What to Expect as a First Year Law Student

The first year is commonly regarded as the toughest part of law school, but is it really that bad?


Most people say the first year of law school is the most difficult, and if you can get through that, the next two years are much more manageable.

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But is 1L really as rigorous and miserable as many people say it is? Here's what you should expect during your first year, both from an academic and social standpoint.

• Academics: While you can choose your courses in your second and third years of law school, almost everyone at every law school in the country takes the same courses in the first year. During the first year, you will take some combination of Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Legal Research and Writing, Property Law, and Torts, with the possibility, in some cases, of an elective in your second semester of 1L year.

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With this heavy course load and thousands of pages of reading for each class, it is easy to get overwhelmed. Part of the reason the first year is so difficult is that you are still adjusting to a new style of teaching, learning, and evaluation. Many law school professors utilize the Socratic method of teaching, in which they call on whomever they want, whenever they want to answer questions about the assigned reading, as well as to apply the legal principles and reasoning to hypothetical situations. 

In addition to this new classroom environment, law school offers a new and unfamiliar grading system for most students. Law school classes are typically graded on a forced curve, meaning there are a set number of A's, A-minuses, B-pluses, B's, and so on in each class, with the majority of the grades in the B-plus/B range.

Your grades for most classes are based on one final examination, with no smaller exams or graded homework assignments. The only papers you will write in the first year are usually for Legal Research and Writing. The professors rank exams from best to worst and distribute the grades accordingly, so you are directly competing with your classmates for the top grades. Grading is blind, meaning the professor can only see your ID number.

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• Social life: Most law students take the academic competition very seriously, especially during 1L, which can make it difficult to form close friendships, but you can still definitely find a sense of camaraderie. Your social life will develop more throughout law school as the workload decreases, but all three years you'll find there is a work hard, play hard mentality.

While the majority of your socializing in your 1L year will happen in study groups (which are good for socializing, but not always the most effective way to study), there are still the occasional parties for those so inclined. 

Even though you won't have very much spare time, getting involved in at least one extracurricular activity will also introduce you to more people in a more casual environment. Law schools offer dozens of student groups, from political organizations to volunteer societies to mock trial and debate teams.

Interacting with students who have similar interests as you outside of the stressful classroom setting encourages friendships that will support you throughout your three years in law school.

You should also try to make some friends outside of school so you can escape from the "law school bubble" every once in a while.

What worries you most about starting law school? What are you most excited about? Let me know in the comments, E-mail me at shawn.oconnor@stratusprep.com, or contact me via Twitter at @StratusPrep.

Watch for an article next week about how a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) background can help you get into law school.