BPP University Law School GDL programme leader Leyanda Purchase and her team reveal the secrets to Graduate Diploma in Law success
1. Prepare in advance for stuff you wouldn’t previously have prepared for
As an intensive course, preparation is essential for success on the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). This means keeping up to date with weekly tutorial preparation and consolidating after each week. It also means making a plan of the year so that you know all the important dates.
Make sure you know when your teaching weeks, assessment weeks, GDL Extra lectures and GDL Skills in Practice workshops take place, and when the deadlines fall for key tasks such as training contract and pupillage applications.
Top tip: Colour code your modules and statute book.
2. Think “shades of grey” rather than “black and white”
Being a lawyer is a skill: there is no magic formula. It is important not to lose sight of that, even during your GDL. Very often there will not be a “right” answer. Tutorials will teach you the skills you need to analyse the legal principles and apply them to real life scenarios.
You won’t get model answers as these simply don’t exist in life or in many of the subjects you will study as part of the GDL. A good lawyer will find the obvious solution; a great lawyer will find a solution that no one else thought of.
Top tip: Don’t worry if there is not a “right” answer and focus on developing your analytical skills.
3. Draw upon what you learnt as a non-law undergrad
If you are starting the GDL, chances are that you have recently completed an undergraduate degree in another discipline. That usually means that you have already worked out which method of studying and revising is best for you. Some of you will need to write everything down, some of you will look at it once and some of you will cover your walls in post-its.
The important thing is to work at your own pace and not to judge yourself by other people’s standards. You also won’t necessarily have the same level of understanding of each module at the same time. Some subjects are linear and some are more like a jigsaw puzzle which will build up over time.
Top tip: Don’t judge yourself against your classmates.
4. Immerse yourself in law during your commute
Attend your tutorials, lectures and consolidation workshops or listen to them in the week they occur so you don’t fall behind. Make use of downtime when you can by listening to lectures — which we make available as downloadable MP4 files — on the move. Prioritise your time efficiently and make sure preparing for your tutorials is top of that list.
Top tip: If you are ever struggling for time, prioritise preparation for tutorials and speak to a tutor about how to catch up.
5. Think about exams almost from day one
Revising effectively is key to your success in the assessments. This requires you to have a clear understanding of what the examiner is looking for. You should therefore practice writing answers to past exam papers in exam conditions. Writing (with a pen not a laptop) for three hours straight is a skill you need to practice before the first exam.
Also make sure that you answer the question set, rather than what you had hoped the question would say. Learning case law can be tough. Try to remember key facts to prompt you but focus on the legal principles. Oh, and never write in your statute book!
Top tip: Wikipedia is not an authoritative source.
6. Keeping it simple is a sign that you understand
There is a temptation in law to over-complicate things which isn’t helped by our attachment to legal Latin! “Res ipsa loquitur”, she said obiter dictum. “He’s clearly non compos mentis!” Explaining difficult concepts clearly and concisely is a really important skill that all lawyers need to learn and not all do well. Reading judgments that are written clearly and concisely will help you develop this skill.
Top tip: Lord Denning in Hinz v Berry: “It was bluebell time in Kent …”
7. Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture
It’s very easy to become tied up in the minutiae (another great Latin word) of what you are studying. Being able to see the wider implications of what you are saying will help you provide concise and relevant advice when you become a lawyer. Don’t get lost in the facts of cases and keep the key principles in the forefront of your mind when applying the law you are learning to practice scenarios. Get the basics right and never forget that client problems will often cover a number of legal areas.
Top tip: Listen to ‘Law in Action’ on Radio 4 to better understand how the law fits together
8. Pace yourself
You’ve all probably heard the phrase “It’s a marathon, not a sprint” in relation to your undergraduate degree. Well if that’s true, then the GDL is probably the 10,000 metres. Create a schedule for yourself around the timetable you are given for tutorials, lecture and consolidation sessions, planning your preparation, career development and pro bono — and be disciplined with your time.
Top tip: Channel your inner Mo and keep ahead — don’t fall behind!
9. Practice makes perfect
To be more accurate, perfect practice makes perfect. You will be given the skills you need in tutorials to succeed in your examination at the end of the year. Practice these skills as often as you can: do the first mock, read your feedback, learn from your feedback and do the second mock. Practice writing out exam answers and speak to your tutors if you are ever unsure.
Top Tip: Never be afraid to ask. The earlier you deal with any issues the easier they are to deal with.
10. Start schmoozing
Networking is essential in practice. Start early and practice networking with each other. Learn how to use social media to your advantage; speak to the careers team about how to enhance your CV; get involved with pro bono; moot; debate and have fun.
Top tip: Take advantage of all the things on offer during your GDL to maximise your employability later on.
Leyanda Purchase is BPP University Law School’s GDL programme leader. She created this article with BPP’s GDL team.
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