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Top Four Tips for Studying Law in the United States

  • Student Tips
Joanna HughesMar 10, 2016

So you’re thinking of studying law in the United States, but you’re not sure what to expect. The truth is that while it’s wise to anticipate a learning curve anytime you begin a new experience, the right planning is essential to a positive experience. These four tips are designed to help international students navigate the challenges of attending American law school in order to realize their academic and career goals.

1. Know What to Expect

If you’re just starting to consider law studies in the United States, be prepared for a rigorous application process. While domestic applicants are busy with LSAT scores and personal statements, international applicants have these things to think about and more too, including everything from degree compatibility to where to take the LSAT. These additional considerations involve extra legwork, but they’re not insurmountable. The more you understand the international law school application process, the smoother your experience will be.

Exercising due diligence doesn’t just apply to the application process. Once you’ve been accepted at and chosen a law school, familiarizing yourself with the curriculum can help you best position yourself for academic success.

While the specifics may vary depending on the school, law students in the U.S. can typically expect to spend their first year gaining a foundation of American law, while the second year may involve applying this foundational knowledge to real-world situations, including Moot Court and Law Review. During the final, third year, students typically take electives aimed at deciding on an area of practice, preparing for the bar exam and looking for jobs.

One last thing to keep in mind about U.S. law schools. Most practice the Socratic Method, which means classes aren’t mere lectures but instead emphasize student-teacher dialogue. Expect to be called upon in class, and commit to being an active participant. While this may be harder for international students for whom English is a second language, doing so will help you acquire invaluable critical thinking skills as well as acclimate faster -- both to the law school setting and to the language itself.

2. Conquer Your Coursework

No one will tell you that law school is easy, but international students may face some additional obstacles. Embracing best practices can help you stay ahead of the curve.

Begin by setting a study schedule aimed at realistically accommodating the amount of time you’ll need to fulfill law school expectations. Keep up with all reading, attend classes, and regularly take and review notes. Practice tests, meanwhile, are one of the best ways to assess what to expect when exam time arrives.

But this is just the bare minimum. Many students find that preparing their own outlines for their law school classes can help them best make sense of the information while also serving as effective review materials in the future.

Also, take advantage of additional resources whenever possible, such as academic review sessions and workshops sponsored by the academic achievement office.

3. Build A Network

From reaching out to professors and teaching assistants to forming study groups with your classmates, taking the time to build your network is an important part of professional development and personal fulfillment.

Yes, law school can seem cutthroat and competitive, but it doesn’t have to be a solitary pursuit. By pulling your brain power with others you’ll maximize your learning potential while gaining additional benefits, such as honing your English skills and gaining a broader world view.

Not to mention that making and nurturing connections during law school doesn’t just make the experience easier, it also makes it more fun!

4. Plan for the Bar

If you intend to practice law in the United States, your work isn’t done with graduation. Taking and passing the bar in the state where you plan to practice is an essential part of the equation. In addition to taking advantage of all of the bar preparation classes and resources offered by your school, plan to set aside extra time following graduation to study for the bar.

If you’re not planning on practicing law in the U.S., passing the bar is still a valuable enterprise. Foreign employers recognize bar credentials as an accomplishment which demonstrates comprehensive understanding of U.S. law.

With the American legal system’s rich and fascinating history, it’s no surprise that students from all over the world aspire to study, live and practice law in the United States. These four tips offer an inside edge toward not just surviving but thriving during your international law school experience.

Joanna Hughes

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.