Law School Basics: Beyond Classes

In our last Law School Basics post, we went over the basics of the Juris Doctor, or J.D. We talked about the process of getting a J.D., typical first-year (i.e., 1L) classes, and other American Bar Association requirements for accredited law schools. But what do students do, outside of their required classes? What kinds of activities do law students participate in?  

Common Law School Activities

There are many voluntary extracurricular activities and programs in which law students may choose to participate. Some schools may require these activities, but they are often optional. The most common activities are Law Review (i.e., working on one of the law school’s student-run legal journals), mock trial, moot court, and legal clinics. 

Although these activities are generally not strictly required by law schools, they are nonetheless extremely popular. This is because, in addition to being rewarding for many students, there are numerous advantages to participation. For example, many employers prefer hiring students who have participated in these activities, because they give students first-hand experience and a deeper understanding of the practice of law. 

These activities are often integral to the law school experience, so let’s take a closer look at what they entail. 

The Basics of Law Review

First, students may choose to compete for a position on a school’s law journals. Journals are legal publications managed by the students. Some schools may offer course credit for journal participation, while other schools consider this solely an extracurricular activity. Students often select the articles the journal will publish for the year, which are typically articles written by academics and scholars or notes written by students. Participation in a school’s law journals will often require students to participate in a “write on” competition. The competition at some schools may be fierce, as journal positions are often prestigious.

The Basics of Mock Trial and Moot Court 

Next comes mock trial and moot court. As their names suggest, mock trial and moot court replicate courtroom experience. These activities allow students to practice their public speaking and advocacy skills by making oral arguments in front of a judge and/or jury.

In mock trial students simulate trial proceedings by acting as attorneys and witnesses. Mock trial helps students develop procedural knowledge and practice making persuasive arguments. Mock trial may feel familiar to many students who have seen shows such as Law and Order, or The Good Wife

Meanwhile, in moot court students simulate appellate level court proceedings. Moot court involves students writing appellate briefs and conducting oral arguments. Students may be less familiar with this type of proceeding, because appellate hearings aren’t a common subject for courtroom dramas. A moot court proceeding emulates what happens after a trial, when someone appeals their case to a higher court. For example, a moot court case might simulate attorneys arguing a case in front of the United States Supreme Court.  

The Basics of Law School Clinics 

Finally, many students choose to participate in law school clinics. In legal clinics, students have the opportunity to serve real clients and solve real-world problems under the supervision of professors and practicing attorneys. These services are provided by students pro-bono (i.e., on a volunteer basis, without pay). Students may receive course credit for clinics at some schools, or may participate in them solely as extracurricular activities for practical, hands-on experience. 

Law school clinics come in many different “flavors,” from criminal-law focused programs such as the Innocence Project, to civil programs focused on helping members of the community with housing disputes, gender violence, intellectual property questions, and more. Most schools will discuss different clinical opportunities on their websites, so be sure to do your research ahead of time to learn about what they have to offer.

A Wide Range of Opportunities

The extracurricular activities offered by each law school vary significantly, and can be very important in order to set you apart from other law school students. Where activities involve a competitive component, some schools may host intramural contests, while others may participate in national competitions. 

When considering law schools, you should seek out schools with extracurricular activities focused on practice areas that interest you. Activities outside of standardized class work will help you experience what it’s like to work in the practice areas that most interest you. For example, if you want to practice family law, search for schools with family law clinics. If you are interested in intellectual property law, search for schools that participate in the Giles Sutherland Rich or Saul Lefkowitz Trademarks moot court competitions. 

Not only will these activities teach you about different practice areas, they can support your future job applications. Many employers want students who can reference specific experiences which demonstrate their interest in certain types of law. Give yourself the opportunity to build these activities into your resume, so that you can approach future interviews in your preferred practice area with confidence when the time comes.  

How Can I Learn More about Law School Activities?  

So, how can you learn more about activities such as law review, or moot court? How will you know whether life as an attorney working in a particular practice area will be worth it? The best thing you can do to educate yourself on these topics is to talk to lawyers. 

Leg Up Legal is an online mentoring platform that can help connect you to real lawyers in the community. An attorney mentor can effectively and accurately teach you about the realities of law school, legal careers, and the extensive options and possibilities the legal field has to offer. The attorney mentors working with Leg Up Legal have participated in all types of law school activities, and have then gone on to establish careers in every practice area imaginable. Our mentors can help guide you toward law schools that host the types of activities which will offer you the best training and experience for the type of law you’ll one day practice. 

Mentorship gives students, including first generation college and law students, the inside information and “leg up” needed to succeed in law school and the legal profession. Check out Leg Up Legal to learn more about how mentorship can help you discover everything you need to know about law school activities, legal career paths, and more. 


About the Author: 

Laura Pasekoff is the Content Development Specialist at Leg Up Legal. Laura has worked as a corporate attorney, paralegal and legal assistant, and writing teacher. After graduating from the University of New Mexico with a writing degree, Laura attended law school at Duke University, obtaining a J.D., and an LL.M. in International and Comparative Law. In 2019, Laura joined the Leg Up Legal team with the hopes of helping prospective law students discover and pursue meaningful legal careers. 


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