If you’re planning on going to law school, you’ve probably heard a lot about what it’s like. Maybe you’ve been told how hard it is, or how cutthroat people can be, or how scary cold calls are. You might have some stereotypes in mind from TV or movies of what being a law student looks like.
Coming into law school, I knew that it would be challenging, and that I would be busy, and those things have certainly held true. In many ways, law school has lived up to the stereotypes—lots of reading, use of the Socratic method, new ways of thinking and analyzing. But I was also surprised by a lot of things during the first week of law school, whether for the better or worse.
How long the reading takes
I knew law school involved a lot of reading, but my comparison point was undergrad, where I also had a lot of reading but could skim quickly and get the gist. Coming into law school, I thought, how different could reading cases possibly be? The answer is: a lot.
Cases have a specific structure and use unfamiliar (often abstruse) language. Doing my readings for the first week, I was reminded when I first started reading textbooks in middle school. I didn’t know what was important, so I highlighted everything and read every sentence equally closely. I would finish reading and have no idea what was important or what the key takeaways were. While I know my case-reading skills will improve over time, I was surprised by how much time and concentration getting through just ten or fifteen pages took.
How much time you spend in class
Again, undergrad was my main reference point here, and, again, I found quite a big difference. During college, I spent maybe ten hours a week actually in class, with three of four hours of class on a “busy” day. In law school, I have twice that class time, and up to six hours of class in one day. As I discuss more below, in this regard, law school is more like high school, where you spend essentially the whole day at school, in class.
This was also a big adjustment for me coming from college, where I was used to being able to get my work done during the day when I wasn’t in class. In law school, I don’t have much time outside of class during the week. I’ve had to adjust by spending more time working ahead on the weekend, waking up early to finish readings, and being very intentional about using any free time between classes wisely.
How much it really is like high school
I had heard before starting law school that it’s more like high school than college. You get a locker, a lot of people bring their lunch, and, first year, you take all your classes with the same group of people. But what surprised me was how much it felt like high school. My high school was tiny, and everyone knew everyone, so walking down the hall often meant exchanging hellos with every other person you saw. My college, on the other hand, was much larger, and if a friend wasn’t in my dorm or classes, I might never naturally run into them. There were a lot of people in my class I never even met over four years. Starting law school, I felt, in a sense, like I was returning to that high school environment, for better or worse.
By virtue of both the comparatively small overall class size, the system of taking classes with the same group of eighty or so people, and the fact that my law school is confined to two main buildings, I run into familiar faces all the time. While I did sometimes enjoy the anonymity of being at a large college, law school made me realize how much I missed certain aspects of high school. I like walking down the halls and recognizing people, seeing friends when picking up books from my locker, and those little spontaneous interactions throughout the day. However, as I know from high school, that environment is also a double-edged sword. It can feel like a bubble, and can be a hotbed of stress, so that is something to be aware of.
How friendly people are!
I heard a lot about how in law school people are mean or cutthroat or ultra-competitive. They one-up each other in class, refuse to share notes, or even feed each other misleading information. But one of the biggest surprises about law school was how friendly people are, acting more like colleagues than competitors. While this may not be true at all schools, in my experience people have been willing and eager to help each other, whether by clarifying concepts, sharing outlines, or just commiserating. And not in a quid-pro-quo way, but with an understanding that we will all be in the position of both needing help and being able to give help at different points.
How it can be a struggle and enjoyable at the same time
Something else I often heard before starting law school was how miserable and arduous it is, and how there’s no time for fun. And while it’s true that law school has been challenging and laborious and frustrating, it has also been fun and interesting and exhilarating. Readings, while a slog, also present fascinating issues and questions. And though law school classes and work do take up a lot of time, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to make time for fun, whether it’s a coffee break with friends after class or grabbing a couple drinks at bar review.
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