Five Things You’ll Learn During Law School
- Student Tips
Applying to law school is an intensive process. And while getting your acceptance letter may seem like the culmination of a long and arduous journey, it’s really only just the beginning. Up next comes law school, where you can expect to learn many things -- not all of which are directly related to the curriculum. Read on for a roundup of five unexpected things you can expect to learn while in law school.
1. Law school may not actually teach you “lawyering.”
Think you’ll learn everything you need to know to practice as a law professional during your three years in law school? Think again. Proposes the New York Times, “Law schools have long emphasized the theoretical over the useful, with classes that are often overstuffed with antiquated distinctions, like the variety of property law in post-feudal England.” As a result, continues the piece, “clients have essentially underwritten the training of new lawyers, paying as much as $300 an hour for the time of associates learning on the job.”
This is changing, however, as more firms are objecting to training associates on their own dimes. In an effort to keep pace with the changing culture, law schools are also stepping up by adding programs aimed at providing practical, real-world training.
There is good news, however: If you got into law school, you already know how to think like a lawyer. Learning how to apply that knowledge is the critical next step.
2. People will assume you know everything about the field of law.
The field of law is complex. While there’s no way to know everything about everything pertaining to the ins and outs of law -- especially if you’re in your first year of law school -- people will expect you to be the expert on all things law.
Recommended reading: How to study in law school?
3. You WILL be asked for legal advice.
But it doesn’t end with people expecting you to be a one-person law library. These same people will also come to you for legal advice. Given that you’ve still got a lot to learn, it makes sense to politely opt out when this (invariably) happens.
Thomas J. Simeone, Esq. told Law Crossing, “Even though we all want to help out a friend, it is better to say ‘I don't know’ than it is to try to help in an area where you are not sufficiently knowledgeable, make a mistake and then have to say ‘I'm sorry.’ So, if it is a serious or significant legal matter, refer them to someone else and offer to consult with them informally; while they may not like that as much as if you helped them; it will be better in the long term.”
4. You will question your choice to be a lawyer.
Law is a well-respected profession with many upsides. But there will be challenges along the way -- challenges which may rethink your decision to pursue a career in law. A tight job market, massive amounts of reading, and the competitive law school environment can make you wonder why you’re pursuing this path.
While occasional uncertainty is perfectly natural, there are some steps you can take to avoid succumbing to constant second-guessing. For starters, the decision to pursue a career in law should not be taken lightly; so before applying to law school, make sure your motivations are on point. Revisiing these motivations when you start to question your choice can help you overcome any mental hurdles.
5. Classroom discussions are not enough.
We’ve already established that most law school classrooms fail to address the practical aspects of being a lawyer. But neither do they provide all the knowledge you’ll need to be a lawyer, either.
“This is the biggest area of misunderstanding in law school. In order for you to excel in law school you must memorize, apply and dissertate the law. During class time you do not have enough time to do all three so short cuts must be taken. Professors are not teachers and they are there to provoke independent thought and as such they will only go over the application of the law as this is the most difficult area that cannot always be learned in a vacuum. You are supposed to have learned or memorized the law before you go to class,” explains the website Law School Secrets to Success.
In other words, the assigned reading is not optional or extraneous; rather, it’s very much a necessity when it comes to getting the most out of your time in the classroom.
Ultimately, there’s no way to know everything about law school before you get there. But going into your first year with open eyes -- and an open mind -- can help you get off to the very best start.
Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.