Students often forget it only takes three years to go from orientation to graduation. This ensures the law school experience is taut with terrific pace and change. Two months into my second-year at Queen’s University, legal education has yet to become over-familiar; but challenges that were once considered insurmountable have become routine and second nature. The following are the most salient differences I have noticed as a 2L.
In 1L, the academic workload seems unmanageable. With the amount of information that must be consumed as well as understood, it is not at all surprising to see more casebooks consuming first-year readers than vice versa. Part of this has to do with the fact there is no way to really prepare for the type of reading expected from day one.
In most undergraduate programs, passive learning will suffice because exams are structured to test factual knowledge. However, law exams are practical forcing students to apply their knowledge to a set of hypothetical and ambiguous situations.
Indeed, it is unsettling to read a case that does not have a “correct” answer or is at odds with a gut-feeling. However, cases are documented snapshots of real life, and much like life itself, cannot be reduced to a simple fill-in-the-blank or multiple-choice answer.
From the dissents in our highest courts to student conversations after lectures, learning requires a conscious consideration of many simultaneous viewpoints, which many 1Ls may initially find difficult.
In contrast, there are two reasons for why this gets easier in 2L. The most obvious is students will have read a lot of law. Students at this point will have written a full set of exams and are now accustomed to the type of work expected from a law student.
While I found myself having to reread cases to really engage with the material in 1L, ambiguity is no longer an unfamiliar concept and readings take less time. It becomes apparent how legal rules develop and apply.
There is also a greater appreciation and cognizance for its consequences, whether that be for a client or policy-at-large.
Secondly, upper-year students are able to manage their own timetable and explore a wider range of subjects beyond the compulsory first-year curriculum. For many students including myself, this may mean taking a statute-based course such as securities regulation or being part of an experiential clinical program.
This flexibility not only makes the study of law increasingly relevant to practice, it also allows a student to be vested in a curriculum of their choosing.
The first 2L semester is quintessentially about the OCI process. It is stressful, exciting, introspective, and, for many students, career defining.
Starting from 1L summer, students prepare and submit their paper applications. Throughout September and October, they wait to hear back about their interview results, delving and speculating into the many what-ifs.
As a result, 2L is very much about exploring career paths and narrowing down — albeit prematurely — the area of law in which a law student wants to eventually practice.
Not surprisingly, these questions have been extraordinarily difficult to answer. It required me to be very critical about my strengths and weaknesses, and to really start figuring out who I was, am, and wanted to become beyond law. To this end, visits and networking opportunities were invaluable. Through these experiences, I learned to communicate more effectively and began to appreciate that law is a people-business that requires “fit” and “culture” above all else to function.
In 1L, since I was focused on getting a handle on all my academic and extracurricular activities, these deeper realizations were a mere afterthought. While the OCI process has been hectic to say the least, the mandatory waiting period gave me a chance to really pause and reflect back on my legal education.
Although time appears to be the ultimate remedy to the difficulties of 1L, time too appears to be the remedy for the difficulties facing 2Ls. I wonder what my 2L year will look like in 3L, but it is comforting to know things as a whole get easier rather than harder with time.
Derek Kim, currently a second-year law student at Queen's University, has studied political science at Wilfrid Laurier University and the Graduate School of International Studies at Seoul National University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.