9 things I wish I knew before starting my law degree

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By Blaithin Dockery on

It’s never too early to start thinking about your career, says LSE grad Bláithín Dockery

Starting my law degree as a fresh-faced 18-year-old I was blissfully unaware of the challenges to come. A new city, a new group of friends and a hectic academic schedule can be testing for even the most resolute of wannabe lawyers. Thankfully, I made it to the other side, graduating from the LSE in 2016 with a 2:1. Here I look back at my time during the LLB and offer some practical advice for freshers.

1. Learn how to explain concepts clearly

Studying at university is a huge change from school. Lectures are uncharted territory for many students so it may take time getting used to this new style of learning. You shouldn’t feel the need to write down everything the lecturer says. After all, what good are ridiculously detailed notes when you don’t understand the basics? You’re not expected to recite everything about a particular concept that the lecturer addressed. What’s more important is that you understand the concepts and can write about them clearly. I’d recommend finding a study method that works for you. Printing off lecture slides in advance and making brief additional notes worked for me.

2. It’s never too early to start thinking about your career

Law firms now offer a range of opportunities for first year students, including insight schemes and open days. Take advantage of these. Not only will they help you get a head-start when it comes to building your legal CV, but you can also get a feel for different law firms and work out which best suits you.

3. Get involved in societies

As well as being a great place to meet like-minded people, getting involved in societies helps to build soft skills. Taking on a position of responsibility will help you demonstrate specific skills when it comes to vacation scheme applications. This doesn’t mean that you have to be president of the law society — being captain of a sports team or secretary of a society will help hone equally important skills, such as leadership, organisation, and commitment. If your heart is set on the law society (which tend to recruit from the second year onwards), why not offer your assistance and help out with things such as promotion for an event. This early experience will give you an advantage when later applying for a position in the society.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Most of you will not have studied law at A-level and so most topics will be completely new. Students with a background in history or politics may find there is some cross-over in modules such as public law. As my background was in science I particularly enjoyed medical law and intellectual property modules as they covered concepts and issues I was familiar with. However, I felt slightly out of my depth during public law lectures. If you do find yourself struggling, it’s important to make use of the office hours provided by your lecturers and tutors and not be afraid to ask questions — no matter how basic. If after doing so you have trouble with the explanations provided, it may help to ask another tutor or even your peers.

5. Sleep is vital

Freshers week is exhausting, as I learnt from personal experience. Going out every night and meeting new people every day can make it difficult to sleep well. This tends to have a knock-on effect on your ability to concentrate in those all-important first few lectures. I caught myself nodding off on more than one occasion! I felt as if I was playing catch up and when topics became more complex, I found it difficult to focus since I had missed explanations of the basic concepts. Although I understand ‘FOMO’, I would suggest taking a break from the partying and getting some much-needed shut-eye.

6. Commercial awareness is important

Make sure you keep up to date with the news. Doing so will get you into a good habit early on and is useful for applications. News reports tend to get straight to the point and don’t take nearly as long to read as journal articles. I found reading the news particularly beneficial in my medical law module. The recommended additional reading would often include complex technical articles which would take me hours to read in depth. By keeping up to date with relevant news stories, I found a quick and easy way to grasp these technicalities and elevate the standard of my work.

7. If you don’t enjoy a module, find a way to make it fun

The stereotype that law is a ‘dry’ subject does hold some truth. Some topics in compulsory modules can be plain dull, but don’t give up on them. Instead, take a look at additional resources. YouTube videos are a great supplementary resource, covering a breadth of topics from criminal law to public law.

8. Make time for yourself

Law aside, university can be overwhelming. For those living in halls, it can feel as if there is no escape and having a moment’s calm may seem like a fantasy. In those first few months life at uni is definitely full on so take some time out so that you don’t burn out. Go to the gym, play an instrument or meditate — do what works best for you.

9. It’s not all dog-eat-dog

The idea that law students are all just looking out for themselves doesn’t have to be true. Yes, many of your peers will be competing for training contract places, but don’t freeze each other out. All law students should have a support network where they can help others, such as a law clinic or even a WhatsApp group! By having such a network, you can pool your resources and keep each other informed about events and networking opportunities.

Bláithín Dockery completed a law degree at LSE and is now studying a BSc in medical biosciences at Imperial College London. She hopes to secure a training contract and later specialise in intellectual property or life sciences.

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