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Embrace the Change—Law School vs. Undergrad

Andrew Stephen Kryder

Embrace the Change—Law School vs. Undergrad

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At this point, I am sure you have heard countless times just how different law school is from your undergraduate studies. However, it’s also important to point out that knowing law school is more challenging doesn’t make the transition less scary.

Change may be necessary, but it can be uncomfortable as well. One of the easiest ways to help prepare for this transition is to be proactive to alleviate as much uncertainty and confusion as possible. Learn what to expect before law school to soften the blow. The following points are some of the major differences between undergrad and law school and advice on navigating these new challenges.

Law School Professors—A New Style

One of the first major differences between law school versus undergrad is how professors teach the curriculum. In college, you may be used to the professor giving a lecture, assigning chapters to read, and then giving a test on the material. In law school, professors commonly use the Socratic method to teach students. Highlights of this method include:

  • Cold calling on students to answer law and case questions
  • Students are self-teaching as they use critical thinking
  • The real application of knowledge by using examples and relevant cases

The Socratic method challenges students and takes them beyond simply memorizing terms and facts. The questions given are purposely difficult and designed to help students think in new ways and creatively apply what they are learning. It will take some time to adjust to this new method, but you can prepare by doing the following:

  • Practice viewing questions from multiple perspectives
  • Learn how to incorporate relevant examples into your answers
  • Get used to ambiguous answers, as everything is not straightforward

Class Layouts—No Longer Traditional

The general structure of a typical class is another difference between undergrad and law school. In undergrad, it is common to see multiple homework assignments, three or more exams, and essays given throughout the year. While some things stay the same, such as taking exams, law school introduces more structural changes such as:

  • Increased amounts of reading daily (50+ pages a night is normal)
  • Writing case summaries instead of essays
  • Using casebooks instead of textbooks, for the most part
  • Mandatory participation

Another concept primarily used in law school to analyze writing is “IRAC,” which is essentially how a lawyer should think and approach cases, so it is practiced often within the classroom. IRAC stands for Issue, Rule, Analysis, and Conclusion:

  • Issue—what is the main problem?
  • Rule—what is the correct law/rule to apply?
  • Analysis—break down the problem
  • Conclusion—find a solution and the next steps

Study Tips—Revisions to Your Strategies

When it comes to studying, law school requires a significantly higher level of effort when compared with undergrad programs. Incoming students should understand that they will most likely not get an A during their first year. The exams are on a strict grading curve that is not usually applied in the later years of law school. This warning is not meant to discourage you but rather to provide information on how grading typically happens in law school.

You probably developed your own personal style for studying and retaining information throughout your undergrad. Studying in law school may look different for the following reasons:

  • The overall workload is more intense and is often compared to a full-time job
  • Homework assignments and quizzes are scarce, which means exams are typically the main source of grades
  • Developing the ability to apply concepts in the real world requires learning to practice this way

Now that you know why more studying is required for law school, the question comes up of how to study. Studying will become a balance of knowing your style but adjusting to the school’s environment. For example, if you are a visual learner, you can study by writing out facts or pictures on a board to help break down a case summary. There are a few things to keep in mind when you transition to learning how to study in law school:

  • Use your school’s resources for academic help before you start feeling behind or confused
  • Create or join a study group to have a dedicated place to share ideas and apply what you learn in class
  • Trying to cram in law school will not work, as a deep knowledge of the topic is required—you cannot just use memorization
  • Focus on building up analytical skills, as you will need them in law school

Looking Forward

It will take time to adjust to the differences in law school, and it will take practice to implement these new changes. The first step you can take is learning about these differences and try to incorporate the strategies before you go to law school. Staying ahead can help make this transition easier and less uncomfortable.