How Different is Law School from College

Happy Saturday!

For all of those who finished their first week of law school- CONGRATS! Isn't that a great feeling?

I was having a conversation with some of the new 1L's at my school the other day about how law school is different from undergrad. I thought I would type up my thoughts on the subject as a blog post because this is a question I have gotten quite often from prospective law students while I give tours at my law school.

Law school is in a league all it's own. There is really no way to "prepare" yourself for it.... even if you were a pre-law student in undergrad, law school is going to be very different from anything you have ever done. I think this is good and bad; on the plus side, it is a fresh start and provides an opportunity to reinvent yourself in preparation of a legal career and everyone comes in in the same position... on the negative side, it involves a lot of trial and error to figure out how to be a good law student. I found that law school was vastly different from undergrad in both good and bad ways. Here are a few of the biggest differences.

1. You MUST Prepare for Class
Maybe others are different but I was able to get by in undergrad without ever truly preparing for class and I still got really good grades and graduated Magna Cum Laude. I would read in the 10 minutes before class or do a quick skim while the professor was saying hello to the class or sometimes I would just show up and hope for the best. Don't get me wrong, I studied for exams and spent some time on my papers to make sure I turned in something halfway decent but for class, I was able to get by without ever really preparing for classes.

If I have said it once on this blog, I have said it a million times: In Law School, you really have to prepare for class. Like extensively. Before class, I do the reading, I take reading notes and I make sure to do one last skim in the last few minutes before class. Because many law professors cold call during class, you never know when you will be expected to answer questions on the reading material. Also, law school classes are intense and without reading before class, it can be very difficult to keep up in class. I had a professor during my first week of 1L year tell us that you need to work like it's finals week from the first day of law school. To me, that means making sure I am 110% prepared for classes and any potential cold calls, keeping up on my notes and outlining, and going to the professors when I am feeling confused about something.


2. One Exam = Your Whole Grade
So this might be my least favorite think about law school... right behind core grammar from 1L year. In almost every law school class, one final exam at the end of the semester over the entire course will make up your entire grade. Prior to law school, I had never been graded in this format. In undergrad, my grades were always based on a variety of assignments, quizzes, tests, and papers. None of my undergrad professors graded on a curve. It seriously stressed me out when I realized that my entire grade in law school boiled down to one gigantic exam. It takes some getting used to and through the semester, you have to stay self-accountable to prepare for the exam because generally there won't be quizzes, tests or assignments to keep you on track as there are in undergrad classes. (I have had midterms in a handful of my classes but they are the distinct minority and a few of my classes count participation into the grade but it is only like 3-5% of the total while the rest is from the exam). I think what stressed me out the most was knowing that if I had a bad day on exam day, my entire grade would suffer.... and the two straight weeks of non-stop study are pretty unpleasant. But I have survived it and gotten used to it... I won't say it is fun but you just have to power through and make it happen.

As for grades, they are not the end all be all of your legal careers. Most law school classes are graded on a curve and only so many A's are given out. This can be very frustrating because you can complete what feels like an A exam and still get a B+ because the curve was tight in that class. But, it is not the end of the world. One bad grade doesn't kill you and it's all relative. In some classes, I feel I deserved higher grades and in other classes, I was surprised my grade was so high. But at the end of the day, if you work hard, do your absolute best and learn something from the experience, then you have done all you can.

3. Professionalism Matters 
There is nothing wrong with wearing leggings and a baggy sweatshirt in undergrad. In fact, it was pretty much my entire wardrobe. Showing up late to class in undergrad may be embarrassing but most professors don't really care. You can online shop all through class and generally, it doesn't matter. I also didn't really think about the bigger picture and any career stuff other than getting into law school.

Law school is different- from day one of orientation, they will be preaching professionalism at you. Your legal career begins the day you start law school. And all that other stuff I talked about above should probably come to an end. You never know when lawyers will be in the law school so I always dress presentably for class in law school. I refuse to be late to any of my law school classes. I generally don't even use my computer in classes for law school. Also, from day one you have to be thinking about your professionalism, your future internships and jobs and character and fitness for the bar. Law school is in a whole other league of professionalism from undergrad.

4. Time Management is a Thing 
I don't know about everyone else but I kept myself pretty busy in undergrad. I was a varsity athlete, I had a job, I had two majors, I lived on my own all four years, I was in a bunch of organizations and held leadership roles, and I planned my wedding. However, I was horrible at managing my time because I could get away with procrastinating on my homework and other stuff in favor of watching High School Musical with my roommates or going to a party.

Law school has forced me to actually learn some time management skills. There are just so many things going on and so many hours in a day and procrastinating is simply not an option. I have really had to get regimented about my time and my responsibilities because I am pulled in a million directions. I take a full course load, I work in admissions, I am on Moot Court, I coordinate the oral advocacy competition at my school, I am president of the Criminal Law Society, I am Clerk for our schools chapter of Phi Alpha Delta, I mentor 1L's through SBA, I participate in a legal clinic with my own clients as a certified intern, I have a part-time job as a social media manager, I blog, and I have a house, husband and 3 dogs to keep up with. Keeping all the things organized and getting everything done is no small task but it is manageable as long as you manage your time. I am actually really glad that law school has forced me to become so good at managing my time because that is just a great life skill to master.


5. It's a bit of a Flashback to High School 
One of my favorite things about college was that it was nothing like high school. I absolutely hated high school. The only good thing that came out of it was that I met my now husband... other than that, my high school years were spent studying, avoiding classmates, traveling the country for horse shows and counting the days until I was out of there. I hated the cliques and drama and nosiness. College was much more my speed and I loved every minute of my 4 years of undergrad.

Law school surprised me by being a bit of a return to high school. You spend all day in classes with the same people, you have lockers, you generally hang out with your classmates in spare time.... lots of elements reminiscent of high school. I vastly prefer law school to high school but there are some overlaps I could do without. Law school can be kinda cliquey... I try to avoid it and be friendly with everyone but there are definitely cliques at my law school. Also, there can definitely be some drama.... putting a bunch of people together in a high-stress environment will always breed a bit of drama. While law school is not exactly like high school, it definitely brings back some elements from my high school years. However, I have had a much more positive experience in law school than I did in high school.... and despite this fact, law school retains quite a bit of the college atmosphere thank heavens. Regardless of your high school experience and any similarities between high school and law school, you can have a different experience. My law school experience has been really fun and I have met wonderful people and made lifelong memories. That is the polar opposite of my experience in high school. Make law school its own experience- it's not high school, it's not college so don't let those dictate how law school goes for you.

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