Stepping up from ordinary to honours without the horrors
Danielle McLean is an LLB student at the University of Edinburgh and is about to go into the fourth year of her degree. Originally from Dundee, she plans to progress to the diploma and to get a traineeship in the private client sector.
Having indulged in a rather serious amount of self-reflection upon completing my third year of the LLB, I thought it was appropriate to dedicate this blog to some of the most important things I have learned. This is, of course, in the hope that reading this will guide any future student making the leap from ‘ordinary’ to ‘honours’.
Knowing how to pick the right subjects
This may seem like an obvious and simple one, but it is something just too important for me to miss, and the best place to start. Now that you finally have the freedom to choose all those credits, pick something which you enjoy and find interesting, whether that’s a course you have already studied at ordinary but want to look at in greater depth, or a completely new topic only offered at honours.
To me, picking subjects on the basis that they might get you a ‘better’ job at the end of it all, or because the assessment is 100% coursework is a recipe for disaster. I recognise that these are also valid considerations, however what is paramount is whether the course interests you.
Why so important then? The simplest answer I think is your motivation to learn. With contact hours at honours greatly reduced, the vast majority of your learning now comes from you alone. Personally, I find it harder to motivate myself to complete tasks when I have little interest in the subject, therefore picking subjects which you enjoy gives you the footing to achieve your best.
Honours is different, and it's okay to find it difficult to adjust
Something which I really want to emphasise is that yes, there is a huge difference between ordinary and honours. Not just in the way that courses are taught, but also in what is required of you.
At ordinary the law is, for the most part, presented as a neat set of rules. You need to learn these, understand how to use them and apply them to problems. At most, if the law was unclear, you would highlight this, and proceed accordingly. At honours, you have to do more than that.
Now in fact, you learn that the law is really not that clear set of rules you thought it was at all, and instead you have to consider all the uncertainties in detail. You analyse it to try and work out what it could be. You look at problem areas and the different arguments for what the law should be, from various perspectives, e.g. social, political or economic.
What's required of you at honours is the ability to create your own argument supported by solid reasoning, and there really is no right answer. Admittedly with some tutors, the more controversial the viewpoint the better. Some people excel at this from the beginning.
I found it difficult to form my own developed argument and challenge authority at first, because I was in the habits of the fast-paced learn-memorise-take-as-gospel world that I had lived in throughout first and second year. However I did adjust, and get better. I think this was due to a combination of sticking it out, reading as much as I could, but also just giving myself time to think about it.
What was most valuable though was talking about it; whether in class, to other law students or to friends with an interest. I found arguing my point in discussions, and bouncing off the opinions of others developed the necessary skills to do well far better than anything else, and this is something I would wholeheartedly recommend.
Confidence in your summer placement application
I could dedicate a blog in itself to summer placement applications and it would still be impossible to cover everything that I have learned from the process. There are countless resources available to help; a simple search of the internet can bring advice on how to answer competency based questions to what to wear to an interview.
Details on these from myself are unnecessary, but I will say that I have learned that preparation and research is key, especially of the firms that you are interested in. I also found the careers service at my university invaluable, as well as discussions with students who had already completed placements at firms that I was applying to.
What is most important, and on this note I will end, is your confidence. Be yourself, be honest, be passionate. Figure out what makes you unique and be confident in your abilities. You need to believe that you are the best candidate, because if you don’t, you cannot expect anyone else to.