The First Year of Law School
The first year of law school is the initial step in one’s legal career and can often be the most challenging school year lawyers-to-be face.
The first year of law school is often challenging because law school differs greatly from the type of courses and learning one is used to as an undergrad. The first year of law school seeks to change your way of thinking and introduces a variety of legal concepts considered to be the fundamentals of the law. While every law school is different, the general curriculum for first year law students or “1Ls” is as follows:
- Civil Procedure
- Criminal Law
- Constitutional Law
- Legal Research and Writing
Each of these courses is different, but equally important. They teach future attorneys the underlying principles of the legal system.
Many of the classes are taught via the law professor setting forth a reading assignment in which law students are to comprehend and then discuss during the next class. Often times, law professors implement the Socratic method to discuss the cases read and the legal principles that came from the same.
What is the Socratic method, you may ask? The Socratic method has been defined as “a shared dialogue between teacher and students in which both are responsible for pushing the dialogue forward through questioning. The ‘teacher,’ or leader of the dialogue, asks probing questions in an effort to expose the values and beliefs which frame and support the thoughts and statements of the participants in the inquiry. The students ask questions as well, both of the teacher and each other. The inquiry progresses interactively, and the teacher is as much a participant as a guide of the discussion. Furthermore, the inquiry is open-ended. There is no pre-determined argument or terminus to which the teacher attempts to lead the students. Those who practice the Socratic method do not use PowerPoint slides. Without a lesson plan, the group follows the dialogue where it goes.” https://tomprof.stanford.edu/posting/810
The Socratic method is often feared by law students, especially those who may come unprepared to class. However, it is the traditional manner in which legal courses are taught. Aside from this method, the legal research and writing course or “legal methods” course first-year law students enroll in is the primary class that teaches law students how to write like an attorney. Generally, law students are taught how to use legal research tools like Westlaw or LexisNexis to research a legal issue and thereafter, are given a writing assignment, such as putting together a draft research memorandum to a supervising partner. After the basics are taught, law students are given more advanced research and writing projects, like drafting a sample Motion and Memorandum of Law in Support.
All of the above are part of the curriculum to teach future attorneys not only how to think like a lawyer, but how to write and speak like one.
Good luck to all the law students setting out at the beginning of their legal careers.