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The purpose of this guide is to demystify the law school experience, show some of the many resources you can use to improve your law school experience, and impart some advice on how to approach law school. Armed with the information in this guide, there’s no reason you can’t excel in law school.
If you haven’t started law school yet, you’re likely wondering what you can do to prepare yourself for the experience. If you're in your first year, you might feel like you could use some guidance. Here are some suggestions.
First, make sure you have a good working understanding of American Civics. While many incoming law students are familiar with the structure of the American government and legal system, some haven’t studied Civics since high school, and some are foreign lawyers coming to the U.S. to earn an LLM. Regardless of how much you know about U.S. Civics, it would be wise to make sure you are familiar with all the basic concepts and terminology. You probably aren’t going to be asked how many members are in the House of Representatives or to name the last three Chief Justices of the Supreme Court on your first day, but this is the foundation that your legal education will be built on, and you shouldn’t expect a review in your classes. These resources are loosely organized from most basic to most complex.
This classic educational video will be familiar to most people who went to grade school in the United States. In about three minutes, it will walk you through the legislative process and fill you with nostalgia at the same time.
Government 101 (Project Vote Smart) This introductory guide gives all the basic information you need to know about the U.S. government before starting law school. If you aren’t very familiar with the details of the American system of government, this will get you up to speed.
LexisNexis Overview of the US Judicial System This resource is a glossary of the concepts of the U.S. judicial system. It will give you a very basic introduction to a lot of the ideas that will be fleshed out during your first year of law school. Familiarizing yourself with these concepts before you start will help reduce the overload of new terminology and jargon you’ll need to absorb during your first year.
About America: How the United States is Governed (the State Department) Covers the structure of the federal government, the legislative process, and the relationships between federal, state, and local governments. Look this over if you already know a fair amount about the U.S. government and want a solid refresher mixed with some interesting history.
How Our Laws are Made (Library of Congress) This is a very detailed analysis of the federal legislative process. You don’t need to know all the details described here when starting law school, or even by the time you graduate, but if you want an expert level understanding of how legislation is made, this is an excellent resource.