If you are considering law school, you might be wondering what law school is like. All law schools in the United States share some basic features. We already covered the nitty-gritty of what makes law school so challenging in our post HOW HARD IS LAW SCHOOL? so here we want to walk you through some typical days at law school to show you what you are likely to encounter 1L year (‘1L’ is the term for your first year at law school).
A Typical Law School Weekday Early in Fall Semester
Wake up and throw your heavy casebooks in your backpack along with your laptop. You’ll almost always need to bring a laptop to school, unless you are the rare person that likes to take hand notes and transcribe them later.
Like most 1L’s you live fairly close to campus, so it’s just a short bus ride before you get to your law school’s building. Luckily, it’s coffee mess day. Like many law schools, your school has a day a week where you get free donuts and coffee in the morning! You sit and chat with friends, many of whom you made during orientation. They already feel like close buddies- bonds grow quickly in law school because you’re all in it together doing the same thing.
You discuss how difficult last night’s assigned case for your first class was. Don’t worry, everyone has some serious trouble getting a full grasp of cases at first. Still, it can be frightening: you know that the professor is going to be asking some tough questions in just a few minutes.
Shuffle into your contracts class and pop open your laptop. You are nervous because today is the day the professor might call on your half of the class room. He’s using the Socratic method. The Socratic method is a teaching method where the professor mainly asks questions rather than lectures. He or she helps students arrive at the right answers on their own by listening to that answers and pointing out holes or flaws in the reasoning that might indicate that a better solution is needed. Eventually a student will give an answer that mirrors the professor own take on the subject at hand, or, when there are multiple competing theories, the professor will make sure they are all out on the table.
You are super nervous because this professor pick only two students a day and sticks with them for the entirety of class (what’s more, you don’t ever know in advance who will be called on). You’ve already learned by now that the professors each have different styles of Socratic. Your criminal law professor, by contrast, only asks each student 1 or 2 questions than moves on to the next person. In that class, it’s so rapid fire that over half the class has to answer a question or two each day.
You’ve quickly realized that you always have to do your reading 1L year. It’s not like undergrad. Don’t do it and there is a chance you’ll have no idea what to say when the professor calls on you. That would be mortifying! It’s part of the culture in law school to care a lot what your peers and the professor think of you, and trust me, you will feel this way too once you start law school.
It happens that it’s not your turn to be called today in contracts, so you just type notes furiously, trying to decide what’s important and what’s not. This can be really tough at first, but you read these books before school started and you have a solid idea of how to do this (and everything else you need to do 1L year):
Lunch in the fall is a great time go grab food with friends, get ahead on a little reading, or even nap. The weather is great today so you go check out a coffee and sandwich shop that you’ve haven’t tried yet. There’s never a shortage of people who want to take a lunchtime stroll and explore the neighborhood and campus.
After lunch, you go to your legal writing class. This tends to be a small class where you have a young law teacher, often a very recent graduate of law school themselves, teaching you how to craft legal memos and briefs. These teachers are great because they can help you with any questions you might have about how to approach your other classes. Think of them more as an adviser than a teacher.
Yes, legal writing is tough, but generally they really ease you into it first semester. They’ll also often give you useful general lessons, such as how higher court decisions control the decisions of lower courts and how precedent works.
Back in class, this time for criminal law, and you are indeed called on to answer a couple of questions. However, it goes smoothly as this is your second time called on and you did the reading carefully. Don’t worry, Socratic method quickly loses it’s power to terrify (as my Alma Mater points out on their prospective students page, it’s not as scary as the movie ‘ The Paper Chase’ makes it out to be).
It’s time to do whatever you want, so long as you factor in time for reading. Yes, class reading is serious business: it typically takes about 3 hours or more a night, especially while you are getting the hang of it. However, tonight you figure correctly that you still have time to do dinner with a pal after your reading is done.
You head up to the library and crush it out, staying focused on the assignment and staying off the internet. Studying in the lib never feels too bad because there are always some other people there with their heads down over their books too.
After you finish that, it’s off to explore your new city/town with a friend. Though law school is intense, you can pick and choose when you do the work in a day, making it easy to schedule some free time (until later when exams approach, see HOW HARD IS LAW SCHOOL? for more on that).
All in all, the typical day at law school is pretty enjoyable. Get your work done and do well in class, and you will feel rewarded when you get to the time you do have to chill and relax.
We hope this gave you a good peek at law school life. Let us know if you want any details fleshed out in the comments and we will be happy to oblige.
Hi! Did either one of you guys do Law Review or a journal? Could you please speak about your experiences or your classmates’ experiences? Do you think Law Review or journals are beneficial? How much of a time committment is required?
Also, what do you advise 1Ls to do for their summer internship?
Evan here. No, neither of us were LR or journal dudes. For my part, I didn’t even try to write on. Law review is A LOT of work. At UChicago, you basically stopped seeing a whole lot of friends who made law review people because they were so buried in work. Not that you saw a whole lot of them 1L year- without exception the people who graded on to law review worked their tails off 1L year.
I don’t really know exactly how many hours a week because it varies, but suffice to say it’s a big time commitment.
As for other journals, common wisdom is that there isn’t a whole lot of value in it, though it might help you get noticed is you are going for clerkships, academia etc. (Generally this is much truer if you are at a top school already).
I did clinics instead, which I felt gave me a lot more practical experience. Clinics make up a big part of tuition costs nowadays, so I really feel it’s best to take advantage of them.
1Ls do a ton of different things for their summers. Clerkships and working at school clinics is a big one. If you can’t come up with something you prefer, working as an assistant for a law prof is usually a good fallback. Non-profits are usually a great option because most school provide grants to students doing that.
What do you think about schools like Tulane and Marquette offering the ability to receive a certificate for “Sports Law”. I am a prospective law student who wants to specialize in Sports and Entertainment Law and Iwant to know what you guys think about if going to the above schools would set someone apart which a certificate like that vs. someone from a “like” school without that focus.
Thanks in advance!