If you were admitted to law school, you likely did well in college. You may have even done well (or excelled) in your college classes without putting in a lot of effort. Given your prior academic success, you’re probably expecting (or at least hoping) that you will do well in law school. Of course you’ve heard that law school is different than college – it’s more challenging, more time consuming, and more competitive – but you’re prepared to work harder to achieve your desired results. That’s good, because law school does take a lot of hard work, but it requires more than just putting in some extra study hours to be successful. So what, exactly, does it take to succeed in law school? Read on to gain some insight into how law school will be different from college, then check out part 2 of this series to learn what you can do to successfully adapt your college study strategies to law school and part 3 to learn what new skills you will need.
Initially, you may be wondering how different law school really is from college. After all, it’s still essentially just school, right? You attend classes, you take tests, you study – all things you’ve been doing with ease for years! Since law school does have these traditional school features, it’s easy to assume that it won’t be that much different than college and that your prior study strategies will be sufficient to get you through. But law school is more than just school, it’s a professional program designed to train you for a specific occupation: the practice of law. In helping you gain the skills and qualifications you need to work as a lawyer, legal education employs some unique teaching methods and imposes some demanding expectations. To make sure you start law school right, you have to know what to expect, so here are some of the major differences you will experience when you make the jump from college to law school:
There is Typically Little to no Feedback in Law School
Most professors do not give graded homework assignments or midterms that can help you assess your understanding throughout the semester. Instead, the onus is entirely on you to regulate your own learning, engage in practice, and seek out feedback.
Your Entire Grade is based on a Single Exam at the End of the Semester
Law school grades will be based entirely on how you perform on a single, three hour exam. You will not be able to pad your grade with homework assignments or participation points. What’s more, the exam will not resemble what you have been doing throughout the semester. While class time will involve verbally discussing the reasoning and holdings of cases, the exam will require you to make arguments in writing that are based on fact patterns that you have never seen before.
The Majority of your Learning will take place Outside of the Classroom
Most college professors will clearly explain the key points that you need to know during their lecture and then simply want you to rehash those statements on the exam. However, in law school, you will be expected to read the primary source yourself, identify the key points from the reading, and independently organize the information into a usable framework. While the classroom dialogue may help to clarify and develop some of these key points, you should anticipate spending a lot of time teaching the material to yourself, rather than relying on the professor.
You will be Evaluated not Merely on your Ability to Memorize Information, but also on your Ability to Assess Unique Situations
Most college level assessments are based on your ability to explain concepts or recite facts. Thus, in college, a typical test question might be something along the lines of “Summarize the facts from Garratt v. Dailey and explain how the court reached the result.” You need to understand and memorize the case in order to answer this question, but that’s the end of it. In law school, however, exams will require you to go to the next level by using what you learned from the case to evaluate a new scenario. So, instead of a straightforward question, you’ll get a long factual story followed by some sort of open-ended instruction such as “discuss all claims.” These types of exam questions require sophisticated critical thinking and analytical skills that most students did not develop in college.
Law School will be more Competitive than College
Even the most high-achieving college students can find law school overwhelming. The smaller size of law schools, the workload, and the fact that most (if not all) law students are driven to succeed academically can make the environment intense and stressful. Oh, and the class rankings and competition for summer jobs doesn’t help either.
You will be Expected to Exercise a Greater Degree of Self-Discipline and Diligence
In this way, law school more closely resembles having a job than being a college student. In college, you may be able to get away with missing a few deadlines, skipping some classes, or not preparing for an assignment until the night before. But in law school, as in practice, your results will suffer if you do not consistently and attentively complete your work. Furthermore, while many law schools have incredibly supportive faculty and staff to give you guidance, the ultimate responsibility for getting everything done in a timely manner falls on you.
Law school’s unique teaching methods and expectations mean that you can’t rely solely on your prior study strategies if you want to excel. Check out part 2 to learn how to adapt some common college study techniques to law school and part 3 to learn what new skills you will need to start developing. And take heart, because, while all these differences do mean that law school will be more challenging than college, it will also be more rewarding and more enlightening.
For more helpful advice, check out these posts:
- Start Law School Right!
- Ahead of the Curve: Time Management – The Value of Valuable Work Throughout the Semester
- Ahead of the Curve: A Guide to Essential Law School Supplies
- Podcast Episode 89: The Leap from Undergrad to Law School
Looking for some help to do your best in law school? Find out about our law school tutoring options.