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Law School Myth Busters: 1L year is the hardest in law school

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Myth: 1L year is the hardest in law school.

It seems like every lawyer or law professor or person who has ever heard of law school says, "The first year is always the hardest." Is that true?  There's no denying that the first year of law school is tough.  1Ls coming directly from undergrad have to adjust from being the smartest kids in the class with little to no effort to being in the bottom 50% of the class with countless hours spent studying the library and pouring over E & Es.  Those in the evening program have to learn how to balance work, families, and school all under mounting pressure and little sleep.  Everyone keeps saying how important grades are and if your grades aren't good enough, then you aren't good enough.  As if, with all these new changes, 1Ls need any more to stress about.  Then there's LRW, which is now graded.

The first semester alone is enough to cause people to drop out.  After Christmas break, many 1Ls probably start thinking that the myth may have some merit.  Then second semester starts and it is a intense, from Day 1 of Semester 2.  First, there's the LRW/Moot Court Competition 1-2 punch, which creates a nice semester-long string of stressful events.  Spring semester starts, first up: there's a brief of some sort due for LRW/Moot Court Competition, which is generally between 20-30 pages and at least that many hours of research, editing, and perfecting.  Then there's the Spring Mock Trial Competition, which requires meeting with a coach at least twice, memorization of openings and closings, directs and crosses, and intense preparation of witnesses that have to be bribed with beer at bar review.  After that, it's Spring Break! Oh wait, no, Journal Competition.  Yes, a fun-filled weekend of impossible citations and a 3-page note.  After the break, the fun and excitement resume with LRW/Moot Court, and the due date of another, longer brief and oral arguments.  And just when the fun is winding down, it's time for mandatory all-member board meetings for all the skills boards and then, exams.   Additionally, during all that craziness, 1Ls also have to find the time to figure out something legally worthwhile to do with their summer.  The scales of justice definitely start to lean towards 1L year being the most demanding and toughest.

That's until 1Ls become 2Ls and the sudden realization that the summer marked the beginning of a period of high stress, not the end, starts to set in.  2L year starts out with one of the most stressful, time-consuming and energy draining processes encountered during law school: the Fall Recruitment Program.  1Ls with stellar grades, an impressive resume and a shining personality could land up to 30 interviews over the course of 5 weeks, with the majority of interviews conducted in the first eight days.  What that amounts to is hours sitting at the St. Gregory Hotel, wearing the same suit on consecutive days, and answering the same questions of up to 30 different interviewers.  On top of the usual stress of going to class, reading countless cases, and trying to maintain a social life, 2Ls (and 3Ls) now have the added stress of finding a job in one of the toughest economies in years.

On top of finding a job for the following summer (and beyond), those 2Ls who were lucky enough to make it onto a journal start to reap the rewards of all the hard work they put in over the previous spring break.  These "rewards" usually entail frequent visits to the Library of Congress, hours in the law school library searching for foreign books, and days of cite checking.  Then there's the outline for the 30 page note that's due the next semester, then an actual draft.  One of the upsides is that 2Ls can say to their friends (law school and otherwise), "I'm on a journal." The downside is that this is usually in response to an invitation to go out on Thursday nights and followed by, "My draft is due in 2 weeks and I haven't even started." Journal kids often spend 5-20 hours in a given week for an editing assignment.

For those that made it on to one or more skills boards, membership requirements begin to rear their ugly heads.  These include going to meetings, coaching, judging, reading briefs, reading motions, giving up entire Saturdays (and sometimes Sundays) to spend at school or the courthouse, or all of the above.  What was once thought to be a tight schedule in 1L year seems to be a breeze compared to 2L year.

2L students are truly in the middle.  They are fully integrated in the law school life, active in student groups and skills boards, and still care about their grades enough to read for class.  They're not 1Ls, so things aren't as new and intimidating, but they're also not 3Ls, resting with the peace of mind that the end is in sight.  All of the decisions, good and bad, from the year before are brought to bear on 2Ls.  Perhaps many practicing attorneys remember only the newness of law school and the pressure of getting the best first year grades.  Perhaps many have forgotten just how time-consuming and stressful 2L year is.  Maybe some even dropped out after first year.  No matter what the reason for the myth that 1L is the toughest of law school, upon reflection and experience, eventually all will agree that this myth is: