Published August 6, 2018
Updated November 1, 2023
You may have heard that law school is more challenging than undergrad — and while that is true for most students, what exactly makes it so difficult? But even more important, what can you do to make it more manageable? Take a look at these three areas to help understand the jump in difficulty when starting your law school journey.
Most students find law school more challenging than undergrad for a variety of reasons, including a more demanding course load and the need to apply knowledge acquired over time. These go hand in hand with a variety of new teaching methods.
Learning at the undergraduate level tends to focus on memorization, short-term memory, and the development of critical thinking skills. Undergraduate courses also favor the use of didactic teaching methods (instructional or lecture-oriented).
Law school requires students to tap into their critical thinking and analytical skills, focusing on long-term memory recall and application of knowledge. Law faculty often use the Socratic and case teaching methods (self-teaching through discussion and Q&A).
Two things to keep in mind when transitioning to law school:
Many law schools grade on a curve, meaning the grade you earn is relative to the performance of your classmates. This could make getting good grades far more challenging than it was at the undergraduate level since you are competing against your peers, all of whom demonstrated the work ethic and academic achievement necessary for law school admission.
Additionally, some professors do not offer midterms or other graded materials throughout the semester. In this case, your final exam grade will make up most — if not all — of your final semester grade, putting pressure to excel on just one test. For the first time ever, you might not have a good idea of how you are doing in class throughout the semester, which can be unsettling.
Finally, first-year grades may determine one’s eligibility for other opportunities, such as Law Review and competitive private practice jobs. Some employers place high importance on law school GPA and may even request and review individual course grades during the interview process.
Law school is rigorous, and it is not unusual for students to receive grades that are less than what they were accustomed to at the undergraduate level. Let this serve as motivation to develop effective law school study habits that will allow you to earn the strongest grades possible.
There is a tremendous amount of material to cover in a short amount of time. A typical first-year law student can expect to read 60-100 pages of case material for each class meeting. Keeping up with the oftentimes intimidating workload, and the stress that comes with it is one of the toughest challenges in law school.
Studying in law school requires a different approach than studying in undergrad. The law is extensive, and your goal is to acquire a comprehensive, practical understanding of the materials. It is going to take more than memorizing notes, a popular approach for undergraduates. For many law students, this makes studying in law school quite time-consuming.
But don’t worry just yet! As long as you attend every class, build a schedule that gives you enough time to read, summarize, and outline cases, and prepare yourself for the new legal teaching methods, you will be in a good position to succeed. And don’t forget to take advantage of academic resources, study groups, and faculty office hours.
Successful students treat law school like a full-time job and re-prioritize other commitments, so they do not fall behind. They also factor in time for themselves, whether that is exercising, going to a movie, or visiting with friends and family. Self-care is an underappreciated secret for law school success.
Law school is hard but with the right motivation, time management skills, and consistency you can and will make it to the finish line!