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Law School - Will I Be Able to Handle the Workload (For Prospective 1L's)
How to Deal With the Workload
If you're currently preparing yourself for your first year of law school and are anything like I was when I was standing in your shoes, you have very little idea of what to expect. In my case I had two primary concerns prior to my 1L year. Specifically, I doubted whether I would be able to handle the heavy workload, and then - even if I were able to complete all the work - would I would be able to process, synthesize and understand the material?
Sure, I did fine in college, graduating with a GPA that was the equivalent of a B+, but I felt that my major, Political Science, was fairly simple and at no point did I feel intellectually-challenged by the material. In fact, I would often do the bare minimum of work required to get me through the semester and then pull all-nighters during exams, and that was enough. In addition, I played football in college and the network of players on the team shared information about which classes were cake-walks, and which professors were less demanding for classes in my major. But my study habits did not make me unique. In fact, most of my friends (including those who played football and those who did not) took it easy and enjoyed themselves during the semester, crammed and pulled all-nighters during exam week, and just like me, were able to thereby secure at least a "Gentleman's B" on their final exams.
Looking at my college academic career in a vacuum, I felt pretty good about it. After all, I finished college with a solid B+ GPA after being a B/B+ student in high school. I was content and had no regrets, finishing near the top-third of my college's graduating class. To boot, the majority of my fellow students had far superior academic credentials coming out of high school (I got a huge admissions boost through playing for the school's football team). This wasn't half bad for me, especially in light of the fact that football gotten me get into a college that I wouldn't have sniffed if I didn't play.
But once I started applying to law schools, I could no longer look at my college career in a vacuum. Now, I was applying for law school, and if I had any prayer of succeeding I would have to become the type of student I had never been at any point in my life. Now I looked at my college career and felt like a total fraud. I had no idea what I was getting into in terms of the law school workload, but I did know that I wouldn't be finishing with a B+ average if I brought my study habits from college with me in my quest to obtain a Juris Doctorate. In fact, I was terrified of failure, literally terrified. Put most simply, I doubted my ability to force myself to actually complete all of the reading assignments, which I knew would be substantial.
Thankfully, contrary to what I believed during college, I found that my head wouldn't explode if I actually spent the time and effort required in order to complete all of the work assigned to me. I knew that - unlike college - I wouldn't be able to barely skim the materials during the semester, cram the night before the test, and pass my final exams. So I just did all the work. I completed all of the reading assignments as the syllabus dictated. I highlighted and outlined the cases (a process that all law students will master and streamline over time). And before class I reviewed the material that was more difficult for me to process or which I predicted might be the subject of questions the professors call on randomly-selected students to answer in the spirit of "the Socratic Method".
Make no mistake, the level of time and effort required in order to complete my assignments was a complete shock to my system. But I found that completing the reading assignments - while they did not contain material I would ever choose to read for pleasure - was bearable. Again, I kept pace with the syllabus, highlighted and outlined cases as suggested and/or required by some professors, and got myself up each day to go to all of my classes (which is important for a number of reasons, primarily because most State Bar Associations have a maximum number of classes that can be missed if a student wishes to practice law in that State). I finished law school with a final GPA that converted to a solid lower-end B+ which, unlike the B+ GPA I achieved in college (which made me feel like a fraud due to the ease with which it was earned), was based on hitting the books hard and diligently completing my assignments.
So, if you're having some of the same doubts I had coming out of college regarding whether you will be able change your lax or non-existent study habits sufficiently to allow you to handle the law school workload, I hope my story offers you some consolation. While I will be following-up soon with an article containing some helpful study tips for prospective 1L's about how best to synthesize, analyze and understand the assigned materials, the only sure-fire way to guarantee you'll do well in law school is to hit the books hard and complete your assignments. You would not have been admitted to law school if you didn't have the raw intelligence to graduate with a J.D. There is a test (the LSAT) which - for all its flaws - tests your intelligence in areas that are at least tangentially-related to what is required of law students. In summary, rest assured that if you were admitted to law school, you will pass if you do the work!