Student Advice

What is a Day in the Life of a Law Student Really Like?


Editor’s Note: Prospective students can learn a lot about a law school online, such as tuition, student-t0-faculty ratio, and job placement statistics, among others. Harder to find, however, is what the day-to-day life of a law student is really like. With that mind, we asked two recent alums, Jessie Shields and Shanna Miles, to talk about their general schedules as law students. 

What did your week look like, Monday through Friday?

Shanna: As a first year student, I had class Monday through Friday, for about 4 hours each day. It was simple enough, and was reminiscent of my first few years of undergrad. The major difference in my schedule from undergrad to law school was the additional amount of time that it took for me to read and prepare for each class.

My class schedule became the backdrop for my day-to-day life. I relaxed and took my time in the mornings before class. I ate breakfast, chatted with my mom on the phone, and took time getting dressed. Most days, I attended information sessions and other student group activities between classes, unless I needed to review for class or take a nap.

After my classes ended, most days, I read and prepared for my upcoming classes, took a nap, ate, then continued to read and prepare for upcoming classes until I was exhausted enough to go to sleep. I also tried to attend one non-law school related event every other week. Sometimes, I attended events hosted by various bar associations or local law firms, went out to dinner, or did something that made me utilize a different section of my brain—like paint or go to the movies.

“Sometimes, I would read a case three times to figure out what it was saying exactly. The reason I spent so much time working during my first year is that preparing for class takes longer as you’re learning to think like a lawyer.” – Jessie Shields

Jessie: Prior to law school I was a teacher, and was used to having a set schedule every day. As such, I approached law school as if it were a job during my first year. Every morning I woke up around 5:30/6:00am and either went to the gym or went for a run. Working out was a big part of my life before law school, and I did not want to lose that. After working out, I packed my meals and snacks for the day and headed straight to school. I always aimed to get to school by 9:00am at the latest. Depending on timing I would either go to the library to review my notes before my first class, or I would go directly to my first classroom to do my reviewing there. I always ate breakfast either before or during my first class.

At Temple Law, everyone has the lunch hour, from noon to 1:00pm, free. I usually used that time to work, either to review my notes for my next class or to get started on future reading assignments. The lunch hour is also when lots of student organizations hold their meetings and present guest speakers. If there was a lecture or meeting that interested me I would go, but on average I spent most of my free lunch hours working. Of course, some of my friends loved going to lunch hour lectures and went every day. A free lunch is usually included with a lecture, and many people like having that break in the middle of the day. For me, the work time was just too precious to lose, unless there was something that really interested me.

After my second class of the day, I would head back to the library and stay until I was finished with my reading for the next day. On average, I stayed until about 7:00 or 9:00pm I rarely brought work home my first year. I left everything in my school locker every night – including my laptop. I knew from my four years of teaching that I was much more productive when I did not work from home, and so I kept that schedule up in law school. I ate dinner when I got home, but packed lots of snacks to get me through the day after lunch. For the days that I didn’t pack enough, I was a regular at Temple’s small cafeteria and the food trucks that are right outside of the law school – the Sexy Green Truck is a must.

How long did it take to prepare for class your first year?

Shanna: I never knew how long each class’s reading would take until I finished reading. I learned very early that the schedule that I was creating used approximate times and I didn’t have to stick to it.

Jessie: Even though most first-year classes only meet twice a week, it usually took me four to five hours to prepare for just one class. Sometimes, I would read a case three times to figure out what it was saying exactly. The reason I spent so much time working during my first year is that preparing for class takes longer as you’re learning to think like a lawyer. 

Did you have to work all weekend?

Shanna: Because my schedule was less structured, I had to use my weekends to kick-start my week. I would read for a few hours on Saturday and Sunday, between snacks, Netflix, and naps, of course. Technically, I was doing law school and law school related activities around the clock, but there were so many breaks in between. I liked the breaks; I didn’t get bored. Of course, there were occasions when I had to be more structured with my time, like when I knew my friends or family were coming for a weekend, or I had a special project due. In preparation for those instances, I would take fewer breaks and work diligently to get everything done before the weekend or upcoming deadline.

“Law students enter law school with so many different backgrounds, experiences, and obligations, all of which contribute to how we choose to adjust our schedules and operate on a day-to-day basis.” – Shanna Miles

Jessie: For me, I preferred working hard during the week and re-charging over the weekend. On Fridays, I tried to stay as late as I could, so that I wouldn’t have to do as much over the weekend – but I often found that I was pretty spent come 4:00 pm or 5:00pm. I usually took Saturdays off from working. I’ve played on a club field hockey team since I moved to Philadelphia in 2009, and during the fall, we play on Saturday mornings at 9:00am. I also tried to see family or friends on Saturday. My aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer just before the start of first semester and I would try to visit her, or my grandmother so that she could rest,) on Saturdays. On Sundays, I would usually head in to the library to get as much done as I felt like doing. There were some weekends that I studied both Saturday and Sunday but they were rare, and only became more common as finals came closer.

Do things get easier after the first year?

Shanna: My schedule slightly changed after my first year. My class schedule, which was narrowed down to 3 to 4 days per week, served as my backdrop. The amount of reading lessened, and the effort that I needed to put into preparing for a class to understand, or stay on top of things, dwindled, but I began to fill my time with other activities. I started dance lessons and became heavily involved in law school organizations. Again, I relied on my phone and planner for organization. So, it gets easier as time passes.

Jessie: My schedule has changed considerably since my first year. I only have class three days a week. On Thursdays, I intern for a Federal Judge in Philadelphia. On Fridays, I have no class. I really cannot tell you the last time I woke up at 5:30am, and I hardly ever stay at the library past 7:00pm anymore. I still try to do most of my work at school, but I now do a pretty sizeable portion at home. Things just start to get more flexible, and work for class starts to take less and less time. I also have a lot of friends who have even fewer classes than me this semester, and many who are doing more than one clinic. So if my first year schedule seems somewhat unsustainable, trust me it is. Even for me.

Do you have any advice for incoming first-year students?

Shanna: Law students enter law school with so many different backgrounds, experiences, and obligations, all of which contribute to how we choose to adjust our schedules and operate on a day-to-day basis. My schedule correlates to my life. I was single, young, and in a new city, separated from my closest friends and family, who lived outside of Pennsylvania. My classmates with familial obligations, or other study habits, would probably look at my schedule with disdain. My biggest recommendation is for each student to figure out what works for him or her and do it. I never felt obligated to be confined to a schedule that didn’t fit my personal needs.

Jessie: One of the best pieces of advice I got was from a friend who said that law school was 10% work, and 90% talking about how much work you have. I tried to just do the work and not talk about it as much as I could. The reality is that your first year grades are really important. I got hired as a Summer Associate for a firm in Philadelphia for my second summer based on my first year grades, and I will be working at that same firm after graduation. I don’t know that I would be in the position I’m in now—i.e. employed—had I not put in the hours during my first year. So, moral of the story, come to law school prepared to work really, really hard your first year, but it does get easier.

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