Oxford grad Rhys Duncan gives guidance to new would-be lawyers
With a new academic year now here, recent Oxford Uni law graduate Rhys Duncan offers up 10 tips for those embarking on their law school journeys. Hopefully these practical pointers will help you make the most of your uni experience whilst setting you up for a life in law.
1. Law fairs
Whilst thinking about your future career may be a little daunting on day one of your law degree, going to law fairs and careers events is a low commitment and easy way to either begin your careers perusal, or find out more about a specific firm, sector, or specialism. This will also give you an idea of the range of options open to a fresh law graduate, and remind you that slogging through your degree may well be worth it.
2. Keep these options open
Whether you’re a family law fanatic, infatuated with IP, captivated by commercial, bonkers about banking, or stuck on shipping, there are a host of options available to you at firms, the bar, or in-house. Putting the blinkers on after you find the first firm that looks right may not be the best option, and might mean you miss out on some other pretty good opportunities. So, even after you think you’ve got your golden goose and are fantasising about hitting billable hour targets, don’t forget to keep your eyes open for other, possibly greener, pastures.
3. Give mooting a chance
“I don’t want to be a barrister”, “I hate public speaking”, and “I don’t even want to do law anyway”; all excuses commonly given by freshers and seasoned finalists who don’t want to delve into the world of legal advocacy. Spoiler alert, whether you want to go to the bar, a Magic Circle firm, a regional solicitors, or in-house, the ability to speak persuasively to an audience, compress complex issues into an easily understandable written and oral form, and undertake research on specific issues will be key.
Please, all we are saying is give mooting a chance.
4. Your tutors and lecturers (probably) won’t bite
Although no law degree would be complete without at least one professor reminding you that it was “different in their day”, for the most part your tutors and lecturers are a pretty friendly bunch. Remember that they’ve chosen to teach and will almost certainly want to engage with their students, answer difficult questions, and be able to pass on their own enthusiasm for their fields to a new cohort. This also means that, contrary to popular belief, sitting near the front of a lecture hall does not come with any additional health risks, and in fact, should be encouraged for those who are keen to learn and engage in lectures.
5. Remember that it’s a skill that comes with time
The ability to read a case, textbook, or academic article is not something developed overnight, with few budding lawyers able to read and understand even the majority of their reading in the first year, let alone term, week, or day. These skills take a great deal of practice and repetition to perfect, although, if you put in the time and effort, you’ll see a noticeable improvement. The same is, unfortunately, true of researching and writing essays, essential skills, although only ones that can be forged through the cauldron of repeated “this is an interesting take on the question, however…” comments.
6. Throw yourself at opportunities
If you have time in your schedule, and it sounds like something that you may enjoy and/or may be useful when it comes to your career or studying, grab any opportunity that comes your way. If you’ve ever considered volunteering in a legal clinic, playing the bassoon, or taking up Quidditch, university is the time to give it a go. This is no less true just because you’re doing a law degree and therefore (at least in your own view) will spend far more time working than all of your non-lawyer peers.
7. Make the most of the teaching on offer
But 9am is so early to be in a lecture theatre? The reality is, now you’re signed up, paid up, and have done the necessary shop for pointless kitchen utensils that will sit in a drawer for the next three years, you might as well make the most of the teaching. Piggybacking on the comment above about (mostly) non-feral tutors, make the most of your tutorials, classes, lectures, research facilities, and libraries as well as the knowledge of your peers and professors. Whilst three years may seem like a long time, exams will come thick and fast, and the more you know, the better your notes, and the better your support from peers and professors, the easier it will be.
8. Don’t put the blinkers on — keep up with the news and the bigger picture
Whilst it can be easy to bury your head in the sand and think about nothing but easements, promissory estoppel, and whether we should have a codified constitution or not, remember to keep at least one eye on the real world. ‘Commercial Awareness’, an illusive term which simply means thinking about business needs and real-world impacts, can’t be built from an EU textbook. Try to keep up with recent news, goings on, and developments, particularly in the political, legal, and, if it’s your cup of tea, business fields.
9. Keep up with the work — don’t let it snowball
At the risk of sounding like a nagging parent, please don’t let your work snowball out of control. Getting a little bit behind is inevitable and happens to even the best students, people get ill, unexpected events happen, or it may just take you a bit longer to understand certain subjects than others. However, if this does happen (or if you’re just feeling a bit lazy one week), try to get back on track. There is nothing worse than having a mounting pile of work and deadlines, with no way of making a dent. It will also mean that, if you do have a heap of work left at the end of a term, you’re either going to start eating into your holiday time, or seriously struggle when it comes to exams.
10. But, it’s not all about law
Whilst getting involved in law societies, mooting, and other legal pursuits are all very valid ways to use your time, and often very beneficial, try to balance this with something not so legal. Whether it’s a choir, netball, chess, or Pokémon club, try to find a (or multiple) non-legal pursuits. Not only will this give you a much-needed break from the legal world and significantly help your mental and physical health, for those who are already fixating on assessment days and interviews, non-legal hobbies will make you appear more human, less one-dimensional, and give you something to relate to others over.
For those who still think that lawyers are simply machines who need reminding to smile occasionally, takes notes from Squire Patton Boggs partner, and Rugby World Cup referee, Wayne Barnes, and Freshfields managing partner/professional racing driver Mark Sansom.
Legal Cheek’s next UK Virtual Law Fair takes place on Tuesday 10 October 2023. APPLY NOW.
Rhys Duncan joined Legal Cheek as an editorial assistant in August 2023 after studying law at the University of Oxford.