3 Pointers For Success in Law School

If you've been accepted to law school, your work has just begun.

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If you have already been accepted to law school, congratulations! Take a deep breath and celebrate your success. All of those hours of editing and scrutinizing your essays, proofreading every word of your applications, and fixating on selecting the perfect recommenders have finally paid off.

[Avoid these five mistakes when asking for recommendations.]

You're done with the very first step of your law school journey. While you may think the hard part is over, you will find after your first day of law school that the work has only just begun. Keep these three pointers in mind to help you along the way:

1. Law school is not college. Law school will be an enlightening and life-changing educational experience, but its similarities to college end there.

Your first year of law school (1L) classes will bear no resemblance to classes from your freshman year of college, in which attendance might have been optional and you may have been able to get a good grade just by regurgitating the professor's PowerPoint presentations.

In law school, you are assigned hours upon hours of dense and complex reading, and you need to master all of it. Furthermore, your grades in law school are typically based entirely on just one exam at the end of the semester. Even if you manage to complete all of the reading and memorize the material, you are far from guaranteed a good grade, as law school exams are based on your ability to apply what you have learned. 

You also cannot count on camaraderie among students in law school the way you could in college, due to the highly competitive environment at virtually every law school. Forced grading curves, employed by many law schools across the country, require professors to distribute grades along a rigid bell curve. For example, professors may have to give exactly 5 percent of the class an A, 10 percent an A-, 25 percent a B+, and so on.

In addition, professors are required to grade exams based on ID numbers only, without knowing the authors, so class participation and any other personal factors will not influence your grades in law school as they may have in college.

2. Your 1L grades determine your future. Many undergraduate students make the mistake of underperforming academically during freshman year as they are adjusting to college, but they, at least, have the next three years to make up for it. In law school, your grades in your 1L classes alone will decide much of the path of your career as a lawyer.

The summer associate position you earn for the summer after your second year of law school will likely turn into your first full-time job after law school (assuming you perform well and enjoy your experience there). You generally have to apply for these positions months in advance, right at the start of your second year of law school. At that time, the only law school grades that law firms have access to are your 1L grades.

[See how some law firms are experimenting with new interviews.]

Some law firms will not even consider you if your GPA is below a certain threshold, and those firms likely won't want to hear any excuses about "adjusting" to law school.

Your 1L grades are also especially important if you are hoping to transfer to a better law school after your first year. Unlike college, where transferring is quite common and many students move between institutions each summer, law schools accept as few as five or 10 transfer students each year.

[Find out if you should transfer to another law school.]

3. From the start, preparation is essential. To stay at the top of the forced curve and guarantee yourself a solid summer associate position after your 2L year, you need to be one step ahead of your classmates from day one.

Anything you can do to familiarize yourself with your law school classes before matriculating will be helpful in setting you apart from your classmates. For example, I advise the students in Stratus Prep's annual Law School Bootcamp program to read a variety of course-specific study guides during the summer before their 1L year.

What are your biggest fears about starting law school? What do you plan on doing to prepare? Let me know in the comments below, E-mail me at shawn.oconnor@stratusprep.com, or contact me via Twitter at @stratusprep.

Check back next Monday for tips on choosing the right law school for you.