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How Hard Is Law School

June 13, 2024
5 min read


Reviewed by:

David Merson

Former Head of Pre-Law Office, Northeastern University, & Admissions Officer, Brown University

Reviewed: 6/13/24

Law school is challenging for many reasons, from the teaching methods, long, complex readings, and the time commitment. This article will answer the question: how hard is law school?

Law school is different from any experience you might’ve had up until now. It can be very demanding but expansive–making you a well-rounded intellectual. 

This article will cover how law school differs from what you’ve experienced and how to prepare for these differences. 

Why Is Law School So Hard?

Law school is very hard—harder than college or university. This is due to a heavy course load, a high-stress environment, and difficult course material. But completing law school is not impossible; over 40,000 law students make it to graduation each year.

So, if you’re wondering, “How hard is it to become a lawyer?” The answer is very

Regardless of which law school you end up attending, the initial hardship you’ll likely feel in your first year of law school will come down to the different types of learning strategies you experience in law school. Here are some factors that many cite as the reason, including the question of is it hard to become an attorney:

1. The Case Method

The Case Method is “a system of instruction or study of law focused upon the analysis of court opinions rather than lectures and textbooks.'' Initialized by Harvard Law In 1870, the case method has since been the preferred method of teaching law over a lecture format. 

Instead of listening to stuffy lectures, the case method is an interactive learning experience that engages students with prior cases and court opinions. This way, students can acquire a more holistic understanding of the reasoning used to determine specific verdicts. 

The Case Method challenges students to use an inductive method of inquiry that takes case specificities and draws out the general implications. Further, the case method closely resembles the approach many lawyers take to their work, so it prepares students well.

2. The Socratic Method

The legacy of Socrates hitting the streets and relentlessly pestering the citizens of Athens about virtue and wisdom lives on in law school. The Socratic Method is a teaching style where the professor will repeatedly ask a student to defend their reasoning until it withstands the professor’s counterpositions or is dismantled.

This experience is jarring. If you are unprepared to defend your line of reasoning against an onslaught of attacks, you’ll be exposed for it. While it can be tough, the Socratic Method pushes students to harness critical thinking skills that are necessary to succeed in law. 

It also forces students not just to read the course material but also to interact with it. This means that law students will be in dialogue with the written material, forming thoughts, opinions, and rebuttals of the subject matter to then express in the classroom. 

The Socratic method, in practice, looks like a law professor calling on students at random to offer an answer or opinion to a case the class read. From there, the professor probes the students to expand their answers a few times in hopes of exercising their intellect and critical thinking skills. 

Many students remember the anxiety of being called to engage in the Socratic method. To avoid the discomfort of arguing a half-baked line of reasoning in your class, it’s crucial that you do your assigned readings with diligence. Often students struggle to cope with this facet of law school but learn how to engage later on.

3. One Exam Determines Entire Grades

Throughout your education, there’s likely only been a few classes where one final exam decides your entire grade, if any. Although you might have taken some exams that are greater than 50% of your final grade, first-year law school classes typically have a final exam that makes up the majority (or all) of your final grade.

The stress of having one exam determines a student's success in a class is something many students aren’t used to. Even though you’ve taken the LSAT at this point, which is a similarly important single exam, having multiple of these final exams in one semester that is cumulative of all the studying you’ve done throughout the term can be taxing.

4. The Competition and the Grading Curve

One of the hardest parts of law school is the competition and the subsequent grade curve. In law school, you’re competing against your peers. Competing for top grades, prestigious internships, positions in clubs and societies relevant to legal work, and more. 

The competition is stiff. However, the level of competitiveness within the law student culture varies depending on the school. If you’re attending an unranked, lower-tier law school, the competition is more fierce than if you study at a top-ranking law school

Name recognition for law graduates goes a long way, and if you don’t have the luxury of a law degree from a top institution, then you’re going to need to be at the top of your class to land big jobs. 

Lower-ranked law school students also face the difficult task of beating the grading curve. The law school grading curve is on a standard distribution curve. This means that you won't be recognized for doing marginally better than your classmates. The curve places your grade closer to the mean. You’d be indistinguishable from your classmates.

Instead, you’d need to excel and blow your classmates out of the water to be recognized as a top student. This grading curve informs the cut-throat, competitive nature of law schools and is all the more prevalent when you’re not guaranteed a legal position after graduation through school recognition. 

Law School vs. Undergrad

There are many differences between undergraduate studies and law school. There are some disciplines you could study as an undergrad that might somewhat prepare you for law school. However, professors and administrators know it’s a new experience for nearly all students; you won’t be alone in your imminent confusion! 

Here are a few ways undergrad and law school differ, including the question of how hard is it to become a lawyer:

How law school differs from undergrad

1. Heavier Workload in Law School Requires Consistent Commitment

Identifying the average amount of time an undergraduate needs to commit to studying is difficult. As an undergrad, there are a few points throughout the semester (mid and end-term) where the work usually ramps up significantly, so it isn’t always easy to give an accurate time commitment. However, law school work is more consistent throughout the term. 

First-year law students should expect to commit an average of 30-40+ hours of studying per week (some advocating for more), with around 30-60 pages of reading per class each week. At the very least, some say that you should study for twice the amount of class time you have per semester. 

If you have 3½ hours of each class per week, you should at least study 7 hours a week for each class. If you have five classes, which is the typical number of classes for full-time law students, then you should be studying 35 hours a week on top of class time. 

2. You Can’t Cram in Law School

The more consistent workload segues into the next point; there’s no chance of succeeding in law school and cramming material during the night before the exam. As an undergraduate, time management was an invaluable skill for success. However, law school requires a more diligent commitment to managing your time. 

Honing into time management tips and tricks as a law student will significantly increase your chance of success. Also, keep in mind that law classes typically have one final assessment at the end of the year spanning the entire course content; slipping up for even a week might hurt you for the final assessment. 

In our webinar for pre-law students, Marcelius, an expert admissions counselor, advises students to start early in all their academic endeavours to keep from getting overwhelmed. 

“I think the first thing that's really important is really being prepared and starting as early as you possibly can. Law school is difficult, law school is tough, so you want to be prepared, and also you want to make the choices that align with your goals and ambitions… That way, when you actually go into and start law school, you're going to be not just prepared but you're going to be equipped to be as successful as possible.”

3. You Can’t ‘Skim’ Readings or Go Through Law School Unnoticed

As an undergrad, you could take courses that realistically required little attention, where you could shrink into the back of the lecture hall unnoticed and still produce an average (or above average) performance. It’s not like that in law school. 

With the chosen methods of teaching and grading in law school, students must actively participate in class and master the course material week after week to survive in law school.

Law School Difficulty: by the Numbers 

Once professors grade your assignments in law school, they factor them into the set grading curve for the class. This means that your final grade is dependent on how well you did in relation to your classmates. Each school has different preferences for the severity of their grading curves, but this is an unavoidable reality in every law school.

New data shows that in 2021, “91.17% of 2019 law graduates who sat for a bar exam passed it within two years of graduation.” The bar exam is the evaluation you need to pass after obtaining your JD to work as a lawyer. We can answer ‘how hard is law school' based on the number of students prepared for the Bar. 

The employment rate for law school graduates differs based on the School. This is in part due to name recognition being a significant factor in the success of a recent law school graduate. However, the increased competitiveness of a law school’s grading curve attracts attention from law firms.

How to Get Ready for How Hard Law School Is

Is it hard to be an attorney? Yes, it is! That’s why law school is so difficult—to prepare you! And through preparation of your own, you can set yourself up for success before you step into the classroom.

So, how competitive is law school? It’s very competitive. However, below we’ll cover how to get ready for it! 

Understand The Basics

Whether you’re attending law school in the coming Fall or finishing up your last year of undergraduate studies, it’s not too early to set some time aside and prep for law school. It’d be worthwhile to review some of the basic elements of law school described earlier in this article. 

Understanding the Socratic Method and the Case Method can best help you prepare for law school. Watching videos to familiarize yourself with the Socratic Method will help you prepare to engage with your professors in a meaningful, productive manner. Similarly, getting to know the Case Method can help you better utilize your study time in law school. 

Look Into The Classes and Professors

Researching the mandated first-year law classes and the professors who typically teach these classes can put you in a position to succeed. In addition to looking at your school website, there are many platforms that house testimonials from students. This should give you some insight into how to prepare for your classes.

Take Our Lawyer Skill Evaluation Quiz

Law school is no joke. If you’re unsure about whether you’re ready for the demands of law school or even if you want to attend law school at all, we can help. Our quiz, designed by experts, evaluates your skills, goals, and interests. Find out if you’d make a good lawyer down below! 

FAQs: How Hard Is Law School

Studying law, for most, is worth the stress. It’s understandable if you’re doubtful, but how hard law school is shouldn’t deter you if you’re passionate and committed. Below are some FAQs to help you work through whether law school is your next step. 

1. Why Is Law School Hard?

Law school is challenging because of the dense written materials and the ambiguous nature of the law. This ambiguity makes learning the law an intellectual challenge few have the patience for. But sometimes, the hardest things are also the most rewarding. 

2. How Competitive Are Legal Internships?

The competitiveness of different internships throughout law school depends on how prestigious the law firm or area of law that you’re applying to is. If you’re seeking corporate law internships, it’s essential to spend enough time networking and recognize that many large firms hire students earlier in the year. 

However, smaller boutique firms will likely hire in the springtime and are often less competitive. 

3. Should I Study Law?

Studying law equips you with skills to succeed in many other professions. However, if it’s not law specifically you’re interested in and are using law school to apply for another line of work, it might not be worth the commitment. You should typically be dead set on a career in the legal field to commit to law school. 

4. How Do I Prepare for Law School Tests?

Create a law school finals calendar list, take practice tests you find online or through your school's archive, study every small detail of the relevant cases, ask your peers or professors questions if you’re not sure, and don’t procrastinate.

5. When Should I Prepare for Law School?

The summer before your first year of law school is an excellent time to review your classes, teaching and grading methods, and the extracurriculars you can partake in, among other things

6. How Hard Is Law School for A Pre-Law Undergraduate? 

Law school is tough for any incoming law student. People entering law school often find some philosophy and logic classes useful to hone their analytical and writing skills. However, there is no universal undergraduate discipline that prepares you for the culture shock that is law school–not even pre-law. 

Law School Is Hard, But You Can Prepare 

Upon graduating from law school, many look back on their hardship through a legal education as a reason why they’re proficient as a lawyer. So how hard is law school? Law school is hard for one main reason; it works. The critical thinking skills acquired in law school are necessary for success as a lawyer. 

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