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What are law school classes like?

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Hello everyone!

I used the search function but could not find what I was looking for so I decided to make an account. 

I was hoping some current law school students or graduates could weigh in on what classes are like, and how we are tested. I am interested in law but don't know what the environment of classes is like and if I'll be able to thrive in it. I have a science background and struggle with writing essays and papers, so I mostly wanted to know if that's what most of law school was about. Also, are classes mostly rote memorization? Lastly, does any other law school besides U of T use pass/fail for grading? 

 

I do not know any lawyers personally so would appreciate your input.  

 

Particularly interested in U of T, U of C, Alberta, UBC, Osgoode, Queens and Western. 

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U of T is not pass/fail for grading.  Search this site and you will have a better idea.

 

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5 minutes ago, Optimist said:

Hello everyone!

I used the search function but could not find what I was looking for so I decided to make an account. 

I was hoping some current law school students or graduates could weigh in on what classes are like, and how we are tested. I am interested in law but don't know what the environment of classes is like and if I'll be able to thrive in it. I have a science background and struggle with writing essays and papers, so I mostly wanted to know if that's what most of law school was about. Also, are classes mostly rote memorization? Lastly, does any other law school besides U of T use pass/fail for grading? 

 

I do not know any lawyers personally so would appreciate your input.  

 

Particularly interested in U of T, U of C, Alberta, UBC, Osgoode, Queens and Western. 

PM me I’d be happy to talk 

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 Most exams are 100%. Some classes are 100% final essay.

In your first year you get core classes like Torts, Property, Criminal, Contracts, and Constitutional Law. Generally these are exam only. Aboriginal law and foundational skills courses are also included in first year in many schools. 

Classes can be big or small. You have assigned readings for ahead of class, you attend lectures and take notes. The profs have office hours if you need help with concepts.

Smart students check out previous years’ exams and learn what each class/prof wants you to know. Some people rely on the textbooks, some on the classes, some on a combo of both. Upper Years’ outlines or CANS (condensed annotated notes) get passed around and lots of people use those as study aides. Each student is different. 

Lawyers are masters of communication. While essays may not be your strong suit, I bet you can analyze and distill information into component parts. Use that skill and work in your prose and law school won’t be an insurmountable challenge.

I have never heard of students at a Canadian law school complaining about utterly ridiculous levels of malicious competition or even sabotage amongst classmates. That appears to be an American trope. So don’t worry too much about that kind of thing. 

Law school also gives you opportunity to do clinical work, like the student legal aid clinic. There are a ton of groups and organizations that do all kinds of interesting things to bridge the gap between school and profession.  You will probably sign up for too many and then just stick with one or two. 

In first year your focus will be exams and adjusting. Second year your focus will be on your moot and summer jobs and picking the right classes to align with the places where you apply. Third year your focus will be on your looming articles.

There is a saying: first year scares you to death, second year works you to death, and third year bores you to death. Loosely speaking it’s somewhat accurate. 

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13 hours ago, Hegdis said:

There is a saying: first year scares you to death, second year works you to death, and third year bores you to death. Loosely speaking it’s somewhat accurate

Yeah I’d say it’s reasonably accurate. 

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14 hours ago, Hegdis said:

There is a saying: first year scares you to death, second year works you to death, and third year bores you to death. Loosely speaking it’s somewhat accurate. 

... and if you're still alive after 3L, articling kills you.

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38 minutes ago, thegoodlaw said:

... and if you're still alive after 3L, articling kills you.

first year scares you to death, second year works you to death, and third year bores you to death, articling kills you to death.

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15 hours ago, Luckycharm said:

U of T is not pass/fail for grading

True, they use pass/different pass/different pass/different pass. 

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6 minutes ago, BlockedQuebecois said:

True, they use pass/different pass/different pass/different pass. 

Almost like an A pass, B pass, C pass, and D pass. 

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Just now, realpseudonym said:

Almost like an A pass, B pass, C pass, and D pass. 

True, but I've been informed that only U of T Faculty of Law Students and Alumni are capable of understanding the complex and inscrutable grading system the University of Toronto Faculty of Law has instituted, so pass/different pass/different pass/different pass it is!

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There are a few different types of law school classes.  Your first year classes, the upper year mandatory classes (such as Civil Procedure and Administrative Law (at some schools)), and the not mandatory but most people take them upper year classes (like Evidence) will generally be larger classes, although several schools do one of the first year courses in a smaller group.  In these classes, you will generally read excerpts from cases.  These cases set out legal principles and your professor will either tell you what those principles are or they will emerge through class discussion.  You will also see an example of those principles being applied in the case(s) that you read or your professor may give other examples of how they were applied in other cases.  You may also talk through problems, where you have an opportunity to apply these legal principles to a fact situation.  This is basically practice for what you will do on your exams in these classes.  More often than not, these classes will be tested through a 100% open book exam.  At schools where one of these first year classes is taught in a small group, you may have a few written assignments for these classes and a moot (where you orally argue an appeal).  At other schools, there is a legal research and writing class with written assignments.  

The second common type of class is a seminar.  Many schools require that you do one seminar-style class in 2L or 3L in which you write a major paper (the length varies by school, but somewhere in the neighbourhood of 30 pages).  These classes tend to be capped at somewhere between 15 and 20 people.  The readings for these classes often include excerpts from cases but also journal articles, policy documents, etc.  These classes tend to involve more discussion than the larger classes.  The evaluation method varies a bit, but something like 80% paper and 20% participation is fairly standard.

Other types of classes include clinics (where you help with the legal issues of real people), moots (where your mark is generally a combination of what is called a factum (the written document that accompanies an appeal) and your oral argument), and courses like civil or criminal trial practice (where your mark can be a combination of written assignments and oral advocacy).

Edited by ProfReader
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Anyone reading: ProfReader is the accepted authority on this. My info is some fifteen years out of date. 

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21 hours ago, Hegdis said:

 Most exams are 100%. Some classes are 100% final essay.

In your first year you get core classes like Torts, Property, Criminal, Contracts, and Constitutional Law. Generally these are exam only. Aboriginal law and foundational skills courses are also included in first year in many schools. 

Classes can be big or small. You have assigned readings for ahead of class, you attend lectures and take notes. The profs have office hours if you need help with concepts.

Smart students check out previous years’ exams and learn what each class/prof wants you to know. Some people rely on the textbooks, some on the classes, some on a combo of both. Upper Years’ outlines or CANS (condensed annotated notes) get passed around and lots of people use those as study aides. Each student is different. 

Lawyers are masters of communication. While essays may not be your strong suit, I bet you can analyze and distill information into component parts. Use that skill and work in your prose and law school won’t be an insurmountable challenge.

I have never heard of students at a Canadian law school complaining about utterly ridiculous levels of malicious competition or even sabotage amongst classmates. That appears to be an American trope. So don’t worry too much about that kind of thing. 

Law school also gives you opportunity to do clinical work, like the student legal aid clinic. There are a ton of groups and organizations that do all kinds of interesting things to bridge the gap between school and profession.  You will probably sign up for too many and then just stick with one or two. 

In first year your focus will be exams and adjusting. Second year your focus will be on your moot and summer jobs and picking the right classes to align with the places where you apply. Third year your focus will be on your looming articles.

There is a saying: first year scares you to death, second year works you to death, and third year bores you to death. Loosely speaking it’s somewhat accurate. 

Your 15-year-old info is still completely accurate!  Yes to mostly 100% exams.  Most paper courses seem to have something else, like participation, but they are also sometimes 100% papers.  That list of first year courses is still generally true.  Yes to classes being big or small, although some schools don't have any small first year classes or just have one, while most will be big.  "Big" varies by school.  Some are around 40, some are around 75.  Yes to checking out past exams.  Some schools have them available online.  You could also ask your prof for a past exam.  I post some of mine on the course website.  Yes, lots of people use upper years' notes.  I neither condone not discourage this.  I don't blame students for wanting a good starting point and, frankly, when I have seen CANS, they've been very accurate.  That being said, they can only get you as far as understanding the cases...you still have to be able to apply them yourself.    I agree that there aren't examples of malicious levels of competition.  Stories of students ripping pages out of books seems to be largely urban legend.  I agree that there are interesting opportunities to do clinical work, but that students shouldn't spread themselves too thin.  For that reason, doing clinical work for credit makes more sense to me than the volunteer-based clinical opportunities.  But I neither supervise clinical students nor did clinical work in law school, so my view on that isn't especially informed.  I agree the first year is about exams and adjusting.  Don't underestimate how difficult the latter will be.  I also agree with the comment about tailoring the courses you pick to the future work that you will be doing.  I agree with that over the philosophy that says to take courses that will be tested on the bar.  The only thing I would add to the comment about second year is that not everyone does a moot...most schools have the mandatory moot in first year and second year moots are optional.

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Disclaimer: I'm a 1L so I don't know if what I say applies to upper year classes!

Yes to everything that has been said. For first year classes, there is no rote memorization. For exams, you'll probably 'memorize' the names and takeaway of some of the important cases but I wouldn't call it memorization. It is definitely not memorizing a bunch of rules.

As to how what classes are like, usually, profs will assign readings for you to do  (preferably) before class. Those readings will be mostly cases. In class, they'll go over the readings, discuss what you should take away from those readings and most profs will encourage discussion. Some classes have participation marks but not all of them (and for some of them, participation = showing up). By reading and discussing the cases, you get a sense of what the law is. 

For exams, most of them will feature a made up scenario and then using what you know about the law, you'd give advice to the hypothetical client. You don't need stellar essay writing skills but you need to become good at conveying your thoughts.

Basically everyone was a bit lost the first few weeks of law school, regardless of their backgrounds so I wouldn't worry too much about it!

I have a STEM background too so if you want to know more about the STEM-Law transition, PM me!

 

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1 hour ago, ProfReader said:

Your 15-year-old info is still completely accurate!  Yes to mostly 100% exams.  

 

Not to disagree with most of that post, but a qualification on the 'mostly 100% exam's from a current student - your assessment methods will vary wildly depending on your professor and the school. I think all of my finals have been worth 40% or more, but in my experience (which again, depends on the class, the professor teaching it, the school), 100% finals are not that common, although they do exist. I'm half way through 2L and my first 100% final is this term (where I have two of them, yay :)). My other two courses this term are a 50% final exam and a 55% final paper. Last term my largest component exam was 75% of final grade.

 

In classes that are not 100% finals, the remainder (anywhere from 25-60%) can be made up of shorter papers, class participation, midterm exams, etc (which could be failsafe, or could be guaranteed to contribute to your grade). Where you do have exams, these can vary completely in what you're allowed to bring in (again, this term my two 100% finals are polar opposites of each other - one is closed book nothing allowed, one is open laptop everything allowed). Where you're allowed to bring things in, you still need to understand the contents - you might find it useful to grab facts and quotes, but you'll need to be able to rapidly identify what's important in it, and flip to it. Your books and notes will probably be heavily tabbed for that purpose.

 

In short: You will be assessed. The manner in which that happens could look very different between different law students, depending on where they go, and what classes they take.

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26 minutes ago, lookingaround said:

 

Not to disagree with most of that post, but a qualification on the 'mostly 100% exam's from a current student - your assessment methods will vary wildly depending on your professor and the school. I think all of my finals have been worth 40% or more, but in my experience (which again, depends on the class, the professor teaching it, the school), 100% finals are not that common, although they do exist. I'm half way through 2L and my first 100% final is this term (where I have two of them, yay :)). My other two courses this term are a 50% final exam and a 55% final paper. Last term my largest component exam was 75% of final grade.

 

In classes that are not 100% finals, the remainder (anywhere from 25-60%) can be made up of shorter papers, class participation, midterm exams, etc (which could be failsafe, or could be guaranteed to contribute to your grade). Where you do have exams, these can vary completely in what you're allowed to bring in (again, this term my two 100% finals are polar opposites of each other - one is closed book nothing allowed, one is open laptop everything allowed). Where you're allowed to bring things in, you still need to understand the contents - you might find it useful to grab facts and quotes, but you'll need to be able to rapidly identify what's important in it, and flip to it. Your books and notes will probably be heavily tabbed for that purpose.

 

In short: You will be assessed. The manner in which that happens could look very different between different law students, depending on where they go, and what classes they take.

Yes, I should have been clearer.  I was lumping 1L midterms into that "100% final exam" statement.  1L midterms will vary by school.  Some are completely failsafe (in essence, they count if they help you but don't count if they don't...which is sort of a 100% final) or are worth some amount of the grade (often a relatively small amount if you do better on the final exam).  Beyond that caveat though, I have taught at 5 Canadian law schools and sat on academic committees that look at the practices of other schools and yes, it is still mostly 100% finals (or finals/midterms for 1L classes).  I wouldn't say that it varies "wildly" at all.  Papers and assignments are not all that common for 1L classes (apart from a small group or a legal research and writing class, which I noted above) or for large upper year courses.  And yes, while there are closed book exams, the majority still remain open book.

Edited by ProfReader
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Almost all my exams were full open book, and one or two took the approach of "you can bring in certain notes" - i.e. I think in Evidence, I was allowed one double sided page. I think I had, at most, one non-open book exam in my law school career and I took mostly exam courses.

The only other variation worth noting is the take home exam, which is a cross between an exam and a paper, featuring some of the worst elements of each.

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1 minute ago, Rashabon said:

The only other variation worth noting is the take home exam, which is a cross between an exam and a paper, featuring some of the worst elements of each.

I once made the mistake of not placing a word limit on a 48 hour take home exam.  Complete nightmare.

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Just now, ProfReader said:

I once made the mistake of not placing a word limit on a 48 hour take home exam.  Complete nightmare.

I can only imagine. I think I wrote 14,000-16,000 words on one since I don't think there was a word limit. The beauty was, the entire take home exam was a trick question and almost everyone in the class did poorly because none of the people I spoke to caught the trick. Half those people (including me) all work in that very area now on Bay Street, so maybe we all learned a valuable lesson.

The best part of a 3 hour exam is that it ends after 3 hours.

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7 minutes ago, Rashabon said:

I can only imagine. I think I wrote 14,000-16,000 words on one since I don't think there was a word limit. The beauty was, the entire take home exam was a trick question and almost everyone in the class did poorly because none of the people I spoke to caught the trick. Half those people (including me) all work in that very area now on Bay Street, so maybe we all learned a valuable lesson.

The best part of a 3 hour exam is that it ends after 3 hours.

I had several that were over 50 pages with 1.5 spacing.

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