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What Law School is Really Like

Updated on May 31, 2013

Law School Personalities

If you're applying to law schools, you may want to consider not just prestige and rankings, but how well the school fits your personality. If the school is notoriously competitive, and you are not at all competitive, that might not be a good school.

If you're interested in public interest but the school pushes its students toward corporate, it might likewise not be a good fit.

Do your research and know not just the school's stats, but its general vibe and student life reputation.

Day-to-Day Life in Law School

If you've decided to go to law school, you might be anxious about what to expect--what will classes be like? How do exams work? What style do the professors use to teach?

Some people love law school and hate practice; some hate law school and love practice; and others either love or hate both. Regardless of which category you will ultimately fall into, it's good to know what you're signing up for.

This article addresses what law school is really like, from classes to friendships to final exams.

Law school classes include the Socratic method.
Law school classes include the Socratic method. | Source

What Classes Are Like in Law School

During your first year of law school, your class will likely be divided into two sections, with the schedule set for the two sections. You won't get a choice as to when you take certain classes, or what you take. Categories will include torts, criminal law, contracts, real estate, and constitutional law. These classes will be large, and chances are you won't be called on much--though you will be called on eventually (more on that later).

During your second and third years, there may still be required classes but you make your own schedule; the classes will also mostly be much smaller, meaning you get more interaction with your peers and professors. Those years are the times to explore different subjects and narrow down onto what you like.

Classes will be a mixture of lecture and Socratic method--meaning that the professor will try to draw the answer out of you through his or her own line of questioning. If you haven't read or just don't know, this can be painful--some professors just won't stop and move on. Rest assured that by the third year, you'll be comfortable giving an offhand "Sorry, I don't know" in response.

The Fictitious Professor Kingsfield

What Professors Are Like in Law School

Many students fear their professors before going into law school--anyone who's seen "The Paper Chase" understands why. While some professors will be hard and drill you with questions, and may even be sarcastic if you don't really know what's going on, others are truly passionate about their subjects and want you to learn.

Not all professors use the Socratic method, either, especially after your 1L year.

After you emerge from the hell of the first year, you'll find that your professors are people who are willing to become invested in your success and can be great resources and points of support as you look for jobs.

Would you consider going to law school?

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What Final Exams Are Like in Law School

For most law school classes, there is one exam--that means only one chance to demonstrate what you've learned (or what you haven't). While the exam will be curved, competition at this time will be fierce--being at the top of the class means getting on the best law review, being considered for the best summer placements, and other perks that mean you're more likely to get a job (something that's increasingly difficult in this market).

The exams are usually three hours long, and can be multiple choice, essay, or short answer (or a mix of the three). They will cover everything you've learned, and depending on the professor, may be very broad or very detailed.

If they're available, take out the professor's old tests from the library and practice with those. Also avoid listening to how much other people say they studied; that's not indicative of success.

What Friendships Are Like in Law School

While you may shed high school friends and eventually even college friends, the friends you make in law school may be with you for the rest of your life. Legal markets in cities are generally close-knit, so you'll be working with and seeing your classmates even decades into the future.

Furthermore, the experiences you have as a law student--the stress, the competition--give you a common ground that serves as a powerful bond. It's hard to understand how isolating and demanding law school is if you haven't gone through it--but your law classmates will always get it.

Law school can also be a pressure cooker of emotion, though, and friendships may splinter and fall apart once grades come out.

So You Want to Go to Law School

Choosing to Go to Law School

Given the current state of the legal market, it's probably a terrible idea to go to law school. Law school, in addition to being very stressful, is also tedious and teaches you a lot more theory than practical skills, meaning you enter the job market not knowing how to do anything.

If you do decide to attend, however, at least you will now know what to expect!


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