What is law school?

Legal education in the US has evolved over the last 300 years from an informal process that relied on old-boy networks, apprenticeship, and "reading law" on one's own, into a professionalized, standardized, regulated, and institutionalized form. While there are differences among law schools concerning their size, quality, cost, and other matters, there are also many consistencies across the nation. Here is an overview of the American system of legal education.

There are 200 law schools that are accredited by the American Bar Association. In nearly all states, you must graduate from one of these ABA-accredited schools in order to take the bar examination. Most of these schools are also members of something called the American Association of Law Schools. Between the ABA and AALS, there is a great deal of standardization going on. Law schools must teach certain subjects, hire faculty with certain types of qualifications, and do many other things in order to keep their accreditation.

Here are some of the main commonalities:
  • Law schools offer the degree of Juris Doctor (J.D.). The old LLB degree is a thing of the past.
  • Full-time law school degree programs last three years. Some schools offer night programs that last four years
  • The first year of law school is the most standardized thing about legal education. Normally you have no choice at all and they just tell you what your first year schedule will be. It includes the following required subjects nearly everywhere, and (except for legal research) you will see them again on the Multistate Bar Examination:
    • Contracts
    • Torts
    • Civil Procedure
    • Criminal Law and Procedure
    • Constitutional Law
    • Real Property
    • Legal research and writing
  • The second and third years of law school are basically elective. However, you need to take certain courses in order to prepare for the bar examination and to have a solid education. You also need to take courses in whatever you intend to make your practice specialization. Typical must-take courses include:
    • Evidence
    • Taxation
    • Remedies
    • Commercial transactions (to learn the Uniform Commercial Code)
    • Secured transactions
    • Bankruptcy
    • Conflict of laws
    • Community property or other marital law course
    • Administrative law
    • Environmental law
  • Beyond that, there are many, many courses available for those who wish to specialize in sports law, international law, state and local government, land use, and a myriad of other subjects.

What is the experience like?

Law school is a challenging environment that is intended to subject you to stress, hard work, and competition. Why can't it be easier? Well, how would you like to be represented by a lawyer who can't handle stress, hard work, or competition?

Law school seems daunting to the beginning law student, and the first year experience is designed to push you pretty hard. You need to be prepared for this. However, in the (approximate) words of famed law professor and bar exam prep course developer Richard Conviser, who says,"When you feel you can't handle it, go down the courthouse. Just look around at all the people who have already done it. Take a good look at them. Then ask yourself...how hard can it be?"

If you have applied yourself as an undergraduate, and if you are not afraid of a challenge, then probably you can handle law school. You may want to read or watch some of the media portrayals of law school, such as:
  • Scott Turow's One-L
  • The classic film The Paper Chase
  • or any number of other such things that you can look up.
  • OR: you can just head off to the nearest law school and take a look around.

For more information, try the ABA page on Legal Education and Student Resources