Five Reasons Law School is Hard

Here's why people are telling you law school is tough.

Bored woman studying at desk
Image Source/Seb Oliver/Getty Images. Image Source/Seb Oliver/Getty Images

By the time you start your law school experience, you likely have heard that law school is terribly hard. But often students wonder, what makes law school harder than undergraduate work? Here are five reasons that law school is hard.

The case method of teaching can be frustrating.

Remember how in your previous academic life, professors lectured on exactly what you needed to know for the exam? Well those days are gone.

In law school, professors teach using the case method. That means you read cases and discuss them in class. From those cases, you are supposed to pull out the law and learn how to apply it to a fact pattern (this is how you are tested on an exam). Sound a bit confusing? It can be! After a while you may get used to the case method, but in the beginning it can be frustrating. If you are frustrated, go get help from your professors, academic support or a law school tutor.

The Socratic method can be intimidating.

If you have watched any movies on law school, you may have a picture of what the Socratic method is.

The professor cold calls on students and peppers them with questions about the reading. It can be daunting, to say the least. Today, most professors aren’t as dramatic as Hollywood would lead you to believe. They may not even call you by your last name. Some professors even warn you when you might be “on call” so you can make sure you are thoroughly prepared for class.

The biggest fear law students seem to have about the Socratic method is looking like an idiot. News Flash: At one point or another you will feel like an idiot in law school. It is just the reality of the law school experience. The first time I looked like an idiot in law school was in my criminal law class.

And you know what? I am the only person who remembers it! (Once I even asked my professor about it and he had no idea what I was talking about.) Sure, it isn’t a fun thing to live through, but it is just part of the experience. Don’t let anxiety about looking foolish in front of your peers be a focal point of your law school experience.

There is likely only one exam for the entire semester.

For most law students, it all comes down to one exam at the end of the semester. This means all your eggs are in one basket. And to top it off, you don’t really get feedback throughout the semester to help you prepare for exams, making it difficult to know if you are on the right track. This is likely a different scenario than in undergrad or other graduate work you may have done. The reality of grades depending on only one exam can be intimidating and frustrating for new law students. Given how much that exam will influence your grade, you are going to have to adopt new study techniques to help you prepare!

There are few opportunities for feedback.

Because there is only one exam, there are few opportunities for feedback in law school (although there may be more opportunities than you appreciate). It is your job to get as much feedback as possible whether it be from your professors, an academic support office, or a law school tutor.

Feedback is critical in helping you prepare for those all-important exams.

The curve is brutal.

Most of us haven’t experienced an educational situation where we are graded on a strict curve. The curve in most law schools is brutal -- only a fraction of the class can do “well.” That means that you not only have to master the material, but you must know the material better than the person sitting next to you and the person sitting next to them! You can’t really worry about the curve (you just need to focus on doing the best that you can). But knowing the curve is out there can make exams feel even more daunting. 

Although law school is intimidating, you can be successful and even enjoy the experience. Realizing what makes law school challenging is the first step in creating your own plan for success.

And remember, if you are struggling, as a first-yearmake sure you get some help.

Updated April 20, 2016 by Lee Burgess