Advice

How to ace your law degree: the alternative student survival guide

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Tips from someone who’s actually done it

Lead12

In response to comments on a previous Legal Cheek article, successful training contract-bagger Oxbridge Bunny is here to share his nine alternative tips for wannabe lawyers.

1. Don’t panic!

The novelty, complexity, and volume of legal study will daunt most freshers. All students start as equals and your tutors do not expect legal fluency and proficiency to develop overnight. Whether it happens in your first week or halfway through your second term, you will find your rhythm. In the meantime, get your head down and don’t panic.

2. They say university is a time for trying new things — this includes textbooks

Simester & Sullivan or Herring for criminal law? Chitty or McKendrick for contract? Different books suit different working styles: is the textbook your bible or a mere accompaniment for your reading of primary sources or lecture notes? Don’t be a slave to your tutor’s recommendation and find books that match your own approach to work.

3. Utilise casebooks

The problem: impossibly long case lists. The answer: casebooks. The quality of some books is such that you needn’t grace Westlaw for the rest of the term — Burrows, I’m looking at you. Others may be woeful in their analysis or selection of cases and extracts — be alert.

4. Nutcases are not a substitute

Your tutor is right; Nutcases are not a substitute for reading primary materials or some good textbooks. The facts and ‘ratios’ may differ entirely from what you should be taking away from a case. For use in emergencies only.

5. Stay on top of things

Put the hours in and try not to fall behind. “Catching up during the holidays” won’t happen, the sofa is too comfortable and daytime TV too watchable. You can cram for exams but it will be hell.

6. Know where you stand

Know where you stand. Academics matter and what firms expect from you will depend on the calibre and reputation of your uni — a 2:1 may not be enough for non-Russell Group students. Different firms and different types/sizes of firm will recruit from different pools of applicants. The same is true for extra-curriculars.

If your academics are strong then you may get by on a couple of terms on the law soc committee (commitment to law + position of responsibility) and playing a team sport (communication skills + time management). Destined for a 2:1 at a less prestigious institution? Get ready for some pro bono — you will need to use your extra-curricular activities to stand out.

7. Work experience

Legal work experience is essential when applying for TCs or vac schemes. Attain sufficient experience to demonstrate to firms that you are committed to the profession and all that it entails — this is the true purpose of legal work experience. There is no need to schmooze the law fair and attend endless insight days during your first year.

With good academics and decent extra-curricular, attendance at a few events or open days and doing work experience with a local firm (commercial if possible) if you didn’t do any while at school, should be enough during first year. Don’t feel constrained to commercial law — a mini-pupillage may help you land a vac scheme if you can use it to illustrate why you would rather be a solicitor than a barrister.

8. Learn to play the game

Give HR what it wants. Know what firms are looking for when their application form asks for an example of when you overcame a significant obstacle. Felicity Double-Barrel may have reached the summit despite running out of oxygen on her climb of Mountain X in impoverished country Y during her gap year, but how you responded to your law society running out of cups at an event will be more impressive if used correctly. It is using the example to demonstrate your ability to solve problems under pressure and learn from mistakes that HR is really looking for, not the most dramatic boast. HR will tell you what they want — talk to them and read their advice online.

9. A training contract is not the be all and end all

By all means chase your dream — work hard and make the sacrifices that this may require — but do not allow yourself to be sold the myth that a training contract is something to be sought at all costs. Many will already have been wrongly told that with a law degree the world is one’s oyster. The LPC is expensive and smaller firms may represent a double-edged sword in neither funding the course nor offering remuneration capable of guaranteeing a truly comfortable standard of living. When making career decisions, take stock and ensure that your decisions are made for the right reasons.

Oxbridge Bunny (not his real name) aced his LLB exams and is currently working as a trainee with a leading commercial law firm. He is happy to respond to objections or questions in the comments.

84 Comments

Anonymous

How did he ‘ace his LLB’ exams when he did a BA? Also, I know that you’re desperate for material, LC, but just because one commenter says that another comment is good doesn’t mean you have to make a whole article out of it.

(12)(10)

Anonymous

You say this, but people were literally asking LC to make a whole article out of it. So, you know, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

(13)(3)

Anonymous

Now, now Christianah. Just because Bunny’s article is far better…

(11)(2)

Anonymous

Hmmmmm it’s hardly ground breaking advice though, is it? This is stuff that has been repeated ad nauseum on LC, especially the bit about extra-curriculars. Not sure why everyone jumped on it and thought it was so great. Though obviously good if people find it super-helpful.

(2)(4)

Anonymous

Loooooool you idiot.

(0)(2)

Anonymous

Hi there Babajide!

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Shut it mateyyyy

(0)(1)

Pongo Pigmeus

Or what?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

I’m not a killa but don’t push me mateee 👿

Anonymous

‘I’m not a killa but…’

Well I’m glad we’ve cleared that one out, mullet.

Anonymous

Personally, i think its good advice and well explained.

(1)(2)

Anonymous

Because at Oxford the law degree is actually a BA in Jurisprudence yet is a qualifying law degree

(12)(0)

Anonymous

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Savage. Report them, report them now.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

This is largely spot on! Not sure I agree re casebooks – I managed just fine with the online resources (incl BAILII) and without the added cost.

(4)(0)

Oxbridge Bunny

Library! I only ever bought a few books

(5)(3)

Bisham

Hi which textbooks did you use for criminal contract common law n public?

(0)(1)

Tunde

Allahusnackbar.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

The point regarding casebooks is what I agree on most from this article. Some are excellent and in their analysis give the views of academics which always made my answers stand out. This was useful until I got the confidence to research academic commentary myself in my second semester.

Regarding cost – most students don’t even realise how good some of these books are and so don’t take them out from the library. The casebook which secured me my First in labour law was available the whole year round in the library; so there shouldn’t be added cost if your library is decently well stocked.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Which book was it, dear Anonymous?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

“successful training contract-bagger”

With this, the article was ruined in the first paragraph. Nice one LC.

(12)(1)

Anonymous

They had to ruin it at least a bit. Part of the LC’s brand.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Uh…which is shyte?

(3)(1)

Anonymous

It is easy to say when someone studied at Oxbridge.

(9)(3)

Anonymous

This is really good, especially point 6

(3)(0)

Anonymous

I like turtles

(8)(0)

Anonymous

Non-Russell needing a first, or pro-bono to even get a look in ia complete BS.

(5)(1)

Anonymous

It does depend on the firm/type of firm to be honest

(4)(0)

Oxbridge Bunny

I could only speak from the experiences of my peers and myself. Hence the use of ‘may’. It’s also taking into account the fact that your A-Levels may not necessarily be as high as those at unis with higher entry criteria (although the recent stories about clearing may counter this…).

The point I’m trying to get across is that it’s hard out there and that there’s only a handful of unis where you can coast and be pretty sure of getting a good TC.

(2)(2)

Anonymous

Oxbridge and Durham bias x1000

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Durham is balls.

(0)(0)

Cooler Shaker

No, there is a Russell group bias in general.

I know a lad with a mid-2:1 from Liverpool University who had a crop of pupillage offers by the end of the first term of the BPTC.

(0)(0)

Bumblebee

I find this hard to believe. There are very few chambers which make offers in the September-December period of the academic year. To hear that a that somebody with an average degree from an average university secured ‘a crop’ of such offers beggars belief.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

It was about ten years ago…

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Non-Russell Group grad with a 2:1 here. Got multiple TC offers from MC firms. Not exactly that rare judging by my TC-holding peer group. Decent academics are really just a minimum requirement.

(1)(1)

Anonymous

Is it CC

(2)(0)

Anonymous

I suspect that many law students who fail to get a first understand points 2, 3, 4 and 5, but, perhaps because of the way that A-Levels are taught, nevertheless have no idea how to actually utilise the materials at degree level.

They think that reading, and diligently copying out paragraphs of books and articles into their “notes”, or highlighting chunks of them in lurid colours will somehow result in them having learned something. This often results in essay answers that resemble journalism more than critical analysis: “Swadling says X, Chambers says Y, Penner says Z”, and inevitably low marks (although perhaps they do okay in “problem questions”). No-one ever seems to have explained to many students that they need to *think* about what they are reading, not merely memorise it.

(10)(0)

Anonymous

I don’t know about at every university but I feel like at mine we are encouraged to not think for ourselves as we are not “qualified” enough for that yet. Read and regurgitate what more qualified people have said is basically the gist

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Thanks for clarifying that “Oxbridge Bunny” is not his real name. There was at least three people in my year at school with the first name Oxbridge, and two in my department at work, it could’ve caused all sorts of embarrassment.

(18)(0)

Anonymous

I believe he’s one of the Shropshire Bunnies. His father was at Balliol, as was his grandfather. Grandpa Bunny was rusticated, however, after an unseemly incident with a guinea pig.

(2)(0)

Gus the Snedger

I paid good money to be “rusticated” at an exclusive club in Soho.

I forgot my safe word, however, and now require internal surgery.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Lol!

(0)(0)

Oxbridge Bunny

You know what else bunnies are renowned for ;)…

(1)(9)

Anonymous

imitating genitalia?

(1)(0)

LegalRec

Myxomatosis?

(8)(0)

Anonymous

Eating their own shit?

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Eating their own young?

(1)(0)

Nakurd of Counsel

Making yummy pies

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Eating their young’s shit?

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Eating pool shits?

(1)(0)

Anonymous

That’s what Aysh Al-Cliffordi’s for.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Felicity Double-Barrel is really full of herself. Stay away from her.

(2)(1)

Felicity Double-Barrel

Oi!

(2)(0)

The real Flicky

It’s pronounced “Doo-bell Bah-rell”
I will have you know!

(0)(0)

WHATEVER

I got a 2:2 and I managed to bag a TC that began as soon as I had completed my LPC. I instruct fantastic Counsel who also got a 2:2 and pupillage as soon as the BPTC was finished. IT CAN BE DONE

(2)(5)

Anonymous

In all seriousness – i think we need some articles from people like yourself who have managed to do this, and also include what you did in your application to make yourself stand out. Would be great to read something like that. Please consider writing an 8 point bullet point / maybe submit to LC as a pure punt / it would really help A LOT of people out who have some “potholes” in their academic record.

(13)(1)

Felicity Double-Barrel

Or give them false hope.

(1)(2)

Boh Dear

Classic Felicity Double-Barrel!

(2)(0)

Bumblebee

I’m interested to read the chambers’ profiles of the barristers whom you cite. I know of a very limited number of eminent barristers who graduated with a 2:2, but they completed the Bar course decades before the BPTC came into being.

Moreover, the official BSB statistics show that only 2.6% of people commencing pupillage graduated with a 2:2.

If you do indeed instruct ‘fantastic counsel’ who graduated with a 2:2, fair play. I’m not saying it’s not possible. I do however find it somewhat unlikely. Do you have any proof?

(4)(0)

Stallone

Cool story brah, changed my loyfe.

(6)(2)

Eliza

The loif of the woif is ended by the knoif!

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Funny.

(0)(0)

Eliza

Family Guy

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Ah yes.

(1)(0)

Oxbridge Bunny

It would be good to hear more accounts of YOUNG people like you (don’t know your age). We all hear from partners and barristers with successful careers despite a 2:2, but with many grad recruiters now simply disgarding any application with less than a 2:1 (unless very good mitigating circumstances), it’s hard to see how it is managed at the moment.

My own impression is that some make it but most don’t…and those that do make it were probably very clever but for one reason or another didn’t do well at uni.

My only concern is those with a 2:2 or below who don’t fall into that camp may be encouraged to self-fund the LPC.

If we hear from more people who have made it with a 2:2, those in the same position should be able to understand in which circumstances they are more likely to be able to succeed with the 2:2, and in which circumstances it is very unlikely.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Hey oxbridge bunny, no disrespect meant to you at all. I think your article was really really useful and I will use most if not all of the points myself in my own studies.

I also agree with you that a 2:2 degree /even a transcript with a few low individual grades maybe a bit of an uphill struggle.

Im just saying that it would be good to hear from people who have a 2:2 / lower grades and still made it work. i would especially like to know what year they did this, as the current legal market is super tough. I also think it’s good to have a diverse debate, where people take a creative approach (albeit are forced to, in order to make it work). Eg: The sorts of personal attributes they demonstrated, if there were other things they did to compensate / stand out. Specific recruitment questions / tasks that they were set and what they answered is also of interest. Especially as you rightly point out, it may be a bit of a long shot.

(0)(0)

OB

Absolutely agree.

Coming from the Oxbridge background, I had to put the work in with extra-curriculars and do well at interviews/application/forms/vac schemes, but it was the academic side that really stood out. What are the best approaches for those who can’t rely on that side of things to get their foot in the door? Would be interesting to know what works best, if any general rules can be drawn at all that is.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Good luck trying to do it today with a 2:2…

Something like 75% of people obtain a 2:1 or a first these days. You have to be seriously shite to get a 2:2.

(1)(3)

ULaw LLB grad, TC holder

Here here.

During my LLB, the general consensus was that only rabid baboons and inbred retards ended up with a 2.2

(2)(1)

Anonymous

But at least rabid baboons and inbred retards know that is should be “hear hear” not “here here”.

(4)(1)

Harambe

Top kek

(0)(0)

Anonymous

ULaw LLB? Isn’t that like a GCSE in politics?

(1)(0)

ULaw studint

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(1)

Harambe

Hi all, I got a 3rd in my LLB at London South Bank and rly rly want to work for Slaughter & May, they seem like the rite fit and pay plenty of dolla which is awsum cos I haves a lot of debt from my studies.

Any chance of me gettin a TC wit them?

(8)(3)

Anonymous

Yes. With that CV you will not be required to have an interview, and be asked to join as a partner. The managing partner will throw you a champagne reception on your first day where he will present you with your welcome bonus.

(3)(0)

Salacious stories

A golden handshake that may quickly turn into a golden shower…

(1)(0)

Harambe

AWW MY DAYZZZZ!

WHERE DO ME SIGN UP??

(1)(1)

Harambe

ME JIZZED ME KEKS WHEN ME RED DAT!

(0)(0)

Harambe

TOP BANTAAAA

(0)(0)

No name

Good stuff! I only disagree re textbooks…Good point re legal experience and vac schemes! U need to get to know the environment and people where u r applying for a TC.

(0)(0)

OB

Just to build on this, the experience gained from interviews and especially application forms, is valuable. It’s worth forcing yourself to do some applications for things in first year, even if you’re not that bothered. I found that it took a whole such cycle to realise what the questions in the forms actually meant etc. Some graduate friends of mine looking for jobs really wish they had done some applications at uni, just to get a feel for it.

(0)(0)

SullCrom Swagg

This.

It’s not rocket science kids – the greater the volume of applications, the better they get and the higher the chance of scoring a TC.

It worked for me.

(0)(0)

Harambe

Lemme guess: you did your LLB at BPP, right?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Harambe and that anonymous reply, had me in an uncontrolled laughter fit. Had to work had to not disturb anyone at work.

Absolutely hiliarious!!!!!

(1)(0)

Comments are closed.