Continuing our series from last week, we’re going to go over another commonly held belief regarding law school to determine whether or not it is a myth. Previously, we covered the notion that law school students are cutthroat competitors — the type who would trip you if you were trying to escape from a horde of zombies — and determined it was more myth than fact. This week, we’re going to cover another off-putting refrain regarding law school: the idea that your first year in school is the most difficult academic year of your life.
Unfortunately, this one is more fact than myth. Now, as a former English major, the bar for difficult academic years is set relatively low. However, regardless of your undergraduate experience, law school is a different beast entirely.
First, there is simply a lot of work. Reading and outlining take a long time, especially in the beginning, because you have to adapt to a new, legal language and learn how to glean the important information from a dense, often archaic case. Even reading 20 pages can take hours, and it is a painstaking process at the start.
Second, there are cold calls. Cold calls are part of the so-called Socratic method, wherein professors teach via a conversation with their students. The professor will ask a question, receive a response, weigh in, and then move the topic on with another question. Unfortunately, most professors randomly decide who they’ll call on. The result is stressful for everyone involved. While this may seem like a holdover from a bygone era, it is still very much alive in law school during the first year (after that, students tend to become less motivated, so relying on cold calls is often difficult because no one is paying attention). To pontificate briefly, the more you can force yourself to get over the judgment and embarrassment you feel if you don’t give a perfect response, the better. For all the ballyhoo about classroom participation and “acing your cold calls,” it really doesn’t matter. Obviously if you want to ingratiate yourself to a professor, prepare meticulously for every class and worry about your cold calls, but your performance on the exam is much more important.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, the first year of law school is extraordinarily difficult because no one knows what they’re doing. You’re in a new environment, surrounded by high achieving people, and you are thrust into a new academic discipline with almost no preparation (spoiler alert: any intro class you take will do almost nothing to train you). At the same time, there is a tremendous amount of pressure to perform well in your first year (we’ll discuss that subject more in a subsequent post) and at least some external pressure based on the amount of work you see your peers doing (spoiler alert again: you’ll almost constantly feel like you’re not doing enough).
In sum, it is sadly true that your first year of law school is extremely difficult. Between the workload and the uncertainty, you’ll probably be pretty unhappy about the academic side of things. It gets better, but it takes a long time.