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

By Site Administrator on

Tips from someone who’s actually done it


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.