Overview of the Law School Experience

It's Both Challenging and Stimulating

Law student in a library

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Law school is a similar experience across different universities. The basic curriculum is fairly standardized because it must meet the requirements of the American Bar Association. You do not specialize in law school. Instead, you develop a broad base of knowledge. Specializing in a particular area of law comes after graduation.

What Is Law School Like?

Most students are struck by the amount and type of work in the first year, which is the most challenging for most students. This is partly because the field is very new to them. The quantity and difficulty of work are also challenging. First-year courses form the foundation of law school studies. There are many courses, lots of reading, and no quizzes to determine how you are doing. As a first-year student you can expect to take the following set of classes:

  • Torts
  • Property law
  • Contracts
  • Constitutional law
  • Criminal law and criminal procedure
  • Civil procedure
  • Legal research and writing

During the second and third years, there is more choice based on interests, but all students complete the same core set of classes and requirements—and the nature of the classes doesn’t change.

Other Course Options

In the second and third years of law school, you build on the foundation of knowledge gained in the first. Columbia University School of Law gives these suggestions:

  • Breadth and depth: Take a broad range of courses, but also specialize a bit in a few subject areas (i.e., take a broader course followed by a seminar or a more narrowly focused course).
  • Learn about international law.
  • Sign up for a variety of internships and legal clinic work to get professional experience so you can decide what type of law you like practicing the best.
  • Develop strong writing skills.
  • Take courses just because they tweak your interest or the professor is highly regarded and not to be missed.

What Are Law Classes Like?

The typical law school class is not like your traditional undergraduate lecture class. Instead, it entails interaction between the professor and the students. Professors use the Socratic method, which involves asking open-ended questions and probing students' understanding.

Professors also present students with cases that require the students to not only understand concepts but to also apply them to real-life situations. Cases, like everyday problems, are messy. Students often struggle with messy cases, but they learn a great deal from them. Attending lectures is absolutely necessary while in law school. Grades are usually based on attendance, class participation, and a final exam. There are no quizzes or midterms; just a final exam and/or a paper.

Work as a Faculty Research Assistant

Law school is extremely demanding of your time. But if you can spare a little of it, working as a research assistant for a professor, either with or without pay, adds to your law knowledge and experience, gives you good networking opportunities, and is a prestigious position that looks good on your resume. Sometimes professors advertise for assistants. However, if there is a professor for whom you would like to do research and there is no advertised position, it doesn't hurt to ask them about it.