In this edition of Student Insights, we spoke with eight current students to understand what it is really like to be in law school. Overall, we noticed that experience really differs by school, but one thing all of these students had in common was hard work and long hours at the library.
Giana Dittmar Roger Williams University School of Law | 1L
The Good: I have been very fortunate to have found such a great group of friends since arriving at law school. I would say that a necessity to have in such a high stress environment is a set of friends to study with, vent to, and generally be there to help you get through it all. It’s easy to feel isolated in a competitive environment, but it becomes less challenging when you create close relationships with your classmates. You realize that you are all in it together and that you can support each other and help one another to succeed.
The Bad: They did not exaggerate when they said law school is a time commitment. Each week I am up and at school by 9am. and I am doing homework until 11pm. most nights. Unfortunately, there really is no break even when we do have time off. There is always something to do. Whether it be studying, reading, or attending various events. Often times, I am incredibly drained physically and emotionally. However, I still find time to do the important things like go to the gym and spend time with my friends. Managing law school and personal life can be tricky but time management and a good organization system is key.
The Unexpected: The Roger Williams community in general is very supportive of its students. I have been overwhelmed by the amount of faculty and professor support that is available to the students to make sure that they exceed. I came to law school with the impression that is a sink or swim environment, which I’m sure at some schools it is. However, that is not the case at Roger Williams. Every week there is a different workshop whether it be to help improve your writing or to prepare you for exams. Additionally, the professors all have an open door and want to help you and get to know you better.
Peggy Fleming University of Michigan Law School | 2L
The Good: Learning from incredible legal scholars like Catherine MacKinnon.
The Bad: Being graded on a curve, which forces you to compete with your classmates for grades.
The Unexpected: Meeting people that I will know will be my best friends for life.
Dylan Henry Roger Williams University School of Law | 1L
The Good: The Socratic method, also known as “cold calling”, where professors will randomly call on a student to critically analyze a case regardless of their level of preparedness. For someone as introverted as I am, I looked forward to conquering the anxiety of public speaking. After the first week of classes, I witnessed my classmates experience this same anxiety and overcome it as they answered questions. I think this method forces accountability on the student to be prepared, while maintaining composure under pressure.
The Bad: The time commitment. There are always cases to be briefed, meetings to be attended, and outlines to be drafted. Prior to law school, I worked full-time as a paralegal and I thought I would be able to manage my time appropriately, but there are some things you cannot predict. There is no guide on how to perfectly manage time in law school, you just figure it out as you go.
The Unexpected: The appreciation for law. After dissecting hundreds of cases and preparing countless arguments, I gained new insights of the application and theory of law in my everyday life. After a semester in law school I find myself actually reading the “terms and conditions” before agreeing to purchase anything online.
Renee Jones Marquette University Law School | 1L
The Good: Being in law school is a challenging experience but a part of the good is the challenge. There is something quite rewarding about learning the law and what protects everyone in society. Law school exposes you to so much about your rights as individual, and how to use that knowledge for the protection of yourself and or your property. The environment in law school is different from undergrad because the dialogue is of great substance. You are often participating in conversations about important topics going on in the world and being able to apply what you learn in the classroom to real tangible issues in your day to day life.
The Bad: The first big shock was the Socratic method that most law schools all participate in. The random on-calls for cases and the consistent preparation each day is very stressful, especially if you won’t even be on-call for a case that day. Law school is also very competitive so the adjustment your first semester could be quite tough. It was hard for me to find support my first semester academically because they tell you your grades your first year are what put you in the position to receive either the best job offers or internships. Everyone is very private about their study methods and study groups so the first semester is every man for themselves. There is a lot going on, so when you are just beginning your legal education you can start to feel very overwhelmed with the change of writing style and homework. Your entire grade in most of your classes is only your final exam. That doesn’t give you much room for error because you don’t receive credit for anything else but that one exam and maybe participation.
The Unexpected: I was always told that your grades are everything and that if you are not top ten – twenty percent of your class then you won’t be able to receive the best internships or jobs. The true success in law school is having a strong network. I made sure during undergrad that I met with different attorneys in the field who had been previous partners at some of the top firms in Chicago. I also developed relationships with attorneys who worked in-house, and developed a broader network on the corporate level. They key takeaway is that grades are very important, but they do not establish the trajectory of your success.
Richard Peck University of Illinois College of Law | 2L
The Good: Being in law school is a privilege, often taken for granted. The minute students step into law school classrooms, their lives change – hopefully for the better. A new world of opportunity arises that would not have otherwise been available to them.
The Bad: Law school is extremely outdated, the teaching style and testing methods are horrible measures for success in the legal field. My work is very transactional in nature, so Law school has only taught me 10-20% of what I need in the “real world,” the rest is learned through job trainings and Continuing Legal Education (CLE) seminars. Litigators likely find it more helpful, but still yearn for more practicality in the curriculum.
The Unexpected: Networking. Networking is an, often understated, essential component of being a law student. The legal field is very much a “who you know” game and, though I was expecting to interact with a large number of attorneys, I did not know how crucial it would be to my success. I was able to secure highly sought after/paid jobs both summers leading to full time employment mainly due to relationships.
Kalima Swain The John Marshall Law School | 1L
The Good: One of the most exciting things about law school is the challenge. Law school forces you to put your best foot forward and work your hardest. Another great thing about law school is the relationships that you form and the connections that you make.
The Bad: Law school can be both exhausting and frustrating. As a full-time student, law school essentially becomes your job. But it is a job that you will put in well over 40 hours of work. Many law students dedicate between 80-90 hours a week to law school related activities. This can sometimes be frustrating because you also must find time for sleep, family, friends, and most importantly, yourself.
The Unexpected: Personally, I was not expecting to have to revamp my time management skills. Everything I thought I knew about time management went out the window. I have had to schedule time to eat, just because I needed to map out how I would be spending my time.
Justin Taylor IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law | 1L
The Good: I was skeptical entering law school, because I had taken two years off after undergrad. I thought it may take a long time for me to get back into the swing of studying. However, between orientation and my professors making themselves so available, it was seamless transition
The Bad: 1L year is a lot of work. It is not just about the reading, but also writing; learning how to research and cite, developing relationships with classmates (who will be potential resources in the future), networking with current legal professionals (to gain insight, mentorship and possible work opportunities), and applying to dozens of opportunities. Becoming a Lawyer begins day one.
The Unexpected: Practicing legal professionals are all very willing to offer advice and answer any questions you may have. Lawyers understand what it is like to be a 1L, and make a real effort to connect over coffee or lunch.
Courtney Walker Suffolk University Law School | 2L
The Good: A law degree is remarkably versatile. It opens the door to such a wide variety of practice areas and there is something for everyone.
The Bad: With so many supplements, outlines, groups, and tips, it can be easy to become overwhelmed with study resources. Recognizing that there is no one formula for studying and finding a method that works for you is key.
The Unexpected: I came to law school expecting to work hard, but what I did not expect was how invigorating I would find certain topics that seemed dry. Especially when I took the time to venture away from my studies during 1L (highly recommended, or you’ll go crazy) to lectures and panels, I found myself energized by areas I would have never imagined I would find interesting.