The first year of law school is considered the most challenging by students. Students must learn the material quickly and with more complexity than they are used to. The way students learn and are tested is quite different than in high school or undergrad.
Although every law school is unique, there are some things you can expect to see in your first year of law school.
During your first year in law school, inside the classroom
Many law schools do not allow students to choose their first-year classes. Instead, most students take the same foundational courses, which may include all or some of the following:
The United States’ civil procedure is concerned with the litigation process. This includes motions and prerial procedures, pretrial proceedings, alternative dispute resolution methods, appellate procedures, and other dispute resolution methods.
Constitutional law is an introduction to the US Constitution, with a focus on US Supreme Court decisions. This course examines various modes of constitutional analysis. It also covers topics like the role of judges in reviewing acts of political branches of government, the separation between powers, federalism-based limitations on Congress, individual constitutional rights, and the role of the judiciary.
Contracts gives an overview of the formation and breach of contracts as well as the damages that can be incurred.
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Criminal law and procedure look at the policies and rules for imposing sanctions on individuals accused of committing crimes, as well as the rights afforded to those who are charged with criminal violations.
This guide teaches you how to write legal memoranda and research the law.
Property law is the study of the legal relationship between individuals and land, buildings and natural resources.
Torts examines the policies and methods for allocating losses due to harm to one’s property, person, or economic interest. This course will cover the different tort claims and defenses.
The case method approach to law will be your first year. Your textbooks will contain judicial opinions from all over the country, without any explanations or summaries. To understand each case, you will need to briefly describe it. The class will then be used to analyze the cases and discuss how they relate with other cases.
The Socratic method is a method law professors use in order to make sure you understand the material. The Socratic method involves asking a series of quick questions to reveal contradictions and flaws within your thought process and then slowly leading you towards a solid conclusion.
Although first-year law students may dread the Socratic process, many people learn to love it and realize its importance in preparing them for the courtroom.
Most of your first-year classes will only have one exam at the end the semester. First-year law students prepare for exams by studying outline (lengthy summaries) of course material. Legal writing is an exception. You’ll likely be assigned several grades (motions and briefs, etc.). Throughout the semester.
During your first year in law school, you will also be outside the classroom
Many law students find the first year of law school a bonding experience. Students can bond by sharing common interests and goals, as well as their shared backgrounds. Students bond through common obstacles. All of you are in the same foxhole!
Despite making friends quickly, you will soon realize that students are more competitive than you were in high school and college.
In your first year you will begin to think about becoming a law reviewer (or any other legal journal). These positions are reserved for students who are at the top of the class, usually the top 10%. The fact that employers are highly interested in your application for a job is a sign of competition.
The second year (2L).
Well done! Congratulations! You have made it to the second year of law school. Many law students find the second year of school easier than the first. You know what to expect by the end of the second year and are ready to face any challenges.
While most law students find the second year more enjoyable, many find it busier.
- During your second year in law school, inside the classroom
- You’ll choose most, if not all of your classes in your second year of law school. Law students usually consider these things when choosing classes:
- It is important to determine if the class is relevant to the practice area they are interested in.
- If the class is a potential practice area.
- If the class covers a subject on the bar exam
Students can choose their classes and you will notice an improvement in class discussion. Many professors have stopped using the Socratic method. Many law students will find it easier to make friends after their first year. They’ll be surrounded with students who share common interests.
During your second year in law school, you will be able to spend time outside the classroom
Most students participate in extracurricular activities during their second year of law school. Students who participated in student organizations their first year may take on leadership roles in their second year.
Many law students also choose to take part in moot courts competitions, work part-time, or edit legal journals.
In your second year of law school you will begin to seriously consider finding the perfect summer internship. It is important to have a summer internship in your second or third year. This could lead you to a job.
The third year (3L).
You are now a seasoned professional. You are no longer the anxious student that you were in your first law school class. As you focus on passing the bar exam and finding a job, you will soon experience new levels of stress.
During your third year in law school, inside the classroom
The majority of your classes are in seminar classes that you will be taking in your future field of work. However, many third-year students opt to take the bar subjects they haven’t taken.
Many third-year students also work in a clinic. The law school organizes a legal clinic program that gives credit for legal work done for real clients. These clients are usually low-income residents of the area. Many students find the legal clinic to be one of the most rewarding parts of their law school experience.
During your third year in law school, you will be able to spend time outside the classroom
Law review students (or any other legal journal) have now been promoted to senior positions at the journal. Students who have joined student organizations are now in leadership positions within them.
Third-year law students should also start to focus on two things:
The Bar Exam. Your third year will see you begin work on your state bar application. You will need to choose where you want to practice and where you intend to take the bar. It is also up to you to decide whether or not to take a bar exam. Many third-year law students also take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE), which is not required to be taken immediately after passing the bar exam.
Finding a job. You should have received an offer to work from one of your internships. If you haven’t, it is worth scheduling mock interviews with legal firms and organizations.
It can be intimidating to go to law school. It is scary, but the more you understand it before you begin, the easier it will be. Many law students remember their law school years fondly, it is true. Relax and enjoy the ride.