What To Expect in Your First Year of Law School

What you've heard about being a 1L is probably true: It is more about intellectual survival than intellectual feasting. Just as the gung-ho army recruit must survive boot camp, so too must the bright-eyed law student endure the homogenizing effects of that first, sleepless year. You have to learn to walk before you can run, but before all that, you must learn how to crawl.

Is it Really That Bad?

The first semester of law school has the well-deserved reputation of being among the great challenges to the intellect and the stamina that one may ever face. Though complex and difficult, the subject matter in first-year law-school courses is probably no more inherently difficult than what is taught in other graduate or professional schools. The particular, private terror that is shared by roughly 40,000 1Ls every year stems as much from law school's style as from its substance.

One thing is certain: High stress and anxiety levels among law students–particularly 1Ls–are ubiquitous and real. The two greatest enemies of the law student's mental well-being are a system of examination and grading that hopelessly frustrates those who require positive feedback and instant gratification, and teaching methods that unapologetically punishes those who would learn passively.

Law school has a unique method of instruction. Professors typically teach by using the “Case Method”–they analyze and discuss individual cases in isolation. Often, it isn't until the end of the semester–or the end of the year in some courses–that students begin to understand the interrelationship between the legal rules derived from individual cases in each course.

So how do 40,000+ 1Ls manage to survive each year? One way is through adequate preparation. Now no law student can be absolutely fully prepared for her first year of law school before she gets there, but a prospective law student can lower her risk by doing some advance preparation. By picking up a law school success book, or taking a law school prep course like Law Preview, you can gain a conceptual framework for the material that you will study, eliminating the frustration your classmates will experience by having to analyze case law in a vacuum.

You should also get a account of what life in law school will be like by visiting a few law school campuses, sitting in on some law school classes and experiencing firsthand what is meant by the terms Socratic Method and Case Method, and by talking to as many current law students as you can.

[thanks to princetonreview]