I’ll be heading off to law school in a few short months, and my mailbox certainly shows it. Over the last three months, I have received admissions responses from law schools (mostly acceptances, I am happy to report), followed by daily credit card offers, followed by a persistent bombardment of brochures from companies that would like me to take a class to learn how to succeed in law school. I was happy to hear back from law schools, and as far as the credit card offers go, if a brotha’ is going to take out a $60,000 loan, he might as well earn some frequent flyer miles when he buys his top ramen and SpaghettiOs… am I right?
Armed with some shiny acceptance packets and an even shinier line of credit, I now had to make sense of these “learn how to be a good law student” brochures. Could I benefit from previewing law courses, I asked myself aloud in the mail room of my apartment complex. I had just received my sixth such brochure in a month, and after finally opening one of them up, a few things became clear:
#1) There seemed to be a lot of very good looking, racially ambiguous students that are heading to law school in the fall.
#2) All of these students are clearly going to absolutely rock it during their first year of law school.
#3) They couldn’t have done it without paying over $1000 for a course that acquaints you with the best way to study for law school.
#4) They think I should be one of these students, too.
Short story short, there are many companies that offer week-long classes that are designed to prepare students for their first year of law school, a.k.a 1L, a.k.a. the most important academic year of their lives. These courses are usually taught by moonlighting law professors so the curriculum is similar to what you’d actually see if you were to take that particular professor’s course. Seems like a fair enough business model. As I contemplate whether or not to take such a class, and after doing some research of my own, I decided to share what I consider to be the pros and cons of these types of courses.
If you talk to any student in their first year of law school, they will tell you that the lectures, study methods, and exams are completely different from what they were accustomed to as an undergrad. You’ll hear about “issue spotting,” “outlining,” “the Socratic method,” “case briefing” and the elusive and mysterious skill of “thinking like a lawyer.” These preparatory classes will at least familiarize you with these concepts and give you some sense of what to expect when you sit down in your first law school class. Typically 1L prep classes give you about 30 cases to study, and you’ll get a crash course in how they should be approached. You will also familiarize yourself with the core classes that are a rite of passage for every lawyer: Civil Procedure, Contracts, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Property Law, and Torts.
It’s possible that, in addition to giving you a reasonable sense of how law school classes will progress, there is a psychological value to these courses. Law students can be a neurotic bunch, and since success in law school is defined by how well you stack up against your classmates, we understandably want an edge. Getting a taste for what 1L will be like, and how real law school professors run their classes can make you feel more at ease when you get to the real thing. Although all of this content will eventually be imparted to you in actual law school, if you are overrun with 1L anxiety, then the $1,000 investment may be worth it.
The truth is that most of this information can be obtained for much less money by visiting your local Barnes & Noble. Plain English for Lawyers by Richard Wydick and Getting to Maybe by Richard Fischl are both highly recommended and are packed with valuable insights on what to expect in law school. The best part is that you’ll have over $1,000 left over to spend as you wish (see: pay back loans from Uncle Sam). In other words, there are far more economical ways to get the information you need and to get rid of the pre law school jitters, though you won’t get to participate in the classroom experience. If you don’t want to pick up those books because you “aren’t a big reader,” then I truly hope you have not accepted your law school loan yet and you still have time to turn back.
The dean of one of the law schools I recently visited explicitly stated to all of the admitted students that a crash course in law school actually does very little to prepare students for the real thing. It is impossible, he said, to cram nine months of material into 45 hours. But other law schools I was admitted to fully endorse these classes and even offer a discount, so there is no consensus from law schools themselves.
The bottom line is that these courses are not going to catapult you to the top 5% of your class. At the same time, if you think Torts sound like a delicious lunchtime snack, you would be correct, but you may benefit from a little tune-up before you head to law school.
A version of this post originally was originally published in 2011.