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Making the Decision to Attend Law School
What is Law School Like?
Can I be sure I want to be a lawyer?
I. What is Law School Like?
The following was written by Steven Lawrence, Jr. a Duke graduate who received his law degree from the University of Chicago:
The law student must be ready and willing to meet one of the biggest challenges that he will ever face. Law school is a full-time business. By full-time, I mean a minimum of 10 hours a day, every day of the week. It is quite exhaustive, particularly during the first year. There is a new vocabulary to learn, and a new way of thinking. As the faculty is fond of saying, law students also have to learn to read for the first time in their lives. In law, every word is of crucial importance; you don’t read just to get the general gist of the material. This point came across to me the first day of law school. I had spent four years in college contemplating such issues as truth, goodness, government, religion. In the first case we had to read in Contracts, the issue which Judge Henry Friendly, one of the most distinguished judges in the country, had to face was: What is ‘chicken?’ The case turned on whether the parties to the contract meant ‘stewing chicken’ or ‘fowl.’ The movement from considering ‘what is truth’ to ‘what is chicken’ symbolizes perfectly for me the movement from college to law school. (Source )
The Socratic Method
In law school, professors do not lecture. They do not spoon-feed you facts for you to memorize. Instead, they walk into the classroom, call on a student, who stands, and the questioning begins: Mr. Smith, please recite the relevant facts in the case of Reitman v. Mulkey. Next they might ask: If the notice had been received on the 15th, instead of mailed on the 15th, how would that change the outcome? or. How would the judge in Anderson v. Pacific Railroad have decided this case, and why? You might be next. There are some professors who are said to never utter a single declarative sentence in an entire semester. This is referred to as the “Socratic Method,” made famous by Professor Kingsfield in the 1973 movie The Paper Chase (try to see this movie if you can–it is available on Netflix, for example). While some professors randomly call on students every class, most have a method of selection that allows you to predict when your turn will likely come. Some will tell 5-6 students to be ready for the next meeting, and while others rely mostly on volunteers. You will quickly get used to this process.
The Case Method
To help confuse you even more, law schools do not use text books with a lot of explanatory material. They do not give you lists that distill for you what the law is. Instead, your Casebooks consist almost entirely of judicial opinions written by various judges. Buried somewhere in each case is a principle relevant to the topic being studied in class. Some opinions are beautifully written literature; others are garbled and confusing. But as an attorney, this is what you do: read cases and find the legal principles for yourself. In law school, you learn this skill on your own, through immersion. Again, you will quickly get used to this. Expect 5 courses per semester, with 3-5 cases assigned for each, every day.
This next point is crucial
Now go and experience a law school class in person!
We are fortunate to have a great law school literally on the corner of the IUB campus. Indiana University – Bloomington Maurer School of Law is always very happy to host prospective law students–from freshmen through alumni. Just call the admissions office at 812.855.4765 to set up a tour, sit in on classes, and speak to admissions representatives. Even if you think you are not interested in attending this particular school, take advantage of the opportunity. Virtually every law school in the country will similarly open its doors for you. (You will likely leave optimistic and relieved. It’s really not as bad as it sounds. Usually.)
II. Can I be sure I want to be a lawyer?
The short answer is no. One can rarely, if ever, be 100% sure about the decision to attend law school or to become an attorney. You will never know with absolute certainty until you have actually experienced these situations personally (and then it’s a bit late). It is said that the best one can hope for is to be about 80% sure.
Like much in the admissions process and within a legal career itself, you must be pro-active in your search for answers to these questions. Get out into the real world, visit law schools, speak with and shadow attorneys, visit your local courts when trials are in session, and attend every Law Day and all the prelaw events sponsored by HPPLC. There are no shortcuts–it takes a lot of hard work to make informed decisions about these crucial issues. It will be well worth your time.
Review HPPLC’s Prelaw Self-Assessment worksheet and give careful consideration to its questions and the issues they raise.
Here are some articles to consider, with tips and practical advice. These should be a starting point only. Try to find similar articles online.