Twelve months ago, I stepped through the front doors of City University for the first time. Expectant, enthusiastic and fresh from my recent graduation, I felt anxious but ready to tackle the GDL head-on. Of course I had heard the horror-stories of the ‘law conversion’ – the extensive hours, the stress, the competition – but like many others, I was resolved to focus on the end rather than the means: fulfilling a childhood ambition to become a barrister. The rest I was sure would just fall into place. In truth it was only on my third day, during Robert Craig’s ominously-entitled lecture, ‘How to Survive the GDL’, that my thoughts finally turned to the daily realities of the course. Preparing (and scaring) me for the year ahead, I realised I was in for some big changes: most days would include an early-morning and a late-afternoon lecture, tutorials and private study in between, and more of the latter each night at home. In addition there would be coursework due fortnightly for four months, not to mention optional mooting competitions, pro bono work and an essay competition in April: all of which we were encouraged to do. Sat there on that Wednesday afternoon, I realised that somewhere in between all of this, I would also have to find time to eat, sleep and shower. There and then I said goodbye to my social life…
I would love to tell you that this was the pre-emptive paranoia of a first-time postgraduate; but I can’t. For me, the first six-or-so weeks were tough. No matter how hard I worked, feeling prepared for tutorials remained a rarity; exhaustion lingered despite the hefty bills from Costa; our three-day weekend seemed to have merged into all the other days; and I couldn’t remember the last time I spent time with my friends without feeling stressed or thinking of the work awaiting me at home. I hadn’t even done any mooting or pro bono yet, and I knew others had. Plus making friends on the course and adjusting to London life was proving harder than I thought. Worst of all, gone were the eight-week terms: even after fifth-week blues, there were still seven weeks to go!
However, not long after that, things suddenly began to settle. By the end of term I had become more efficient with tutorial work, learnt to be more selective in the lectures I attended, and somehow incorporated coursework into my schedule with relative ease. I had also participated in my first moot, in the process learning to prepare skeleton arguments and courtroom bundles by myself. Moreover, mooting provided a brilliant opportunity to see my newfound legal knowledge applied in a practical context, and offered a good reminder that the gruelling schedule was worth it in the long-run. In fact, whether you are a would-be solicitor or barrister, I would definitely recommend giving mooting a try. Thus, before I knew it, I was learning from experience and adjusting to City life.
I was helped by the fact my attitude was changing too. I was growing in confidence with every GDL challenge I faced, and in turn was learning to take those challenges in my stride. I also finally understood how counterproductive it can be, on a course where there is always more to be done, to keep aiming for the impossible. It really is infinitely better to gauge your own limitations and work within them rather than everyone else’s. After all, I was no good to anyone tired, anxious and unwell! With that in mind, I ended the year more relaxed than I had started it, with a lot more perspective, and enjoying myself with friends, old and new.
Yet, just as I discovered a rhythm I could keep up with, the GDL year struck its two final blows: exams and pupillage applications (commonly known as OLPAS). Having prioritised the latter for the first half of the Easter Holiday, and revision for the second, it was eventually the exam-period itself that posed the greatest trial to date: juggling both. Such was the struggle, that even news of a pupillage interview was tinged with stress, as I pondered how I would coordinate preparation for that with the constant stream of exams. Still, thanks to the last six months, coping was indisputably easier than it would have been a year ago.
Today, nearly three months on, I look back at the GDL with fondness. As I hope I have shown, it certainly isn’t a course for the faint-hearted; but is a course that can be incredibly rewarding. Filled with academic and emotional challenges throughout, it prepares you for a great deal more than just the LPC or BVC, if you let it. In my case, it taught me so much about my strengths and limitations, and confirmed my ambitions for the future. Moreover, it really is amazing just how much you fit in. So for those of you reading this – whether you are thinking of applying, nervous about starting or simply feeling overwhelmed by the first term – rest assured the GDL is definitely worth it in the end. I know I look back with pride, and not a moment of regret.
Anushka is currently studying on the Bar Vocational Course at City University and intends to begin pupillage at 42 Bedford Row in 2010.