Firstly, don’t panic, but you must get comfortable and buckle up – this roller coaster ride is about to begin. What follows is an attempt to give you some idea of the corkscrews, cobra rolls and hammerhead turns that lie ahead. Several other veterans have kindly passed on their top tips for the journey, but every experience is different, so what you read below will on some level be coloured by one perspective. Take or leave the advice as you want – here I just want to give you a taste of the ride!
THE COURSE ITSELF. It is fast moving. It will be June before you realise. One thing that many of us in my cohort realised too late, is that looking at past exam papers early on is invaluable. In a spare moment in these early weeks, get on Cityspace and look at exam answers from previous years. This will give you a rough idea of the kind of thing that you will i) be able to and ii) need to write in nine months time.
GETTING YOUR MOUTH AROUND THE LAW. Tip – Talk law. You will be competent in legalese (both English/Welsh and European) by Christmas, and fluent by March. Like all languages however, it’s about confidence and practice. Mooting is a great way of doing this, regardless of whether you’re an intending solicitor or barrister. Be confident to make mistakes. Your colleagues around you now are in exactly the same position and are the best people to bounce ideas off. Tutors are also, obviously brilliant, but even the most patient adults eventually get bored of conversations with toddlers. While we’re here, you will quickly come to realise that some of the people on the course around you now, will be close friends and colleagues for a lot longer yet – remember, these relationships will be a very important source of support.
LECTURES. Tip – turn up and take good notes. Of course, if you don’t turn up to certain lectures, the world still keeps turning. Just bear in mind that you may not have a clue which topics you’re taking into the exams until around end of April; roughly, per core subject, people tend to choose around five out of the ten that are covered in the ten tutorials. So if you can make it along to everything, do – you’ll thank yourself in May. Some people use laptops in lectures. I didn’t. In fact, I thought it was overkill at the time. When revision came around, I realised I was a Luddite. If you can type fast, do it – you’ll probably get more down and it will be legible. Obviously, don’t forget to back up. Importantly, paper or pc, file religiously – organisation of materials and notes will not only keep you sane, but stand you in good stead for revision material. Tip – write your notes for the lay person. This doesn’t mean avoiding legal terms or being less sophisticated in analysis – you can’t and shouldn’t – but write them in such a way that anyone (and more importantly, you) would be able to pick them up, read them and understand the basic structure. You will thank yourself next May.
PREPARATION FOR TUTORIALS. Tip – go commando. This doesn’t mean what you may think – your choice of underwear is thankfully, still one thing the GDL leaves within your sphere of control. The preparation you do for a tutorial should put you in the position to get in, get the information you need and get out. The most important objective is to at least put yourself in a position that you can see the overarching structure of the law in that area, no matter how simplistic that viewpoint may be. Each tutorial will have its own (extensive) reading list, but a good template suggested by one of, in my opinion, the best tutors from last year, was this:
1. Read through lecture notes on area (early tutorials may move ahead of the lectures but don’t worry). Allied to this is attendance of lectures above.
2. If you fancy, read a ‘cheat book’ e.g. Nutshell, often giving a handy diagram etc.
3. Read your textbook of choice. This is important. Although you get given one standard book, people cling to and swear by different texts. If you find something more to your taste, and find it helps you get through the work, use it. Just look on the library shelves or ask Emily Allbon (Law Librarian) for some advice, who is not only a super resource herself but generally fantastic (Ed. note – ahhh thanks Laurie!). Experiment now.
4. If you have time, read an article or two for what is often i) a succinct summary ii) a perspective on the law in hand iii) handy fodder for your exam arsenal when a quick allusion to academic commentary will enhance your answer.
5. Back to lecture notes that will now, hopefully make perfect sense.
CASES. Reading cases in full, especially those from the Privy Council, House of Lords or Supreme Court and (certain) Court of Appeal judgments is well worth it. Most judges tend to be concise and experts in the law. Tip – try to do it now, even if the case concerns a dull area of law, to learn how to negotiate judgments and find out where to focus attention. Later, when a certain area interests you, you’ll be better placed to get the most out of reading it through.
CAREERS. There’s a likelihood that like most people on the course are doing it with a view to training on the LPC or BPTC. I’m now on the latter, and the GDL at City is very geared up for the Bar, but the underlying reality is that most people are doing this for a career. Tip – Work out right now:
1. Job Interviews i.e. when the deadline for Pupillage Portal and Training Contract Applications are. Also, check out scholarship application deadlines for the Inns.
2. Work Experience i.e. Vac Scheme and mini-pupillage application deadlines and whether an assessed mini is a prerequisite to a full Pupillage application.
3. Pro Bono. FRU (Free Representation Unit) Training Days – sign up and get the ball rolling. Pro Bono work can make or break an application. Of course, there are loads of different pro bono options, and it’s important to find one that suits you. Ask your tutors. Get stuck in.
4. Current Affairs. Even if it hurts to look at yet more ink on a page, just read, just keep informed. Interview panels, although extremely aware of City’s reputation for hard work, will probably be oblivious to the somewhat hermetic and exhausting life you lead running up to exams and will inevitably ask you ‘that’ question. Enough said, I learnt the hard way. Funny now, not then.
SUM IT UP. I found the course emotionally, physically and academically exhausting, and yet it was on reflection, absolutely brilliant. Yes, choose City if you want a fuller and in some ways tougher GDL experience – at times, it very much feels, as a very close friend said, like you’re standing before the cracking dam, with only a post-it note to stop the leak. The same friend also gave a very important piece of advice.
Tip – Enjoy it.
Obviously, don’t push it, but this is for the majority of people, the last year of student hood. You will, probably as some of my friends and I have found, not have wished it any other way. I have found that the exposure to legal principles and wrestling with the law – and believe me, sometimes, it’s a dirty fight – in the way I did at City, stands you in good stead for the next course and beyond…
Enjoy the ride and good luck!
GDL 2009 – 2010