Asking “How hard is law school?” before deciding to become a lawyer isn’t a cowardly question. In fact, it’s a smart question.
Because the more you know about what it takes to become a lawyer, the better equipped you are to complete the journey to becoming one.
A law school’s JD degree program is a specialized program that’s not for the fickle. If you aren’t prepared to open your mind and put in your best, you might end up frustrated by the experience—which means that law school isn’t for everyone.
Getting in—and Staying in
Having a good GPA and acing the LSAT are good indicators that you are qualified for law school, but they don’t necessarily mean that you’ll make a good law school candidate. This is why law schools look at not just your LSAT and GPA, but also your resume, personal statement, and recommendations to determine whether or not you’ll make a good fit and can cope with the program.
Every year, when admissions open for law school, thousands of hopefuls apply. Many of these applicants go through the process without having an inkling of what law school will be like. They could save themselves a lot of time and trouble by asking a practicing lawyer, “How hard is law school?”
It’s people in this category that typically end up complaining the loudest about law school being hard. If you aren’t committed to learning or don’t possess the required skills or mental agility, you might find yourself struggling to cope. Also, it’s not a program that you can coast through simply because you are smart. Cramming won’t save you when exams come around.
The law school coursework is diverse and vast, which means you can’t afford to slack off. You need to put in the necessary work throughout the program if you want to succeed.
In summary, law school is hard. Harder than regular college or universities, in terms of stress, workload, and required commitment. But about 40,000 people graduate from law schools every year—so it is clearly attainable.
What makes Law School Hard?
We want you to be as prepared as possible before you even apply. This way, your law school experience will be less tedious than that of your colleagues.
To help you with this, let’s take a look at the factors that contribute to the difficulty of law school. By knowing these factors now, you can begin formulating strategies that’ll help you effectively cope with them once you are in law school.
Below are some of law school attendees’ most common responses to, “Why is law school hard?”
The Hefty Workload
When told law school is going to be hard, it is the amount of work expected of you that most people are referring to.
The coursework requires that you do a lot of research and studying on a variety of topics. Not to commit things to memory, but to understand certain concepts, lines of reasoning, strategies, and more.
Unlike studying as an undergrad where you can skim passages, law school requires that you go through everything you’re taught with a fine-toothed comb, and then expand on that knowledge with further research.
Procrastinating and failing to do required work on time will result in you falling behind and can have damaging consequences.
Lots of Reading
If you aren’t a fan of reading or aren’t an active reader, law school might not be for you. Even if you do enjoy reading, the sort of materials you’ll have to study in law school might take the joy out of reading for you.
Most of the reading materials consist of legal text and cases containing a lot of jargon and Latin. If you have experience reading Shakespeare and enjoyed it, you should have an easier time coping with the reading materials.
Aside from how tedious the material is to read, there’s also a lot of it. If you don’t complete your assigned reading, you’ll spend a lot of your time in law school playing catch up. This won’t do you any favors on your final exams.
Another reason you might find studying in law school hard is your lack of experience. If you majored in college courses that had nothing to do with law, law school is going to introduce you to alien concepts that you have to grasp quickly.
The good news is as time passes, you’ll become more familiar with the process, have an easier time grasping concepts, and learn to manage your time and workload better.
Medical school may be higher-pressure than law school, but law school is still not for the faint of heart. You won’t have impromptu quizzes or loads of assignments to worry about in law school, but the pressure to keep accumulating knowledge and avoid being left behind is palpable.
Many law school students put in at least three hours of studying every night after classes. You can choose not to follow this strategy—but if you do, you’ll likely have no idea what’s been discussed in class the following day.
Getting into a top law school is highly competitive. Once you are in, the competition escalates. Think of it this way—your colleagues went through the same struggles to achieve a solid GPA and score high on the LSAT. These are driven people who have no intention of failing.
The curve grading system also doesn’t help – it fosters serious competition among students and can lead to some people doing almost anything to get an elusive “A.”
Everyone works hard to graduate from law school with flying colors so that they can get prime jobs afterward, which means more pressure on you to succeed.
This is when a professor calls on you in class to answer a question. Even if you have the answer to the question, being cold-called can still be unsettling, and is something many law school attendees spend the entire program dreading.
Most of the terror of being cold-called is due in equal parts to a fear of public speaking and of giving a wrong answer, the latter of which will be the case most of the time. But it’s all part of the training to boost your confidence in public speaking. It’s also a technique to ensure you keep studying.
The Case Method of Teaching
Law school professors teach using the Case Method. This method is unlike the teaching style experienced as an undergrad, where your professor tells you exactly what you need to know to prepare for an exam.
This method requires you to read up on specific court cases before class. These cases will then be discussed in class, and you might be cold-called to tell the class what you know and think about the case.
While studying, you’re meant to identify the law applied to the case, and in turn, learn how to apply that law or laws to a fact pattern. And your ability to do this will be tested in the final exam.
Many find the Case Method of teaching unappealing and frustrating at first, but with time, you’ll get used to it. And if you find yourself struggling, you can always seek help from a tutor, study group, or your professor.
One Exam Can Determine Your Fate
In most law schools, you get one exam per semester. One of these exams can alter the course of your grades for the rest of your law school stay. There might not be a lot of assignments, but the exams and the law school’s curve grading system can be brutal.
Also, because there’s just one exam at the end of the semester that determines your grade, there’s no way to make up for a poor score.
The Curve is not Your Friend
No matter how hard you work, your grade will still depend on the grades of others. You’d think this would foster teamwork—but instead, it generates heavy competition.
Thanks to law school’s curve system of grading, only a fraction of the class can do well. Unlike a grading system based on individual performance, the curve grading system is based on your performance compared to that of your colleagues.
Regardless of everyone’s scores, the bell curve style of grading ensures that there are high grades and low grades. So, even if everyone technically got an “A,” there’ll still be people graded lower than others.
The application of the curve grading system varies depending on the law school, with some being stricter than others. But regardless of the application, the curve is an annoyance that you just have to do your best to beat.
To beat the curve, you have to answer exam questions better than your colleagues. This requires you to master the material and know it better than everyone in your class. But focusing on the curve can put a lot of pressure on you when exams come. For the sake of your sanity, just focus on doing the best that you can.
Feedback is Scarce
Unless you hunt it down, feedback to guide your performance and how to best prepare for an exam is rarely available in law school. This is unlike the handholding you could easily access as an undergrad. While this teaches you to be independent, it also makes it difficult to know if you are doing the right thing or if you’ve strayed off course.
But when you do get feedback in law school, it is extremely helpful. So, don’t be shy about chasing down professors or the academic support office. Without feedback, preparing for exams becomes even more difficult.
You Can’t Afford to Miss Anything
As an undergrad, you could afford to miss many classes. In law school, if you miss a class, you’ve probably missed a point that can make or break whether you pass. And if you miss several classes…that’s a problem.
Every class requires your full attention, which means being there for every moment of every single class.
Prepare for the Law School Experience
Now you have an answer to “How hard is law school?” But to further help you in your endeavors, here are some books to help you prepare for the experience:
- Getting to Maybe: This book will enlighten you about how to prepare and succeed in law school exams.
- Law School Confidential: This book offers tips and strategies regarding getting into the law school of your choice. It also teaches you how to cope during your first year of law school and includes a summary of 1L subjects.
- 1L of a Ride: Written by a law school professor, this book provides you with the cheat code to succeeding in law school. It contains advice that you won’t find anywhere else from someone who has been in the system for decades.
- Plain English For Lawyers: A great book for learning the art of legal writing. It’ll also teach you to write more effectively for your law school essays and exams. The skills taught will also serve you well in your future legal career.
Bottom Line: How Hard is Law School?
One thing that’s for sure is law school will push you beyond your limits and mold you into someone stronger and wiser than you were before you got admitted.
Some law schools are harder to get into than others. For example, the top 10 law schools in the US have an average acceptance rate of 15 percent, while the lowest-ranked schools have an average acceptance rate of 80 percent.
From another perspective, students from the top 10 law schools have a 95 percent success rate taking the bar exam on their first try, while students in lower-ranked schools have an average bar pass rate of 55 percent.
This indicates that the hardship faced in law school teaches you invaluable skills that make you a better lawyer out in the real world.
So, overall, how hard is law school? It’s hard, but not so hard that you can’t survive and even thrive in it. Just remember that the hardest part is the first year. Once you get to 2L and 3L, you’ll be acclimated to the system and experience less pressure.