Published May 12, 2023
Before you step foot into a law school you may have already been told a variety of different generalizations: “law school is hard”, “there’s so much reading”, etc. But what differences truly exist between law school and undergraduate studies? To dive deeper into the law school experience, we spoke with a current first-year law student, Theresa Lee ’25, about what future law students should expect, and what is expected of them.
Understanding the unique traits of the 1L experience can help students familiarize themselves with law school, the unique challenges that come with it, and what will be expected should they pursue it. In addition, though many may already have success strategies and study methods, the same tools may not be as beneficial in law school.
To get a first-hand account of the differences between undergrad and law school we spoke to Theresa Lee, a first-year law student. Theresa is both a first generation American and college student and holds a bachelor’s degree in political science.
From my law school experience, most of the reading and writing for class is theoretical and information heavy. Law school exercises a student’s critical thinking skills and focuses on ensuring that they can both retain information and apply it through a legal lens. Perhaps the largest difference that was hard for me to comprehend was that there is no right or wrong answer in law school because it is expected of students to identify and argue multiple positions. A simple yes or no answer may not exist, and that is okay.
Generally, the transition from undergraduate studies to doctrinal classes is rocky the first few weeks of law school because students need to learn new study habits and adjust to the coursework. However, it is doable! Much of the reading assigned in law school comes from casebooks, which are a collection of legal cases and decisions. Class time will be dedicated to dissecting the law and understanding why the courts decided to apply this application of law over another. Therefore, it is essential that students complete the assigned readings. The further you progress through your readings and class, the more you adjust to the coursework.
Lastly, the writing in law classes is far different than the writing across other academic disciplines: legal writing is expected to be straightforward and authoritative. The School of Law requires students to complete a year-long course in Legal Analysis, Writing & Research which aids law students in developing these necessary writing skills.
Law professors will continue to have different styles of teaching and exam application: some might supplement classes with PowerPoints and others may follow a Socratic method of teaching (a conversationalist style of teaching where the professor will lead with questions to stimulate our critical thinking skills). However, professors don’t have a lot of assignments that contribute to a grade percentage, which differed greatly from my undergraduate experience. Oftentimes, the grade for a course consists of the final exam, a midterm exam, and participation. Students may even find that the final exam is their only grade for a class. Like undergrad, I’ve found that if I stay on top of the readings, engage with the material and utilize study aids, I am able to succeed on these examinations.
At UB Law my experience has certainly been more hands-on. The student population of the law school is small, and the staff are there to assist students. Very quickly, law students get to meet each other, as we are divided into “cohorts” which we follow through our first-year studies. In this, student life is not limited to simply clubs and organizations but is an active part of the classroom. Additionally, there are many clubs and organizations in the law school, which, while different, engage students in their common interests and provide ways to spend time with other students outside of the classroom. These organizations host a variety of events, both formal, and casual, that can also lead to a great number of networking opportunities (which are limited in undergraduate studies).
I think law school is a truly unique experience because we are all engaging in the same coursework and interests. Everyone here has experienced what it's like to be a first-year student and what it means to be a law student. This shared experience leads students to become a lot closer to their peers and creates camaraderie. Students try to support each other in their own little ways, and I think the sense of community and constant support makes law school different than what many have experienced in their undergraduate studies.
While law school may be very different in comparison to undergraduate study, these differences are deliberate, and created for the success of future lawyers. Through these unique programs law students adapt their skills and cognitions while simultaneously learning about the law and its application; a not so simple feat, but an impressive and necessary one for those passionate about the law. From learning these skills, to working alongside professors and making lifelong friends: your law school journey will be meaningful and transformative.
Take additional steps to learning more about these differences by visiting law schools that interest you. Taking a tour or sitting in on a class are opportunities that allow you to see these differences firsthand.