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How to get the most out of your law degree

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By The Careers Team on

Kelly Rowney, senior lecturer at ULaw and PhD candidate, dives into working as an academic, life in Leeds, and top tips for undergrads

“It’s funny because since I joined The University of Law (ULaw), I’ve noticed that my path seems like the odd one out!” says Kelly Rowney, senior lecturer at ULaw and PhD candidate.

Coming to lecturing from an academic background like Rowney has done, seems to be the path less taken at the University. “I thought I was taking the traditional route into academia, but most of my colleagues had been in private practice for some time before turning their hand to teaching,” she says. Talking to Legal Cheek Careers, this decorated academic explains why she chose not to enter private legal practice. “From quite a young age, I was keen to become a barrister. But, once I started my LLB, I realised how much I loved it; there was not one topic that I didn’t enjoy,” she says. “So, with the LLB being an academic degree, I knew that I wanted to have the freedom that comes with researching the topics I was interested in.”

As a lecturer as well as an academic, Rowney has a keen mind for developing the University’s aspiring lawyers. “The most enjoyable thing about teaching for me, is that no day is ever the same. I teach so many different groups each week which can feel wildly different, given the diversity of thought and engagement I get in each session,” she explains. “What the students get out of the workshops is all down to the individuals themselves and the way each group works together, which inspires different tangents of discussion on each legal topic. And this can be fun as a lecturer because it often feels like teaching completely different areas of law, even though the workshop tasks are the same,” she enthuses.

In that vein, Rowney points out that for LLB students to get the most out of their workshops they should get curious.

“Ask questions!” she emphasises. “Even the slightly off-topic hypothetical questions can create really fertile discussions within the class. Sometimes, students don’t want to ask the wrong thing, but every lecturer here can find a way to create meaningful discussion from student interactions. By getting involved in LLB workshops, you’re facilitating a discussion that everybody can benefit from.”

Find out more about studying for the LLB at ULaw

Moving the conversation to ULaw’s LLB in particular, we ask Rowney what makes this LLB course stand out from the crowd.

Firstly, she says, the focus of ULaw’s undergraduate law course is on professional development. “Of course, it teaches its students about the law, but its purpose is to provide its students with the skills they need in practice to succeed on the Solicitors Qualifying Exams (SQE) and for future career progression, unlike many other LLBs in the UK,” she says. Being a lecturer for two skills-based modules on the LLB, Academic and Digital Skills and Critical Approaches in Current Legal Issues, Rowney exemplifies this skills-focused approach. “The Academic and Digital Skills module teaches those core skills that a lot of universities fail to do. We’re teaching law students referencing, presentation skills, essay writing, approaching independent study, and commercial awareness. These are skills which are fundamental to both success on the LLB and to wider career progression,” she explains.

The second skills-based module she teaches is Critical Approaches, which focuses on developing critical understanding, critical thinking and critical analysis. “This is something which people often mistake as a skill that’s purely academic; it’s not. Critical analysis is such an important skill for students to develop for legal practice too,” she says. “It relates to problem solving, which is foundational in private legal practice.”

Find out more about studying for the SQE at ULaw

Ahead of the Secrets to Success Leeds event in partnership with ULaw, where Rowney will be speaking, we ask her how she’s finding life in this Northern city. “I relocated to Leeds in the summer and my life has never been so good!” she jokes, after enduring a long commute to the City from Teesside for months. “I love Leeds, this is a city which has the charm of a small town, and the opportunities that come with a thriving legal industry. It’s so easy to build a network in the legal world, because everybody knows each other in this city. The culture in the Leeds legal industry is very friendly, so you can get the networking benefits of being in a smaller city alongside reaping the benefits of ‘Northern’ culture,” she says.

“The ULaw Leeds campus has such a good location; it’s right on the high street, less than a five-minute walk from the train station, and it’s so close to loads of restaurants and cafes. So, it’s a great place to be from a social point of view,” Rowney explains, talking on the benefits of studying at ULaw’s Leeds campus. “Our sixth floor is an open-plan, café floor with a socialising spot, and I often hear students making plans to hang out, and grab food together.”

But, in Rowney’s opinion, the main benefit of the ULaw Leeds campus is the staff. “Without blowing my own trumpet here, my lecturing colleagues are incredible. Having had many jobs previously, I can safely say that the lecturing staff in Leeds are some of the most inspiring people I’ve worked with,” she says. And it’s not just the academic staff that are deserving of accolades, according to Rowney. “The support staff are very accessible and visible to the students, so they can get to know our faculty staff by name. This is very unlike my own undergraduate experience at a larger university where I could sometimes feel disconnected from the faculty,” she explains. “There’s a real sense of community here.”

Knowing that community is often key in achieving success, we ask Rowney for her top tips for success on the LLB. “Working really hard is important, but so is strategy. On my undergraduate degree, I managed to achieve an average of over 80%, partly because I was strategic when it came to my studies. But, equally as important is building connections,” she says. “Having a good rapport with the people around you, including academic staff and the student body, is so important when you’re considering difficult legal questions. And it’s this aspect of getting stuck into the work, engaging with our community and getting involved outside of law school, that will ultimately build success.”

Find out more about studying for the LLB at ULaw

ULaw’s Campus Dean Matthew Tomlinson will be speaking at ‘Secrets to Success Leeds — with Eversheds Sutherland, Pinsent Masons, Shoosmiths and ULaw’, an in-person student event taking place on Tuesday 4 June. Apply now to attend.

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