BR260799's Advice to 1st Year Law StudentsWatch
I've responded to quite a few threads here and a number of PMs, so i've decided to write what will be a rather long post giving advice to all 1st year law students, covering pretty much everything you need to know. I'll start the post by discussing a little about myself, I study at Lancaster University, I got A*AA at A-Level, BBBAAAAAA*A* at GCSE and 67% in my 1st year, which equates to a 2:1.
I have a part time job, volunteer in 2 different organisations, engage in pro bono work with the community and run my own business.
Grading System & Are 1st Year Grades Important?
The university grading system differs a lot from the education you have currently received in the sense that there are 4 degree classifications:
3rd Class - 40% up to 49.9%
Lower Second Class - 50% up to 59.9%
Upper First Class - 60% up to 69.9%
1st Class - 70%+
As soon as you enter university and go to your first lecture this will be explained and quite often as soon as you get out someone will say we just need 40% to get through to second year. Trust me you need to do as well as you can in your first year, as second year is usually the time you apply for work experience, for a barrister this is known as a mini pupillage and for a solicitor this is known as a vacation scheme. Usually law firms and chambers filter out CVs - with a few exceptions - everyone who was achieved less than 60%, so ideally you sould be aiming to achieve a minimum of a 2:1. So don't fall into this trap, set a standard and strive towards it. All I wanted was a 2:1 and that's exactly what I achieved.
Lectures, Seminars & Workshops - What's the difference?
I'm not going to lie, I really wish I understood the relationship between the 3 of these, as it would have made my first year much easier.
Lectures are what you usually associate with university, a large room, usually about 300 people, with large sloping stairs and a ridiculously sized screen. My lectures were 2 hours long, you get given lots of information, some useful, some irrelevant. But this is the foundation of your notes and a useful guide to your reading for seminars.
Seminars are often conducted in small rooms with about 20 people and usually a PhD student leading it. These are invaluable, I can not emphasise enough, never, ever miss a seminar if you can help it. The reading you are given for a seminar, focuses on the absolute core of the material you will be examined on. They set certain reading for a reason - because you can use it in the exam!!!! This is particularly more important for broad areas of law like constitutional and administrative law you do in your first year, because it really isolates what is relevant from what it seems like a never ending amount of material. Also note that seminars are typically on the end of a top 2 weeks after if has been taught, so its like a constant game of catch up.
Workshops are conducted in groups of 50 sometimes even 60 by a professor and go over particularly important content, provide revision sessions and even look at examination skills.
How Should I Make Notes? How Should I Revise? How Much Should I do?
First off i'd like to illustrate the consequences of poor note taking. I had no fixed notes I could confidently recite information off until May - 4 weeks before my exams!!!!!! This is not a place you want to find yourself in, as instead of revising content and conducting further reading over easter, I was still making notes which gave me with unnecessary stress for the incoming weeks. My plan for second year is to have 3 different folders/files/books (whatever you decide to use) - One for lecture notes and pre reading, one for my seminars and further relevant readings, and one for my examination skills and practice questions. I would advise you to do the same or the equivalent on your laptop. Then when it comes to revision I would collate all these notes into 1 typed up document, with just the key information, case summaries and abstracts of any reading and so on.
When it comes to revision it really depends, ideally you want to stay on top of things from day 1. Doing 4 modules at the same time is difficult and trying to study 4 modules together on the same day was totally overwhelming. Every day I had either Criminal Law, Contract, Public or English Legal Systems and so the day I had that subject I would go straight to the library and recap my notes for the first week and then the following week I would do my seminar reading and recap that topic for the week after that I would have my seminar. This was particularly helpful because say I had a lecture in Week 1 on Homicide, in Week 1 I would go over my notes from lecture and pick out the relevant points, in Week 2 I would read over my textbook at the relevant information, any articles or cases I was told to look and then revise that topic, before Week 3 where I would have my seminar. At the end of the semester I would go over this semesters notes and do the coursework assigned, then at the end of the second semester I would go over both semesters work and then for easter go over all 3 semesters worth of work and focus on examination skills and further reading and really cutting down my notes. Then every friday I would have a personal development day, when I tried to do something that would help me in my legal career, say improve my CV, pro bono work, Citizens Advice Bureau, volunteering as a legal assistant etc. Then on saturday and sunday I would have my part time job, go out, socialise, do my business related stuff and charity work.
How do I write case and academic reading notes? Should I read the case in full? How do I write Coursework and Exams?
Cases are fundamentally important and as said by a rather important academic you will be discussing a lot in a few months Jennings in a different context says it is the 'flesh that clothes the legal bones.' Which is entirely true as cases are what allows you to prove the law. Therefore having case notes which are accurate and detailed are important.
When it comes to writing a case summary do not write a 2 page essay on each case. You will not be able to remember it, so why bother? Write a detailed paragraph, copy the important judgments and place it in your own words (this should be like a chain of reasoning for the judgment and then what it actually is + dissenting opinion), but ensuring it is still accurate. I have been told many times by professors that they are not impressed by students who have been able to remember quotes, dates, years, judges names - but they are impressed by students who can comprehend complex judgments and apply them to different scenario in a variety of contexts.
That is why i usually made sure my summaries were about 4 lines long and no more.
The same goes when reading academic content and journals. But it is important to get the names of theorists, the theories they provide, how this contradicts other theories out there, what in means, and try and provide a critical evaluation. My notes for these were around a page long and towards exam season i created abstracts which were around 5/6 lines.
You will get told at the beginning of the year that you have to read all the cases in full and all your textbook in full, but I can tell you now it is too hard and too stressful to do that. I managed it for a week then it all got too much. I only read fundamental cases in full, like Miller (Brexit case), Evans, Jordan (Medical negligence) etc etc.
For the other cases that are assigned I find it particularly helpful to go on summary websites first to get an overview and then I skim through the whole case and get the majority judgment and the dissenting judgment from a leading judge.
When there is a cornerstone case or a particularly complex development in the law I like to read articles about them on the supreme court website, by some of the analysts on key cases. These allow me to really understand the significance of certain cases.
In relation to the textbook, my contract law book was 1400 pages!!! I got 64.8% in contract book and I didn't even open it. But what I advise like I did for public law is that you only read the topics which are highlighted in your seminar, as you know that you could be examined on such an area of a specific topic and therefore you aren't wasting your time reading the whole book
I've got 2 more pieces of advice to give. Firstly, learn how to write coursework - it can really mess up your grades if you don't. Unfortunately I'm bad at coursework, but great at exams. Coursework requires a different skill set. And most of my coursework has been a 2:2 or 3rd class and the feedback I've been given is to answer the question set, do further reading and get a clear structure. The more academic content you read the better your essays will become because you can learn professional structures. A good idea in coursework is to first go over your lecture notes and do further reading on the topic area before you even plan the question.
I can get the grades, but how do I become a Lawyer?
Law alongside Medicine are probably some of the most competitive degrees in the country - the downside for Lawyers is that the supply for lawyers exceeds demand for them, typical people on medical degrees experience the opposite.
This is why it is essential not just to have a strong academic profile, but also to have a variety of extracurricular activities supporting you. This doesn't mean you have to be a perfectly rounded candidate, or join 20,000 societies. But you need to do stuff around your studying, things that will make you stand out. For example lots of charity work can be found around your university, pro bono work, mooting competitions, other law competitions, university societies like sport etc, the universities law society, legal work experience, attending court, competitions among other things.
Please note that just joining your Universities law society is really not sufficient as an extra curricular activity in itself.
One thing to take into account is that when becoming a solicitor or a barrister, is that they require very different legal skill sets.
Solicitors tend to be great a written advocacy and teamwork, whilst Barristers tend to be great at written and oral advocacy and are evident to be very competitive. So when it comes to extra curricular activities try to take this into consideration.
Route to becoming a Lawyer
I am doing a law degree
Solicitor (Conventional route) = Qualifying law degree - In 1st and or 2nd year do vacation schemes - End of 2nd year apply for training contracts - In 3rd year continue applying for training contracts and complete vacation schemes - Meet your training contract requirements - Start your LPC - Do your 2 year training contract.
Barrister (Conventional Route) = Qualifying law degree - In 1st and or second year apply for mini pupillage - End of 2nd year apply for a Pupillage - In 3rd year continue applying and secure funding for the BPTC - Complete your BPTC - gain a pupillage - complete both 6 months (known as sixths) of your pupillage - called to the bar.
I am not doing a law degree
Gain your degree and then take the GDL and continue with the following steps, it is still important you apply for vacation schemes and mini pupillage.
I think I've covered the basics here, feel free to ask more questions