If you don’t know what your first year of law school is going to be like, you should probably read “One L,” by Scott Turow. However, until you get the chance, read on.
Your first year law school classes are likely going to be one of the most difficult experiences you’ve ever had in a school setting.
Hey, I’m not going to sugar coat things for you.
I like to think about it as a meat grinder. It filters out the students who can’t take it, and then, the rest of the students get ground up and beat with a meat tenderizer. At the end of it, once you make it through, you’re a completely different person.
Just about everything in your mental makeup gets changed. The way you look at problems, think about life. You can’t help it. You start to think like a lawyer.
The Socratic Method
This is probably one of the scariest parts about going to law school. While lots of law school faculty are moving away from the high pressure kind of Socratic method you’ll read about in the book I mentioned, most, if not all, law school professors use the Socratic method in one way or another.
The Socratic method is easy enough to understand. The professor will call out a student at random and grill them about something they were supposed to have read. It involves the person getting called by name, and asked a bunch of questions. The biggest catch is that you don’t know who is going to be called. It’s one of the ways the faculty try to ensure compliance with the daily reading assignments.
I don’t really do this justice, but the experience is stressful for sure. Meanwhile, the professors get a kick out of it. It’s as if they are inflicting as much pain as possible on their students as revenge for all the stress and anxiety they felt when they were the law students.
One Test to Rule them All
If there was anything that was more stressful than getting hammered by professors in the classroom, it was the final exams.
Final exams in law school aren’t like your undergraduate exams. For the most part, your entire grade for a particular class will depend entirely on how you perform on the one final exam.
Oh, and that exam is graded on a curve. The top handful of students will get an A, the vast majority of the students will get Bs, and the bottom 10 to 15 students will get Cs, Ds, and Fs.
You won’t have any assignments, really. If you do, they will still only make up about 10-20 percent of your overall grade.
You get the entire semester to listen to you professor, and then a week or more to study for your exam. It’s rough, but not impossible.
What will you be tested on? Here’s a quick overview of the most first year law school classes you can start looking forward to.
For a more exhaustive explanation on torts, read this article. Torts is the law of negligence. It deals with people doing things, usually really dumb things, and how they can be held liable for their actions. It also deals with people intentionally causing some kind of harm to another. Those things are called intentional torts.
Every single negligence case has four elements. (1) Duty; (2) Breach; (3) Causation; and (4) damages. It might seem foreign right now, but believe me, those four things will be so ingrained in your memory by the end of the first year you will never, ever forget them.
Contracts is pretty straightforward. It’s the law about making deals. In a nutshell, it deals with an offer, acceptance of the offer, and then this thing called consideration. (Consideration is an exchange of one thing, for something of value.)
Once a contract is formed, it becomes binding, and if a party doesn’t perform, then there’s a breach. You’ll also cover ways to get out of a contract, and what kinds of remedies are available.
You will also have to study the Uniform Commercial Code, which deals with contracts for the sale of goods.
Here is a good primer on Civil Procedure. Civil Procedure is the law governing how civil cases are litigated. There’s the pre-trial section, with stuff like jurisdiction, venue, and discovery. Then there’s the actual trial. Finally, it covers judgments and appeals.
While the Uniform Commercial Code has a bunch of rules you’ll need to memorize, nothing in law school (except for maybe immigration law) even comes close the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. There’s a rule for everything, and for good reason. If you can get good at the rules of civil procedure, you will be one step up on most other litigators out there.
When you jump into property, you’re going to be jumping into a bunch of different things. Property is basically any law dealing with property. That means you’re going to cover basic conveyances of property, real and personal, adverse possession (which is essentially a way to legally take land from another person) mortgages, and estates. You’ll also cover landlord/tenant issues, and assignment contracts.
When I took this class, I felt like my professor, bless her heart, was trying to overload my brain with new information every single time I stepped into the room. It was like trying to fill a dixie cup with a fire hose …
Criminal law was probably one of my favorite classes. I got to learn cool sounding Latin words like mens rea and actus reus. I spent a week on this murder case called Dudley and Stevens (which involved a shipwrecked crew at sea who drew straws to see which crew member they would eat first). It was an amazingly entertaining class.
You’ll study all kinds of crimes against the person, like assault and battery, and murder. You’ll also study crimes against property, like trespass, burglary, larceny, and conversion.
Finally, you’ll get to study attempted crimes, and criminal conspiracy. You might be surprised to find out that people who are just bad at committing crimes, are held to the same standard as people who actually complete the crimes.
Constitutional law, or Con Law (for short), is exactly that. It’s the study of the Constitution, and the powers it gives to the government. You’ll get to study the powers of the legislature, president, and the courts. Then, you’ll get into the bill of rights, and the amendments to the constitution.
You’ll really dig into how statutes and other laws are reviewed for Constitutionality, and why we do things the way we do them.
Finally, you get into individual rights and liberties, and how they are protected and preserved. These would be things like the right to privacy and the freedoms of speech and religion. You might get into the right to bear arms, or the right to vote.
At then end of the day, hopefully you come away with a better understanding of how the country works, which is definitely a good thing.
Finally, you’re going to take some kind of legal methods class. This class will be your first exposure to actually practicing law, at least in law school. You’re going to learn how to research the law and how to argue it. This is the only first year class you’ll have that doesn’t have a huge final exam at the end of it. Your final for the first semester will be a legal memorandum, while your final for the second semester will probably be an appeal brief, and then an oral argument.
You’ll come away from this class with a much better grasp on the English language, and hopefully better able to speak authoritatively on a subject.
While many consider the first year to be a living hell, it does its job well. It definitely won’t be easy. However, it will set the tone for the rest of your legal career.