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Student Lawyer

Student Essentials

Law School Stepping Stones

Kaitlyn Hyun and Anika Maan


  • You’re in good company if you walked into law school without knowing all the key stepping stones that will appear before you. This timeline is meant to give you an idea of common timeframes for important milestones.
Law School Stepping Stones
Kagenmi via iStock

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Has this happened to you? You’re in your school library, and someone says to you, “Hey, have you begun . . .”—whatever it is that all law students do at this time of the year, but this is the first you’re hearing of it!

Fear not. You’re in good company if you walked into law school without knowing all the key stepping stones that will appear before you in your law school journey.

If you’re a pre-law student or 1L, don’t worry too much about this yet. This timeline will simply give you an idea of what’s coming up ahead. If you’re in law school or in a part-time program, don’t get stressed out if your timing looks different; this is meant to give you an idea of common time frames for important milestones.


Rest and recharge. You’re probably not going to be able to prepare that much, so please simply enjoy your time before you start school.

You can read books like Getting to Maybe or Law School Confidential, along with news, blogs, and journal articles to get into the mindset of reading. If you want extra preparation, take Harvard’s Zero-L course [], but again, don’t worry about preparing too much!


From the beginning, seek to build relationships with professors. They’re probably great, interesting people, but also in case you need letters of recommendation or references down the road.

October–November: Start outlining

An outline is essentially a study guide for the final exam. It incorporates reading notes, cases you read, and other learning from class.

Before you outline, learn how to brief cases (basically summarizing the key points).

Start creating outlines for your core, exam-based classes around mid-October to early November.

November–December: Take practice exams

Ask your professors if they can release old exams, or check your library to see if previous exams are on file.

November–April: Submit summer internship applications

You’ll usually need a one-page resume, a cover letter personalized to the position you’re applying to, a writing sample (typically something you wrote in legal writing class), and a transcript.

Practice interview questions, and find out what resources you can get from your career center. Some law school jobs, like firm summer associate positions, have interviews different than any you’ve experienced before. They’ll ask you questions about you, not just your work experience. Try to prepare with someone who has been through the process.

May–August: If you can, work a 1L legal summer job


2L and 3L years get busier because you may try to “write on” to get onto a journal during your 1L summer, serve on a journal, participate in such competitions as moot court, or join a clinic, such as a legal aid clinic, or another program that provides hands-on experience helping clients.

May–September: 2L BigLaw firms job applications and on-campus interviewing

OCI is when law firms and other employers visit law schools to interview students for summer and post-graduate employment. If you’re interested in BigLaw, start applying early, both directly to firms and through your school’s career office.

August–February: 2L public interest job applications and OCI

Public interest provides representation to historically underrepresented groups. These types of jobs include think tanks, nonprofits, government agencies, and public defender and district attorney offices.

January–May: 3L externship applications

Externships are experiential law-related placements outside school, and students can get credit for them. You generally apply directly to outside organizations, but your career office may have a list of organizations and positions that generally accept students from your school.

April–August: Register and prepare for the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination

The MPRE is a two-hour, 60-question multiple-choice exam that’s required for admission to almost all bars (passing scores vary based on the jurisdiction). It tests professional conduct and ethics. Your required professional responsibility course should help you prepare.

May–August: If you can, work a 2L legal summer job


August–November: Take the MPRE

It’s typically offered in March, August, and November.

August–February: Clerkships and post-grad job applications

A clerkship is a prestigious job in which you work for a judge, typically for one or two years.

Some people get return offers from their 2L summer firm jobs but don’t worry if you don’t.

May–August: Prepare for the bar exam

Decide which state you want to take it in. Some states use the Uniform Bar Exam, and others are state-specific.

The UBE is a two-day exam with three parts that include multiple-choice questions and essays.

Most people take bar prep courses, which range in cost from $500 to $2,500. But there are sometimes opportunities to get free bar prep through raffles, being a bar prep company representative, or through your future firm. If you put down a deposit or buy the bar prep package earlier on in law school, it’s often cheaper.

July: Take the bar exam

Many people take it in the summer, but you can choose instead to take it in the February before you graduate.

Remember, law school is a marathon, not a sprint. Even if you feel “behind” others, that doesn’t mean you are, nor does it mean you won’t be able to finish. People who start off sprinting can burn out. Pace yourself as you trek through these three years.