When you start law school there is a lot of unknown. You may have heard stories from alumni, both good and bad, that left a lasting impression. What you heard about law school and what you actually experience can be two separate things. Our Law School Toolbox experts share their misconceptions about law school before they attended.
Before you read the tips, meet the individuals who are sharing advice with you.
Lee Burgess is the co-founder of Law School Toolbox. She graduated cum laude from the University of San Francisco School of Law, was a TA for Contracts and Torts, and was the Managing Editor of the USF Law Review. Lee left her law firm job and became a private California bar exam tutor and law school tutor when she realized her passion for helping students succeed in law school and pass the bar.
Alison Monahan is the co-founder of Law School Toolbox. She graduated from Columbia Law School in 2006 as a Kent Scholar, a Stone Scholar, and a member of the Columbia Law Review. She was also a Civ Pro TA. After law school, Alison clerked for a federal District Court judge and worked as a patent litigator in a large law firm in San Francisco. She eventually left to start The Girl’s Guide to Law School®, which is a leading resource for individuals embarking on a legal career.
Ariel Salzer is a law school and California bar exam tutor for Law School Toolbox and Bar Exam Toolbox. She has taught everything from conjunctions to calculus on four different continents. As a student at the University of San Francisco School of Law, Ariel tutored Torts and led 1L workshops on time management, exam preparation, legal writing, and outlining. After practicing law as a product liability litigator in California for a number of years, Ariel found her way back to teaching and now enjoys helping students find success in their law school classes and on the bar exam.
Ben Nelson is a law school tutor and California and Oregon bar exam tutor for Law School Toolbox and Bar Exam Toolbox. As the oldest child of two professors, he realized from an early age that he wanted to strike out on his own. He eventually settled on law school and graduated from Columbia in 2014 as a Kent Scholar and a Stone Scholar. When he is not tutoring, Ben is a legal fellow for Earthjustice in Denver, CO where he works to protect the iconic American Southwest and Rocky Mountains from overuse.
Misperceptions I Had About Law School Before I Got There
My parents are both lawyers, so I didn’t have a ton of misperceptions about law school. I think the one misperception I had was that I figured I had all the study skills I needed to be successful when I got there. Turns out, for most of us, law school is a learned skill. I had to learn how to write in a new way and learn how to study in a new way. I wasn’t really expecting that.
I was very surprised by the level of hierarchy in the classroom that’s standard in law school. I’d done a previous Master’s degree (in architecture) and in that program students and professors interacted in fairly non-hierarchical ways. Of course we respected the professors and understood that they had more experience than we did, but they took our work, and our ideas, seriously and treated us as essentially co-equal members of a profession. In law school, there’s far more formality (including “Ms. Monahan” in class, which was inconceivable in my prior graduate work), and much more a sense of students as empty vassals, ready to be filled with wisdom from the all-knowing instructor. The prior life experience, pre-existing knowledge, and creative ideas of my classmates didn’t seem to count for much, and there wasn’t a sense that we really had much to contribute to the pre-planned discussion that went on in class every day. The person on call was a fungible resource whose main role was to give the desired answer, not to contribute any unexpected insights.
- Thanks to the movies, I thought people would dress really nicely for class—like very professional, or at least business-casual. I was really surprised by all the workout/yoga clothes, and sweats.
- I had no idea people had tutors. I was really surprised about this for some reason when I heard about it for the first time.
- It was shocking that people had their attorney parents correct their graded legal writing assignments. There will always be cheaters, don’t stoop to their level. It will feel that much better when you CALI the class without any help.
It was a big cutthroat competition. It turned out that most of this was in my head and keeping me from relaxing and just doing my work.
I thought success in law school had something to do intelligence, so when I showed up with a bunch of Ivy Leaguers I thought I might be in trouble. It turns out law school is all about spending a lot of time carefully studying and outlining the material and paying close attention to details. You have to accept that you’re going to be wrong about something absolutely everyday. It doesn’t come easily to anyone. If you’re doing well, you’re going to get knocked down on a daily basis and still have to gather the strength to pick yourself back up. Practicing law is a lot like this too by the way.
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Other helpful pre-1L posts:
- Pre-1L Summer Checklist
- How to Get The Most out of Law School with Extracurricular Activities
- How Being a Law Student and a Functional Human Being Don’t Have to Be Mutually Exclusive
- How to Start Law School Right
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