Five First Year of Law School Myths and How to Defeat Them

first year of law school 5 First Year of Law School Myths and How to Defeat Them

There are a lot of rumors swirling around out there about just how terrible the first year of law school is.  Pop culture portrayals only give these myths more power.  The truth?  It’s not as bad as that!  While the first year of law school is very challenging, it is manageable with the right attitude and effort.  If you are approaching the start of your 1L year, try not to put too much stock into what you see on TV or the big screen.  Be prepared to work hard, but don’t let rumors scare you!

5 First Year of Law School Myths and How to Defeat Them

Here are a five common myths about the first year of law school and what the reality is really like:

1. The first year of law school isn’t impossible, just different.

More than anything, the first year of law school presents an adjustment period.  You’re probably accustomed to a certain method of education for most of your life.  Law school will require you to change your approach.  No more periodic quizzes or exams that you can use to boost your grade.  Papers will be virtually non-existent, except for legal research and writing.  Now you just have one final (in most classes) that will comprise your entire grade.  Starting day 1, everything you do prepares you for end-of-semester exams.  And in regard to homework, you can choose to do it or not (just like college).  But, unlike in college, professors will call on you.  Depending on the professor’s method, this could happen frequently.  So you need to prepare for every class.

Absolutely none of this is impossible.  You just need to adjust your mindset.  Focus on your daily preparation.  Move steadily through the material and recognize that a dedicated effort throughout the semester will pay off at the end.

2. Your professors don’t want you to fail.

Horror stories abound over how awful the professors are during the first year of law school.  It’s even a pop culture theme, with TV shows and movies depicting them as evil or heartless.  While law school professors are tougher and much more no-nonsense than college ones, they are not out to get you.  They just want you to recognize the rigors of the profession and to evaluate whether this is the path for you.  There’s no yelling and screaming, and they won’t incessantly berate you if you get a wrong answer.

However, there’s no coddling.  They let you know their expectations right away.  If you aren’t prepared, they will make sure you know that you need to do better.  But they don’t want you to fail.  Many will give others the opportunity to help you if you don’t know the answer when called on.  They will lead you down the right path.  And they will be some of the greatest resources and mentors you’ve ever had.  It is important to approach the first year of law school not being afraid of the professors.  They are not the enemy.

3. You can still have a social life.

The first year of law school is incredibly time consuming.  That doesn’t mean you have to ignore everyone else in your life.  Once you get into a rhythm and understand what it takes to prepare for each day, you can work a few social activities into your schedule.  If you’re looking to be able to party non-stop every weekend, then law school probably isn’t for you.  Law school requires that it become priority number one.  But there is no reason that you can’t go out occasionally with your friends.

You’ll probably learn that working too far ahead in a class isn’t a good idea since you need the material to be fresh in your mind for class.  So maybe Friday night would be a good time to go out to dinner or do a fun activity.  Just realize that even though the first year of law school is a huge commitment, you don’t have to eliminate your social life entirely. (Read an article here about how to take a day off a week in law school!) We also have an article here about the benefits of study breaks.

4. There will likely still be a friendly, supportive atmosphere.

It is a common perception that the first year of law school is cutthroat and competitive beyond belief.  That students refuse to interact or be friends with each other because of said competition.  Even sabotaging each other to get ahead.  Now this might occur to some extent.  You’ve assembled a group of people that are accustomed to being the best at everything they do.   So things could be a little icy.  But this is certainly not the case at most schools.

Once you get to law school, you realize there are strength in numbers.  Only the people in your class truly understand what you are going through.  That forms a bond.  You will need a social circle to get you through.  Law school is no fun, and much more difficult, in isolation.  Thus you’ll likely find that people are too nervous to be that cutthroat and competitive.  It won’t be too hard to find a social circle, as everyone really isn’t out to get you.

5. You can beat the curve.

Learning about the law school curve is a scary thing.  In your 1L classes, a set number of people will get A’s, a set number will get B’s, and so on.  Therefore, your grade is relative to the success of everyone else.  It can sound a little intimidating!  But recognize something important: you are compared to your peers. So you are not compared to a “perfect” answer necessarily. You are compared to what others write.  The curve in the first year of law school shouldn’t scare you.  In fact, it will probably work to your advantage!

If you are an incoming first year law student and looking for more advice, check out our five tips for starting law school and our five steps to take if you are worried about starting law school.

Laura Sigler, a  JD Advising bar exam essay grader, who graduated cum laude from Wayne State University Law School wrote this post.

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Ashley Heidemann is the owner and founder of JD Advising. Ms. Heidemann scored over a 180 on the Michigan Bar Exam in February of 2011 after graduating as the #1 student in her law school class of over 200 students in 2011. She, as well as a team of others, offer bar exam courses, seminars, and private tutoring for bar exam students nationwide. This includes services for the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) and Michigan bar exam.  Please click here to contact her company, with any questions.