The law school classroom is a zone of fear that has been immortalized in movies and books as well as conversations with former students. It is portrayed as a stressful, anxious, and intimidating environment. However, these portrayals are not entirely accurate. These depictions encompass the worst of experiences - they lack the reality. Fortunately, for an incoming first year law student, a law classroom is not drastically different from the undergraduate classroom. The major differences between a law school classroom and an undergraduate classroom include: (1) students; (2) teaching method; and, (3) testing.
- 1. Students: Experience and Intellect
First year law students are commonly an older demographic compared to the younger undergraduate classroom. For the fall semester of 2015, the average age of the first-year class was 26 years old with the age range from 20 - 46. Consequently, many students in the first year classroom are married, have children, and have held full-time jobs before entering law school.
This leads to many different life experiences which commonly become a subject of discussion along with the curriculum. This is something to embrace. Each student has their own story. Get to know each person’s story. This will assist with the creation of a study-group and can help you connect with other students.
In addition to life experiences, the students of a first year law classroom are not like the uncaring and disinterested minds that fill the undergraduate classroom. Instead, each law school student possesses an ability to identify facts, relate those facts to the issue, and respond with an educated opinion and resolution. Further, each student has the motivation to challenge their reasoning abilities and stand out from surrounding students. The days of excelling from other students by simply showing up are long gone and remain in that music appreciation class you were forced to take.
2. Teaching method: Socratic torture
The undergraduate classroom is most often a place where you sit, listen, take notes every now and then, and struggle to keep your eyes open for the remaining 30 minutes of the class. Say goodbye to that notion right now. The law school classroom is renowned because it forces a student to pay attention. It challenges the student daily.
Namely, the law school classroom at Boyd utilizes the Socratic Method to accomplish this in the classroom. At Boyd Law School, your first year teachers will either cold call on you (randomly calling on a student) or they will have a system where each student will be called on in an organized and methodical fashion. Either way, expect to talk, expect to be asked for your opinion on an issue, and expect to struggle. However, this method is not something to fear. Everyone struggles with this aspect of law school - it makes the experience much more memorable.
3. Testing: The One and Only
The undergraduate classroom often has many quizzes, tests, or papers assigned to gauge how well a student is comprehending the material. Unfortunately, this is not a law school classroom. Instead, the class is most commonly tested with a single final examination at the end of the semester. There may be a class that allows for a mid-term, as was the case in my contracts class. This is by no means expected by first year professors.
This difference between undergraduate classes and law school classes is commonly the most frustrating for new students. To combat this issue, it is important to stay on top of the material. Begin testing yourself on each topic as your class concludes and take advantage of the many tests given by teachers in past years and practice exercises that Boyd will offer.
These three differences are not the only contrasts that a law school classroom possesses when compared to your undergraduate experience. However, they are the most dramatic. Boyd law school, especially the C.A.S.E. program, does a fantastic job of assisting in this transition. Through peer partners, teaching aids, and tutors, an incoming student can quickly adapt to the unique experience of the law school classroom.