Law school has been a fun and interesting experience (at least it was until Coronavirus), but I don’t want to sugarcoat the law school experience too much. It can also be stressful, demanding, and downright miserable from time to time. So what are the worst parts of law school?
The worst parts of law school for most people are the fact that your entire grade relies on one exam at the end of each semester, you have almost no life outside of law your 1L and 2L year, and the culture of forced competition tends to bring out the worst in people.
If you asked random law students what their least favorite part about law school is they would probably have a list similar to the one above. But it is different for everyone and luckily there are plenty of ways that a savvy law student can counterbalance the bad with the good.
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Understanding the Top Struggles of a Law School Journey
The law school grading system does not reward knowledge of course material
I will begin by noting that not everyone hates the law school grading system. I have yet to hear of a law school that does not base their entire class grades on one final exam, so it’s pretty safe to say that if you attend law school your entire grade will be based on the final exam.
The law school grading system is a blessing for some students that are excellent test-takers. In my experience, your knowledge of the course does not always translate into good exam grades. One of my best friends in law school is absolutely terrible at multiple-choice exams. How do I know that? I know that because you can accurately predict the grade she will get depending on whether it is a multiple-choice or essay exam. She Ace’s all of her essay exams, but can barely muster a B on her multiple-choice tests.
Is that a sign that she studies more for essay exams than for multiple-choice exams? Of course not, some people simply are not good multiple choice test-takers.
This is why so many people hate the grading system in law school. It rewards good test-takers more than anything. A student might know the course material better than anyone in the class but still receive a B in the course if they are not a good test-taker.
Surviving the 1L & 2L Year: Overcoming Law School Workload and Stress
Contrary to the grading system, I have never heard a 1L or 2L law student say that they love the fact that they have no life outside of life school. In fact, I wrote an article on what it’s like to be a 2L law student and why 1L year is so difficult if you want to check them out.
The Steep Learning Curve of the Initial Years
Law school is a ton of work and the first two years are by far the most time-consuming. 1L year is difficult because everything is new and you are learning the basics of the law. 2L year is difficult because you are insanely busy all the time.
Not having much of a life outside of the law is challenging, but there are things you can do to make this aspect of law school less daunting.
Nurturing Peer Relationships: An Essential for Mental Well-Being
First and foremost, I believe that good relationships with your peers not only decreases anxiety but it also makes your time in law school go by faster. You probably worked at least one job before you enrolled in law school. One of the things employers look for in potential employees is who will be a “good fit”. Which candidate is going to make my day go by faster and make me enjoy coming to work a little more?
It is literally the exact same situation for law students, we spend more time with one another than we spend with anyone else. If you don’t make friends and hate every student around you than you are going to be absolutely miserable. Don’t do that, make the best of the situation, and get to know your peers. You will think less and less about what you could be doing outside of law school.
Effective Time Management: The Key to Surviving Law School
Beyond the academic rigors and the importance of peer relationships, mastering the art of time management becomes extremely important for overcoming the law school workload and stress during the taxing 1L and 2L years.
Imagine juggling voluminous reading assignments, preparing for moot court, participating in study groups, and perhaps even a part-time job or internship. This hectic schedule can be overwhelming. However, with efficient time management skills, you can make the most out of your 24 hours.
Start by prioritizing tasks. Understand which assignments are more pressing and which can be tackled later. Use tools like calendars, to-do lists, or even digital apps designed for time management. Allocating specific blocks of time for studies, relaxation, and other commitments can also ensure a balanced approach to the law school experience.
Another tip is to avoid the trap of procrastination. It’s tempting to delay starting that reading or writing that paper, especially when the due date seems far off. But remember, in law school, deadlines approach faster than you might anticipate.
The Impact of Curved Grading: Navigating Law School Competition
Not every law school is a cutthroat environment, in fact, most of them are not. But the grading system does tend to incentivize that kind of behavior and I have seen plenty of it over the course of my three years in law school.
Distinguishing Competitiveness from Cutthroat Behavior
I want to mention that there is a difference between competitiveness and a cutthroat environment. Any law school you attend is going to be competitive, lawyers by their very nature tend to be competitive and some competition is generally a good thing. A cutthroat environment on the other hand is toxic, students are so determined to one-up each other that they are willing to backstab, cheat, and do a whole host of other things to get on top of the curve.
The First Year Dynamics: A Closer Look at 1L
Most people like a little competition, but don’t want to be in the kind of cutthroat environment I just described. As I mentioned above, most law schools would not be considered “cutthroat schools”, but you will likely see a lot of that kind of behavior your 1L year. Cutthroat attitudes are the most prevalent 1L year because everyone is trying to get tip-top grades for OCI in the summer.
The good news is that the whole class pretty much takes their foot off the gas a little after 1L year is over. By then everyone has already been initially sorted into summer jobs, journals, and skills boards, so there is a lot less incentive to pull that kind of behavior.
Preserving Your Reputation: Advice for Incoming Students
My advice for dealing with this unfortunate aspect of law school is to ignore it and don’t become part of the problem. People get labeled their 1L year for their misbehavior, and that label usually sticks with them throughout law school. You certainly don’t want to be known as the person who tore pages out of a library textbook or disparaged other students behind their backs. The reputation you create 1L year will stick with you, so my advice is to stay away from the bad apples and make sure you don’t become one.
The Overwhelming Pressure of the Unknown
In addition to the direct challenges that law school presents, there’s an underlying element that often makes the entire experience more daunting, this is the uncertainty and pressure of the unknown.
The Pressure to Specialize
From the moment you step into law school, there’s an underlying pressure to find your niche. With so many fields of law – from corporate to environmental, from criminal to international – choosing a specialization can be an anxiety-inducing process. You may question if you’re making the right choice, if you’ll find job opportunities in your chosen field, or if you’ll even enjoy it several years down the line.
Just keep in mind that it’s totally normal not to specialize in a specific niche. Many students, myself included, never specialized in anything particular in law school and we found gainful employment just fine.
The “Impostor Syndrome”
Many law students battle with the feeling that they don’t truly belong or that they’ve somehow managed to get in under false pretenses, despite their qualifications and achievements. This “impostor syndrome” can make the rigors of law school even harder, as students constantly doubt their capabilities, even in the face of success.
Uncertainty of Job Prospects
The looming question for many is, “Will I secure a good job after graduation?” The legal job market is competitive, and even though you might be excelling in your classes, the uncertainty of job placement can add an extra layer of stress.
Balancing Ideals with Reality
Many enter law school with high ideals and a passion for justice. However, the academic focus can sometimes seem detached from the realities of the world, and the often cynical nature of legal practice can be disillusioning. Reconciling one’s ideals with the practical aspects of the profession can be a challenging emotional journey.
I faced something similar to this when I realized after 1L that there was no way I was going to be able to become an ADA and still have a chance of paying off my student loans within a few years. Sometimes you go to law school with the intent of practicing one type of law but reality shifts this perspective.
Facing Constant Scrutiny
In law school, you’re continually judged – be it through grades, mock trials, or class participation. This constant evaluation can take a toll on one’s self-esteem and increase the fear of failure.
Strategies for Thriving: Turning Law School Challenges into Opportunities
Transitioning from the darker sides of the law school journey, it’s also crucial to recognize the importance of resilience and adaptive strategies. Let’s dive into some actionable steps and mindset shifts that can help transform these pain points into growth opportunities.
1. Leverage Multiple Learning Techniques: Given that the grading system predominantly favors one type of examination method, diversify your learning approach. Engage in mock multiple-choice tests, participate in group discussions, and leverage essay writing to ensure a thorough preparation.
2. Time Management is Key: The 1L & 2L years, as demanding as they are, can be managed effectively with robust time management. Consider using techniques like the Pomodoro Technique, blocking off study hours, and allocating specific times for breaks. Also, always remember that it’s okay to ask for help or seek guidance when feeling overwhelmed.
3. Build Genuine Relationships: As emphasized earlier, fostering genuine relationships with peers can serve as a great support system. Organize study groups, participate in social events (even if they’re virtual), and lean on one another during those especially trying times.
4. Embrace Healthy Competition: While competition is inherent in law school, remember the distinction between healthy competition and a toxic environment. Embrace challenges as learning opportunities and resist the urge to compare your journey to others. Every student’s path is unique, and it’s more about your personal growth than outdoing someone else.
6. Stay Future-Focused: Keep an eye on the bigger picture. Law school, as challenging as it might be, is just a phase. Focus on the lawyer you want to become, the lives you wish to impact, and the difference you aim to make in the legal field.
While this article delves into the more challenging facets of law school, it’s crucial to remember that every experience has its peaks and valleys. My aim has been to provide an honest perspective on the hurdles one might face. For a more uplifting take, you might want to explore my piece on the best parts of law school, which sheds light on the many rewarding aspects of this journey.