Welcome to Law School, Welcome to Change
Welcome to the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville! We are glad you chose our school to prepare you for your new profession. Although this is a very exciting time in your life, please be advised that entering law school is a major life transition. You will encounter many changes during your first year, including:
- Change in family roles and responsibilities necessitated by demands on your time;
- Change in family and friends’ perception of you, the evolving “lawyer,” especially in families where professional education is a new experience;
- Change in age group reference - for older students returning to school with younger peers; for younger students returning to live with older parents or relatives;
- Change in financial status - living on a student budget can be a challenge, as can be budgeting student needs into your existing income; and
- Change of location - which results in changes in directions, food, services, church and friends. Probably the biggest change for you as a first year student is the method of legal education.
The style of teaching utilized by most law school professors and the way law students prepare for class and study for exams are much different from undergraduate education. The teaching method used in law school may be distressing to some students. The current approach was developed in the 1870's by Dean Langdell of Harvard Law School. The basis of the method is to use actual cases, which students examine to determine the relevant rule of law that was used to resolve the dispute. Then, the scope and breadth of the rule are tested by reading other slightly dissimilar cases, or by the use of hypothetical cases put to the students by the professor and analyzed in the course of a “Socratic” dialogue conducted between teacher and student.
The Socratic method encourages competition to answer the professor’s questions and to criticize the remarks of other students. Usually the professor makes few evaluative comments about any student’s performance in class. The risk of embarrassment from being asked to respond in front of other students, and not knowing the answers and/or being criticized by the professor or other students is disconcerting to many students. Remember, however, you are not alone. Each and every one of your classmates will get the opportunity to fumble his or her response to the professor’s questions.
The complexity, uncertainty, and sometimes the inconsistency of the law are also very disturbing to many students who come to law school expecting the law to be logically consistent and certain. The teaching methods used result in having many questions raised, but few answered. Issues are analyzed from different points of view without any conclusion as to which point of view is “right.” This open-endedness and ambiguity are very frustrating to a large number of students who want to know what the answer is. The answer is most often: “It depends.”
The method of analysis in law school is clearly different from what students have learned to expect in their undergraduate studies. That is, memorization alone is simply not sufficient. Many students, for the first time, are expected to carefully analyze the materials they read. Most students find that they must spend large amounts of study time to understand the material. Despite spending a lot of time, many students are often left with the feeling that they don’t understand what they have read. Also, they initially don’t know how to analyze a case in an effective way, so they may be at a loss as to how to approach their studies.
Another change is that final grades almost always depend exclusively on the students’ performance on final exams given at the end of the semester. With no interim papers or tests given prior to final exams, students have little or no feedback to assist them in preparing for exams. For many students, there is a severe adjustment required after receiving their first semester grades. Somehow they must redefine what “success” means to them and learn to avoid the tendency to label themselves in negative ways for failing to achieve the level of success they had hoped for.
The Academic Success Program was implemented to help students adjust to these types of changes in personal and academic life. Please feel free to stop by the Academic Success Office, Room 212, (or call 852-1477) to discuss the programs and/or services best suited to help you achieve success in law school.
Laura B. Grubbs, J.D., DirectorAcademic Success Program
Wilson W. Wyatt Hall, Room 212