Volume 3, Issue 2, (Originally Published on Monday 11 March 2013)
In this opinion piece, second-year Todd gives the lowdown on surviving – and succeeding – in the first year of law school.
So you made it into one of the top law school’s in the country. That’s pretty awesome. By now you’ve been given the spiel about academic excellence at orientation, stumbled your way through LMR and made a few questionable choices at law camp. You’re officially here. But now that the dust has settled, what happens next? Listen up for some free advice on how to get from bumbling law newbie to brilliant barrister in just 29 days or your money back!*
There are only four copies of your textbook in the reserve section of the library, and everybody else wants them: Skimping on textbook costs this year? Don’t. There is nothing worse than dashing to the library four minutes before closing time, the day before the assignment is due, only to find that some clever schmuck came in seven minutes earlier and took your damn book. Do your research and buy second hand off the LSS book exchange, or see if some kind second-years will loan you a copy. Sell your soul, if you must. You won’t be needing it here.
Judgements and legislation are written by people who hate you and want you to suffer: Particularly some of the older judgements, which are written in thoroughly British style low on humour and high on irrelevant information. Want your ratio decidendi? Google it. Better yet, ace all of your exams, become a brilliant barrister, make your way up the judicial ladder and finally, upon reaching the highest pinnacle of legal influence, write a judgement that is vaguely readable. PLEASE.
Getting through your weekly readings requires a stupid amount of patience: Remember how throughout your previous degree all of your lecturers would say that you should read once for a summary understanding, read again to take notes, and then read once more for complex analysis? You would laugh heartily and throw your readings into your hipster bag as you jumped onto your fixie and rode off into the sunset to seek out that amazing new hipster cider everyone was quietly cynical about. Well, the reading formula applies tenfold when it comes to some of the trickier cases covered during the JD. It will be tedious. It will be painful. But it will be worth it.
The Academic Skills Office is actually really helpful and will help you be a better student: ‘But I don’t need help!’ I hear you exclaim, ‘I’m the best!’ Well, you’re not. Now take your hand off your ego and go talk to the ever-approachable Chantal Morton in the Academic Skills office (to the right of the library reception, level 3). She offers great note-taking and essay-writing advice and only asks for half an hour of your time.
Follow directions, but don’t be afraid to push boundaries: Law school is an exercise in being guided down the right academic path by people that are often experts in their field. That said, they’re not infallible. I still have an enormous amount of respect for one of my peers who dared to continually push the envelope when it came to questioning the teaching methods of some of our lecturers in first year. Ask questions. Prompt for insight. Call them out when you’re not getting any value from class. You’re paying a lot for them to be here, so make the most of it.
You need to get involved: Don’t fool yourself into thinking that if you clear your plate free of extra-curricular activities you’ll somehow miraculously get better grades, and better looks. It almost never works that way. One of the key skills that will be mercilessly beaten into you during the course of this degree is time management. And your fancy pants law degree won’t mean much if all you do is turn up for class and don’t engage with your surroundings. The law school runs something for everybody, with options to try your hand at mooting, or even write for this here newspaper. It’s also a great opportunity for early networking with people who, in all likelihood, could end up working alongside you someday. Or ahead of you. So be nice.
Downtime is important: It will feel as if law school has become your entire life at times, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You are the ultimate regulator of your schedule, and that includes scheduling the time to do absolutely nothing. Use all the methods of relaxation available to you. Join a sports team. Buy a videogame that will take at least a month to complete. See friends. Try and remember where your parents live. Okay, I’ve gone too far. But you get my drift. Keeping yourself grounded in reality will give you a cool head, in any event cooler than the students you are competing with for marks.
So there you have it. Free advice, take it or leave it. Though I’d probably take it, given in 10 years the only advice I’ll be providing will be under client legal privilege, and I’ll be billing you for it. And you’re probably only in that situation because you didn’t listen to me in the first place. For shame.
* This statement does not represent a binding unilateral offer to be accepted. Enjoy your influenza, suckers!