Klarissa Jeiel: Where Law Meets Design

What is the Hardest Year in Law School?

Did you know that out of all 3 years of law school, 1L is the hardest year? Read this article to find out what makes the first year of law school so difficult!


Law school is hard. Everybody knows that. What many people might not know is that not all years of law school are equal. Some years are harder than others, and the question is: “What is the hardest year in law school?”

While everyone’s experiences are different, most law students will agree that 1L or the first year of law school is the hardest out of all 3 years of law school. Here’s why:

1. Everything is new

As a 1L, you’ve never read a 35-page case before. You’ve never done legal research before, or written a case brief, legal memorandum, or factum before. Everything is new and that makes it difficult. Law school requires you to “think like a lawyer” (spot legal issues, apply the law to the facts, etc.) and that doesn’t come naturally to most. You have to learn a new way of thinking, a new way of drafting, and a new way of writing exams.

Related: 1L Law School Flowcharts

Because everything is new, and law school concepts are already hard to begin with, you don’t know what you’re doing and you’re wildly inefficient. You have to do all the readings and it will take you an hour or two to do them when it should probably only take you 15 minutes. You haven’t learned how to succeed in law school yet. This is one of the reasons why 1L is so hard.

2. There’s a LOT of pressure

As a 1L, you feel a lot of pressure from everyone in your life to perform well. From your professors who have high expectations for you to do well in their classes to your classmates who are competing against you, and your friends and family who probably constantly tell you how proud they are of you. Plus, there’s a lot of pressure from YOURSELF to do well. If you don’t do well in 1L you’re a failure because if you don’t get good grades then you won’t make the cut for OCI’s and you won’t get a summer job and you won’t get an article or you won’t pass the bar exam and on and on. 1Ls are led to believe that 1L is the be all end all (it’s not) and all that pressure makes 1L SO unnecessarily stressful.

3. It’s harder than you’re used to

Law school is hard to get into. Not everyone gets accepted. That means that everyone who DOES get accepted is incredibly smart and capable. In undergrad, you probably didn’t have to try very hard to do well academically. You got easy A’s without having to put in too much work. But because in law school, everyone is equally smart, all of a sudden everything is harder than you’re used to. You go from being “gifted” to being “average.” Especially because law school is typically graded on a curve i.e. you are graded based on how other people in your class perform instead of how well you meet the requirements of the exam or assignment. For 1Ls who come into law school carrying the same mentality and work ethic that they had in their undergraduate studies, it can be difficult to adjust because they find that now they actually have to put in the effort (or more effort) not even to get ahead, but just to keep up.

4. You don’t get to choose your classes

Unlike upper years, 1Ls generally don’t get to choose their classes. Your law school will choose your classes for you. These classes will be required foundational classes like criminal law, constitutional law, contract law, property law, etc. Obviously, since you don’t get to choose your classes, there will be classes that you enjoy and others that you don’t. For those classes that you don’t really find interesting or don’t necessarily excite you, it’s very hard to stay focused or motivated. This is another reason why 1L is hard. In upper years, you can choose most of your courses (save for one or two required courses that you still need to take) so you can choose courses that you like or even courses that you’re good at, making it easier to study and get good grades.

5. There may be a heavier course load

Although every law school is different, many 1Ls experience a heavier course load compared to 2Ls and 3Ls because they have to take a Legal Research and Writing course (and possibly a Foundations course). Yet, another reason why 1L is hard. Now, I’m not saying that the workload gets lighter in upper years. In fact, while you might have less courses, the work load may actually be greater in 2L and 3L because on top of courses, you’re doing extracurricular activities like competitive mooting or volunteering at a legal clinic. The difference is, after 1L, you just learn to manage your time better. Although there may be more work in 2L, you don’t feel as much stress or pressure because you’ve gotten used to the environment, for example. You know what to expect and you know what you’re doing. And then by 3L, most law students have secured a job after graduation and they know how to “do“ law school so it tends to be the easiest year. Motivation tanks and you’re just trying to get to graduation (it’s called 3LOL by many for a reason).


Out of all 3 years of law school, most law students will agree that 1L is the hardest year for many reasons. This includes everything being new, there being so much pressure, it being harder than undergrad, not being able to choose your classes, and having a heavier course load. If you’re a 1L and you’re struggling, hang in there. The upside is that it gets better so know that it all just goes up from here!