10 things new lawyers wish they'd known before studying law

lawyer

Top tips for those planning a law degree

Studying for a law degree is a big deal, whether you’re weighing up your university options or you’ve already accepted a university place for a law course. Wherever you are on your university journey, it’s incredibly valuable to hear from some of the people who have walked that same path, to see what advice they would give.

With that in mind, we’ve gathered together a list of 10 things new lawyers wish they’d known before studying law, to pass that wisdom onto you. From the smallest of things that may never occur to you, to some major things to be aware of, being aware and prepared before heading into your law degree could give you a headstart.

Finding a weekly work balance is key

Seems like common sense, right? Well, it’s trickier than it seems but absolutely essential. Making sure to not get overwhelmed is important as all work and no play can easily build up your stress levels in a short time.

There will be more work than you can complete in a week at any one time - finding a balance that works for you is the best way to deal with the workload week to week. Lawyer Matt Shinners states “I personally found that most people who put in 8-9 hours a day, taking evenings and most of the weekends off did better than those who went overboard.”

Law school is very different to A-levels

One thing that might be jarring to new students starting a law degree course is just how different the processes and environment are from studying for your A-levels or similar qualifications. Things will naturally take some time to get used to.

One student was quoted in The Guardian as saying “I thought I'd cope well with a law degree, having performed well at school. There's a good reason why the entry levels are so high at the top university law departments. During my law degree, I felt very stupid about 90% of the time during my readings and would become disheartened by how much I didn't understand. Initially, I was very upset at struggling to achieve only 60% (a 2:1) in my work, as opposed to over 90% at A-level. This is relatively normal. The process of learning and understanding is different and takes some getting used to.”

Making friends is very important

While it might be very tempting to buckle down and spend most of your working time studying and researching, you should make sure you get out there and socialise as well. You’ll be thankful for the friends you’ve made when your studies get a little more intense over time.

Kiarah Kelly from Happy Lawyer Happy Life writes “For many of us, this is our first big gig outside of high school. One of the biggest differences you’ll experience is that you’ll find yourself in a big melting pot of all different kinds of people. There will be a wide variety of ages and cultures around you. I can’t stress enough how much you have to gain by making friends with people that aren’t exactly like you. You’ll meet people who have had a whole career or even two before coming to law school, people with families of their own or who have circled the globe, seriously interesting stuff!”\

Apply for every opportunity and go to every event you can

As a law student, you’ll find that you’ll have the chance to attend a variety of events and guest lectures, all of which you should take advantage of while you can. Not only is it a great chance to network and get your name out there to people in the industry you want to enter, but you just never know who you’ll meet or what opportunities you’ll discover.

Lawyer Matt Shinners comments “The events hosted by the law school are at least as important to your education as your classes and study sessions. Go to as many as you can. Ask questions. Go to panels and meet-and-greet sessions to talk with the panellists. A lot of the time, law schools will host world-class events, and you’ll be in a small group that has easy access to them.”

There is a lot of reading

It’s become a bit of a cliche to think of getting a law degree as immersing yourself in those giant law books filled with countless cases and niche laws from all over the world. A cliche it might be, but it’s definitely true that you’ll end up doing an astounding amount of reading on your law degree journey, so be prepared.

One student, writing for The Guardian, comments “I had some idea that there would be a lot of reading. There is a LOT of reading.  Be prepared to study long and hard hours as a law student.”

Law books can cost a lot

All those big law books and legal research documents aren’t exactly cheap to get your hands on, even if they are required reading. It won’t bankrupt you by any means, but it’s definitely worth allocating a generous budget to law books when you’re budgeting your student loan at the start of each term.

That said, it might be a relief to hear that The University of Law specifically provides its students with the necessary textbooks online as part of the cost of the course, meaning this might be a non-issue for those of you headed there.

It’s normal to question whether you chose the right degree

It might feel like you’re on your own if you’re having doubts about your choice of degree but trust us, it’s only natural to question your choices, particularly when you’re feeling a little overwhelmed at the sheer amount of work ahead of you. Be sure to not make rash decisions, though, and keep in mind that you’re not the only one to be having these worries.

Being a lawyer means writing a lot

So by now, you know that you’ll be reading a lot more than you might expect on your law degree course but don’t think it stops there. You’ll also be doing a lot of writing, not only in your course but also over the course of a career as a lawyer. The clearer you can be with your words, the better for everyone.

Lawyer Amanda Devereux comments “I'm a litigator, which can be a bit like writing a term paper every night for the rest of your life, but no matter what area you practice in, writing is definitely going to be part of the job. That might include briefs, memos, contracts, letters, and even emails. So brush up on your writing skills, especially post-law school, because communicating clearly and effectively is the greater part of the job.”

Making a plan and being organised can change your life

With everything we’ve already covered in mind - the busy schedules, the intense study sessions, the events, the competition - you might not be surprised to hear that the majority of people we spoke to said that being organised and having a plan can be the best thing you do for yourself while studying law. 

A student writing for The Guardian states “The workload becomes easier if you are well organised and focus on working efficiently. Planning ahead early and prioritising work over play avoids dreaded all-nighters. When reading, one should focus on the end goal: learning the law in order to apply it correctly in an exam. Shortcuts in reading may be made too: having an idea of a case's facts and legal principle means that the case report may be read much more quickly with more focus on the key points. This is not something which is taught; rather I have had to learn this myself during my law degree.”

Kiarah Kelly writes “In your first week of classes I want you to listen really carefully when your lecturer runs through what’s required weekly for each subject. Maybe you’ve got to do some reading, attend a lecture and prepare some homework to take to tutorials. Next, pull up a table in a word document and create a column for each day of the week. Block out your class times and your part-time work. Now allocate time to do your contracts readings, then your other readings, your tutor prep and your summaries. Stick your new fancy weekly plan somewhere obvious and try to follow it each day.”

Your background doesn’t matter

For some, the journey through education can seem fairly smooth. Others will find themselves fighting for every small opportunity they can find. With a law degree, your personal background and journey so far doesn’t matter as much as your desire and commitment to studying law itself. Some people may even find that they can’t get accepted onto a law course outright but can transfer from another course onto a law course part way through their studies.

Kiarah Kelly, writing for Happy Lawyer Happy Life, states “I didn’t get straight into law school. I had to complete some politics and psychology subjects to get my grades up to jump across to law. I know that this led to some serious feelings of imposter syndrome for the next couple of years. I’m here to tell you to spare yourself from worrying about whatever led you here. Maybe your high school grades weren’t what they could have been or maybe you deferred uni 10 years ago and are just coming back now. It’s okay. You are here now. Welcome. We’re stoked to have you. “

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