the first year will give you the information you need to develop both your strategy for success and the confidence you need to succeed. There are several books on the market that can help in this regard, but those students who are best prepared often attend Law Preview's one-week intensive preparatory course that is specifically designed to teach beginning law students the strategies for academic success. More information about this service can be obtained by visiting the Law Preview section of our Web site. (Back to Top)
The First Year (1L)
The law school experience generally begins at the end of August with a formal orientation session organized by your law school. During orientation, students meet professors and hear from administrators and representatives from various law school organizations. These meetings are designed to provide information to students regarding the various resources available to them in law school. During orientation, students usually receive their class schedules and reading assignments and must buy their textbooks for the semester.
Despite the wide array of activities available to students in law school, the first year should be devoted to academic achievement in the classroom. Students in virtually all law schools study the same core subjects during the first year, including Civil Procedure, Contracts, Criminal Law, Property, Torts, and almost always some Constitutional Law. In addition, most law schools require students to take a practical lawyering skills course, designed to teach students the finer points of conducting research, writing, and oral argument.
In general, law schools require full-time students to take 14-16 hours of in-class instruction per week for about 13 weeks per semester. Most classes last for a single semester with a final exam at the end, but some classes -- typically the most substantial subjects, such as Contracts or Torts -- may last for the entire year. This means that, instead of concentrating four or five hours of classroom instruction per week for a particular class, the class may meet less frequently over the full 26-week academic calendar year.
A few schools permit first-year students to take elective courses during their second semester, but most fill the entire first year with required courses. When electives are available, first-year students usually opt for more advanced versions of the classes they have already taken, such as Contracts II or Civil Procedure II, or they take Professional Responsibility, Criminal Procedure, Corporations, or Evidence. In some schools, a few of these latter courses must be taken prior to graduation, although generally they need not be taken during the first year.
Many law schools offer part-time evening programs for working students who wish to pursue law degrees but for a variety of reasons cannot, or do not wish to, leave their jobs. Part-time evening programs are generally four-year programs, but in many schools the full course of study can be completed in three years if classes are taken during the summer. In general, part-time students are required to take 10 hours of in-class instruction per week for about 13 weeks per semester. Classes are usually offered between 6:00pm and 9:00pm from Monday to Thursday, but in some cases, students are permitted to take classes during the day.
There is a small but growing trend among law schools to break away from the traditional curriculum or to offer advanced substantive legal concentrations. For example, at Georgetown University Law Center, students have the option of selecting a first-year curriculum that focuses on history, philosophy, political theory, and economics as driving forces in the evolution of the law. Other schools offer study concentrations that do not effect the first-year curriculum. For example, Fordham University School of Law offers the Stein Scholars Program which focuses on ethics and public interest law and the Crowley Program which focuses on international human rights. Students who participate in these programs must take certain advanced electives and participate in activities outside of the classroom, but the courses they take during the first year are the same as other students.
At most law schools, first-year classes are divided into multiple sections of between 20 and 30 students per section. First-year classes are usually taught in large lecture halls accommodating three to four sections at a time, but there are always some classes -- including the practical lawyering skills class -- that are limited to a single section. These smaller classes afford students greater access to their professors and the opportunity to develop closer working relationships with other students.
There are two general methods of instruction in law school: the Socratic Method and the "Black Letter Law" approach. Professors employing the Socratic Method engage in minimal lecturing, and instead, question their students incessantly, forcing them to evaluate an argument or a rule of law under a barrage of factual variations. The Socratic Method is intended to teach students to consider the broader implications of a case by forcing them to analyze and apply particular points of law in a variety of related circumstances. At the same time, the approach maintains order in the classroom, focuses student attention, and develops general oral advocacy skills by forcing students to think critically and to perform under pressure. The Black Letter Law approach is a less confrontational and increasingly more prevalent method of instruction. Under this method, a professor will lecture on a particular area of the course, and then the students will discuss illustrative cases that apply the relevant rules of law.
Like college, all law schools have two semesters during the regular school year, with Fall Semester classes ending at Thanksgiving Break or during the first week of December. Although some classes last the full year, many classes last only a single semester, and as a result, most law students will have at least one final exam at the end of the Fall Semester. Additionally, some students may have mid-term exams for their full-year courses. After classes end, students usually get a three to ten-day "Reading Period" to study for exams. Exams usually begin during the first or second week of December and continue for approximately two weeks. After Fall Semester exams, law students have a winter holiday break usually starting around the third week of December and lasting for three to four weeks.
Many first-year students begin looking for summer jobs immediately following fall exams. Because there are very few competitive, career-track jobs available to first-year law students, most first-year students will spend the summer working as research assistants to professors, as low-paid or unpaid interns for governmental, or non-profit agencies, including working for judges, prosecutors, or public defenders, or as interns for companies. Although many of these public interest jobs are unpaid, law schools frequently offer competitive scholarships, known as Student Funded Fellowships ("SFFs"), that supplement the incomes of students who work in public sector jobs.
Students usually receive their Fall Semester grades by the end of January, and Spring Semester classes start in mid-January and continue through to the beginning of May. For the first-year law student, the Spring Semester experience is a virtual repeat of the Fall Semester, except that full-year classes generally require a cumulative exam in the Spring, which means that the study burden is significantly heavier. Spring Semester Exams, like Fall Exams, start with a three- to ten-day reading period that usually begins at the end of April or early May. The actual exam period follows immediately thereafter, ending sometime in mid to late May.
The Second Year (2L)
For many law students, the second year of law school is the busiest year. Although many of the unique pressures of the first year are gone, second-year students often find themselves with less free time than they had the year before. Together with taking a full complement of classes, most second-year students are occupied interviewing for jobs, getting involved in student-run organizations, and participating in externship programs with judges, prosecutor's offices, or other governmental agencies.
At almost every law school, students take the bulk of their required courses during the first year and the remaining years are occupied by elective courses. Typically, however, there are at least one or two additional required courses that must be taken by upper-class students prior to graduation. For example, Professional Responsibility is customarily a required course but ordinarily cannot be taken during the first year, and most schools require at least one upper-class paper course. In some schools, Constitutional Law -- usually a first-year course -- is not offered until the second year, and occasionally, a law school will require other courses, such as Corporations or Evidence, as a requirement prior to graduation.
At most law schools, a wide variety of elective courses are available. Aside from taking courses such as Corporations or Evidence, there is no recommended list of elective courses to take. Many students take the conservative approach, opting for courses that will help them prepare for the Bar Exam, such as Trusts and Estates, Income Tax, or Domestic Relations. Other students simply take the courses they think they will enjoy, such as International Human Rights or Poverty Law, or the courses that will help prepare them for big firm practice, such as Securities Regulation or Antitrust Law.
The search for a post-second year summer job begins in August or September of the second year. Because the most established and reliable path to permanent employment is through second-year summer employers, this job search is particularly critical. Often times, second-year law students must learn to divide their time and efforts between law school itself and the job search. All law schools coordinate "on-campus" interviews ("OCIs") during the Fall Semester of the second year where they match up students with potential employers. The process of finding a summer job can take the better part of the Fall Semester for many second-year students, and for those who are successful in generating interest among employers, the interview process alone can be quite time-consuming. Students focusing on medium or small law firms, public interest organizations, or government agencies may find the timing of the interview process different than the timing of the large firm process. Some small and medium size firms do not begin their Summer Associate search process until late in the Spring Semester after they have had time to assess their needs.
Second-year law students often engage in activities outside of the classroom. Law schools offer a wide variety of fun, interesting, and educational activities designed to complement the often-tedious, academic side of the law student's experience. Activities such as journal membership, moot court, and live-client clinics provide unique opportunities for students to put to practical use the abstract principles that they learned during the first year, and some of these activities can be instrumental in advancing students toward their career objectives. One of the most prominent and valuable law school experiences is membership on a law journal or law review (the terms are generally interchangeable). Law journals are student-run publications that publish scholarly articles on a wide variety of legal subjects. Staff members are responsible for selecting and editing articles, and preparing them for publication. Another experience that is sought after by many law students is membership on the Moot Court Board. The Moot Court Board is a student-run body that organizes, judges, and participates in student intramural and extramural oral argument competitions. Membership on the Moot Court Board is generally determined by successful participation in an intramural moot court competition.
One of the most rewarding and educational law school activities is participation in a live-client law clinic. Law clinics offer students the opportunity to represent real clients and to handle actual legal disputes prior to obtaining licenses to practice law. Students who participate in law clinics counsel clients, brief and argue motions, represent their clients in arbitration or mediation, and sometimes even try real cases. Law clinics are generally organized and operated as divisions of affiliated law schools and are supervised by full-time faculty members or seasoned legal practitioners.
There are activities and organizations to fulfill just about every interest common to law students. Typical law school activities and organizations include: student-teacher fellowships, public interest advocacy groups, including Amnesty International and The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), philosophical and political organizations, including The Federalist Society, Law Democrats, and the Law Republicans, minority, ethnic, religious, and women's law societies, student government associations, and peer advisor groups. These groups help students develop their particular interests, and they offer excellent opportunities to contribute to the local community.
The Third Year (3L)
For many students, the third year of law school is a fun and enjoyable experience. Most third-year students have earned the right to fill their schedules with electives allowing them to take only those courses that truly interest them. All third-year students, however, must plan ahead for the Bar Exam.
The Bar Examination in every state is different, but in general each State requires, at a minimum, that candidates sit for a two-day, 12-hour comprehensive examination covering a variety of legal topics. Most states administer the Bar Exam twice a year, usually in July and February. Additionally, most states require that candidates pass the 3-hour Multi-State Professional Responsibility Examination ("MPRE"). The MPRE tests knowledge of legal ethics and the rules of professional responsibility. The MPRE is administered in March and November.
The Bar Exam, in most states, is broken down into two sections, the multi-state section and the state section. The multi-state section is a standardized set of 200 multiple-choice questions that cover legal concepts applicable in all States. The topics tested are the same subjects covered during the first year of law school. The state section varies by State. If you sit for the exam in New York, for example, you will write six hours of essays on a variety of subjects under New York law.
On the first day of law school classes, I felt completely prepared for the experience. I was already ahead of most of my class in knowing how to brief a case, create an outline, and take lecture notes that would help me prepare for exams. I also had a unique understanding of the subject material in my first-year classes due to the fantastic road map provided by each of my Law Preview professors. I'm currently ranked #1 out of 320 students and I don't think I would be having nearly the academic success that I'm having today without the solid grounding that Law Preview provided. I can't say enough good things about my Law Preview experience -- it was worth every dime and a whole lot more. It may be the best-kept secret for how to prepare and succeed in law school!
Robert Miller, Esq., author of the top-selling book Law School Confidential, has agreed to answer your questions about getting into law school, life as a 1L and career paths.
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