What Happens in Law School

Law schools prepare you to think like a lawyer; the only thing that can prepare you to be a lawyer is the experience of being a lawyer. Through the study of cases, laws, procedures, etc., you will be exposed to and prepared for your entry into the legal world.

Because of the national aspect of bar exams, the first years of law school are fairly standard throughout the United States (except in law schools like Northeastern which have work study programs; see their bulletin for a description of their program). Most elective work comes in the third year. Most courses continue for the full nine month first academic year. It is during the second and third years that clinical and internship experience may become available, and electives may determine for you your future line of work. These years are the best time for you to experiment with your reactions to different types of law. While you are in law school, it is fairly simple to sample different approaches and material. Once you have graduated, it can be expensive and somewhat traumatic to continually switch fields. Try to get the best idea possible of your legal interests during your three years of legal study.

A non-scientific poll of some University of Delaware Alumni at law school in 1977 elicited the following responses:

How many hours a day do you study?

Answers ranged from 4-12 hours a day (plus 2-3 hours of class per day), and the most frequent response was 10 hours a day.

What U.D. courses, if any, were helpful?

There was no widespread agreement in answering this question. Courses mentioned included American Constitutional Law, American Civil Liberties, Business Law, Accounting, Economics 151, Logic, Composition, Organic Chemistry, Political Philosophy, and "courses which emphasize word-by-word analyses of classic works."

What advice would you give UD-ers contemplating law school?

Students who are unhappy in law school are often those whose temperaments aren't compatible with the law school atmosphere, or those who really don't have positive reasons for wanting to be there. Going to law school by default tends not to be very sustaining over the long run. Law students who have worked for a while often express more certainty about their reasons for going to law school which can give them added incentive for their studies.

The following are some pointers which may help you assess the compatibility of your own particular talents and learning style with the requirements of law school. Additionally, you may want to read One L, a diary account of one person's first year law school experience at Harvard.


The most compatible learning style for law school includes an analytical and systematic approach to ideas and problems, attention to and interest in details and fine distinctions as opposed to general impressions or intuitive insights, and a preference for being intellectually assertive and logical in expression. In what ways does your undergraduate experience fit or conflict with this picture?

How much closure do you require in order to be comfortable? If you like unities, aesthetic wholes, the correct and elegant answer, you will sometimes feel quite at sea in the law. If your mind likes to stray among a field of possibilities and never settle on a position or an answer, you will likewise feel uncomfortable at times. If the challenge of working through alternatives and fixing upon the best one, however imperfect it may be, pleases you, then the law will probably nourish your capabilities.


The study of law is not knowing cases. The case study approach is used as a vehicle to understand the legal reasoning within the case. Your ability to apply the rules and principles to hypothetical fact situations will determine your exam results.

Legal training, especially in the first year, emphasizes technique and not values or beliefs. You learn how to wrap your mind around a problem in order to reach a result. The tools and the moves will seem alien to almost everyone at first. After a while, some law students will enjoy the mental manipulation, and others will feel increasingly frustrated.

As a law student, you will not often encounter discussion of the morally "right" approach or answer. This is not to say that law teachers and lawyers are not concerned with moral choices. But there is pressure in the law to see both sides of an issue, to manipulate the facts and concepts, and ultimately, in the adversarial system, to win for your side. If you don't enjoy building a case for both sides of an issue, if you have difficulty arguing a position which conflicts with your values, you are perhaps not suited for the law.


Compared to your standard liberal arts reading list, law school texts and casebooks can seem dull, dull, dull. Some law professors claim, however, that law students really have to learn how to read for the first time in their lives. By that they mean every single word can be of crucial importance. You can't just read to get the gist of the material. The outcome of a case, and hence the law, can hinge on subtle distinctions in definition or word choice. There is no substitute for close attention to the details. This holds true for your legal writing as well. Precision, conciseness, unambiguous language—all are crucial for effective briefs, memos, and legal papers.

The law is technical. Do you mind sorting through many little pieces and fitting them into an order of some kind? Do you have patience for untangling, sifting, and classifying before you begin to work with the larger concepts? Legal work involves these skills.


Law school classes are quite large in comparison to other graduate study programs in the humanities and social sciences where tutorials and seminars are the norm. If you require a small group or supportive setting before you feel comfortable expressing your ideas, the thought of reciting or going through a Socratic dialogue with the professor in full view of your hundred or so classmates can be terrifying. While most people would prefer the supportive classroom environment, being able to cope with and learn in the more adversarial atmosphere of law can make a big difference in your anxiety level. There are ways in which supportive environments can be created in law schools. Most law schools arrange first year classes to include at least one small section (20-25 students) for each student. In addition, students usually form study groups which tend to be more supportive than the one depicted in Paper Chase. These small sections and study groups often form the basis of the closest friendships you will have in law school.