You want to be a lawyer and are excited to start law school, yet many say that the first year can be overwhelming and the most difficult. The best way to deal with the situation is to have a clear picture of what to expect. If you can survive your first year, you will do just fine in the next two years and complete your Juris Doctor degree.
Your first year in law school is extremely important. It is what will determine most of the things that lie ahead:
• Eligibility for scholarships.
• Eligibility for law review.
• Types of jobs you will get.
Life in law school they say is a far cry from your usual university life and the first year is the toughest. Is the first year of law school that scary? See what you can expect and judge for yourself.
First-year law students at all law schools in the country take the same courses. In your second and third years, however, you can start choosing the courses they want to take. Your first-year courses will include:
• Constitutional Law
• Civil Law
• Criminal Law
• Criminal Procedure
• Property Law
• Legal Research and Writing
In some cases, in your second semester, you will be required to have an elective.
The heavy load will make your first year extremely difficult especially so that you will still have to adjust to the new classroom environment, teaching and learning styles, as well as the method of evaluation.
• Socratic Method
Most law school professors use the Socratic learning method. This means he can call on students whenever he wants and whoever he wants to apply legal reason and principles to hypothetical situations. He may also shoot questions anytime about the assigned readings.
In the Socratic Method, the professor calls on a student to summarize an assigned case for the day. No matter the thoroughness and accuracy of the student’s response, he will be grilled on certain details he overlooked. The professor may also manipulate some facts of the case to create a hypothetical case that will need further deliberation.
The Socratic Method encourages students to probe deeper into issues, details, and implications, just like full-fledged lawyers do. It is a way of practicing and perfecting critical thinking and litigation skills.
While it is a good learning approach, it can also subject an unprepared student to fierce scrutiny which can create an unhealthy relationship between the professor and his students.
It can be challenging to adjust to this learning method. The best thing to do is to be ready with the assigned readings and case briefings. You should also always be willing to answer the professor’s questions even if you might be giving the wrong answer. Do not be afraid to answer because the professor will lead you to the right answer.
• Grading System
Law school does not have graded homework assignments or small exams. Legal Research and Writing are usually the only papers required in your first year. Your grades will, therefore, be based only on one final exam.
Professors rank exams results from best to worst. The grades are then distributed accordingly. In effect, the entire class will be directly competing with each other for the top grades. Professors do blind grading. This means the professor cannot see your name, only your ID number.
• Grading System
The law school offers a different grading system. A forced drive curve is used in grading students. There is a set of As, A-minuses, B-pluses, Bs and so on in a class. Most of the grades are B and B-plus.
In your first year of law school, you will be assigned humongous quantities of reading. Most law school alumni will attest to this. There is just so much reading assigned that you need to spend time and effort so it will not pile up. To manage the reading load, you will have to, without any exaggeration, spend about 10 hours a week reading.
With all the reading and studying you need to do in your first year of law school, your social life will suffer. Most law students in their first year take the school work and classroom competition seriously. This results in making it close to impossible to form close friendships on the campus.
The majority of your social life in your first year of law studies will revolve around study groups. This is where a sense of camaraderie is developed among students. Although study groups are venues for socializing, it is always not the most effective way to seriously study.
Despite the hectic schedule, some students are still able to go to parties and socialize with their friends. This, however, can be on exceptionally rare occasions. The only semblance of socializing in your first year of law school is by joining extra-curricular activities. Law schools have various student groups ranging from volunteer societies to political organizations as well as debate and mock trial teams.
Most first-year law students join at least one school organization to meet fellow students in a more casual and relaxed environment. Interacting with fellow students outside of the stressful and chaotic classroom setting will allow you to develop friendships that will act as your support group all through your three years in law school.
No matter how difficult, you should make it a point to make some new friends outside of school or catch up with your old friends. This will allow you to have a breath of fresh air and have a life outside of the so-called law-school bubble.
While second and third-year law school students have the opportunity to play around with their class schedules and the courses they wish to take in a particular semester, this is not true for first-year law students. This is because first-year law students are organized into block sections.
The section you belong to dictates which courses you will take and what semester you will take them. This means you do not have the liberty of choosing which courses to take in a particular semester because they have already been pre-arranged. You will be with the same section, with the same classmates, and with the same courses and class schedules. The only thing you can choose during your first year of law school is where to sit in the classroom. Arriving to class early will help you choose where to sit and beside whom to sit.
Law school consists of briefs, lectures, and long hours of studying often in your favorite coffee shop. While most of your law school life will revolve around these same scenarios, some issues need your immediate attention.
If you are moving to a new city for your law studies, you will need to find a dorm or apartment. You will also need to familiarize yourself with the ins and out of the campus.
You will also need to get your student ID and pay for your books. All these things you will need to do before classes begin. You will, therefore, need to take a proactive approach to ensure a smooth transition into law school. It is important to keep in mind that although your first year of law school can be tough and difficult, you will never feel like you are alone. Your fellow first-year classmates are also in the same position and experiencing the same things.
It is best to keep in mind that the semester comes and goes. Before you know it, you will already be an experienced second-year law student and everything about law school will be second nature. One important thing to bear in mind – your mindset will help you to a large extent be successful in law school. With law school done, are you now ready for your Master’s in Law degree?