How law students can survive Christmas

Advice from someone who made it to the other side

Student Xmas

Darpit Mehta, a first seat trainee solicitor at Norton Rose Fulbright, emerged from the all important second year of his law degree at Warwick with a good 2:1, three vacation schemes and a training contract.

Looking back, he thinks that working hard — but also working smartly — during the notoriously busy Christmas period was central to his success. Here are his tips for students currently in the midst of a festive feast of coursework, revision and application forms.

1. Take some time off — but limit that time

After I finished term for Christmas I took a break for a few days. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday I relaxed. Then I began work on the Monday. I then stopped on Christmas Eve and didn’t start again until after Boxing Day, when I worked for a few days, before putting my books away again and enjoying New Year’s Eve.

The rationale for this, alongside being able to enjoy myself, was to avoid burnout, which is a particular risk where you are working to deadlines. The last few days before you submit coursework or an application can be the most critical, and if you no longer have the energy to capitalise on this period then you can end up not making the most of it.

2. Work office hours — in an office-like place

Everyone has different ways of studying, but I found that working conventional office hours of nine until six suited me. There was a library nearby where I worked, and I’d say that getting out of the house each day was really important. It also meant that my work did not spill into the evenings, which I kept free to meet friends and relax.

3. Break days into modules

Having initially started by studying various subjects during the day, I found myself not thinking too clearly. I then decided to separate my days by concentrating on one subject each day. I found myself much more productive when concentrating on one topic for a sustained period.

4. Treat application forms with the care they require…

At first, I started doing vacation scheme application forms after finishing my university work for the day. This seemed like a good idea, but meant that I was quite tired by the time I started working on them. So I changed it and did a few days on university work followed by a day doing vacation scheme applications.

5. …but remember that university work is the most important

Having said that, one thing I may have done differently would have been to focus marginally more on academics over the application forms. Ultimately there is no second chance on second year results, and if you slip up on your grades it is a big disadvantage in your third year. With applications, on the other hand, you do get another chance. I ended up applying for 12 vacation schemes between October and the end of January.

6. Work efficiently

The single biggest difference between being a trainee solicitor and being a student is that in a law firm your time is billed. Having a timer in the corner changes the way you work and manage your time. It’s a big eye-opener about how you work — and something that, looking back, would have been useful to have experience of as a student while revising.

7. Make lists

Another thing I have learnt during my training contract is how useful it is to make concurrent lists. At the moment, I have one containing urgent tasks and another one for important, but less urgent things. Again, that would have been useful as a law student going through a busy period like Christmas where you can feel like you aren’t doing enough. Writing this down and subsequently crossing it off your list helps you get it out of your head and means you are not constantly firefighting every time a thought pops into your mind.

8. Manage your workload

While I am only three months into my training contract and this is my first Christmas working in a law firm, I have found that both life as a trainee and a student have their own pressures, and neither are easy. That said, by being able to balance the pressures you can also have time to enjoy the festive period with friends and family.

The deadline for applications for Norton Rose Fulbright’s summer vacation scheme is 8 January. Apply here.

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