Greg de la Cruz works at NCR Corp's R&D center in the Philippines. He is interested in economic history and current world financial affairs.
How Hard Is Law School?
Not many people have either the opportunity or resources to pursue a postgraduate degree. And many countries require prior college education before allowing someone to enroll in a law curriculum. I was one of the lucky ones – my family supported me both morally and financially in my desire to take up law. And I could just remember the zeal that I had, back when I found out that I got accepted into one of the country’s top colleges, and knowing that I didn’t have to bear most of the financial brunt while studying.
But like many lawyer-hopefuls, I didn’t know what to expect when I got into law school. I’d heard stories from friends and relatives who went through law school themselves (some did so successfully, but most never managed to finish) and ended up with the common theme – the part where the Venn diagram converges on all their comments – that law school is harder than what you might imagine.
I was too naïve to even assume that by reading all these John Grisham novels (I had read more than ten of his books at that point) that I would have this edge over the rest of my classmates. And at the same time, I also had this stupid belief that just because I came from a family of lawyers, meant that learning the law would come naturally to me.
But I was wrong. I was wrong with many of my assumptions. I was probably right to think that having a good command of the English language would help me some – but by how much? Here are the seven wrong assumptions I made before studying law:
- Being an avid reader will make it easier.
- Oral recitations won't be terrifying.
- You can cover all the needed reading.
- If you aced your undergrad, law school will be a breeze.
- You can get away by being good at English during exams.
- Common sense is all you need.
- Working a job while studying law will work as long as you manage your time wisely.
1. Being an avid reader will make it easier.
Reading was a hobby I picked up during my middle years of college. And my lack of interest before that phase of my life came, caused a lot of overcompensation to take place – I breezed through the entire Sherlock Holmes canon, read popular psychology books by Daniel Kahneman and Anders Ericsson, ventured into more complex works of fiction like The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, did my short flirtation with John Green’s works, and found my way to over-reading on Haruki Murakami’s stories.
I wasn’t invested deeply into literature, but I was reading a lot in those days. And when I was about to take up law, I thought that my newfound affinity to books would mean that reading cases and law textbooks would all become too easy. But I was seriously wrong.
Being an avid reader will not make studying law any easier. Having reading as a hobby may help transition you into law school reading habits, however, reading for law school compared to reading for fun – or even compared to reading to find general information – is on a different tier.
Law school type of reading teaches you to read slowly and carefully. It also forces you to read the same material multiple times! And at first, it can get frustrating because once you enter the classroom and get called during recitation, you sometimes end up missing the key piece of information that your instructor is looking for. You will eventually learn that reading for law school takes time and practice, and you will come to treat the texts more delicately. There are no shortcuts.
2. Oral recitations won’t be terrifying.
Even for seasoned debaters or public speakers, oral recitations in law school can be so terrifying. The level of pressure and demand on students to prepare will vary depending on the teacher, but more often than not, oral recitations in law school take a lot of preparation and energy. Your biggest enemy when you go inside the classroom would be the lack of preparation. This means that you have to read up on all the assigned cases, and if possible, have prepared case briefs that you can scan on the possibility that your name will be called.
I used to assume that there were natural speakers with in-born bravado and killer confidence, but when those types of people started stuttering when their names were called or were asked to stand for the whole period because their answer was off-base, I realized that law school was a great equalizer. Because even the introvert types who hardly spoke casually outside of class were able to do well on recitations, just because of the fact that they did their homework and prepared. You can’t bullshit your way out of an oral recitation in law school.
3. You can cover all the needed reading.
My second false assumption is a good segue into the third – that you can cover all the needed reading while you are preparing for a class. On your first day of class, your teachers will normally start off as friendly, and then they’ll give a little taste of what a normal law class is like by starting interrogations. And then they’ll end the class by enumerating a list of cases that you should read up before the next meeting.
You’ll be writing those case names down, each with the format of Plaintiff v. Defendant, and as you write from your brand-new notebook, you’ll realize that the case list doesn’t seem to end. The usual minimum number for cases to read before the next meeting is ten cases – now multiply that by eight subjects and you’ve got a whopping 80 cases to cover before the following week! Not to mention the pages you need to cover in your textbooks.
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This is when you realize that covering the full length of the cases before the next meeting is just near-impossible unless you’re some robot who doesn’t need any sleep. That’s why each law class, or batch, divides itself into case pools composed of a few members. The case pools start out as many, since freshman year, especially on the first week, is still full of students who haven’t yet dropped out. The number of case pools will thin out over time, or consolidate.
The purpose of having case pools is simply to divide the labor of reading cases – assigning each member a full-text case to read, and for that member to write a brief to share with the group, and for the whole group to have consolidated digests of the case assignments.
The sooner you accept the fact that you will never be able to cover all the reading by yourself, the faster your transition from normal human into law student will be.
4. If you aced your undergrad, law school will be a breeze.
There were students in my freshman year who had graduated with honors for their college majors. Some of them succeeded in law school and continued their honor streak until graduation, however, there were also some who dropped out, or even failed to pass some subjects. Such is the reality when entering law school – no new student has an insurmountable lead on others.
Even those with master’s degrees didn’t necessarily find law school that easy. The demand on your time and energy, especially when you take a full curriculum load, will make you realize that almost everyone is at an equal footing.
5. You can get away by being good at English during exams.
I learned this the hard way. At the time, I was taking on a part-time job to help pay for my day-to-day expenses while studying, and I missed to prepare for one subject. I assumed that I could just bullshit my way by writing fancy English and cross-applying what I learned from other subjects. I flunked that exam. When I got my results back, it was apparent that I was beating around the bush, and it was obvious that I was underprepared.
Having a good command of the English language will only take you so far in Law School. It will help you write your sentences better, and will probably remove any intimidation factor you have when answering a question – however, the results will always show up on your score. Your teacher or professor, who has read and graded more exam papers that you can imagine, who himself was able to pass the Bar exam – who practices law on a daily basis – will know at a glance that your answer screams your lack of preparation.
Again, as I said a bit differently on the second wrong assumption above, you can’t bullshit your way out of a situation by spewing enough good English words.
6. Common sense is all you need.
This is a hard thing to accept once you enter law school. You’re made to think that everything should make sense, and that concepts should follow a logical pattern or system. But when you start studying law, you’ll come to the realization that common sense just isn’t enough. This is the same reason why I thought studying criminal law was one of the easier ordeals, because the subject matter was often logical with not too many gray areas. However, the longer you stay in law school, the more you come to accept that the study of law is the appreciation of these gray areas. You will learn that most general rules have their exceptions.
You’ll know it when you’ve been studying law long enough when someone asks you a question related to law and you answer, ‘It depends.’ Because without the facts, without knowing the rules and exceptions, and without a proper application, you’ll never be able to provide an accurate answer.
7. Working a job while studying law will work as long as you manage your time wisely.
This is only a partially wrong assumption, because I’ve known people who’ve been able to make the studying-while-working routine work wonders. There was even a topnotcher recently, who came from a provincial school, and studied law while working full-time. Schools shouldn’t discriminate against working students, but neither should they treat them any differently than full-time students.
But as for me, it was a real struggle trying to balance school while having a full-time job. It was manageable at first, because the job I had only required 5-6 hours a day, normally ending at 12 noon, so I had at least four hours to prepare for class. But when I took on a full-time job that ended at 5 in the afternoon, it was difficult to carve out blocks of focused time devoted to reading up and preparing for class. Once I took on a full-time job, five hours of sleep became a luxury. The lack of sleep also meant that studying became more inefficient, because I couldn’t focus properly especially with a recurring headache.
Working full-time while enrolling in law school is not for everyone. And if you do decide to take that path, the key thing to remember and gain awareness of is your own physical and mental limitations. Because there really is such a thing as biting off more than you can chew, and the sooner you realize what your limits are and accept them – the more likely you’ll be able to survive law school.
Hopefully This Helps!
These were the wrong assumptions I had before I decided to study law. Of course, legal education varies from place to place, especially country to country. I hope that somehow by being aware of the false assumptions I made, you will have prepared your mindset better in case you are still planning to take up law. If you are already a student or have graduated law, do you think you made these assumptions yourself, too? Feel free to let me know in the comments or via email.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.