Three things law students should know (that you won’t read in a university prospectus)
Sara Ford recently completed her Diploma in Professional Legal Practice at the University of Aberdeen, having also completed her undergraduate LLB there.
The year was 2010 and it was neck and neck between law and archaeology. After realising that I could wear an Indiana Jones-style-hat whilst practicing law if I very well pleased, the former won. Here are a few things I can say in hindsight for anyone thinking about or currently studying law.
Do some research to help choose a university
If you’ve stumbled across this post, you may still be in the process of making decisions about your further education. Only you can decide if law is the right area of study for you and which university will be best.
However, one thing I would advise is getting a full understanding of what each university has to offer. You see, they can vary a lot more than you would assume in their approach to teaching law, despite the fact there are strict guidelines for legal qualifications. It’s important to find the one that suits you.
University prospectuses and websites are great - the sun is always shining in the photos and the models look ecstatic to be there. Brilliant! But, at the end of the day, they are “selling” to you which can make it difficult to paint a practical picture of the course. For example, a University taking on well under 100 students will have a drastically different approach to those who take on over 300. So, if you can, speak to people doing the degree or those who have already been through it.
Above all, however, it’s no secret that there can be University snobbery. Schools and parents want you to go to the “best” University, whether in their opinion that’s based on employment statistics or simply the age of their buildings. Ultimately, if you’re someone who will make a good lawyer, you will be a good lawyer regardless of where you are taught. That is, so long as you embrace the opportunities afforded to you. Which brings me on to my next topic…
Make the most of it
You know how it goes. You have something incredibly important to finish (or start) and you find yourself at the will of the remote control.
It was only 9am when you started but Judge Judy’s trenchant tones have chimed all the way to the hour of four. The episodes have even started to repeat but you don’t care. Granted, she’s a wise woman, but she’s now the reason you’ll wake up in a coffee-sweat because the deadline is going to be even tighter than it was the morning before.
It’s an age-old tragedy that things become more interesting as soon as you don’t have to do an exam about them. There is no shame in not enjoying every aspect of your studies and you’re always going to find some areas of law harder to digest than others. But equally, some people will find their law-niche – a subject area that they are both interested in and have magically (and perhaps quite by accident) figured out how to get a good grade in.
If that doesn’t happen, that’s fine too, because what may interest you at the beginning of your undergraduate life may completely change by the end of your Diploma. Several times. So it’s important to approach your law studies with an open mind and find your interests and passions along the way whilst being prepared to grow and change.
When applying for traineeships and jobs you need to know which subject areas you are most interested in, but it will be invaluable to really understand why. Thus I won’t feed you platitudes such as “take lots of pictures!” and “talk to everyone during Freshers’ Week!” – I’ll merely tell you “making the most of it” can be a long term frame of mind whereby you allow yourself to relish the subjects you enjoy and accept and learn to handle the subjects that aren’t for you.
That means doing that essay you’re struggling with to the best of your ability no matter how good the next episode looks.
The big secret
The main secret to keep in mind is something that took me far too long to realise: no one truly knows what they’re doing. So you’re probably not as ill-equipped as you may feel you are.
There were several dozen times whilst studying law that I felt out of my depth, and a couple more where I convinced myself that I was the only one incapable of appearing for comment on Newsnight by week four of year one.
Some of your peers may appear to be in the library constantly – and there will be times where you need to be too. But equally, great things can be achieved whilst working steadily in bed with your laptop and a packet of biscuits.
There is no right or wrong way to be a successful law student and you can only achieve your goals at your own pace and in your own way. If I can leave you with one final piece of advice that’d be – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You’ve got this. Now go forth learn something other than Donoghue v Stevenson.