Everyone has an opinion on how difficult law school really is. No one is going to tell you that it’s easy, but it can certainly be challenging for incoming law students to get so many contrasting opinions on how difficult the next three years of their life is going to be. When I was an incoming law student I was extremely anxious. What if law school was too difficult, what if I didn’t stack up to the competition? If you are an incoming 1L I know that you might be having similar feelings. Hopefully, this article will provide a definite answer to how hard law school really is.
Yes, law school is hard, in fact, it will almost certainly be the most challenging years of schooling you will ever face. Law school is hard because the workload is much higher than college, it is extremely competitive, and it forces you to think differently than you did in college.
These factors are what generally makes law school difficult, but law school’s level of difficulty varies student by student. Some of these factors are more difficult to overcome for some students than others. Luckily, in this article, I will explain why these factors make law school challenging for so many people and how you can overcome them.
The workload is much higher in law school
The workload is on another level compared to college. The general rule is that for every hour of class time you should be studying two-three hours. The average law school course is three hours a week, which means you should study at a minimum of six hours every week. But that number varies depending on the course you are taking and what year in law school you are. 1Ls tend to study far more than 2Ls and 3Ls, so that two for one rule is thrown out the window during your first semester of 1L year.
The readings are far more intense and complex than what was typically thrown at you in undergrad. Caselaw can be extremely convoluted and understanding how different legal theories work takes a long time.
Another reason why the workload is much higher in law school is because most students are able to skirt through college without having to do a significant amount of the readings. College students tend to cruise through the college semester until the week or two before exams. At that point, many college students will go into late-night red bull frenzies and cram all the information in. The “procrastinate and cram” approach works in college because the undergrad grading scheme isn’t very competitive. The grading curve is very light if it even exists and there is not a lot of pressure to get high grades.
Law school is very different. You are going to have to study extremely hard to earn an A in any given subject and everyone else is competing with you to earn that A.
Luckily, there is a light at the end of this workload tunnel. 1L year of law school is by far the most academically demanding. 1L classes tend to have more assigned readings, and it takes the average 1L far more time than a 2L to comprehend the readings.
You can check out a detailed article on the rigors of 1L year here.
Law school is very competitive
There are a few reasons why law school, especially 1L year, will be one of the most competitive environments that you have ever been in. Some students thrive in highly competitive environments and some do not, but you should understand the reasons why law school is probably the most competitive graduate degree out there.
- Most of the students in your law school class are going to have similar GPAs and LSAT scores, and they are all competing with one another to earn high grades.
- Your class grade will be determined by a single exam at the end of each semester. That puts a lot of pressure and anxiety on students to study for months on end to perform well on this one exam.
- The law school grading system is on a strict curve. Only a certain number of A+s, As, and A-s are allowed. In law school you are not scored on how well you do on the exam, you are really scored on how well you do compared to the rest of the class.
- Your grades in law school will pretty much determine where your first job will be. Large firms and prestigious clerkships generally only take students with excellent grades.
- The legal industry remains over-saturated since the Great Recession, and with that comes vastly reduced job prospects for law school graduates. There are also growing trends of technology replacing work that was previously done by entry-level lawyers.
All of these factors play into law school’s reputation for being extremely competitive and even cut-throat in some circumstances. Indeed, the mindset for many students in my school was “if I don’t get an A this semester my chances of getting a good job are nearly zero.” I was taken aback when I realized how competitive many students in my 1L class were. Coming out of undergrad where most students would rather binge drink over the weekend than study, law school competitiveness was shocking.
The good news is that this intensely competitive atmosphere dampens significantly at the end of 1L year. After your first year of law school, the “gunner” students with straight As will probably transfer, a decent proportion of students will have internships and the emphasis on earning high grades will be reduced. In fact, half the students in my classes 2L year simply gave up on reading the material in my Admin law class. Another half of the students would only look at the Quimbee version of cases.
Some students feel isolated in law school
Many law students have relocated hours away from their family and friends to start their law school journey. Many students are in a new city and have very few if any connections. Some students adapt quickly and make new friends, but others don’t do so well. Law school is a strange place with a lot of different personalities and people from different backgrounds being brought together.
The competitiveness factor 1L year can also make it difficult to make new connections in law school, as some people are simply cut-throat pricks (forgive my choice of words).
The good news is that your law school will likely have a number of social activities and mentorship opportunities for incoming law students. Take advantage of the different opportunities that your law school gives you to make new connections. Trust me, you will enjoy the law school experience far more if you make good friends.
Law school makes you think differently
When you have to learn something that you have not experienced before it can appear very difficult at first. It takes time to adjust and to find your stride. Most law students have to throw out there old college studying strategies out the window or risk poor performance. Law students have to learn how to analyze dense readings, judge various legal decisions and argue why their opinion is the superior one.
The readings in law school are far denser than whatever you had to do in college. Sometimes you will sift through case material for hours at end just to realize a couple of important points. It’s a trying exercise, but eventually, once you get out of law school you will have been morphed into an extremely concise, and studious new attorney.
You can check out a detailed article on managing readings in law school here.
You may find yourself one late night reading over Palsgraf v. Long Island R.R for the third time wondering why on earth you enrolled in law school. Don’t worry, everyone thinks the same way after reading Palgraf but the good news is that it gets easier. You will eventually develop a system for reading case law and sifting through loads of data to identify important information. This will speed up the process significantly, and you’ll eventually have a much better time with studying. For these reasons, 2L and 3L year are typically significantly easier for most students, at least in terms of school workload.
Cold calling is challenging for many students
Most people do not like public speaking. It might surprise you to discover that law students are not that different, most of them do not enjoy public speaking. Even if you do enjoy public speaking you probably don’t relish the prospect of potentially being embarrassed by all of your peers due to a poor cold call.
Most 1L law school classes are based on the Socratic Method. The law school Socratic Method is basically a combination of lecturing and cold calling where the professor will randomly call your name off of a seating chart that he has in front of him. You are expected to answer whatever question the professor has for you. Sometimes it will be a hypothetical and sometimes he will ask for a simple recitation of the case.
Cold-Calling is a huge source of anxiety for many incoming 1L law students. Seriously, I once witnessed my professor tell a student to get out of his class after he was unable to respond to the professor’s question. It had the effect of sending a chill down the spine of every student in the classroom. What is even worse about cold calling is that many of the questions your professors ask will require you to think on your feet. No matter how many times you read the case, your professor could throw you a curveball question that you were completely unprepared for!
Not every professor uses cold-calling nowadays though, and many professors use a hybrid version of it. Traditionally, students would be given no forewarning of whether or not they would be called. Today, you have some professors that keep a list and will let students know in advance that they will be on call for a certain week.
The good news about cold calling is that the fear of being cold-called and missing a question does not last for long. Most students get over the anxiety after experiencing it a few times. Even if you don’t get over the anxiety, you will be happy to hear that most professors don’t use cold-calling after 1L year. No cold-calling tends to make the class move slower, but it does eliminate the chance of you missing a question.
Law school is incredibly fast-paced
These three years of law school have flown by for me and they will likely fly by for you. You are so busy your 1L and 2L years that you will hardly notice how fast time is going by. For many students, the fact that law school is so fast-paced presents a challenge. Unless you have a very strong Type A personality it’s unlikely that you’re used to filling out a detailed calendar accounting for nearly every hour of your time.
The fast pace of law school requires you to take your time management skills to a new level. Luckily, once you have achieved this the pace of law school will become far more manageable.
Law school is difficult, but you can still enjoy it
Yes, law school is difficult compared to college, but I have found a lot of enjoyable aspects in law school. If you have a Type A personality and you enjoy competition your probably going to have a great time in law school. Law school is a great opportunity to improve your time management skills, and the better you can manage your time the better your experience will be.
My law school journey has been extremely busy and difficult at times, but it has also been a lot of fun and I have met lots of wonderful people. There are so many opportunities to participate in social and extracurricular activities, and listen to guest speakers. If you go the extra mile in trying new things and pursuing opportunities you will have a great time in law school, regardless of how difficult it is.