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UCL law students complain of ‘overwhelming’ workload and ‘unhealthy’ screen usage during online studies

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Exclusive: ‘The safety, health and wellbeing of our students is our highest priority’, says uni in response

A group of University College London (UCL) law students have written to the faculty complaining about the “overwhelming” workload and “unhealthy” amount of screen usage they are having to grapple with as they continue their studies online in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

In an open letter (below) to the dean, vice-dean and director of undergraduate programmes, the students outline a wide range of areas where they are dissatisfied with the Russell Group uni’s handling of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The student representatives, who write on behalf of the undergraduate law student body, say they “have never seen this worrying level of anxiety, exhaustion, burnout and an overall feeling of helplessness from the student body”. They find the workload to be “overwhelming” and that they “cannot get through the material”.

“[S]tudents have been spending every single weekend preparing for the next week,” they write. “Several students have stated that this year, they have sacrificed everything else just to be able to somehow pace themselves with the material.”

They have “reached a point where [they] cannot withstand the pressure from the workload any longer”.

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The letter, which Legal Cheek understands has received the backing of more than 230 UCL law students across all three years at the time of publication, goes on to raise concerns about “the significant mental and physical challenges of studying in isolation” and the effect on students. These include the amount of screen time that they have faced which they claim is “unhealthy” and “unsustainable”.

“Sitting at a desk, staring at your screen for an average of 8-10 hours a day has drained any remaining energy,” the group continues. “Headaches, migraines, eye twitching are now the norm. Students have been pushing through despite having severe physical problems as they feel that if they take a break of even one day, they will fall further behind.”

Further, the student group say that “time taken to go out and get essentials, care for family members, adhere to safety regulations, sanitise and wipe everything is a draining task which is still heavily continued to ensure health and safety”.

They have called on the faculty to “reduce the substantive workload”, which they concede, “has not increased per se from previous years”. “Covering the same breadth of syllabus in the same depth is unfeasible”, they write, and “will lead to unimaginable stress and anxiety while exacerbating any existing mental health conditions”.

The group also acknowledge that some of their demands have been met: the playback speed of recorded material can be alternated and transcripts are now available, for example.

A spokesperson for UCL said: “The pandemic has presented students and staff with huge challenges and we understand that some are feeling overwhelmed. Under any circumstances, law as a discipline requires a large amount of reading and studying.”

They added that the law faculty has adapted teaching and reviewed the syllabus, as well as put in place measures to increase academic mentoring, including additional tutor time and drop-in sessions. They have also created ‘student success advisors’ who are calling every first-year student to offer support.

The spokesperson continued:

“The safety, health and wellbeing of our students is our highest priority. We encourage students to rest and take screen breaks and balance their studies with other activities, even in these difficult times. For any student feeling overwhelmed, we would strongly urge them to contact their personal tutor, discuss any module they are worried about with the lead lecturer, or speak directly to our director for undergraduate programmes.”

Read the letter in full:

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88 Comments

Realist

8-10 hours in front of a computer is too much? Well, if you can’t cope with that while at university you should probably give up on a career in law.

(152)(38)

Old Guy

As an adult who has since left university but has been working from home since March, it isn’t the number of hours in front of a screen but the amount of unbroken time in front of a screen. No meetings, no lunch breaks, no walks, no trips to the printer, no chats with the secretary, no telephone calls (all on teams now). The intensity of screen time has increased to the point my eyes are dry and I need to use eye drops. The only time you work in front a screen continuously in practice is after 6pm when it gets quiet and you do some drafting, and in that case you either stay for 3-4 hours only or you have colleagues there to talk to and have a break.

(82)(4)

Roosh

It is important to clarify that this is 8 – 10 hours per day per module that includes reading, lectures, and a live session that we have per day, not 8 – 10 hours in total of all the work we have. We wish it was 8 – 10 hours per day in total.

(11)(20)

Leon

Does that mean no more than 3 modules and no sleep ever? Confused.

(9)(2)

Anonymous

The letter makes it clear they want to receive less work than normal (they accept they are receiving the same work as last year but want it reduced) and even then they are asking for a guarantee that the exam grades will not be below their coursework grades (the no detriment request). Maybe everyone should just get a first and watch Tik Tok all day?

(9)(2)

Barrister

Pre-Covid, I used to have in person hearings. I’d bring a printed bundle. I used to advise clients in conference – again, in person. Sure, sometimes there were long drafting days in front of a screen, but still, on many days, there were several hours when I was working and not staring at a screen. I definitely found it easier to focus than I do now. I don’t think it’s reasonable to say students should give up on a career in law just because they’re finding it difficult to cope at the moment.

(18)(2)

Anonymous

“I don’t think it’s reasonable to say students should give up on a career in law just because they’re finding it difficult to cope at the moment.” That is not what is being said. The point is that if the response to adversity is to go straight to asking for less work than a normal degree and to have exams that produce degree results that do reflect exam performance, going to straight to whining about mental health and diversity while doing it, then maybe these people are too much towards the snowflake end of the snowflake-grit spectrum.

(4)(5)

Every lawyer in the country

Hahahahaha

(55)(6)

Every lawyer in the world

bruh ur so funny lol he he he

(4)(6)

Wtf?

They can’t be serious? Imagine putting your name to this

(36)(19)

reason

imagine immediately mocking and downplaying others’ struggles during a global pandemic

(53)(17)

Will

The letter is an insult to anyone with real mental health issues. It is just a try on to have worn reduced and to get a pathetic guarantee of exam results regardless of performance.

(18)(21)

Barrister

This comment is an insult to anyone with real mental health issues. Anyone in law knows that overwork is what creates mental health issues. Granted, the work in their future careers will probably be just as high as now, and I agree it’s a rubbish reason to ask for better grades, but if you’ve been to uni in the uk you know most of it is extra-curricular, let alone the fact these kids aren’t even getting paid for it.

(16)(2)

Anonymous

“Barrister” read thy brief! “Overwork”? The complaint letter says “[t]he student body understands that the overall content prescribed to each year has not increased per se from previous years.” So there is no more work. They want less work than usual – see “1. Substantive Reduction”.

This is a try on.

As you note is indefensible, they also want to have guaranteed marks no matter how badly they do in exams for a second year in a row with “3. No Detriment Policy”.

If they got what they wanted, their degree results would always have an asterisk next to them, and not the good kind asterisk.

Still, if they flunk they probably can get a job at the BSB or the Bar Council given how they shoehorned a diversity point in too.

Internet 🤡

❄️

(15)(14)

Every other law student in this country

*Laughs nervously*

(8)(0)

Lolz

❄️❄️❄️.. Merry Christmas!

(5)(5)

anon

The paragraph about reviewing the syllabus, and additional mentoring if it is to happen, has not yet. No one has heard of that. Additional support hasnt happened. We are not even receiving baseline support in my eyes.

(13)(8)

Will

I hope you don’t melt snowflake.

(4)(11)

Jamie W

In general, university students have been ignored. The no detriment policy does not go far enough and the overall wellbeing of university students has not been accounted for.

I think the main focus should be to have more in place to help those university who have tested postive for COVID and are quite unwell. The toll it takes on your mental and phsyical health goes far beyond the ‘two week’ isolation period. The long term impact of covid is fatigue, exhaustion, breathing difficulties etc. which lasts up to and longer than 6 weeks from the point of contracting covid.

Telling students to stay at home and do online learning is not enough. It does not account for students falling behind weeks of work and expected to catch up and perform as normal on their exams/assessments.

It is even more diffuclt for GDL/LPC students who don’t get any legitimate kind of leniency when it comes to covid related issues. There is hardly any support available and the students are just expected to get on and deal with it – I think this should be more of a discussion right now.

(54)(6)

Nathaniel H

As a student who tested postive and have been unwell – I agree to everything you have said.

I reached out to the student support service and they pretty much just told me to recover asap and try and catch up before exam season.

(28)(0)

Jim Bob

What else did you expect? A hug and a free unicorn. Grow up.

(14)(34)

Andrew

An extension at least.

(11)(0)

Anonymous

“Have been unwell” is not enough to get a extension.

Someone working in a city firm

8-10 hours in front of a screen really isn’t that much, especially when you can divide the day however you want and take breaks as necessary. That’s what we do when working from home!!

Both students and universities need to realise that wellbeing support is not the same as a reduced workload.

That said universities can definitely make the process easier for students by offering meaningful support and counselling services, taking into acvount furthee exceptional circumstances (e.g. extra childcare responsibilities, not the fact you havw to study from home) and setting up study groups or a buddy system.

Ultimately most big firms (in law or otherwise) are looking at moving to working from home for at least part of the time and students need to be able to adapt.

(37)(2)

Bob

I spent 23 hours before a computer a couple of weeks ago. Welcome to the profession, snowflakes.

(13)(28)

joe motherton

congratulations you’re at a higher risk of dying early?

(51)(5)

apparently a snowflake for demanding educational services I’m paying for

We’re paying 9k to do it. How much are you paying?

(17)(7)

US Associate

I’m paying in blood.

(18)(2)

Sally

take a look at this edgelord

(5)(0)

Snobby lass

imagine what their complaints would have been if they actually got offers from Oxbridge

(16)(44)

Don Bulling

If only they had made it into Oxford. This is just part of the price of failure.

(14)(28)

SC

3 years pissing about doing a non law degree before taking the GDL seems a wise choice reading this.

(28)(3)

Name

8-10 hours a day in front of a screen is normal for most office workers. Solicitors can expect to spend longer than that. Office workers also will generally receive less support than students receive. In short, the signatories will need to toughen up a bit if this is the career they want.

(14)(5)

FlourPour

I’m a solicitor and have just passed my 7th hour in front of a computer screen with at least 2 more to go. And this is a good day.

(9)(1)

anon

Seems like a good place to post this: but what do people think of the UCL LLM in terms of quality and graduate prospects? I’m hoping to specialise in International Law.

(3)(15)

Jim Bob

What do you mean “International Law”? That is the sort of vacuous statement I’d expect from a sixth former who has no clue.

(19)(5)

anon

I meant Public International Law although if you bothered to look on the UCL website, you’d see that the specialism is called International Law as you can also incorporate Private International Law modules

(5)(1)

Been there done that

It was not a good place to post this. Far too much to unpack.

LLM itself will get you sweet FA in terms of grad prospects. Solicitors don’t care about your niche academic interests. The reality is for your TC you’re going to be doing doc review and bundling, highlighting documents to show clients where to sign, and drafting short 1 page case law updates for partners to take credit for and circulate to clients. Once you qualify you will be managing trainees and paralegals doing this and producing reports on progress for the partners/clients. Depending on the firm you may get to amend PLC precedent documents. If you qualify into a niche advisory area, you may start being allowed to think at 5PQE. Seriously.

Being a student at UCL could potentially help, especially if you started at a poly/plate glass with utterly useless employment advisers with no real industry connection (which is the case 100% of the time). The UCL law fair is massive, with pretty much all Chambers and City firms in attendance. Several elite law firms have UCL alum partners that do private dinners for UCL students at the firm offices. I know a couple US firms that do that. The LLM programme is intensive so, depending how bright you are, this may diminish the value of these connections if you don’t have the time to make use of the opportunities.

What do you mean by “International Law”? Do you mean international arbitration? Cross-border M&A? Shipping law (e.g. advising on incoterms so on so forth)? Or classic law student error thinking that working for international clients means flying around advising them in luxury hotel restaurants in Luxembourg or Hong Kong (which typically never happens… maybe on occasion in super HNW private client practices). If you are thinking about true international law (breaches of treaties and conventions) there’s maybe a dozen lawyers who actually have a practice in that in the UK, most working for public bodies/quasi-governmental organisations and likely qualified barristers. You’re not going to get there.

If you will do/are doing the GDL, a LLM without a super specialist focus might actually help fill the gap in what is inevitably going to be a rough recruitment year. It may also show some smaller firms your “dedication” to the law, rather than pursuing the career after finding out careers in your BA in interpretive dance are essentially worthless. Caveat: this line of argument is usually only relevant at smaller, not-so-sophisticated firms run by archaic partners who are now just learning how to work fax machines.

TL;DR – Do a LLM at UCL (or other leading uni) if you have a legitimate personal interest in the areas of study offered in that programme and cash to burn, but do not think it will help your grad prospects. Do not do it if you have to take out loans – get a decent paying job outside of law and apply for vac schemes.

(27)(1)

Name

I generally agree with everything you’ve said, except for the part about niche advisory lawyers only being allowed to think after 5PQE. Generally the juniors do the bulk of the thinking in preparing first drafts of the advice memos.

(5)(2)

FlourPour

Just saying I agree with this 100%. It’s all true. Generally people in City firms will assume that you only did a LLM because you didn’t get a TC earlier during your degree. It won’t help much if at all.

Maybe if you do commercial or business law you might get some advantage but junior lawyers in City corporate heavy firms don’t really do law. They do intelligent admin with a legal flavour.

(8)(2)

Been there done that

UCL/LSE/KCL all have some finance or commercial LLMs of some sort. I’m sure they’re all brilliant programmes, but if any TC interviewee makes the terrible mistake of talking about their LLM or specific elements of it for more than 10 seconds the interviewer will not be pleased. It just looks like they’re trying to show off how smart they are, or that they’re dull.

The right answer, as always, is to be honest: “I was struggling to get a role in a very tough market. I thought undertaking a rigorous finance LLM (or whatever it is) at a prestigious institution would improve my commercial awareness to make me more competitive. I was also hoping to grow my professional connections through the large number of student and alumni group events as the alumni network is usually quite successful.” Or something like that. Shows drive to succeed, even if the route is challenging, and REAL commercial awareness for private practice law i.e. recognizing client development opportunities.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

If it is not a BCL or an LLM from a top 10 US law school, it, at best, counts for nothing and might well be a negative.

Postgrad

I have to respectfully disagree with FlourPour. Having UCL on any CV will give a great boost.

The LLM course at UCL is one of the very best, with really great content and fantastic module leaders.

I’ve spoken to grad rec. at quite a few leading law firms who have said a top LLM will likely boost an application, make you stand out and show commitment to law.

My advice is go for it – if you want to specialise in a particular area of law (valuable to law firms, e.g. financial law or litigation).

(3)(2)

anon

What’s to say I can’t have a practice in treaties and conventions? I’m not saying it will be easy but I bet the dozen or so lawyers who have practices in these areas were once told not to bother?

(1)(1)

Silver linings

I’ve been working from home since March. The last three months it’s been so busy I haven’t been able to get more than 4 hours of sleep a night during the week. Sleep most of the weekend away in a futile attempt to recuperate.

But it’s ok though, my firm‘s support & well-being team signed me up for virtual language classes (whilst also being silent on if bonuses are happening this year).

(11)(0)

Jim Bob

Bet these moaning snowflakes are happy to spend hours on Tik Tok or playing Animal Crossing.

(14)(17)

joe mother

did you have to google what teenagers get up to in 2020 for this?

(25)(4)

Jim Bobby

Dag nab the young generation!

(7)(1)

Hatrick Pingson

Want to know what’s worse than being a snowflake? Thinking that your nine hours of watching antiques roadshow repeats everyday and your 2:2 in Geography from Sheffield Hallam in the ‘70s qualifies you to know what today’s experience of being a law student is like.

Well, put it this way, your partner bonus will never fill the deep spiritual void left by the certain knowledge that your wife is sleeping with your neighbour, Jimbo. Nor will the fact that your children don’t respect you for “having it harder in your day,” Jimmy.

(8)(5)

anon

By my understanding, the problem is that the workload is significantly larger than in previous years, not that there is simply “a lot of work”.

(5)(7)

Anonymous

Nah, bro. Read the letter “the student body understands that the overall content prescribed to each year has not increased per se from previous years”. It is just the little darlings are in an echo chamber of self-pity. The “per se” made me chuckle.

(14)(3)

Not an old man

Some of these comments are comical. Do they understand there’s a difference between paying for a service as a student, and being paid for a service as an employee?
I would gladly look at my computer for 8 hours a day if I was being paid 6 figures for it. But what’s happening is students who are paying up to £20,000 are receiving education which they deem substandard and every right to flag with faculty.

(30)(10)

Anonymous

Paying for it, or more accurately having state subsidised lending attributed to you for partial repayment, makes no difference to this issue.

(9)(7)

Old Guy

Just for the record, my comment above was in support of the kids. Having to sit for hours in front of the screen is pretty tough.

(10)(2)

Leon

Would happily do the work of a student if you were paid like those who’ve already done the study to earn the chance of a wage you expect for free? Got it. Entitled much?

(1)(1)

Career Adviser

Pathetic snowflakes. If you can’t handle it go get a job at McDs because that’s we you f*king belong.

(7)(23)

Dag nab the younger generation

YES, this needed to be said Career Adviser!!! Put the snowflakes (aka Young People Flakes) in their place!!!

(3)(2)

I hate my wife

Christ you must suck at your job

(2)(1)

Anonymous

To all the haters: if something s**t is happening and becoming a norm, doesn’t mean it becomes a good thing. Over working is a problem in our society, if you are used to it, great for you, but don’t speak like everyone should be doing this as if we are all just machines. You guys will do great in a labour camp if you enjoy working 247.

(20)(2)

Anonymous

In my experience those that use the word “haters” never have anything of substance worth saying. Buddy, no-one is forcing anyone to take a law degree or work in a law firm. If you don’t like hard work then go away and do something else.

(6)(5)

Leon

Did you just dis capitalism while writing on your iPhone, whilst sipping a frapp?

(1)(3)

Surprise

Ah yes, because to be a true anti capitalist you must be self sufficient, produce everything you own, and live in an igloo without electricity in Soviet Russia. Thanks for the reminder

(0)(1)

Dag nab the younger generation

Back in my day, we had to work 20 hours a day at university!!! And that was just the seminars and lectures alone!!! All these young people aka snowflakes complaining about not working when they’re too busy playing Fork Knife on their PlayStations!!!

Sincerely,
A tough and resilient Boomer

(9)(0)

Leon

You’ll never get a 2:1 if you can’t spell Fortnite.

(0)(6)

Plan-demic

It’s spelt fortnight

(3)(1)

Boomer

Fork Knife was a hot PlayStation game in around 2018. You will never graduate if you fail to conduct a simple internet search.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

So when you read the awful letter, the snowflakes want a) to do less work than in normal years and b) get a guaranteed grade for a second year of their degree in a row. What an embarrassment to their generation. Just do the work and stop moaning. The world is tough, grow up and get used to it.

(7)(0)

Dag nab the younger generation

Back in my day, we had to work 20 hours a day at university!!! And that was just the seminars and lectures alone!!! All these young people aka snowflakes complaining about not working when they’re too busy playing Fork Knife on their PlayStations!!!

Sincerely,
A tough and resilient Boomer

(0)(1)

Anon

This virus is not a threat to us. I’ve had it. I got a runny nose for a few days. It was a trivial infection. All my fellow students have had it. None got seriously ill. I understand for 80 and 90 yos it infects their lungs and kills them. But why do we 20yos need to be locked in our rooms to protect us from something that is frankly a cold for us.

(4)(6)

Anon

Based

(4)(0)

Anon

cringe

(0)(3)

Anon

UCL law students are usually pretty tedious types who constantly try to out compete each other from day 1 of 1st year.

It’s probably them whipping themselves up into panic rather than the department setting too much work.

(11)(3)

mark

This puts me off pursuing law so much…. not the open letter or the students, rather the miserable old people in the comments wishing with all their heart for everyone to be just as miserable as them.

(6)(1)

Leon

Said the individualist who wanted to have their cake and eat it.

(1)(2)

Lala Land

If you think that’s bad, wait until you go into private practice. You’ll think you’re in the Workaholic Brown Nosing Hunger Games.

(1)(2)

Anonymous

The gripes above, and there are many of this type, that seem to imply that because students are paying for their education they can demand more does lead to the concern that we have a generation that are going full Karen early in life.

(5)(0)

Catherine

I am finding my second year more work, as before there was a fixed 2 hours teaching per week.
Now the online posted videos can be up to 4 hours.
Which is fine if it means you are doing 2 weeks lectures and can choose to do all at once if you want (then nothing to do the next week) but it doesn’t work like that, maybe we get more weeks off at the end?
I am getting by, working weekends to keep up, and was used to a 9-7 job before anyway. But even to be, it’s a lot more work this year than last (taking into account it’s harder anyway as you move up the years)

(2)(0)

RiceCracker

Whiners. 8 to 10 hours a day and working weekends is light work. Toughen up or give up on being a lawyer, or at least on being a successful one. Wimps.

(0)(1)

Just another Year 2 Student

The amount of blind hatred in these comments is staggering. We’re not just names on a screen, we’re living breathing people with families and friends, please don’t generalise all of us into a certain group. I sincerely hope that one day when you need help, you’ll experience more compassion than what you’re offering here.

I’d also like to just add one more point for those who are on the fence: I’ve read that some think that this letter is an insult to people with real mental health issues– I’ve recently had a nervous breakdown and had to, for the first time in my life, acquire medication to cope. I stand by this letter. We’re not going against faculty as if they’re the source of our problem, they’re just the only people who can offer some substantive help in these times.

(4)(1)

Anonymous

The letter asks for less work than a normal UCL law degree and easier exams that can only improve on coursework grades. Those demands would make the degree a joke. If you have had issues handling the pandemic impact, and many have, defer the degree. If you can’t handle the work don’t do it rather than expect the degree to come down to the workloads you can cope with.

(1)(0)

A veteran solicitor

‘Sitting at a desk, staring at your screen for an average of 8-10 hours a day has drained any remaining energy’…… Hard work is exactly what makes you a UCL Law student, distinguishing yourself from your peers. Is an average of 8-10 working hours a day not the daily routine of a trainee solicitor?

Difficult to believe these kinds of nonsense coming from the mouths of UCL law students. So young, but fatigued by normal working hours. Once upon a time, UCL produced the cream of the crop in the legal field. This has now become a story.

(1)(1)

Jerome

This is so funny. Even if there was no pandemic you can expect to spend 8 to 10 hours a day reading a law degree. If anything the pandemic made it ridiculously easier since every exam is now either take home exam or coursework. I think the actual problem here is students who got in on predicted grades but not actual achieved grades went to the wrong university and simply can’t handle the heat. Ridiculous.

(5)(0)

U reply U boomer

I use Xiaomi so suck my pp boomer

(0)(0)

A

As an aside, the conduct of so many students in the pandemic has been a thorough disgrace. Those moaning about online teaching need to blame their cohorts that partied the nation into a second wave.

(1)(1)

Penthouse

I believe these students should have a life. Looking after yourself is demanding enough, you need time to shop, cook, wash, sleep etc. When covid is added to the mix, it becomes even more important to look after your mental health. They have done the right thing. Good luck and keep standing for your rights

(1)(0)

the truth

The absolute ignorance in the comments is astounding. Loads of the students who have signed this letter are students who are in their second or third year of their degree and can adequately tell the difference in their studies pre-COVID and the present. It’s not just the 8-10 hour screen time. It is also the 200+ page reading for each module each week. That is almost 800 pages a week. It is the lectures that take an entire day to complete in comparison to the two hour time slot they use to have pre-COVID. It is the lack of breaks. It is the live lectures. It is preparing for seminars and tutorials. It is the further reading because that’s what you need to do for better grades. Most of us don’t have time to watch shows or tiktoks or go on a walks as some of the more silly comments like to suggest. Every day is completing work for the next. Every day. It is insane. It is too much. It is unreasonable to sacrifice week after week after week – not even having weekends off, to stay on top of the work. And not to add the mental health! As if it’s unfathomable to think that out of the 230+ students that have signed this, not a single person has ‘real’ mental health problems or problems in general. What a joke. Many have lost friends and family. Many are struggling with the consequences of being isolated. Many have physical impairments. But all are normal people. And normal people have normal, real mental health issues regardless of whether or not there is a pandemic. These are law students from UCL – a university where hard work is expected. Law students know hard work. If they are complaining, it certainly isn’t because they are being unreasonable. They aren’t snowflakes. In a time where there is so much distress and anxiety and grief, you’d think there would be more compassion. Instead we have old people complaining about how much harder they had it. This was never a competition and it certainly doesn’t cost anything to empathise.

(5)(2)

The Shepherd

Poor little lambs!

(0)(0)

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