Most students entering law school hold no false belief that the classes will be easy. Incoming law students are usually pretty aware that law school is no walk in the park. One of the most difficult parts about law school is the fact that classes tend to be significantly more difficult than whatever was thrown at you in undergrad.
As a mentor, I have had the opportunity to listen and answer a lot of incoming 1Ls questions about law school classes, and every now and then I get asked what is the most difficult class in law school.
The hardest class in law school varies considerably depending on your personal interests, your professor, and how you think. Generally, more students find Constitutional Law and Civil Procedure the most difficult because they are far more abstract than other areas of law.
More specifically, your hardest class will likely be different than your peer’s hardest class because it is largely dependent on a number of personal factors. Something else to consider is that law school grading is on a strict curve and a class you perform best in might be a class you find very difficult because it’s tough for everyone else as well.
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1L classes are the most difficult
The most difficult class in law school varies from student to student, but there is pretty much a unanimous consensus that 1L classes are the most difficult. 1L classes are most difficult because you are learning a new subject matter, competition is fierce, and the readings are usually the heaviest 1L year. Even if you have heavy assigned readings your 2L and 3L year, most law students use a combination of skimming the readings, quimbeeing cases, or not reading them at all. But for 1L classes, most students do the majority if not all of the readings and they often read cases more than once.
Sometimes 1L classes that are not conceptually difficult end up being extremely tough in practice. Contracts is one of those classes because Contracts is often packed into one semester and there are countless tests that you have to apply on the exam.
If I had to choose what are the courses that most 1Ls find most difficult I would probably have to pick Constitutional Law and Civil Procedure. Most students probably find Con Law more difficult, but the Erie Doctrine in Civil Procedure is no picnic.
An intro-level Con Law class is almost entirely made up of Supreme Court decisions, and you will come to realize that Supreme Court justices tend to write in extremely dense and convoluted language. Con Law doctrines often have a lot of ambiguity and there is a lack of hard and fast rules in Con Law which makes the subject confusing for most students. I think the biggest issue for most students is that law school courses are generally designed to give you a basic grounding in different doctrines and once you are armed with that you can explore the gray areas.
In Con Law, there are very few black and white areas to form a base knowledge from. One of your first cases will be Marbury v. Madison, it forms the basis for the Court’s power of judicial review. But a decent Con Law professor will then explain how the reasoning for the opinion was on shaky ground at best and was at least as much a power grab by the Judicial Branch as a ruling grounded in the Constitution. Issues like these make the entire class extremely abstract, and many students will conclude that the Supreme Court frequently rules based on its personal beliefs of what the law should be and not what the Constitution is.
What is the most difficult upper-level law school course?
Once again, the most difficult upper-level course will vary from student to student. But most law students peg either Federal Courts or Federal Income Tax as one of the most difficult courses in law school. They are also among one of the most practically useful courses in law school so chances are you will take one, if not both of these courses.
Federal Income Tax is difficult for many students because it is grounded in the Internal Revenue Code which frequently changes. The Code and the Treasury Regulations are written in extremely convoluted language, and early on in the course you will find yourself feeling like you are learning a second language.
Federal Courts is difficult because there is very little if anything intuitive about the subject matter, and it’s basically a mix of an advanced civil procedure and constitutional law course. It is extremely practical because you will learn what kind of suits can be brought in what courts and various rules covering complex civil procedure questions.
There are portions of different courses that are notoriously difficult to wrap your mind around, even if the course overall is not extremely difficult. The one that stands out the most in my mind is the Rule Against Perpetuities. You will usually learn this in Property, but some professors don’t teach it in an intro Property course because it consumes so much time. The Rule Against Perpetuities concerns when an interest in a property will vest (if at all). I’m going to spare you from having to learn any more on this subject (it’s terrible).
How you should approach difficult courses
I have always approached difficult law school classes with the mindset that they are an opportunity to get an easier A. What, how can it be easier to get an A in a difficult class than an easy class? Because the law school grading system is on a strict curve! Think about it, an easy class in law school is easy for everyone and if the exam is just as effortless than it’s going to be extremely difficult for the professor to sort out the As from the Bs.
On the other hand, if a subject matter (like Civil Procedure) is difficult for everyone than if you put the necessary work into understanding the subject you have a leg-up on most of your classmates!
What was my most difficult class?
My most difficult classes were Partnership Tax and Administrative Law. Partnership Tax is significantly more difficult than Federal Income Tax. I remember the Partnership Tax professor came into my Fed Income class to discuss the subject, and he told us not to consider his course if we were having difficulty in Fed Income because we would not survive the semester. I should have listened to him but I ignored the advice, and I struggled to get through the semester. I still don’t know what any of his lectures were about, I’m just glad I realized that Partnership Tax Law was not for me.
Administrative Law was difficult solely because the professor had us read an entire textbook in the course of one semester. Admin Law is not the sexiest subject either, it’s really quite boring, even though a solid foundation in Administrative Law is essential to be a successful attorney in Washington D.C.
Throughout your time in law school you will have some classes that you find extremely difficult and you will have some that you find easy. Regardless, you should give it your best shot in all of them because whatever you learn may end up being useful when you become a practicing attorney.