So you got here. Congratulations! All of you have excelled in some way in an undergraduate degree or higher. You have stellar resumes, good grades and big ambitions.
You have completed LMR and made a busload of new friends in the process. You have embarked on Law Camp where you drank, danced and fraternised. And you have been introduced to the neighboring pubs where you will spend countless hours (and dollars) refining, reminiscing or forgetting your academic performance.
And the fun isn’t over.
Over the next few weeks many of you will participate in the host of competitions that the Law School has to offer: mooting, witness examination, negotiation etc. Others will join the teams at the Melbourne University Law Review or the Melbourne Journal of International Law. The best looking will write for De Minimis. The opportunities are in no short supply.
But before you start frantically asking around for mooting buddies, or slaving over your MULR application, here’s some tips on how to make it through your first semester at Melbourne Law School in one piece.
Tip 1: The learning curve is like a 50 feet vertical motorcycle ramp with protruding spikes and lasers that shoot out fire and self-doubt
OK, maybe I’m exaggerating (there is no actual ramp) but the point is that the learning curve in law school is brutal. You’re essentially expected to learn how to read massive volumes of information, extract the relevant legal principles, and then condense your newfound wisdom into some user friendly notes. Every. Damn. Week.
Oh, and then you have to apply everything you’ve learnt to bizarre fact scenarios in a timed exam with 1000 other frantic, sleep deprived law students and your lecturer picking his nose in the corner.
This is both time consuming, stressful and above all intellectual challenging. But the hard part really boils down to getting your head around what is expected of you. That means learning how to write proper notes, getting used to showing up for every class, and not getting demoralised when you don’t know the answer to every question. Once you’ve got that down pat, you’ll find the weight on your shoulders gets a little bit lighter.
Tip 2: Every Topic Counts
One of the biggest shocks in my first year was that, with few exceptions, every case and every principle is examinable at the end of Semester.
This might sound basic, but you’d be surprised at how quickly them weeks stack up, and how quickly you’ll be trying to convince yourself that “Estoppel probably won’t be on the exam…”
The advice here is pretty simple - keep up. Ask questions in class, consult your fellow classmates and check out the Facilitated Study Groups and Student Tutorials held after the first week.
Because the days where you can show up to one week, write a killer essay and still top the subject are well and truly over. I’m talking to you arts kids.
Tip 3: Drink Your Sorrows Away
My fond memories of first semester could be written, with room to spare, on the back of a postage stamp. And they all included two things: some kind of drink, and other law students.
Whether its coffee, beer or an aged Scotch, make sure you take regular breaks. Carlton is littered with cafe’s and bars, and even though you might feel suffocated with your workload, an hour down at the Corkman with a group of friends is sometimes all you need to feel reinvigorated, or at the very least find solace in the fact that everyone’s feeling the same.
Tip 4: It Gets Easier
The most resounding memory I have of first semester is how often I was unhappy and stressed, never sure if I was doing enough and perpetually comparing myself to the class standouts.
This isn’t uncommon and perhaps inevitable when you put a few hundred high achievers together under one roof, tell them its impossible to get a job as a lawyer and then constantly remind them that they’re competing with one another. You know that old quote ‘the finest steel has to go through the hottest fire’? It very comfortably fits the mood in those first couple of months.
But after awhile you get used to the fire, and realise you’re actually pretty capable of reading long cases, writing legible notes and following your PPL professor’s highly intellectual and intimidating train of thought.
Come Semester 2 you’ll be handing out unsolicited legal advice like a champion. Trust me.
Jacob Debets is a second-year JD student at MLS.