Advice on How to Prepare for Law School

Welcome to the latest installment of Law Admissions Q&A, a feature that provides law school admissions advice to readers who send in inquiries. If you have a question about law school admissions, email us for a chance to be featured in a future post.

My son is going to attend law school next fall. He’s a hard worker when he’s organized and focused. However, between his ADHD and general disorganization skills, we were considering signing him up for a law school prep class. How do they work? Is there one or more that you would recommend? – AA

While law school is often portrayed in popular culture as an intellectual proving ground, it’s a professional school with many paths to success. Few of those paths entail cutthroat competition or a single-minded pursuit of high grades.

Some of the most successful law students I’ve known treated law school as a serious job. They showed up consistently, put in the work and found opportunities to support their mentors and peers. They stayed healthy and maintained a life outside of law school. They grew into open-minded professionals who could earn the trust of all kinds of colleagues and clients.

[READ: How to Survive and Thrive First Year of Law School.]

However you approach law school, it’s a good idea to use the summer beforehand to prepare for the challenges ahead.

The Skills Law Students Need

Organizational skills are fundamental to law school. There are plenty of books and online tools available to master time management, and the start of law school is a good time to put in place structures to help stay focused and on track each week.

Unlike in college, there is simply no way to cram for a law school exam or to even follow a classroom discussion unless you have kept up with the readings. That’s why reading and writing skills are crucial. Law textbooks are full of legal cases that students need to learn how to “brief” by annotating and outlining key information.

Legal research and legal writing can be humbling, even for students who did a lot of research and writing as undergraduates. Law students typically study these skills through a full-year course in their first year, which can feel like learning a whole new language.

Many law school classes use an exam format that few students have experienced before. Course grades may be solely based on blindly graded final exams that ask students to apply rules and concepts to hypothetical scenarios, with reference to real cases from assigned readings.

Some students may also want to practice oral communication. The “Socratic method,” by which a professor questions individual students about the facts and implications of various cases from the readings in class, can be nerve-wracking. Students interested in litigation may want to take classes in trial advocacy or participate in moot court.

[Read: What Is the Socratic Method and Why Do Law Schools Use It?]

Ways to Prepare for Law School

One kind of book that won’t prepare you well are law school memoirs like Scott Turow’s classic 1977 book, “One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School.” The experience of law school is changing too fast for past stories to provide useful guidance. Current law school campuses are more diverse and collegial in culture than they were just a decade ago.

A better idea is to read books written by law school professors about how to perform well on law school exams, like “Getting to Maybe: How to Excel on Law School Exams” by Richard Michael Fischl and Jeremy Paul, as well as “1L of a Ride: A Well-Traveled Professor’s Roadmap to Success in the First Year of Law School” by Andrew J. McClurg.

It may also be worth reading through some course outlines and guides on common first-year classes. For example, civil procedure can be particularly confusing to learn through the case method, so it can be helpful to get a rough overview first. You can refer back to such books as you take the class to clarify difficult rules and concepts.

To get a head start on legal research and writing, 1L prep courses can be very helpful. Free resources are available, including JD Advising’s prep course and the Zero-L prep course developed by Harvard Law School.

Some law schools offer their own prep courses or provide such classes during orientation. First-generation students may find special programs available targeted to the challenges they may face.

[READ: What First-Generation Law Applicants Should Know]

Other course, like PowerScore’s 1L Advantage and BARBRI’s Law Preview, cost hundreds of dollars but provide more in-depth instruction. BARBRI also offers a shorter online course called 1L Mastery.

Choosing among these options may depend on factors like time and money. It may be easiest to start with books and free or low-cost courses before deciding whether to invest in a more intensive and expensive course.

Almost everyone finds the first year of law school challenging. If it feels overwhelming, don’t take it personally. Just reach out for help.

More from U.S. News

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