Law School Undercover | Book Excerpt

LSAT Blog Law School Undercover Book Excerpt
The following excerpt about life in law school is from Law School Undercover: A Veteran Law Professor Tells The Truth About Admissions, Classes, Cases, Exams, Law Review, Jobs, and More.

To Law School We Go

The hardest advice for students to accept should be the easiest: the goal in going to law school is to get a law degree. That is the only goal. The rest is just window dressing.

Yet it’s this window dressing that is the focus of a crazy anxiety and outlandish competitiveness for which law school is notorious. If the goal is simply to get a law degree, to graduate and nothing else, then worries about grades, class rank, graduation honors, law review, and so forth disappear. Avoid flunking out and you’ll become a lawyer.

And here’s the unspoken secret that every professor knows but we never tell students:

At most law schools, you would need to make a serious effort to goad the faculty for us to fail you. Some law schools, typically those among the lower ranks, do flunk out a small percentage of students, usually fewer than five percent of the entering class.

The practice of decades ago, where larger numbers in fact flunked out, continues only in the collective imagination of students. On the other hand, law students in the highest-ranked schools almost never fail—and when they do drop out, it’s almost always for non-academic reasons. Many law schools even allow students who have a failing mark to continue, re-taking classes in which their performance was substandard to improve their performance and grade point average. Once you’re admitted, the odds are high you’re going to become a lawyer.

So, congratulations…and relax.

Yet relaxation is the opposite of the state of mind of the typical law school student. Law students are arguably the most competitive professional students in the American university. They are driven to an extent that shocks students in other disciplines. Law students down caffeine pills and other stimulants and pull all-nighters…just to catch up on class preparation!

Now imagine the even more stress-filled time spent preparing for exams. Law students will read and study every school night and most of the weekends, leaving barely enough time for a minimal social or family life. They will prepare three-hundred page “outlines”  that detail every possible aspect of a course subject.

At their hyper-competitive worst, they will check out and not return library books that are essential to their classmates, hide materials placed on reserve for the entire class, and refuse to share notes and even steal notes from others. I have seen all these behaviors first-hand, and unfortunately not infrequently. Law school can turn pleasant, well-adjusted young people into selfish and uncaring “grade competitors,” as they half-jokingly call themselves (among other phrases). Student overzealousness creates an unpleasant atmosphere in which few thrive. Indeed, many law students do the opposite of thrive. At nearly every university which has a law school, law students form the largest users of on-campus mental and other health services.

“What are you doing to these kids?” I was once asked, and not in a kind way, by the head of my university’s health care center. I wish I could say we law faculty are doing nothing to them, but that would not be telling the whole truth. This book is for another part of that truth: To help law students in ways that are, well, helpful. In large measure, law students are their own worst enemies—they’re doing this to themselves. They don’t understand the goal of law school: just get the law degree.

* * *

There is only one award given at law school that has professional significance, and that is the degree conferred upon graduation: the Juris Doctor, doctor of laws…the famous “J.D.” Every lawyer you know has a J.D. That’s the only degree law schools award, except for a few “Master’s” degrees that are essentially add-ons for students, most of whom attended foreign law schools.

But it is the J.D. that provides the keys to the kingdom...The focus of every law student should be on attaining that degree. Strangely, that attention is seemingly on everything else.


  1. Great post Steve. Just wanted to let anyone reading the comments know that if you have Amazon Prime, you can rent the book for free on your kindle.

  2. The JD isn't the key to the kingdom. The key are grades, law school rank and getting on law review or being a part of a journal and/or organization. And ever so often, the kingdom decides to invite less keyholders than the year before. Sometimes the key just doesn't fit given these factors. This is the current reality of the legal sector.

  3. The advice in this excerpt sounds at odds with everything I've heard. Has anyone read this book?

  4. Laura,

    I agree with you 100%.The idea is to maximize your law school experience, and not just to get a J.D.

  5. This writer is obviously very old and disconnected from the current state of the job market for attorneys. After years of practice an employee will not care about your grades or activities in law school but when you are fresh out of school they will care. I have seen students struggle to find a job after graduation when they had low grades.