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What is law school...like?

Ellie7Ellie7 145 replies46 threads Junior Member
edited December 2009 in Law School
This is probably a silly question, but I was wondering what actual classes are like at law school?
I really know nothing about it, I'm trying to get a picture together in my mind.

What would an average day be like?
edited December 2009
25 replies
Post edited by Ellie7 on
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Replies to: What is law school...like?

  • drusbadrusba 9672 replies21 threads Senior Member
    Assume that you have three classes tomorrow, contracts, torts, and criminal law. Today you spent three hours reading and trying to understand about 12 pages in your contracts casebook, which is a book with shortened versions of actual appellate court cases each followed by a lot of questions that make you think about what you just read. It took three hours because it is like trying to stir concrete with your eyes. You keep reading trying to understand what the case is trying to tell about certain things, called "elements" (it is starting to sound like chemistry), of a contract. You think you understand something but you are not sure and read it again, and again, and again. Finally after three hours you think you got it. Your 're ready.

    Then you spend three hours doing the same thing with your torts casebook, and after that three hours on criminal law. You go to get something to eat after that and continuously think about everything you just read making sure you understand it. It is now 1 a.m. and you finally go to bed.

    Next morning you walk into contracts, your first class. There are 70 other people in the classroom with you. All were stellar college students and had 3.6 GPAs or above and great LSAT scores. All wizzed through college like it was easy. All just did what you did the day before.

    Enter the professor. He begins the class by calling on someone and starts to ask questions. He gives no answers but just keeps asking questions trying to see what the student understood and whether the student can apply it to hypotheticals that are similar to the case in the casebook. The first student called on, who had a 3.8 college GPA and a 170 LSAT, struggles with the answers, the prof keeps following each wrong answer with another question and then flips to another student. The torture begins anew. This one had a 3.8 college GPA and a 172 LSAT, and mentioned the 2400 SAT she had for admission to college. The prof asks questions and she struggles, the prof moves closer and keeps hammering. The student keeps trying to come up with an answer and then mumbles something. The prof says if you are going to be a lawyer you better speak up. She gives another answer. The prof asks, ascerbically, didn't you read the material? Yes, she stammers. The prof says, well you must not be able to read very well. You can see a tear coming out of the corner of her eye. The prof flips to another student ... the hour continues. You sit praying that he does not call on you because after the first five minutes of questioning you realize that you did not understand anything about what you read the day before, and you look around and you can tell the whole class is in the same position you are, except some are even more lost than you are, staring off into space with a deer in the headlight look.

    The class finally ends and you go to torts and the same thing happens, and then to criminal law and it happens again.

    Next day you have property and legal wrting. You spend the three hours reading the property casebook. For legal writing, a two hour course, you begin to do legal research, meaning looking through cases in the library or on-line (with one of the search system companies called Lexis or Westlaw). For that two hour class you will be doing legal research and preparing a five page memorandum of the law on a theorectical case that you have been given. You will have about five weeks to complete that short five page paper. In that five weeks, for that measly two hour course, you will spend about 75 hours doing research and another 40 writing and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting that paper. On weekends you prepare for Monday but also go back and try to figure out all the things you covered during the week (and the weeks before) and still don't understand. You read hornbooks, dissertations of the law, which you hope will help you understand what is in the casbooks. You get lost in a world where you spend 14 hours studying on Sat and then the same on Sunday and you never realize you are even working at it for that many hours. You start to dream about the law. Your conversations with your classmates are only about the law and cases you are studying. Your only release is Friday nights when you and several of your classmates head for a bar after the last class and get bombed for the next six hours.

    You go through the semester like that. You understand nothing the first week, you understand nothing the second week, you understand nothing the third week. You come to the realization that law school is to college like college is to kindergarten. And then about the fourth or fifth week, if you are one of those who will make it, you have an eureka momemt and suddenly you understand what you were doing in the first week. For those that don't have that revelation? Well, they start to disappear.

    As the semester progresses, you write another paper, and continue the daily torture but you are consumed in it and you actually start to understand and your understanding starts catching up so that by the last week of classes you are actually understanding much of the material contemporaneously.

    Then you get ready for finals in all classes except legal writing where your papers during the semester are your grade. For the other classes, you have no grade up to that point. There have been no tests. There have been no quizzes with grades to give you feedback. You really have no idea entering the finals whether you have any chance of passing. You start studying so much that you debate with yourself as to whether you should sleep. For the final exam in each course, an essay test although some throw in a few multiple choice, you get a number to put on the exam and take it anonomously so the prof doesn't know whom he is grading. Each test is three hours. The questions are hypothetical factual situations that you have to analyze and figure out which legal principles you have learned apply and then apply that law to the facts and provide conclusions. That exam for each course is your grade. It is the only thing that makes up your grade for the whole semester. You walk out of each exam and overhear discussions by others about the exam and start hearing things that you did not put in your answer. You spend the three to four weeks after the exams waiting for your grades with great trepidation. Then they come, and, if you are lucky, you put away those thoughts you were having about moving on to some other kind of career path.
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  • GreybeardGreybeard 2328 replies27 threads Senior Member
    I can't say that I enjoyed law school, but it wasn't quite as bad as Drusba's description.

    Hardly anyone "disappeared" from my class. Probably 98% of those who started finished. And any professor who made a really acerbic comment to a student would have experienced the sound of a roomful of people hissing their disapproval. Dismissive comments by professors were much more subtle than that. A professor moving quickly to another student feels dismissive enough.

    Looking back over the decades, what I find most striking about my law school experience is now long it would take me then to do something I can accomplish in a far shorter period of time now. I labored for weeks over my moot court brief; a comparable project now would take an effort measured in hours, not days or weeks.

    My lingering distaste for the Socratic method still makes me wonder about whether it's the best method for creating lawyers. I think I learned a lot more by doing detailed legal research for actual cases I was handling, coupled with a modicum of mentoring from experienced attorneys.
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  • RSBuletzRSBuletz 397 replies6 threads Member
    ...and then there's viewing "The Paper Chase". I'm sure a lot has changed since 1973, but still an enjoyable 2 hours.
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  • bluedevilmikebluedevilmike 11870 replies94 threads Senior Member
    This sounds essentially nothing like my law school experience except for the names of the classes. I'll try to write a little more on my flight later today.
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  • hellojanhellojan 1546 replies86 threads Senior Member
    I've heard it's like a warm apple pie.
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  • bluedevilmikebluedevilmike 11870 replies94 threads Senior Member
    On Monday, I usually wake up around 9:40 and scramble to get to Property class by 10:00 AM. I usually stumble in around when Tom Merrill is just getting started. Merrill wrote the textbook (and has been featured in The West Wing), and he's a great prof. Once every three weeks, I'm "on call" for that day. drusba sort of gives the structure of this, but it's not nearly that humiliating. For one thing, Merrill is obviously a very nice guy. For another, the questions aren't nearly that bad -- the textbook does a great job of explaining things, and if you're a little bit lost Merrill will help you through it. If he tries to call on somebody who has skipped class or who simply says, "Sorry, Professor, I didn't do the reading," he looks a little disappointed but not angry. Around 11 AM, Merrill gives us a ten-minute break, and then class ends at noon.

    I try to stay on top of my reading, especially if I'm on call that class. It's about thirty pages per night, which would normally take me about an hour to read pretty well. I manage to do about half of the reading; it's not ideal, but it's not a terrible ratio either. I'm probably slightly below average on this one, but not by a lot.

    For the next hour and a half, I grab a piece of pizza from the cafeteria and hang out with friends. The cafeteria itself is usually abuzz with folks, and I can usually find classmates there to hang out with. If not, I wander over to the student lounge, where a bunch of my classmates will be entertained or outraged over whatever is on the big-screen version of CNN playing. It always makes good fodder, since my classmates invariably are fascinating folks who have experience or knowledge of relatively obscure aspects--former investment bankers telling me about the collapse of Lehman, former real estate agents discussing the housing crunch, former US Army officers describing Afghanistan, etc.

    At 1:30, I walk over to Criminal Law, where I greet my classmate Jeff by asking him about his San Diego Chargers. (Jeff has been much happier in recent weeks.) Professor Whitman is great -- a genuinely nice guy and very, very knowledgeable. Whitman always hated cold calling when he was in law school and doesn't do it on principle--but in a subject like Crim (and with a professor like Whitman), the class is usually pretty lively anyway. Whitman doesn't do a great job of getting through black-letter material (so doing the reading usually doesn't help that much), but you do get to engage in a lot of policy/philosophy of law discussion in the class. Very high-level, although I'll confess that I'm not totally sure what the difference between "impossible in fact" and "impossible in law" is yet. It's a very fun class to engage in, although I tend not to speak very much in class.

    I have a half an hour afterwards before I go off to my History seminar. My History seminar is an undergraduate course, so I trek off to a different building for that. It's a very fun class, too (it's sort of a history of warfare class) but for the purposes of this thread, all you need to know is that I do in fact get law school credit for it. We're allowed to use outside classes towards approximately one semester's worth of classes here at the law school.

    When I go home that night, I usually have some work to do related to the secondary journal that I work on -- very common for law students to be on the staff of a law journal. I'm either reading pieces that have been submitted to us, editing the ones we've picked, or handling business correspondence for the one that I'm on. That can be pretty intense at times.

    My history seminar usually has a lot of work associated with it. As for law school, though, not really. I'm taking a course called "International Financial Crisis" which meets Tuesdays -- reading for that generally consists of newspaper articles, white papers, etc. In that class, we're graded based off of a group presentation. That happened a couple weeks ago, so now we just attend the course because it's fascinating. And I also take "Insurance" on Tuesdays. I'm writing a paper for that class instead of taking the final exam. Since the topic of my paper (health insurance law) is going to change so much in the next few months, we're going to hold off on writing it for a little while yet. We're going to extend my writing to be sort of "research for credit" next term and in the meanwhile I don't need to worry too much about insurance. The reading in Insurance tends to be pretty interesting, actually, but my class also has an EXCELLENT outline group. Each person does the reading for half of one class and outlines them in great detail, giving the rest of the class something to refer back to the night before. In this form, the reading can take as little as thirty minutes. Of course, putting together a good outline for your section will take four or five hours, but you only have to do that once a semester.

    So there's basically no reading for Tuesdays, since International Financial Crisis reading is fun enough that it doesn't feel like "reading." And it's pretty optional anyway.

    Wednesday is Property and Crim again. (My history seminar meets just once a week.) And then... that's it. I don't have anything on Thursdays or Fridays.
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  • flowerheadflowerhead 1120 replies8 threads Senior Member
    Do people actually sit through law classes, identifying the student who answers a question by her LSAT/GPA? If so, I'm pretty sure I don't want to attend that school (and I thank god that I'm not).
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  • UKdude84UKdude84 445 replies23 threads Member
    How long is law school in the US?

    Here [UK], if you didnt do a Law undergraduate degree, it is 1 year for the CPE and then either a LPC [solicitor] or BVC [bar], so a second year. Then a training contract is needed if you go the LPC route.

    Perhaps 2-3 years?
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  • bluedevilmikebluedevilmike 11870 replies94 threads Senior Member
    Three years. Northwestern seems to be experimenting with a two-year program -- I don't know much about it.
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  • baller4lyfeballer4lyfe 963 replies251 threads Senior Member
    My main concern/question with law school is this: do profs actually, verbally, ad-hominem attack you if you didn't understand something the first week? Do they truly insult you? Ridicule you? Define ridicule? If they make statements like, "didn't you read it clear enough?" "did you miss the conclusion?" or hypothetical, I have no problem whatsoever.

    However, if they laugh at you, or verbally insult you in class, I will ABSOLUTELY cuss them out/insult back.

    They are my fellow adults, and if they treat us like we are their "subjects," then they are absolutely mistaken.

    Even in the course of law school, 2nd year and on, if *insults* are directed towards us (as I hear that professors "ridicule" students) I will ABSOLUTELY ridicule them back in the class, no questions asked. And this largely depends on what we mean by ridicule; if it is straight insults/laughs, then I will counteract likewise; however, questions of analyzing, conclusive readings, I am fine with, so therefore what do they mean by "ridicule" you if it's not INSULTS?

    Surely, I'm certain this isn't the case, just wanted to double-check, since the legal profession is filled with nuts; i.e., professors don't actually verbally say, "No, idiot! Did you not read it carefully?" or, "What? How the hell can you come up with that conclusion?!" Surely, these and similar remarks by professors I take it are NOT typically done in the classroom.

    If they are, however, there will be vast consequences!
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  • TwistedxKissTwistedxKiss 2486 replies49 threads Senior Member
    I think it would be useful if responders to this thread mentioned what school they are going to as well.
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  • flowerheadflowerhead 1120 replies8 threads Senior Member
    I've never been insulted, but I have been giggled at.

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  • cartera45cartera45 12381 replies86 threads Senior Member
    A professor in one of my first year classes said something along the lines of - after I "attempted" an answer -

    "Ms Cartera, I would ask you to repeat your answer, but from the little I heard, it doesn't bear repeating."

    She was in her first year as a teacher so, looking back, I think she really made an effort to be tough. She mellowed out over the next couple of years.

    So, baller4lyfe, if that response would lead you to inflict "vast consequences" you may want to reconsider law school and get some anger management help.
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  • baller4lyfeballer4lyfe 963 replies251 threads Senior Member
    LoL, no, that is absolutely fine. That does not constitute an ad hominem attack, so I would be fine with it. I am very direct about this. If he/she says, "you idiot, why would you think that?" or "I am not so sure about that, you seem to be low-minded" then it would merit a cuss.

    So, along the lines of what you said, I am absolutely fine with it. Remember, direct insults.
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  • flowerheadflowerhead 1120 replies8 threads Senior Member
    Hmmm... I don't think you really know what an ad hominem attack is.
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  • flowerheadflowerhead 1120 replies8 threads Senior Member
  • baller4lyfeballer4lyfe 963 replies251 threads Senior Member
    Do professors actually cuss at students in an academic setting? Clearly, that would be unqualifiedly condemned.

    Academics is academics, and that means that the classroom--be it in kindergarten via the school district or grad school at university--is a place of mutual respect rather than mutual recrimination.

    So, I aver, unless there are exigent circumstances involved where this rule is violated, universally, and typically, "cussing" or insults at individuals in a learning environment is HIGHLY DISREGARDED and must be dealt with accordingly.

    AT LEAST, of course, in the United States. In other countries professors may indeed cuss at students, and even though they are in the wrong for doing so, we can't go over there and educate them on decorum :)
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  • bluedevilmikebluedevilmike 11870 replies94 threads Senior Member
    I've never seen anything like that happen. Even the way cartera was treated would be a little shocking to me.

    (With that said, by reputation, this sort of thing is pretty common at law firms.)

    More to the point, cussing back is not the appropriate response. The appropriate (and more effective) response is to quietly file a complaint with the proper authorities (in this case, student affairs).
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  • ConCerndDadConCerndDad 369 replies59 threads Member
    Having graduated from law school in 1981, I have little memory of anything now, either the events or the teaching. What I can say is that law school has nothing to do with the practice of law, nor does it prepare you for law practice. Frankly, I was terribly bored in law school. My contracts and torts professors never provided any answers, only questions. (In those courses, the correct response to an exam question is not "A", but "It might be A becasue X, but it could be B because Y, and maybe it could also be C because Z"). Having a science degree, I was used to getting and supplying answers, and the Socratic method questioning teaching style was frustrating to me and seemed awfully dumb. I was also much too ethical. Unbeknownst to me, almost all of my classmates used books that summarized the case decisions and others that summarized the law. I thought that using such books was like cheating, that I should be learning everything only from the case books. In second and third years, many students showed up for class, placed recorders in front of the professor and left. (I remember a cartoon of a lectern covered with students' tape recorders, and one player for the professor, no people present in the lecture hall). In third year, lots of students had part-time jobs (i.e., hopeful pre-jobs) which prevented (?) them from attending classes on some days. Looking back, I would say that developing legal research skills was the most important. I view all of the rest of the classes as an introduction to those subjects, with the main learning taking place when taking the bar review course after completing law school. Of course, getting good grades is important for getting a job later. Employers get as many resumes as colleges and law schools get applications and have to have some way of picking out fresh meat to employ for a year or two until the kids are burnt out. With over 25 years in litigation, I do not suggest to my high school daughter to pursue a career in law. Certainly in litigation, one sees everyone at their nastiest. But I digress.
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  • baller4lyfeballer4lyfe 963 replies251 threads Senior Member
    Con, what kind of law do/did you practice? What do you suggest or what are your thoughts on those of us interested in becoming financial lawyers, or civil lawyers, which field is less abrasive and in fact enjoyable?
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