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How Hard Is Law School? 5 Differences Between Law School & Undergrad

Published August 6, 2018

It’s almost a given that law school is harder than undergrad. What makes it more difficult? How can you make law school a little bit less stressful?

1. How hard are law school classes?

Law school classes are taught differently than undergrad classes, which means some students find the courses and material more difficult to grasp.

Undergrad learning tends to focus on memorization, short-term memory, and development of critical thinking skills. Courses tend to use didactic teaching methods (instructional or lecture-oriented). The things you memorize may or may not be relevant to your major.

Law school exercises your critical thinking skills, and focuses on long-term memory recall and application of knowledge. Law courses tend to use the Socratic teaching method (self-teaching through discussion and Q&A).

Here are some things to keep in mind when moving from undergrad to law school:

  1. Everything piece of information could be relevant to a future course or case - it’s unlikely you’ll learn something and never use it again.
  2. Law students are expected to argue multiple positions, and accept that a “right” answer may not exist.

2. How hard is it to study?

Studying in law school requires a different approach than studying in undergrad. The law is extensive, and you need a comprehensive, practical understanding of the materials. It’s going to take more than memorizing notes (which is often the approach for undergrad). For many students, this makes studying in law school harder.

If you’re struggling with the material, there are options for academic assistance, including:

  • Study groups
  • Supplemental materials
  • Law library resources
  • Past exams

3. How hard is it to get good grades?

Very often, law school classes don’t provide grade-able material throughout the course. That means they’re less forgiving if you get a bad grade on the few they DO give out. You may even find that the final exam is your only grade in the class.

Further, law professors grade strictly on a curve. Grades are typically set in stone, and professors use less personal discretion in grading.

So, many law students feel it’s much harder to get good grades in law school than in undergrad. Grades also matter more in law school, since your employer may review individual grades as well as overall GPA.

4. How hard is it to participate & perform well in class?

It’s more work just to show up in law school. Dress and hygiene expectations are higher. The atmosphere is highly competitive - law school is chock-full of intelligent, driven, strong-willed people. It takes more effort to stand out in that crowd.

Get in the habit of dressing and acting like an attorney, for a few reasons:

  1. You never know who may show up to your classes. Your next employer could very well be watching the school for potential talent.
  2. Success is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you dress like a lawyer and act like a lawyer, it’s easier for you and others to see yourself as a lawyer.

5. How hard is it to BE a law student?

Anxiety is a part of law student life. So is coffee (or your caffeine source of choice). Anxiety + caffeine are a bad combination, so make sure you also have a relaxation method to balance yourself out.

Many law school students are also working and commuting rather than living on campus. That means less free time and more stress to get everything done in one day.

You may need to re-prioritize your life, at least while you’re in law school. Make sure your family, friends, partner, and job are aware of your new schedule and needs.

Last but not least, remember to factor in some getaway time to keep yourself sane. Self-care is an underappreciated secret for law school success!

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