Why is 1L Year of Law School the Hardest?

1L year of law school is by far the most important for most law students, coincidentally it also happens to be the most difficult.

If you have read some of my other articles on law school difficulty you might have read that 2L year is by far the most work. While that is true, in terms of intensity and overall anxiety 1L year is far more difficult.

This article will discuss why 1L year is so much harder than the other two years of law school and give you some tips on what you can do about it!

Everything is new

Law school textbooks are very different than readings I had to do for undergrad classes. For starters, the sheer amount of readings is enormous compared to what you likely had to do in undergrad.

The readings are also far denser and it takes longer to read any given page. I even found myself re-reading entire cases during my first semester of law school. I can still remember some of the horrible 19th-century cases I had to read in my torts and civil procedure class that might as well have been written in a different language.

The complexity of the readings will inevitably wear off (trust me), but that first semester or two sucks because you are basically trying to learn a new language in a very short amount of time.

Another issue is the Socratic method. The vast majority of law professors practice some version of the Socratic method and it is often a source of anxiety for incoming 1L law students. You can check out an article on the Socratic method here.

The balancing act

Learning how to balance a high course load with extracurricular activities, internship applications, and some sort of social life is difficult, to say the least.

Do you have a significant other? Are you very close to your family or friends back home? Whatever outside relationships you have, law school makes it difficult to adequately maintain all of them.

Learning how to balance everything is part of what makes the first semester of 1L year the most difficult. After that, school work and relationships get easier to manage because you will have figured how to better balance all of these things.

I have seen “professionals” recommend that you break up or put on hold relationships if you are dating. I’m not kidding, one of the guidance counselors actually recommended that to my incoming class.

Personally, I find that to be a load of bullshit, and I would be a hypocrite if I thought otherwise since I began dating my girlfriend within two months of starting law school. Some of the students in my class are married as well.

My advice is that if you are in a toxic relationship now is the time to break it off. Trust me, you do not want to be worrying about it. But if you’re happy with your significant other than you have a huge advantage over many other students, because when times get tough in law school you can always fall back on him or her.

Another important thing is that you want to avoid burning yourself out during the semester. Too many students start off gun-ho, studying 24/7 while living in the library. These people think that they are going to get the edge on their compatriots by outworking them.

Outworking other students is okay, but I am telling you that if you do it to the point where you are sacrificing all of your leisure and social time you will burn out, and it won’t be pretty.

General academic stress 1L Year

People are stressed out 1L year, and even more so as exam time approaches. Grades are handed out on a strict curve, and I’m sure that you have heard by now that grades mean a lot for your first job. To make matters worse most classes are going to be graded entirely based on your final exam, that’s it.

This means that competition 1L year is usually fierce, and this can create an uncomfortable atmosphere for many people.

My best advice for dealing with the stress created by a fiercely competitive environment is to try your best to ignore it. Honestly, there is not a 1L in existence that has a clue what they are doing until after first semester grades come in. Until then, you are speculating on how well you believe you are doing compared to your peers.

So instead of getting anxiety from worrying about how you stack up to your peers focus on yourself.


I hope this article has helped you with learning why 1L year of law school is traditionally thought of as the most difficult. I also hope that these tips have helped you in overcoming some of these difficulties.

Stephen Metellus

I am a 3L law student in Washington D.C and owner of theartoflawschool.com! I started law school with a lot of hopes and expectations, and it has certainly been a wild ride from the start! My goal is writing articles that help you in navigating through law school.

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