With the tuition fees set to go up, rising youth unemployment and the increasing scarcity of jobs, there isn’t much to envy about the law student’s plight, especially as the law has always been a very competitive and difficult profession to enter. Nevertheless, take courage young law scholar, for one, you will not be an English literature graduate (bless their soon to be impoverished socks); and secondly, I am about to offer you some words of advice which could have, had I been given them earlier, made that elusive first class a real possibility.
Get things right the first time
Firstly, the first year matters. Honestly, it does. You will be rewarded if you build the right work ethic from the start. I am not saying become a first-year puritan, but lets just say I would have done well to drink less of certain liquids – or scaled down the numerous nights spent in sweat boxes.
The key to this law business is making sure your foundations are well built; for example, make sure you take the first cases you encounter seriously, attend all the lectures, and even read a few of those “dry” self-help law guidance manuals (I recommend Letters to a Law Student). For you will find all these first principles and lectures haunting you like some demented ghoul. How I wished I had paid attention in Legal Method, I might not have been so shocked to encounter Advanced Legal Method (!) in my subsequent Masters in Law.
Be Detailed and Comprehensive
Which brings me on to my next suggestion: be thorough. Should you ever become a lawyer, this mindset will serve you well as it allows you to develop a keen eye for detail. So, for instance, when writing that first legal essay a thorough approach might mean:
• Firstly learning, yes, learning, how a proper legal essay should be set out.
• Using all the resources available in that bountiful level 4 law library (for City Law Students) and beyond.
o However you should also be selective with your material. Make sure it is relevant.
• Reading your materially carefully to glean what the author is trying to say, or to understand generally the policy or judicial reasoning underpins the area of law.
All this may just be for starters, before you begin to even consider the – vast – caselaw. Like I said, you’ve got an unenviable position. Nevertheless, you can make things easier on yourself by being thorough.
Take Good notes
This might seem like a minor point to many of you, but its absence explains why my peers and I would often arrive near the exam period and find ourselves with unusable notes. There was a method to producing these terrible notes: sitting way at the back of the lecture room; inventing a paper based game every lecture; producing dense cluttered notes; and lastly simply not listening, usually whilst thinking of lunch. See the problem?
Your focus should be on producing clear, relevant notes, which capture the areas and cases your lecturer placed his or her emphasis on. My rule of thumb became whether I could return, as you will, in 3 months time and quickly comprehend what on earth I had scribbled in Professor Goulding’s Property Law class. An approach, which I have found helpful, is to explicitly set out the purpose or legal question your notes are meant to be answering or addressing; revisiting your notes should then become a (slightly more) pleasurable experience.
Studying: Quantity versus Quality
Have you ever studied for 6 hours and managed to get only 3 hours of work done? This kind of inefficient studying characterized my degree and that of many others. It is startling how much work law students can cram into those few ‘red-bull’ weeks prior to exams or essays however this needn’t be the norm. This problem can be partially addressed by using study techniques that best suit you – for instance, some people work well with visual aids or prompts.
However, planning really holds the key here. Plan what you aim to cover in each study session. Plan as much and as early as you can. Plan. Plan. Plan. And then plan again! If you forget everything else within this magnum opus, remember at least this section; plan your exam timetable, plan your vacation scheme applications a year in advance, and who knows you may eventually be planning which dress (or suit) will best complement your eyes as you pick up that first class degree certificate.
To round this off, what I have come to realise in hindsight is that succeeding in law requires a mix of practical skill and actual legal knowledge, to have one without the other means you may well be hampering your own success and not reaching your full potential.
Many thanks to Amin – the author has just finished an LLM at Durham University and is off to Panama. The two are unrelated.