Law Vs. Undergrad: How Different?

stress_bangheadhereHow Law School is Different Than Undergrad

“What did I get myself into?”

Just about every student has whispered that phrase after their first week. Dismayed, they almost fall into a stupor: “I need to read what? By when?” They’d already heard the horror stories. The casebook will make Shakespeare read like Dr. Seuss. The exams will touch on the arcane points you overlooked in your outlines. After your professor picks apart your argument with questions, you’ll even sympathize with the jurists who sentenced Socrates to death.

Dazed and fatigued, you’ll slog to class wrapped in a mix of apathy and dread. And the transition stems from volume and speed. As a 1L, you must condition yourself to run the academic equivalent of a four-minute mile while lugging a 100-pound weight. Your first months are consumed with trial and (mostly) error. You’ll spend an hour on six pages as you struggle to master a new language (predicated on a new way of thinking).

You’ll agonize over your summaries, always second-guessing what to leave in and what to leave out. Like your undergrad days, you’ll learn shortcuts and prop yourself up with caffeine. And you’ll need them. Law school is based on reading fast and writing even faster. As you hoard your time, you’ll also learn to balance getting the details with simplifying the complex and ambiguous. You’ll have no idea how to go about this at first. But the curriculum is sink-or-swim. You’ll adapt or wash out. At law school, you’ll find little sympathy (and even fewer second chances). Here, someone will always find a loose thread in your argument, r

eminding you that “it depends” is the most significant phrase in the legal lexicon. And here, you’ll face your limits and learn the most important lesson in law school (and life): You can’t do everything on your own anymore. In a recent column on Law School Academic Success, Susan Landrum, the Director of the Office of Academic Achievement at the Savannah Law School, shared her own thoughts on what incoming students should expect. While you won’t truly know what it’s like until September, here are some ways to formulate a smoother transition to law school:

  • Many course grades in law school are based upon a single assignment or exam: Unlike undergraduate courses, where you may have multiple midterm exams, quizzes, graded homework assignments, or individual lab assignment grades, many final course grades in law school are based upon a single item—the final exam! That means that, especially as a first-year law student, you may have a difficult time assessing your understanding of course materials until it is too late to adjust your approach to your studies. This is one reason why students find law school so stressful, and you will have to learn new techniques to self-assess your understanding of each course.”
  • “In law school, professional expectations begin the first day of orientation: These expectations actually contribute to your academic success, but they also contribute to your professional reputation as a future lawyer. What am I talking about here? As a law student, you are expected to be timely (both in terms of your presence and completion of assignments), prepared for class, willing to contribute to class discussions, and respectful (even when you disagree with someone else). In reality, these are not necessarily different expectations than existed in your undergraduate classes, but the consequences of not meeting those expectations can be much greater in law school.”
  • “Everyone is smart, and they are used to getting good grades: People who choose to go to law school have usually been pretty successful in undergrad. The result: law schools are filled with smart students who are accustomed to getting good grades. Many students find it hard to adjust to this difference, as they go from being praised by their undergraduate professors, earning the top grades, and generally being successful in everything they do, to being the ‘average’ student in law school. Moreover, many law schools have mandatory grade distributions, which means that only a small percentage of each class will earn an A for the course.”

For additional insights, click on the Law School Academic Success link below. Source: Law School Academic Success