While many college graduates find that their workload increased as they approached graduation, most lawyers will tell you that their most difficult year of law school was their first. There are two principal reasons for this. First, law students don’t ease into law school; every law school course requires extensive study of cases, and the formats of exams and writing assignments different from college assignments. Second, most first-year courses are graded on a curve, which usually means that only 25-30% of the class can get an A no matter how well the students do on their exams. This makes grades relative, and competition between students inevitable.
During the first year of law school, most students take courses in civil procedure, contracts, torts, property, criminal law, and legal writing, plus one or two courses that vary between schools. Students take most of their courses as part of a cohort of 60-120 students, who comprise what is called a “section.” Each section is subdivided into smaller groups for a legal research and writing class, which is usually the only first-year course in which students have extensive contact with faculty. Touro students accustomed to small classes and regular attention from teachers need to adjust to a very different educational environment, one in which professors may never know your name.
Not only is the first year of law school challenging, it is also important for success in the legal profession. Students who do well their first year have the greatest opportunity to win positions on law reviews and moot court, as well as to be hired tor paid internships after their second year. Faculty members prefer to hire top-ranked law students for research jobs, and judges usually prefer them for post-graduate clerkships.
Law students usually begin practical training the summer after their first year in law school. The majority of students find internships with firms, government agencies, not-for-profit organizations and courts, although most of these are unpaid. Beginning in the second year, students can obtain course credit for work done at law school-sponsored legal clinics or selected public service agencies. These provide important practical legal experience that may make the difference in hiring decisions for post-law school employment.
The second summer of law school is particularly important for students who want to work in law firms. Many private firms, and some other employers, use summer internships as tryouts for full-time employment. In the best-case scenario, a third year student returns to school with an offer of full-time employment after graduation. However, most students need to continue job search efforts during their third year and sometimes even after graduation.
Graduating from law school is only the first step towards admission to the bar in your state as a lawyer. Two months after graduation, law students must pass two-day bar exam, which is usually given the last week of July. Up until recently, students planning to practice in more than one state had to separately qualify in each state. However, many states (including New York) now participate in a multistate bar exam that can allow graduates to practice in numerous states. Students who pass the bar exam must then complete additional forms and undergo a character review before being officially sworn in, which usually takes place during the year after they graduate from law school.