Things to Expect From Your First Year in Law School

Law school is notorious for being challenging for many students, especially during the first year (commonly known as 1L). The combination of being new to law school and the importance that first-year grades have on many student's future goals can create pressure to study and ensure that you do your absolute best throughout your 1L year.

It is important to know what to expect during your first year in law school so you can prepare yourself accordingly and set yourself up for success. Below, we will be discussing the many aspects of your first year in law school. We'll give you an overview of everything from curriculum and grading to extracurricular activities and how to find a summer job, so you will know exactly what to expect from your 1L and can enter into law school with less stress.

The First-Year Law School Curriculum

While you may be used to choosing which classes to take in undergraduate studies, your first-year curriculum in law school will be decided for you. Law schools split up each new incoming class into sections; you will take a certain set of classes with people who are all in the same section for both semesters of your 1L year.

The classes that you take are predetermined to give you a basic overview of important topics in law and to help you meet prerequisites for upper-level classes. Some law schools do allow you to select an elective during the second semester of your 1L year, but you will need to check with your academic advisor to see if this is a possibility for your law school.

Below, we will list the classes that every first-year law student will be required to take — your law school may call these classes differently, but the curriculum will most likely cover the exact same topics.

  • Civil Procedure: This course covers lawsuits, motions and pleadings, and the process of adjudication in the United States.
  • Constitutional Law: This course covers the powers of federal and state governments and studies constitutional freedoms.
  • Contracts: This course overviews the nature and enforceability of contracts.
  • Criminal Procedure: This course covers the rights of those charged with crimes and overviews criminal responsibility, rules, and policies.
  • Legal Writing: You will usually take legal writing in both semesters. This course teaches essential legal research and writing skills.
  • Property Law: This course covers legal issues surrounding the use and development of land, buildings, natural resources, and personal property.
  • Torts: This course is an overview of civil issues such as negligence, assault, and defamation.

Typically, you will take four classes each semester during your 1L year. Your law school may add one or two extra classes during your second semester to match up with a unique curriculum recommendation. It is a good idea to check with an academic advisor if you have any questions about your schedule or upcoming classes.

Exams and Grading

During your 1L year, and sometimes throughout all of law school, you may find that your score in a class weighs heavily on how well you perform on one or two exams throughout the semester. This means that you will need to study hard throughout the course to ensure that you have a good grasp of the information by the time the exam rolls around. Some courses, such as legal writing, may also evaluate you based on written assignments such as memos, addenda, and case briefs.

Law school grades are often given on a curve, which can be a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. The curve can help bring your grade up to a higher level if others in the class have performed almost the same as or below you, but it can also place many students into an average middle ground, where their grades are neither terrible nor impressive. You can read more about the debate of law school curved grading here.

Because of this curve and other factors such as difficult classes and competitive class rankings, you will often be looking at a grade scale that has an A+ at the top and a B- at the bottom. A+ grades are generally given to the absolute top of the class, while scoring a B- or lower may indicate that you are lower ranked in the class. Most students fall in the range of B, B+, and A- scores during their first year, which is more of an average middle.

Teaching Method

The teaching method that many law school professors use may be much more different than what you are used to. The most commonly accepted teaching method in law school is Socratic teaching — this is a method that involves the infamous cold-calling of students and asking questions about the case or assignment in an attempt to generate critical thinking and analysis of issues. While many professors swear by this as a teaching method, you may also have professors that prefer a more traditional lecture approach or ones that prefer to assign cold calls ahead of time so you can be prepared.

The Socratic method of teaching can be quite intimidating to first-time law students, but it is important to remember that even if you completely flop a question, your classmates will not be too worried about it as everyone is often in the same boat of feeling overwhelmed by cold calls.

Studying Time

Many students, and especially those who come straight from undergraduate, may be prepared to study for law school, but might not have an idea of how much reading and other work is actually required. Your first year of law school will bring with it a large amount of reading and research assignments, and it is important that you set aside study times to get it all done.

The level of work and study time needed to succeed in law school will often be much more than was required in undergraduate, so it is important that you be prepared to spend at least 30 to 40 hours a week outside of class completing work and reviewing notes.

Extracurricular Activities

During your 1L year, many different student organizations and extracurricular groups are available for you to check out and participate in. Joining an extracurricular activity can be a great way to meet new students, both 1Ls and upperclassmen, to boost your resume and to expand the breadth of your legal knowledge. Often, your law school will send out emails telling you what is available and how to find extracurriculars to join.

However, you should not try to join everything at once as this can be detrimental to your grades. If you really want to participate in an activity, you should join one or two and see how it works out with your studying workload before adding more into your schedule.

Finding a Summer Job

After your 1L year has been completed, you will need to be involved in a summer internship or job at either a private law firm, a government agency, or a public interest organization. You will be given information during the break between your first and second semester of law school on how to start applying for positions. You will also be able to meet with your academic advisor at this time to get a review of your resume and cover letters, so you can increase your chances of finding a position.

It can be stressful to think about this at first, so you don't need to worry during your first semester of law school, but you should keep in mind what type of agency you would like to work for over the summer so when your second semester rolls around you know which positions you want to apply for.

Tips for Succeeding in Your First Year of Law School

Your first year of law school can be stressful and overwhelming. This is something that many students go through as they transition into the law school routine and adjust themselves to the rigorous studying that comes along with it. Below, we have listed some tips that may help you better succeed during your 1L year.

Create a Study Plan

One of the most helpful things you can do for yourself during all semesters of law school is to create yourself a study plan. This will help you prioritize your classes and organize your time in the most efficient way possible. You will also want to start working on your outlines as soon as possible after classes begin because each class outline will help you study for the final exam. You can find more information on making an effective outline here.

Don't Compare Yourself to Others

It can be easy to compare your work and your study plans to those around you and feel dejected or overwhelmed when it seems like a peer is doing something better. However, constantly comparing yourself to those around you will not be helpful. Every 1L student is doing their best, just like you are, and everyone is sure to be feeling a similar level of confusion and stress throughout each semester. The best you can do for yourself is make sure that you are giving your utmost effort, as this can help you succeed in your classes.

Reach Out for Help When You Need It

Law school is hard; there is no question about it. If you feel like you are falling behind in your classes or are struggling with the coursework in some way, you should reach out for help. Your professors, law fellows, and campus tutors can all be fantastic resources for guiding you through the stressful process that is your 1L year and pointing you in the right direction with your work.

Don't be afraid to visit your professor during office hours or make an appointment with them outside of class to discuss your concerns and get your questions answered. After all, your professors want you to succeed as much as you want to, and they will be happy to help.

Relax When You Can

With all the stress of constantly studying, it can be easy to get stuck in a constant cycle of studying and pressure. However, it is important to take a moment for yourself from time to time and take a deep breath. Constantly pushing yourself can lead to burnout, which may result in poor grades and mental health issues. Make sure to take breaks when you need them and relax when you can so you can be sure you are giving your best when it comes time to study again.

Excelling in Your First Year of Law School

Law school is well-known for being difficult, and your first year of law school tends to be the most stressful year. Even though you may be nervous about starting law school, reviewing what to expect from your first year can help put some of your worries to rest and help you prepare to succeed during your 1L year.