A first year law student can expect many new challenges in law school compared to their undergraduate experience, which can be broken into three main categories of differences.
1) The Classroom: Law school classes are very different compared to undergraduate classes. At your undergraduate institution you probably experienced a classroom setting that was either: i) lecture based, where the professor would present the information to the students and it was the responsibility of the students to record the information and ask the professor questions; ii) discussion based (usually in smaller classes) where the professor would basically sit down and have a conversation with the students. Law school classes are completely different because most law school professors utilize some form of Socratic method of questioning. Socratic seminar is covered on another page of Become-a-Lawyer.com, (see Socratic Method) however to summarize the professor will ask the students questions which may seem to border on an interrogation. The professor has a seating chart with everyone’s name (you sit in the same seat all semester), and the professor refers to the seating chart to call upon a student to answer questions. The length of “attention” a professor gives a student varies upon the professor and the topic of the day.
2) Grades: At your undergraduate university your grades were most likely based on numerous tests, quizzes and a midterm/final exam. The benefit being you are constantly reminded of your progress during the school year, so that you can calibrate and work harder in weaker subjects. This is not the case in law school: Your grade will likely be based on only one final exam. Further, the grading system in most of the first year classes (see Lawyer Education) requires a mandatory curve… i.e. the professor is only permitted to give a certain percentage of A’s, B’s, C’s, and IS REQUIRED TO GIVE A CERTAIN PERCENTAGE OF D’S AND F’S. The mathematical differences between an A and a D can be a few mere points if the professor has an easy exam.
3) The work: The type of work in law school will also be vastly different from the work you completed for your undergraduate classes. Law schools generally use the case analysis method to teach law students, which basically means you will be assigned to read a certain number of legal cases for each class assignment. Understanding what a court is trying to say in a case can be difficult and compared to learning a new language (or perhaps another version of written English). Further, some of these cases are over a hundred years old which increases the difficulty of complete comprehension. The best comparison I can provide would be to reading Shakespeare in high school… It is certainly English, but you will have to slow down and read the text several times.
But overall do not let being a first year law student intimidate you! The most fearsome obstacle you will face is in your head… Fear and questioning your commitment to law school are far more destructive than any professor, law school class, or law school exam. You will adjust to all of the above factors of the first year law student in a matter of weeks… You can do ANYTHING!
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