Going to Law School: An Overview

Apr 12, 2022

What is law school really like? What is the perception of law school compared to the reality of law school? This episode is a law school overview, focusing on what you can expect as a first-, second-, and third-year law student. Susan sits down with two current Creighton law students, Allison and Amit, as they discuss expectations as a law student, workload, and Quimby! This episode dives into what you can expect from the bar exam, what kinds of questions professors like to ask, and how the current pandemic has affected law firms and law students.


Susan: What is law school really like? There’s a perception and then there’s the reality, and on today’s podcast, we have two experts. We have two current law students who are clerking at Hightower Reff Law to tell us all about what law school is really like versus what some of the perceptions of law school and law students are.

Intro: Welcome to the Lady Lawyer League podcast. They are a league of lady lawyers in an all-female law firm in Omaha, Nebraska, called Hightower Reff Law. On this podcast, you’ll hear stories of what it’s like to be a lady lawyer and an entrepreneur. Now it’s time to talk about the law, share real-life stories about representing clients and discuss the current events of the week. It’s the Lady Lawyer League podcast with Susan Reff and Tracy Hightower-Henne.

Susan: Joining us today are Hightower Reff Law’s two current law clerks, Ali Hyneman and Amit Mukherjee. Welcome, Ali and Amit. Thanks for being on the podcast today. So Ali’s a second year at Creighton, right?

Ali: Yep.

Susan: And Amit at your third year.

Amit: Yep.

Susan: And I am a Creighton graduate, so I feel like, go Blue Jays.

Amit: Go Blue Jays.

Susan: Go Creighton. Yay! And it’s really fun to talk with you, too, about your experiences at law school. Because while it was 20 plus years ago I was in law school, it’s it’s still so much the same. And, you know, I think the perception of what law school is going to be like and then the reality are very different. Do you find that that’s true?

Ali: Yeah, it is so different than what you expect.

Susan: What did you expect it to be like?

Ali: I don’t know exactly what I expected it to be like, but I don’t know. It’s just different. I think you go into it and you have this idea that I think I kind of expected it to be a lot like undergrad and it is 100% different than that.

Susan: In what ways is it different, do you think?

Ali: I think the biggest thing for me is nobody tells you how to study for law school. It’s a different type of learning. Your entire grade is one final at the end of the semester. You don’t have quizzes and tests and assignments in the middle of the year. So I think you really have to keep yourself accountable to stay on top of the material because you have a whole semester’s worth to do on one test at the end. And that’s it. Yeah.

Susan: Did you have a perception of what law school was going to be like?

Amit: I did. I think that it wasn’t that much different than what I thought, except that it was just extra, you know what I mean? Like, it was like I knew there was going to be a lot of reading, but I didn’t know there were going to be that much. Yeah, and I knew that it was going to be long, tough tests. But I didn’t know they were going to be that long. And that, yeah, and the amount of writing was also something that I wasn’t prepared for, even though everybody told me it was a lot.

Susan: Yeah, so. And you two were both psychology undergrads, right? So, you were doing some heavier reading than, say, like someone who’s like an econ major like or because you can major in anything and go to law school. And I found when I was in law school, the people who were more business majors struggled more with the reading and writing workload than maybe people who were in a soft science or like poly sci or history or something like that. So it’s good to hear in my mind that even though there may not be like paper books anymore, there’s still a ton of reading because I had paper books when I was in school.

Ali: So all mine are paper books, really.

Amit: Yeah, there’s online versions that you can buy as well, but the paper books are where it’s at.

Susan: So OK, so it’s kind of is it a choice? Then you can choose paper.

Ali: You don’t even think, I think there’s only a handful of classes that even offer the online books. Most of them are. Still, it’s usually hardcover expensive textbooks.

Susan: Well, law is the last. The last thing to ever change, like the structure of law like everybody else is on e-books. The lawyers are still highlighting, and …

Amit: We’re just using the 20th edition of the exact same book, the exact same price, you know, so it’s …

Susan: Probably like the 100th edition because the cases are literally from last century.

Amit: Yeah, yeah, that’s that’s true. And they’re just too expensive by today’s dollars. So yeah,

Susan: It’s nice, if not more, if not more. Yeah. So let’s talk a little bit about what law school is, just to give listeners an idea of what classes people take, how the law school is structured and, and granted, this is from the perspective of Creighton. But a lot of law schools are structured the same, you know, three years. Your first year is pretty standard, like you don’t get to pick your classes when you’re a first year.

Ali: Yeah, they pick them for you. And I think for the most part, almost every law school you take the same first-year class, same first-year class is the foundational contracts towards civil procedure …

Susan: Torte! you learn how to bake.

Ali: I wish! That’d be way more fun.

Amit: That’s, who has time for baking. And yes, I know what.

Susan: So that was some. I was like, torts, what, like that’s got to be an acronym, I really thought torts was an acronym like T-O-R-T-S. And what does that mean? So like, what’s the best way to explain what torts are to people who don’t know what we’re talking about?

Amit: Well, so yeah, your second year you take criminal procedure and criminal law, but torts or civil law and violations of civil law that you can. And so you learn about intentional torts and negligence and things of that nature that require civil actions and the procedure and the elements required to prove all of those things.

Susan: So like car accidents, you know, like and then like when people think of like medical malpractice workers comp, some of that fits into that torts umbrella, like someone was hurt because somebody did something or didn’t do something right. And so that’s like the foundation for some of those bigger areas of the law that are specialties that come later. So when you’re a first-year law student, it’s like a lot of reading and writing.

Amit: So much reading.

Susan: And then and then it changes a little bit when you get into your second year. So what, what is second year like these days at Creighton?

Ali: So at Creighton, there’s still a handful of upper level classes that are required, but you have the option to take your second or third year and then you get to pick a few of your classes. So you can kind of, you can do a different specialty tract or concentration if you want or some people just, I think, take classes all over the board to kind of find what they’re more interested in.

Amit: Yeah, yeah, there wasn’t enough variation you can take. You can get concentrations as well in law school. So if you want to get a certification in litigation or family law or health law or something, you can do that. So there’s a bunch of classes you have to take to meet that requirement. I’m a health law sort of occasion, so I took a lot of health law classes, bioethics and, you know, insurance law, things like that. But you might. My second year was during COVID when things were all online, so it was a challenging time for me to do those. I didn’t get as much out of it, probably as Ali has, unfortunately.

Susan: Yeah, I remember my second year too was. Um, I can’t remember that there’s like a saying, like your first year, they scare you. Scare you to death. The second year they work you to death. Is that the one and then the third year you’re bored to death? Yeah.

Amit: Still waiting for that. Yeah.

Susan: Well, you’ve picked the right classes, maybe then.

Amit: Yeah, you’re not going to get to the bored to, not bored at all. The death part might, might check out.

Susan: But so and I feel like my second year was a lot, of I took a lot of procedural classes like I took Civ Pro or trial advocacy. I took, yeah, civil procedure, civil procedure, criminal treatment, criminal procedure. I took pre-trial advocacy. So that was civil, like a next level civil procedure. That was what it was. And so it was a lot of like in theory, how is it supposed to be done? And second year is also a lot of times where people have gone out and worked in a law firm or for the government or something like that. And then they’re coming back to the law school and they’re like, “Huh, I have some real life experience now,” and they’re bringing that back to law school, too. So that’s a little bit of a change in the second year. And in first year, too, most people don’t work, right? Yeah. And the second year, more and more of the students are actually working.

Amit: I had a lot of fun my first year because I worked for so long before I went to law school that it was kind of nice to just sit and study. And so that was kind of a fun year, really didn’t work for the first time since I was 14 years old, and it was nice to just be doing school all day. Plus there was the honeymoon period. You start law school, everyone’s telling you how great you are, and that’s wonderful. Everybody outside of the law school, the professors never tell you how great you are.

Susan: No, I’m still waiting. It’s been 27 years. Half of them are dead, right?

Amit: Not the half that I had studied.

Susan: So, yeah, if any law professor ever tells you you’re great. Come and tell me and I’m going to go back and get them to tell me I’m great because no one has told me that they don’t really work there.

Amit: They’re an imposter. Oh yeah.

Susan: Great. And then third year you, you’re really kind of transitioning into thinking about the bar exam, thinking about what do I want to do when I’m done? But you still have classes and there’s still all of that going on.

Amit: So third year is hard because you’ve got to balance a lot of competing priorities. And I think there’s and there’s a separation when you’re first year, everyone’s taking the same classes. You can commiserate and study together. By the time you’re a third year, you’re one. All study group is sort of gone in their different directions a lot of times, and you’ve got classes with people who are two L’s that you’ve never met. And so you’re trying to balance that and working. And then some people have figured out that they’re going to go get an advanced law degree called an MLM. Or they’re going to go, they’re going to move, they’re going to try to get a job in a different right area. So people start to fractal off a little bit. And that makes it more challenging sometimes.

Susan: Yeah. And when in the law school environment, do they start talking to you about the bar exam because the bar is completely separate from school in that you take it after you graduate?

Ali: Yeah, I think there’s an emphasis on it the entire time that every class you have, especially the required ones that are on the bar exam, you’re constantly reminded, Hey, you need to know this, this is going to be on the bar exam. And I think especially, I think in the last couple of years, we’ve heard so much. At least I have all my teachers constantly emphasize, you really need to know this. You need to remember this. Write this down. It’ll be on the bar exam. Hmm.

Susan: So that’s very different from when I went to law school. They did not start talking about the bar exam until second year, mid second year. And then it was like, “Well, you should sign up for these bar review classes now because you can lock in the price and if they raise the price…” And that was really the only thing that the law school there was no bar prep class built into law school. There wasn’t an emphasis on taking certain classes because they helped you prep for the bar. Nothing.

Amit: I don’t think that’s too different than my first year. We had one meeting, as I recall, with the dean who was brand new at the time about sort of what that looks like. And it was sort of a university-wide or a school-wide meeting. So they talked about it. Other three years were there and then they didn’t really talk about it. But COVID was kind of a game changer. I think everybody started really putting renewed focus on it, and it’s really all I’ve heard about after my second year.

Ali: Wow. Yeah. I think since I started in the fall of 2020, so right after COVID was a big thing and changing everything. And I think law schools across the country saw drops in their passage rates just because of COVID and students were learning things differently. So I think with my class, they’ve tried to emphasize and try to prepare us from the beginning to kind of stay on top of things and learn these important things now. So it’s a little easier later.

Susan: Yeah. So being a third year, are you planning to take the Nebraska bar?

Amit: I am, yeah.

Susan: So the bar exam is given twice a year nationwide, the same days across the country, in July and February, and so most people graduate from law school in late May, early June have like one day of freedom and then they start studying for the bar. Yeah, yeah. And then they take the bar at the end of July. So do you have a plan for how you’re going to get ready for the bar exam yet?

Amit: I’m just not going to do it.

Susan: You’re not going to plan or you’re not …

Amit: Not going to take the bar. Yeah, no, I’m actually pretty terrified of it. I mean, I think it’s because there’s just so much riding on it. And, you know, I don’t think much in law school has been terrifying or even like concerning other than maybe the first couple of times I was, I entered a court appearance by myself with the lawyer sitting behind me. But the bar is is intimidating. I mean, it’s two days, it’s a lot. So I’m going to start studying the day after I, you know, the first Monday after I graduate because I think the bar prep course starts on June 1st. But I want to start a couple of weeks early because I want to build in a couple of breaks for myself throughout the summer, just from a mental standpoint, because it’s tough to do the same thing. But if you treat it like a job, I hear and you just kind of, you know, go through the process and trust it and trust your training. You should be OK. But you know, yeah, I’m not supposed to knock on the table because the microphone, but I’ll knock on some wood.

Susan: Yeah, I think I always tell people, if you are consistent in your studying, you’re not front ending it or back ending it like you can stay consistent. And then I always tell people, take practice exams because they’re, the bar exam has multiple choice questions on it. I didn’t take a single exam during law school that actually had multiple choice questions, and they are like, here’s a fact pattern that’s half a page long. And then the, then there’s a, b, c, d, e, f, and then there’s like your choices A and D, D but not C, C and F, none of the above. Like, it’s like, “Oh my gosh.” So if you even for one second are not comfortable reading questions like that because you didn’t take practice tests, it’ll take you an hour just to read the question and understand what they’re asking.

Amit: Two hundred of those. So that’s all. That’s scary.

Susan: Yeah, yeah. I also, my one tip is jolly ranchers. I lived on Jolly Ranchers during the bar exam. Ok, like the actual, they were like, you can have candy. You can’t, or like food, you just can’t bring it in the room. So I would like go out, eat my candy, come back in. And it was Jolly Ranchers. For some reason that worked for me.

Amit: Any particular flavor I should stock up on?

Susan: Green. Green. The best flavor.

Amit: Oh, I don’t know what is green, sour apple or …

Susan: Green apple.

Amit: Oh no, hard pass.

Susan: What’s your favorite Jolly Rancher?

Amit: Anything but green, probably cherry.

Susan: Well, we could share pack.

Amit: OK, I could take the green, Ali could take the green. You can have anything but.

Amit: Back in my day, they used to put it in Zima. That would probably help for the bar exam.

Susan: You and I, we could tell some stories. Amit and I are the same genre, era, yeah, same age. And yeah, Zimas and Jolly Ranchers.

Amit: Non-podcast-appropriate stories about Zima, I’m sure.

Susan: Yeah. Boone’s Farm, Strawberry Hill or whatever that was called Mad Dog.

Amit: Mad Dog 20/20. There were a bunch of really?

Susan: Yeah, yeah, man. I didn’t ever have Mad Dog 20/20.

Amit: I didn’t either. But yeah.

Susan: Some of your friends did.

Amit: Yeah, yeah, of course I was, I was the good one who did not have any.

Susan: You were driving. So course

Amit: Not exactly. Of course, I was busy studying for law school.

Susan: Yeah, not knowing you were going to go.

Amit: I was going to go 20 years ago, right?

Susan: Knowing you were probably going to go to medical school.

Amit: Right, right. Yeah.

Susan: So do you, as a law student, do other people ask you like, “Oh, I’m thinking about going to law school? What do you think? Should I go? Shouldn’t I go?” What are the, you know? Do people ask you that?

Ali: I think I’ve been asked a few times by people who are a year or two years younger than me, what I think of it, what it’s like. And I mean, I’m very honest with them. I tell them that it’s harder than you think it’s going to be. But if it’s something you really want to do, it’s a means to an end. It’s worth it. In the end, if it’s really what you want to do.

Amit: Yeah, nobody cares about my opinion. So nobody asked me, I do it.

Susan: Your friends are all like, “Amit, you’re starting a new career and we’re all like buying retirement homes.”

Amit: My thinking, they know they’ve got to pick up drinks for three years because I can’t afford to. So yeah, so that’s that’s their contribution to my pain. But I do interviews for my undergraduate institution, for students. So a lot of those people are in high school and they are interviewing to go to, Oh, I went to Emory University in Atlanta. And so I do interviews for potential undergrad students for Emory, OK? And a lot of those kids will talk to me, a lot of them are pretty law sure, and so they’ll talk to me and I’ll tell them, you know, look, I can relate to you because I’m going to school with people only a few years older than you. And so, you know, I know what the path has been for them and how it’s been. And so those are the only times I’ve had those conversations and I’m in the thick of it. So I, like most law students, would probably tell people, you know, hey, it’s a lot of work. But I also have a longer perspective and I’ve said, you know, look, I would definitely rather do it right after college than doing it when you’ve had a career. It’s a lot, you know, you don’t have children usually or you’re not married. So there are advantages to being able to focus as much as you really need to to be successful in law school.

Susan: Is there anything about law school that once you got in it and once you got going, that kind of surprised you that you’re like, I didn’t expect this or I didn’t think it was going to be like this.

Ali: I think overall, the workload, like Amit said, I knew it was going to be a lot of reading. But then once you’re actually in it and you’re constantly reading, you know, 50 to 75 pages every single night. And it’s, I mean, a lot of your first-year classes is not super fun reading either.

Susan: It’s really dense, very dense.

Ali: And you have to be prepared to be called on and so you have to know it all. So I think just the amount of reading and then even legal research and writing, the amount of writing, and it’s a different type of writing. And so I think just the workload in general is just more than you think it’s going to be.

Amit: Yeah, very much so. I think it’s important to, there are ways like in every grad school program that make things easier, like learning about Quimby before you go to school, it’s probably a good idea.

Susan: What’s Quimby?

Amit: Quimby is this wonderful new thing that wasn’t probably around more than a few years before, but it …

Susan: Is it, there wasn’t cell phones when I went to …

Amit: On those newfangled interwebs now have this thing where you can sign up for it and it briefs every single case in every single textbook for you. So you can just download those, read the briefs and have them printed out in nice little. And there’s videos they go through and explain Pulse Graph for, you know, Pearson v Post.

Susan: The big case that you …

Amit: Always, but even the small kid in the …

Ali: Smaller cases.

Susan: You like, plug in the case name and then, yeah, you just type …

Ali: In blankety blank and then you get the rule, the facts, the opinion, the dissent and a nice, condensed, quick version.

Susan: Yeah, are professors supportive of this, are they?

Ali: I don’t know that they’re not supportive of it. I don’t think any of them at the beginning are like, Hey, just read Quimby. You don’t have to read the textbook.

Amit: But yeah, I think Quimby is not easy either. I mean, it’s still pretty dense, you know, stop. If you just try to go the professors when they cold call, they don’t ask questions in nice, easy, like what was the fact they’ll ask you, how is this different than another case? Yeah. So you still have to, you know, analyze the situation and put it together. But it’s funny because a lot of the professors, I don’t know if they were like this for you, Ali. But there were some professors who still have rules about not being able to use your laptop in class like they want you to take hand notes, because a lot of studies have shown that you retain things better if you handwrite them. So there are professors who won’t even let you have your laptop. So but it does put you at a disadvantage if you don’t know that Quimby is there, so you can either print them out or have them on your laptop. Yeah, I would still recommend doing the readings, but it’s nice to have a backup.

Ali: Yeah, I think it’s a good helper, but it’s definitely not a replacement for actually reading. I did, like I said, I started law school during COVID, so I think they kind of gave up on the no laptop policy because it wasn’t exactly an option. Yeah.

Susan: So this is a like a, you subscribe to Quimby?

Ali: Yeah, I think it’s like $20 a month, right? Something like that. But it’s 100% worth it, huh?

Susan: Absolutely. I learned something new today. Very cool. One of the things that I found really different when I went to law school is, so I had taken two years off between undergrad and law school. And when I went to law school, I thought I thought I would be surrounded by people who were really, really scholarly, very smart, very studious, pretty serious people. And I wasn’t really like that. So I was a little nervous thinking like, I’m going to be I. I felt like I would be kind of looked at as kind of an outsider. I, I definitely was more of a practical person, always, you know? And so when I got to law school initially, you know, you get you get your little friend circle, but then you start meeting everyone. And I was like, Huh? Some of these people are some of the most strange people, eccentric people, definitely not all scholarly people. And in fact, I think there’s a lot of people who end up in law school who are kind of like kind of, have like fringe opinions on things, who are a little eccentric in ways that border on criminal history. Some of the stories you hear. Yeah, yeah. There was a guy in our law school class who was a little bit older, who had been a career military person and military intelligence, and he ended up out with us at the bar one night and he was always pretty quiet and he started loosening up and we were like, Oh, this is fun, you know, we’re kind of seeing a more casual side of our friend. And then he just went off on somebody when they disagreed on something and he basically said, I could tie you up and and cut your fingers like, Oh my, basically do this torture technique on you in three seconds flat and no one here would be able to protect you. And so you better just shut up or something. We were all like, OK, all right. Never drinking with him again. Like he lost it and like, like stormed out of the bar and like, never, ever socialized with us again after that.

Amit: Well, that’s great. You got one of those.

Ali: Yeah, yeah, we’ve got some interesting characters.

Susan: Yeah. And and I think law, because it does give you like this wide variety of things you can do when you’re done that it does attract all sorts of different kinds of people.

Ali: Yeah. And I think because to go to law school, there’s not, there’s really no requirements. There’s not a set major you have to have, whereas like medical school or dental school, things like that, they’re mostly biology or chemistry majors, stuff like that. But law school, you can do anything. So you have people who already came from a wide background. You could have, like my best friend in law school, she was a math major. Yeah. And then just, yeah, so you have all different sorts of people.

Susan: Yeah, yeah. And people coming from different careers too, like they’ve done something for a while and they’ve decided they’re they’re going to change over. There was a couple of teachers in my law school class.

Amit: Yeah, yeah, we have a couple as well in our class. My brother-in-law is a police officer, has been a police officer for 25 years and I’m trying to get him to go to law school. He’d be fantastic at it and he’s just, he’s a great guy.

Susan: We had too, like that. We had a cop in our class, too. He’s at the AG’s office now.

Amit: It’s nice because they could give perspective to things. And that’s a really important thing because if there’s one limitation of law school, because a lot of people come straight from college, there’s maybe a lack of perspective. And I mean, Susan, you and I have talked a little bit about people who maybe haven’t, you know, law school teaches a lot of theoretical, but there’s a definite deficiency sometimes as it relates to practical experience and practical learning in law school just because the way it’s structured. Yeah, and that’s a good thing that it’s, that focuses on the thing you won’t be able to get out there. And there are some checks in place like Ali talked about with the LSATs and GPAs to let you into law school. But probably I mean, it’s a fine line to walk between getting a diverse class. It has a lot of experience, but having a minimum competency level that will make it easier for everybody to learn, and sometimes that’s a moving target.

Susan: Yeah. Well, this has been really great to talk to two current law students and take me back to my days of studying in the basement of the law library at Creighton.

Ali: Probably hasn’t changed one bit since then.

Susan: Yeah, though I did hear there, they’re going to do a facelift on the law library. Oh, or like a reno or something.

Amit: Right after we leave?

Ali: Yeah, actually.

Susan: Yeah, when I was there, it was brand new, so it was pretty cool.

Amit: Yeah, the library is actually, I love the library because I think it’s …

Ali: Probably the best part of the school.

Amit: The classrooms could definitely use a facelift.

Ali: No windows, dark walls.

Susan: Well, I’m going to tell you spoiler the moment you graduate, they’re just going to start asking you for money and you could say, like, I’ll only give you the money if you update the classrooms. But then what benefit do you get? Yeah, exactly. Creighton’s pretty good about that money.

Ali: Yeah, right after you graduate.

Amit: I find that that seems to be a department that’s fairly well funded. Yeah.

Susan: Yeah, they’re never short staffed. No, no.

Amit: Yeah, always have your number. I mean, if you want to apply for your address and for the bar exam, just ask the place you went to undergrad. They’ll know where you are.

Susan: Yeah, they’ll find you. I’ll find you. So next step is the bar exam and then lawyerhood.

Amit: I’m way ahead. Yeah.

Susan: And they actually give you a hood at graduation.

Amit: Yeah, that’s right. And this year, because COVID, hopefully things kind of stay where they’re at and we’ll be able to have in-person graduation. Last year, the class of graduates were only allowed to bring two people. Oh no. No. And so I’ve got two kids and my wife and my parents, and I’d like them all to come and to take, you know, just two people.

Susan: Well, we’re looking forward to that celebration for you this spring and for you, Ali, next spring and it’ll come so fast.

Ali: I hope so.

Susan: She’s like, Yes, it’ll feel like forever. It’ll feel like forever. But yeah. So thank you for your time today. This has been really great. I am sure that we all have studying to do or projects or whatever. So go Blue Jays.

Outro: Thank you for listening to the Lady Lawyer League. Be sure to like and subscribe anywhere you get your podcasts. If you would like to learn more about our firm, visit us at hrlawomaha.com. We’ll see you next week.

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