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Starting Law School? 10 Unexpected Things No One Tells You.

1. The Reading is Seriously Hard During your First Year of Law School

I was one of those weird kids who did all my reading in undergrad, so when I glanced over my 1L fall semester syllabus, I erroneously thought, “cakewalk.”

During the first week of 1L year, each professor assigned about 20 pages of reading, which I thought would be a breeze. I glanced farther down the syllabus, and the reading amount went up later in the semester, but only slightly. I’d be reading about 40-80 pages a night to prepare for classes.

“No problem,” I thought. “I can’t tackle 80 pages of reading in a little over an hour. So why did everyone say law school is hard?”

Then I sat down to actually do the reading, and I quickly realized: law school is a different beast. Having never read a legal opinion before, I was lost. On top of that, I was pretty bored at times, so I found myself re-reading the same paragraph over and over.

Then I’d have to take notes–of course–because I might get “cold called” (more on that below). So what I thought was only about an hour of reading, quickly turned into four or more hours of hard study.

The good news is, they break you in slowly, and cases get MUCH easier to read with practice. So don’t stress out about the reading, but know it will be harder than you expect.

Related: The Ultimate List of Law School Essentials

2. In many Law School Courses, Your Grade Rides on Just One Exam

That’s right. Most law school professors do not assign work outside of reading. You won’t write papers (you’ll typically do all your writing in your Legal Research and Writing Course), nor will you receive quizzes and other assignments you expected in undergrad.

Instead, during 1L, full-time students take four exams at the end of the semester, and the entire semester’s grade is based on that one exam.

Related: Insider Tips on Being a Kick A** Law Student

3. You will Never Feel as Tired As When You’ve Taken a Law School Exam

Most law school exams last around 3 to 4 hours, and the entire time you are working. Essay exams are particularly taxing because you’ll be trying to spot as many “issues” and detail potential outcomes as quickly, yet as thoroughly as possible.

Essay exams usually involve lengthy fact patterns that have a number of potential legal issues. Law students receive points for recognizing the issue and analyzing it based on the facts.

Getting to Maybe (affiliate link, I may make a commission if you make a purchase through this link) is an excellent book that describes the process and teaches students how to write a law school exam. It’s not like writing an undergraduate paper, where you pick a side and argue it. Instead, you need to meander down all the paths.

But I digress. Some law school exams are a mixture of multiple choice and essays. But don’t be fooled. Law school multiple choice was actually really hard. It’s difficult because it requires you to forget everything you’ve learned about legal analysis (well if this were true, then A is right, but if this were true, then B is right) and select an answer from only the facts in front of you.

The content of the exams is not only very difficult but the length of the exam is exhausting. But don’t worry. It seriously flies by, and you’ll rest and be reading for the next one.

Related: What to do the Summer Before Law School

4. Law School is Curved in a Way that Doesn’t Favor all Students

I loved curves in college. If the highest score was an 80%, then everyone around that mark got an A. But law school is curved so that only a certain number of students can obtain a particular grade. Most schools publish their grading curve. Though law school grading curves vary, one example might be that only 10% of a given class may be awarded an A letter grade.

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5. In Law School, You’ll Study A LOT Longer than you did in College

Okay, so everyone knows you have to work harder in law school, but the amount you’ll need to put in is likely a lot more than you might think.

On top of the time spent reading and attending class, you’ll spend a lot of time outlining. Most professors allow open book exams, and students bring their “outlines” with them. Outlines are essentially a summary of the entire course with an emphasis on the most important topics you’ll need to know on the exam.

But outlines aren’t just important to refer to on the exam day. The outlining process will help you learn the material and get a better idea of how everything fits together. So even if your professor requires a closed book exam, you will still outline the course to ensure you’re fully prepared.

Related: Law Clerk vs. Summer Associate and Other Types of Opportunities for Law Students

6. Law School is A LOT like High School, but Everyone is Old Enough to Drink

Most law schools break their 1L classes into sections, and students in the same section have the same schedule. This means you’ll see the same people every day of your 1L year.

Because it’s a small community where everyone is stressed out and, accordingly, hormonal, law school starts to seem a lot like high school. And it can be difficult to not get wrapped up in the shenanigans.

You should absolutely have fun in law school. Socialize with your classmates in a way that makes you comfortable. It’s okay to blow off steam if you enjoy having a couple glasses of wine. We aren’t robots.

But substance abuse, including unhealthy alcohol use, can become a problem during law school. So keep an eye on your mental health in addition to your physical health.

Related: 30 Life-Changing Links for Any Law Student

7. As a 1L, You Won’t Skip Class to Catch up on Another Class

Or at least you shouldn’t. I say this a lot because it’s so important. Most law school professors don’t test what they don’t teach. So the number one thing you can do to succeed in law school is to attend class and take excellent notes.

You’ll still see those students who skip class to review their hornbooks or catch up on their reading, but don’t be tempted. It’s okay to miss class, but you should only do this when you are sick, have an emergency, or need a mental health day.

Related: 7 Things I Wish I’d Known in Law School

8. You’ll be Expected to Participate in 1L Courses

Law school professors are infamous for “cold calling” their students. It’s a method of teaching the profs like to use called the Socratic Method. This essentially means that your professor will ask you multiple questions about the reading, and you’ll be expected to answer in. front. of. the. entire. class.

It’s actually not that big of a deal. As a very nervous law student who was fearful of public speaking, I can tell you with certainty that it’s not as scary as it sounds. Everyone has at least one “bad” cold call in law school.

I actually had an occasion where the professor asked me about five questions, and I couldn’t remember a single answer. He finally moved on, and I recovered by raising my hand and volunteering the questions I did know the answers to.

If I can survive cold calling. So can you!

Related: What is a Summer Associate and Why You Need to Know

9. You don’t have to Pull All-Nighters to Succeed in Law School

I never once pulled an all-nighter in law school! Law school is hard. There is no doubt about it. But it doesn’t have to be a terrible experience. In fact, I have a lot of great memories from law school.

Practice good time management skills, take excellent care of yourself, and enforce your boundaries.

Related: 10 Super Affordable Things to Make Law School Better

10. Law School Can Be a Lot of Fun

This list contains some pretty heavy content, but it isn’t meant to scare you away. Law school is seriously difficult, but you were accepted for a reason.

Most of the time you’ll really enjoy being a law student. Don’t get me wrong; you’ll have plenty of bad days too. However, once you finish, you’ll be so glad you put in your work. A JD is forever, and it’s well worth it.

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