Everyone has heard a little about studying law at college, whether through family, friends or films, it is rather difficult to know what it really does involve – and there’s no dearth of stories out there, from the mostly accurate to the utterly fantastical. This article would debunk a few myths, confirm a few and make sure you know what you are signing up for when you fill in that application form! It also includes a little bit of advice to help you settle into law student’s life that bit quicker and assimilate easily. Law is a great subject to study at college but it does have its challenges: here’s what you can expect.
READ, READ AND READ – IN SHORT THERE IS LOTS OF READING
Just to get the scary one out of the way first, it is difficult to explain how much reading a law degree involves other than to say that there are a lot of law books! Law students get a reputation for clocking up the library hours because each week you need to learn what the law actually is and academics’ opinions of it from scratch, and neither of these will be particularly short. There is definitely an art to managing the reading lists and you will get all the advice you need from older students when you first arrive, but it does take a while to get used to the pace of learning.
That said, by the end of your first term you won’t believe how quickly you can pick up the key themes of an article or find the important passages from a case. Just be ready for the inevitable long nights when you need to stay up getting through an endless reading list. They do happen but they are (almost) only as common as you want them to be; you are never set more work than it is feasible to do if you manage your time well. Self-imposing a schedule for getting reading done, plus whatever other assignments you have been set, is a habit to get into very quickly.
NO SINGLE EUREKA MOMENT, BUT EVERYTHING FALLS PLACED IN THE LONG RUN
Certain areas of law, particularly contract and tort, deal with different types of human action but are so similar in places that they often ‘run out’ just as the other one starts. As you usually learn only a few topics at a time you may not understand one fully until you have covered the next one. It is absolutely normal to feel a little like you’re in the dark to begin with, but in the end you will see the light at the end of tunnel.
THERE IS A RAT RACE BUT ONE SHOULD BE PATIENT
With the onset of the law course, there would be flurry of activities that would be going on in and around students. There would be Moot Courts, Debate Competitions, Research Papers, Project Preparations and its presentations, Mid Semester Examinations and so on. Students should first focus on their academics and then move on the other activities. Before taking the final plunge, relax, access the environment and then move forward.
Your tutors, personal advisor, seniors or equivalent will give you plenty of advice about careers, and where to start looking for opportunities in a field you’re interested in. Make sure you think seriously about where you want to start off — it is easy to be swept along with the crowd!
it is also just a fact of life that the legal sector, like anywhere at the moment, is very competitive for finding a job. Keep on top of your work, get involved with extra-curriculars and apply to any internships or schemes which may interest you so that your CV looks as good as it possibly can when you get to more serious applications.
SWEATING THE SMALL STUFF
The ‘sharp mind’ you need for college study comes in different varieties, and each degree demands a particular mix of certain skills. Law requires both absolute command of the details of legislation and cases, and a wider view of how different areas interlock and what they (aim to) achieve. This is shown most clearly in the two main types of examination question. Problem questions require you to apply the law to very specific (and sometimes outright preposterous) factual patterns and explain why in this specific set of circumstances a piece of legislation or principle of law would/could be applied in a certain way.
You need to know the legislation and the case law, because although you may be given a copy of the legislation it wastes time if you’re using it to do anything other than check minor points. Equally if you don’t know part of the case law in an area that can lose you marks or narrow down the number of questions you could potentially answer.
Basically, you need to remember a lot of things! And you need to be prepared to sit down and learn cases, and at the very least the structure and key clauses of the relevant legislation so that you can find it in the statute book during the exam. It is absolutely normal to have legislation and case summaries stuck up round your wall during exam season (rent agreements permitting!). But because all this knowledge also needs to be grounded in the wider picture for the purposes of essay questions this isn’t just an exercise in memorising names, which makes the process a lot easier.
EVERYONE ASKING FOR FREE LEGAL ADVICE
Everyone of course assumes that you know the area of law your friends are asking about in practical detail in the first place, which usually isn’t the case because law degrees are more theoretical than practical. No matter how many times you try to explain this to your friends however, you will still be asked. It’s something you will find frustrating, but it won’t stop you from asking the medical students about your twinging knee so it’s just something to resign yourself to I’m afraid.
BEING A LAW STUDENT – THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT TO BE
Perhaps I’m giving the impression that law students spend their whole lives in the library learning statutes back to front, and that when they do emerge it’s to go to networking events, apply to careers or to sit exams. This just isn’t true. As with any other subject, college is exactly what you make of it and that will invariably (and should!) involve meeting some of your best friends and many of your future colleagues, getting involved in as many societies as you can make time for and having the odd quiet night in. There is a core amount of work which has to be done, but as a student you’re in the enviable position of being able to manage your own timetable to a certain extent.
Make the most of it! Specifically for law students, there are also plenty of extra-curricular activities which can be really rewarding for yourself and others. If you’d like to get involved in pro bono work then most law schools have a scheme running, really do make sure you try some mooting (mock appeal trial, where you pretend to be a barrister) because even though it’s quite scary it does wonders for your public speaking, and make the most of any opportunity to get the sort of legal experience you’re interested in during the holidays. There is no single ‘law degree experience’, much as there’s no single ‘college experience’; choose what you want to make your priorities over the five year or three year period, as long as you always make time for your work.
Like any subject at university, studying law has its ups and downs. However, if you’re interested in the subject and able to motivate yourself to work sensible hours then there are definitely more positives and it is a fantastic subject to study for five (or three) years.