Law School Basics
Law school is typically a three year program. Admission standards generally require that you have completed your undergraduate degree before matriculating in law school and that you must take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). There are no particular undergraduate courses or majors that are required for law school. At UK Law we have admitted students with majors from Art History to Zoology.
However, the study of law is a very involved process. Many law professors, particularly in the first-year, teach using the Socratic Method. Class discussions will start with the reading assigned for that particular class and move forward from there. To get the most out of the law school curriculum, it is important to attend class, to do reading assignments in advance, and be engaged during class discussions.
The Socratic Method
Instead of strictly lecturing, a professor will call on you to answer questions about material you have studied, as well as questions which test your ability to apply legal principles to different situations. Thorough preparation for class will guide you through difficult questions and make the experience easier.
The Socratic Method is designed to teach you to solve problems by listening carefully to the facts, analyzing them with good judgment, and expressing conclusions precisely. Law professors vary in their use of the Socratic Method. Some begin by asking you to state the facts or the issue(s) presented in the case, and then follow with questions asking whether the decision is right or wrong, poorly reasoned, or in line with similar decisions. Other professors create hypothetical situations similar to the cases you are studying and have you analyze the situation using the legal principles from the initial cases.
As you might suspect, the Socratic Method is more difficult and demanding than most teaching methods used in undergraduate courses. Law professors also use a mix of lecture and problem-solving alongside the Socratic Method. Regardless of the teaching method used, being well prepared and engaged in class will enable you to get the most from your legal education.
Classes and Class Prep
Law school classes are generally taught using cases or decisions. Legal textbooks contain mostly appellate cases – the decisions from courts with the power to review the judgments of lower courts – and useful notes and references. The textbooks are organized by the overarching legal principle discussed in each case. At the start of law school many students can find reading cases overwhelming. The case brief is a popular tool to break down each case into more manageable pieces of information.
Briefing is a way of organizing the information in a case. A brief is a summary of the important points of the court's decision. Most law students, especially first-year students, find briefing an invaluable tool. Not only does briefing help prepare you for class, but the end result is a capsule outline of all the cases you have read during the semester. During finals preparation, this organization saves you the task of rereading cases.