Front side of a law school.

How Long is Law School?

The typical full-time law school program is three years. Many schools also offer part-time options, which involve a slightly lighter course load each term and stretch the curriculum over four years. There are also dual degree programs that pair a JD with another graduate degree, which can also extend your timeline.

What to Expect Each Year in Law School


The first year of law school , your “1L” year, is quite standardized. No matter which law school you go to, if you’re enrolled in a full-time program, you’ll take the same courses:

  • Civil Procedure
  • Constitutional Law
  • Contracts
  • Criminal Law
  • Property
  • Torts

Not so coincidentally, these are also topics that are featured prominently on the bar exam. Your grades for these classes will depend almost entirely on one comprehensive exam at the end of each course, though some professors may adjust grades based on in-class participation.

If you’ve gotten used to customizing your class schedule to avoid 8 A.M. classes or consolidating all of your classes into two or three days per week in college, your first-year law school schedule might be a little bit of an adjustment. You won’t get to choose your schedule—you’ll be assigned to a “section,” a group of students with whom you’ll share all your first-year classes. Depending on the school, your section may have as few as 20 students or as many as 100.

You will also have a Legal Research & Writing seminar, in which you’ll learn how to conduct legal research and write legal memoranda and briefs. Many first-year programs also include an exercise called Moot Court, an opportunity to pull together the skills from your research and writing course to produce a legal brief and argue your case in front of a judge! At the very end of your 1L year, after your exams, if you want to join the law review or one of your school’s other journals, you’ll participate in a writing competition (though your 1L grades also play a role).

The summer between your first and second years of law school is a great time to start to get some legal experience. Some students work as research assistants for law school professors, some intern for judges or with government agencies, some work for non-profit organizations, and a small number get jobs as summer associates with law firms, though most of those summer associate positions are reserved for students in their second summer.


In the second year, your “2L” year, you’ll get to choose your own schedule and courses. Many students opt for additional foundational courses such as:

  • Criminal Procedure
  • Corporation
  • Trusts & Estates
  • Federal Tax

This year is also a great opportunity to start exploring your interests and potential career paths. It’s a good idea to take your remaining required courses in your 2L year. These include a professional responsibility course and an experiential course of some kind. Not only will the professional responsibility course, which extends over a full semester at some schools and is condensed into a shorter seminar at others, prepare you to be an ethical lawyer, it will also ensure that you’re well-equipped to take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE), a prerequisite to taking the bar exam in most states. Options for experiential courses include:

  • Clinical programs in which you work on real cases under supervision
  • Trial advocacy seminars in which you practice arguing in front of a judge (these are often taught by local judges)
  • Internships with various entities involved in the legal system, including legislative offices, government agencies, and law firms and offices.

Many students also participate in extracurricular activities to further develop their skills (and bolster their resumes to impress potential employers).

  • If you were successful in the first-year writing competition and invited to join the law review or another journal, you will help edit articles written by professors and other legal scholars before they are published. You will also write an article of your own known as a “note,” which fulfills another graduation requirement. Some students even have their notes published!
  • If you enjoyed your Moot Court experience in your first year, you may also choose to participate on one of your school’s Moot Court teams, which travel to competitions and compete against other law schools’ teams. Many schools also have Mock Trial, Negotiation, and Dispute Resolution competition teams.
  • The fall of your 2L year is also when the recruiting process for post-graduation jobs kicks off in earnest. Law firm representatives will visit your schools for an on-campus interviewing (OCI) process and hire students to be summer associates between their 2L and 3L academic years. If that summer goes well, you’ll likely get a job offer after graduation (contingent on your 3L year going well and you passing the bar exam).


Your final year, the “3L” year, offers the same scheduling flexibility as your 2L year with the bonus that you now likely have priority over 2L students to get into the more sought-after classes. Many 3Ls fill their calendars with courses that will be useful for the bar exam as well as those that will provide specialized knowledge that will be beneficial to you in your future career. If you’ve secured a job working as a criminal prosecutor or defense attorney, you might take a course focused on the 4th Amendment. If you’re going to be working in-house for a health insurance company, perhaps a course on Managed Care is in order. If a corporate law firm that you were a summer associate at offered you a job, a course on Business Law would serve you well. This year is also the time to do additional experiential courses and any requirements you have not yet fulfilled, other topics that strike your fancy. If you’re on the law review or another journal, you might pursue more responsibility as a member of the Editorial Board. If you have not already secured a post-graduation job, internships and clinical programs can help you gain additional experience and make connections.

So, how long is law school? Assuming you've completed all the requirements for your JD by the end of your 3L year, that's the end of law school, and—with the passing of the bar exam—the start of your law career .