By Dr. Gary L. Deel  |  01/09/2024

how hard is it to get a law degree


Attending law school is a transformative and character-building process for students seeking a law degree. But just how hard is law school, really? How does it compare to undergraduate studies?

Getting into Law School Is One of Three Hurdles to Becoming a Lawyer

Dr. John Duncan, a favorite law school professor of mine, used to say there are three main hurdles in the process of becoming a lawyer:

  • Getting into law school
  • Getting through law school
  • Passing the bar exam

Law school is generally considered to be a very challenging academic experience for a number of different reasons. First, the workload is heavy. Law school students are expected to read hundreds of pages of legal text each week, and they are often required to write long essays and research papers for their law school classes. 

Second, the material you'll need to learn to become a lawyer is complex and non-intuitive. The law is an ever-changing field, and many law school students are expected to master a wide range of legal concepts.

Third, the competition in law school is hard and fierce. Law school is a highly competitive environment for most people, and students are constantly vying for grades and job opportunities.

Grade curving, which is a common practice by law school professors, often means that only the best students succeed in law schools. The legal profession is a world that is built on stiff competition, and law school is no different.

Despite the challenges, the law school experience can be useful. Attending law school can help you develop critical thinking skills, analytical abilities, and strong legal writing skills. Taking law school courses will also enable you to learn about the law and the legal system, which can be incredibly useful if you aspire to practice law for law firms someday.


Step 1: Earn an Undergraduate Degree and Get Good Grades

Usually, the first step for a law student who wants to attend law school is to earn an undergraduate degree in a subject matter that provides a strong pre-law foundation. In the United States, most law schools do not require any specific undergraduate major or set of courses. Students are admitted to law school from almost every academic discipline.

However, there are some undergraduate majors that are considered to be more "pre-law"-friendly than others. These majors typically include courses that teach critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and writing skills. Some examples of popular pre-law majors include:

  • Political science
  • History
  • Philosophy
  • English
  • Economics
  • Business

Generally speaking, there is no one "right" major for pre-law. The most essential concept for a prospective student to grasp is to choose a major in which they are interested and that will help them develop the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in law school.

However, earning high grades in university classes at the undergraduate level is important, too. Good grades in your classes can help to improve the odds of your acceptance into a law school and potentially affect other factors, such as scholarship opportunities.


Step 2: Take the LSAT and Get a Good Score

Once a law student nears completion of an undergraduate degree, the next step to prepare for law school will generally be to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT®).

The LSAT is a standardized test that is required for admission to all accredited law schools in the United States and Canada. It is a multiple-choice, skills-based exam designed to measure a student's preparedness for law school, and it is administered by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC).


LSAT Sections

The LSAT is a 3.5-hour test that consists of five sections, including:

  • Reading comprehension
  • Analytical reasoning
  • Logical reasoning
  • Experimental materials
  • An unscored writing sample

The reading comprehension section tests a student's ability to read and understand complex passages of text. The analytical reasoning section tests the ability to solve logic puzzles, and the logical reasoning section tests the ability to think critically and reason logically.

The experimental section is a new section of test questions used for test design and analysis, and the unscored writing sample is a timed writing exercise that is not scored by law schools. Neither of these sections count toward the evaluation.


How to Succeed with the LSAT

The LSAT is a challenging test, but it is possible to improve your score with preparation. There are many LSAT prep courses and materials available, and you can also find practice tests online. Potential law school students should start preparing for the LSAT as early as possible.

They should also take the LSAT early in their undergraduate studies so that they have time to retake it if they aren’t satisfied with their first-round score; law schools will generally only look at your highest score report. By taking the LSAT early, students can increase their chances of earning a good score and being admitted to their preferred law schools they prefer.

The LSAT score is one of the most important factors that law schools consider when making admissions decisions. However, it isn’t the only factor. Law schools also consider your undergraduate GPA, your extracurricular activities, your letters of recommendation, and your personal statement.


Step 3: Persevere through the Rigors of Law School

Once you're admitted to law school and start studying law, the level of challenge only goes up. Law schools' demanding environment can be a rude awakening for many law school students who are only accustomed to the comparatively trivial expectations of undergraduate studies. A law degree is a different challenge altogether.

Law schools' exams are known to be notoriously difficult. They are designed to test students' knowledge of the law and their ability to apply the law to real-world situations.

The exams themselves can be challenging. The material covered in law school classes is complex and ever-changing, so law school requires determination.

Also, the exams are often graded on a curve, which means that only a small percentage of students will typically receive an A. Finally, the exams can be long and demanding, requiring students to write essays or answer multiple-choice questions for several hours at a time.


Tactics to Pass Law School Exams

Students can be successful with law school exams through a number of helpful tactics. One of them is to start studying early. Studying early gives you plenty of free time beforehand to review the material and practice answering questions.

Another potential helpful approach is to form a study group. Studying with other law students can be a great way to stay motivated and to learn from each other.

A third tactic is to take practice exams. There are many practice exams available online and in law school libraries. Taking them can help students get familiar with the format of law school exams and the types of questions that are asked.

Taking breaks is also important. Students should not try to power through law school exam studies without taking any breaks. Ideally, get up and move around every 20-30 minutes to avoid getting too tired or stressed before a final exam.

Finally, students need to have a healthy emotional well-being and stay positive. Maintaining confidence and calm during law school exams is critical. Believing in yourself and your ability to succeed can make a lot of difference in these stressful environments.


Not All Students Will Succeed

The percentage of law students who do not make it through law school varies from school to school. However, according to the American Bar Association,the average first-year attrition rate for law schools over the past decade or so is about 20%. A law degree requires grit and perseverance.

I saw this phenomenon myself when I was in law school. My fellow students would be there one day and gone the next, often without warning.

There are a number of reasons why law students may not make it through their first year of law school life. Some may find the workload to be too demanding, while others may struggle with the material. Still others may decide that law school is just not the right fit for them and choose to do something else with their life.


Habits to Succeed in Law School

In order to be successful in law school, most students need to develop new habits and attitudes toward their academic work, including:

  • Being prepared to work hard – Law school classes are part of a demanding program, and you need to be prepared to be a good student and put in the time and effort to succeed. That work includes doing all of the assigned reading, avoiding low grades, and preparing well for final exams.

  • Developing strong study habits for law school – It is critical to find a study method that works and adhere to it. The workload for study will demand careful organization and a thorough review of your curriculum virtually every day.

  • Getting involved in extracurricular activities – Two great options available at almost every law school are law review journals and moot court. 

Law Review Journals

A law review is a student-run journal that publishes scholarly articles on legal topics. They often publish articles written by law school professors, judges, and other legal professionals.

However, some of these journals also publish articles written by students themselves. The articles are typically long and complex, and they provide in-depth analyses of legal issues, which serves as great practice for a student seeking to improve legal writing skills.

These journals are an important part of the legal community. They provide a forum for the discussion of legal issues, and they provide access to cutting-edge legal scholarship. Also, they can help aspiring lawyers to develop good research and writing skills that will be useful when they seek to work for a law firm.


Moot Court

Moot court is a simulated court proceeding in law school in which law students argue a hypothetical case before a judge or panel of judges. Moot courts are a common activity at law schools, and they are a valuable way to develop their oral advocacy skills.

Moot court cases are typically based on real-world legal issues, and they are often created by former law professors or other legal professionals. The cases are designed to be challenging, and they often require students to research complex legal issues.

In moot court, students are usually divided into two teams. Each team is responsible for researching their relative position on the case at bar, drafting a brief, and arguing the case before the judge or panel of judges.

The judge or panel of judges will then ask questions and make a mock “ruling” on the case. Moot court is all role playing, but it can serve as a valuable learning experience for students.

Moot courts are a valuable way for law students to develop different skills. They learn how to research legal issues, draft briefs, and argue cases before a judge or panel of judges. Moot courts can also help law students to develop their confidence and public speaking skills.


Self-Care Is Vital When You Go to Law School

Taking care of yourself, both physically and mentally, is critical in law school. Law school classes and other life activities can be stressful, so it is a good idea to maintain healthy habits because people tend to neglect self-care. Getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, and exercising regularly in your free time are all important to making it through the process.

If you are considering a career in law, going to a law school to obtain a degree can be a great way to prepare. However, it is important to be aware of the challenges that law school requires and work hard.

About the Author
Dr. Gary L. Deel
Dr. Gary Deel is an associate professor with the Dr. Wallace E. Boston School of Business at American Public University. He currently holds 13 degrees in areas such as space studies, hospitality and tourism management, psychology, higher education administration, and criminal justice, including a J.D. in Law and a Ph.D. in hospitality/business management. He is currently working on another degree and teaches human resources and employment law classes for American Public University, the University of Central Florida, Colorado State University, and others.

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