The season two premiere of How To Get Away With Murder was full of dramatic twists. (We expect no less from Shonda Rhimes at this point.) But, how accurate is the show when it comes to real life in law school? We asked law student Kim Miller to do some fact-checking for us. Here is her (hilarious) assessment.
True: 1. Classes. All of my more popular classes — like corporations, evidence, and constitutional law — have been held in big, lecture-style classrooms. There are about 80 students in the class, all with their laptops open, all hoping they don’t get called on. Some law professors still cold-call, where they just pick a name at random and ask that person a question. (I’m told they all used to do it, but they’ve gotten nicer over the years). I’ve only had one teacher like Annalise Keating who called us all by our last names, but she didn’t make us stand up when we answered a question. 2. “I’m not gonna know you next year.” The first year of law school is like the first year of high school. You’re randomly assigned a section and you all take the same classes together, travel around together, and generally just spend way too much time together. You don’t get to pick your classes because the school will make you take classes on topics that every lawyer should know something about. (Typically it’s contracts, civil procedure, constitutional law, property, torts, criminal law, and a legal research and writing class). Unless you’re in a school that has dorms or you’re involved in some kind of student organization, you probably won’t really even meet anyone in another section. But after the first year you’ll never see most of your section outside of your close friends and people who are interested in the same area of law as you. This is great if there’s someone you really don’t like, because chances are you’ll only see each other at the bar, where you’ll conveniently ignore each other, and graduation, where you’ll also probably ignore each other. 3. Late nights. All law students know Wes’ pain of late-night research. Everything takes at least twice as long as you think it will. Forty pages of reading will probably take you two hours. Taking notes on the reading may take you another hour. Legal research is a task that never seems to end because just when you think you’ve found the perfect case to support your argument, you find another case that completely contradicts it. Either way, all law students have seen some late nights and if they didn’t have a caffeine addiction when they started law school, they’ll develop one by the end of their first semester. 4. Wine/randomly going out to the bar and getting hammered. Before law school, I wasn’t that big on wine. Now, in my third year, I always try and have a bottle around because sometimes you leave campus and you just need a glass of wine alone in front of the TV or with one of your friends, because law school sucks. We all have moments where we completely doubt ourselves, wonder what we’re doing here, and ask ourselves if all this is really worth it. It’s a little hard to remember what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, especially when you go on Facebook and see all of your friends getting promotions, getting engaged or married, having babies, and buying houses while all you’ve done is dig yourself deeper into student loan debt and spending several nights on the couch curled up with a casebook. That’s when you need your wine. You also need friends who will text you like, “We all work too hard and we never have fun, let’s go out.” You’ll pay for those nights in the morning, but you need a night out every now and then. 5. Friends who totally “get it.” The only people who will ever understand how much law school sucks are your friends and other lawyers. You’ll never be able to fully explain to your family and friends that there’s no point in asking how you think you did on your exams, because it only matters how well everyone else did compared to you. Not So True: 1. Class Participation. I’ve never seen a bunch of hands go up in law school with people super eager to answer a question. The last time I was in class where two-thirds of the people raised their hands to answer a question, I think I was in third grade. Maybe it’s because no one knows the answer or maybe it’s because you know you’ll probably be on the hook to answer some crazy hypothetical that the professor makes up. It’s more likely that when a question is asked there’ll be an awkward silence and then one of five or six people will raise their hands and give an answer. These are the same five or six people who will volunteer to answer questions all semester long and, for the most part, the rest of the class is fine with letting them do that as long as they don’t go on crazy tangents. Also, if you don’t know the answer to a cold-call or get cold-called and pass, no one cares. No one will gossip about you after class and there won’t be scandalous whispers. Chances are if you get cold-called and didn’t know the answer, most other people don’t know the answer either. Also, no one cares if you come into class late and you can generally expect a steady stream of people to come in within the first 15 minutes of class. 2. Letting first semester 1Ls do any substantive work. First year law students don’t know anything. Really, they know nothing. Yeah, they’re super smart, that’s why they’re in law school, but they know nothing about the law. You’d be crazy to pick five students who are two weeks into law school and put them on a murder case. You’d spend more time supervising them and answering questions than you would doing your own work. Not to mention any law student would be crazy to take a job that requires this much work in their first year. Your first year grades are basically the most important grades you’ll ever get. If you want to work at a big law firm one day, they pretty much hire you based on your first year grades. These kids are doing so much work for Annalise that it doesn’t matter if they get As in criminal law because they’ll be getting Bs and B-s in the rest of their classes, which will tank their GPA. 3. “You have too much time on your hands.” Frank says this to one of the students when they present him with some crazy theory. A lawyer would never say this to a law student because they know that law students have no extra time on their hands. They know that you spend most of your time running around like a chicken with your head cut off and that you constantly go between feeling like you completely understand something and then five minutes later are convinced you don’t know anything. Also, typically when you take an internship, especially if it’s during the school year, the lawyers are mostly understanding if you need to skip a day because you have to study. They never completely shoot down an idea or look at you like you’re crazy when you ask a question. 4. Professors allowing kidnapped witnesses. Not only would this never happen, but kidnapping witnesses is a crime! Kidnapping anyone is crime! Even if you’re not a lawyer, you should know that. Law professors are pretty good at letting you know the things you should absolutely never do because you will either be disbarred, thrown in jail, or both.