You Can Handle the Truth: Top 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Entering Law School

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When friends and I reflect on our law school experiences, we often talk about our 1L year. Everyone remembers how they felt the first time they were called on in class, the struggles they encountered when creating their first study outline, and the experience of taking one, final exam that determined their entire grade for a course. I, along with thousands of others, encountered and conquered these situations, but it would have been nice to have been prepared for certain situations. With that in mind, here are a few things I wish someone would have told me before entering law school. And because everybody loves a bit of trivia, see if you can identify the movies associated with the quotes in each section below!

“What? Like it’s hard?”

Law school is very demanding on your time. In my 1L year, I had to take five classes per semester, each of which averaged more than 100 pages of assigned reading per week. I also took a legal writing course, which required me to complete research and writing assignments. It was easy to feel overwhelmed, but there were many resources available to help, including:


  • a legal writing center staffed with upper-level law students who had drafted similar assignments;
  • tutors for each course who had a solid grasp of the subject and good insight as to the final exam; and
  • legal research professors who were experts in navigating online databases and helped save a ton of time in my initial forays into researching legal subjects.

It is also completely normal to experience anxiety, stress, and other mental health issues during law school. Talk to your professors or classmates if you are comfortable doing so. Your law school or university should have counselors who specialize in school-related mental health. The important thing is to recognize when you need help and get the assistance you need.

“You always taught me to fight for the people who need help the most.”

I had no idea what type of law I wanted to practice when I entered law school, but that seemed like the only question people asked me once they found out I was going to law school. I felt pressured to figure it out quickly but later realized that it’s okay to not know your legal specialty or path immediately—or even in your 3L year. Most legal jobs require you to have skills to practice in a wide array of legal fields, so take a variety of classes to expose yourself to different areas of the law. And while your class ranking may impact your ability to obtain certain jobs or clerkships, you don’t need to be at the top of your class to have a successful legal career. Focus on what interests and motivates you.

“Will you stand? Speak louder! Fill the room with your intelligence!”

You will be required to participate in public speaking while in law school. In class, many professors still call on students without any prior warning. This can be an anxiety-inducing experience, but you don’t need to emulate TV shows or movies and deliver the “perfect” answer. In fact, there is none, which took me a while to realize. Professors are teaching you to think like a lawyer, so they will purposefully ask questions that don’t have one right answer. Just be prepared for class and try your best.

“No associate of this firm has ever failed the bar exam.”

I honestly didn’t think about the bar exam until the first semester of 3L year. Even then, I didn’t really grasp the amount of time and effort I would need to devote to preparing for the bar exam until I started my bar review course. Here a few things to keep in mind when you get to that stage:

  • Budget your time and money accordingly. You will likely be studying 40+ hours per week, so you will need to plan for that post-graduation and pre-job period. This is typically two months for studying and anywhere from one to four months waiting for the results.
  • Study how you learn best. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to studying, especially for the amount of information you are expected to learn for the bar exam. Seek out different resources and study methods that are going to help you succeed.
  • You are not defined by your results. If you fail the exam, that’s okay. Presidents, governors, and other famous government officials have failed the bar exam and still gone on to successful careers. You can always take the exam again, or you can find a job that doesn’t require you to be licensed. Your JD will open plenty of doors on its own.

“[E]very now and again—not often, but occasionally—you get to be a part of justice being done. That really is quite a thrill when that happens.”

While law school brought new challenges for me, it was a rewarding experience where I met some of my best friends and developed skills that I’ve been able to use in my life. Remember, you aren’t alone and there are plenty of resources available to help you along the way. Stay true to yourself, and you can conquer all the challenges law school presents!


Answers to Movie Title Quotes:
1) Legally Blonde
2) Just Mercy
3) The Paper Chase
4) The Firm
5) Philadelphia


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Ryan Zajic

After receiving his bachelor of arts degree in Political Science and History from the College of Saint Benedict/St. John's University and his Juris Doctorate from Creighton University School of Law, Ryan Zajic (he/him) worked as an attorney specializing in low-income housing tax credits. Ryan now works as a bar review content developer at UWorld, where he creates online test preparation resources to help students succeed on the bar exam and in law school. He can be reached at [email protected].

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