I recently contributed an article to The Lawyer Portal (TLP), whose aim is to be the definitive resource for everyone considering a career in law, whatever their stage or background. They are also officially partnered with the Bar Council and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx). Check out the original post here, and keep an eye out for the upcoming podcast interview I did with them.
Surviving Law School
Whether you are starting out or you are returning, Freshers’ Week is probably becoming a distant memory as the real work begins. It is also at this point that you may start to wonder, are there any shortcuts to studying law? Sadly, the answer is no, not really. But there are things you can do to save yourself from the unnecessary stress.
Here are a few things that I wish l had come across when starting out. As obvious as they may seem, it is all too easy to find yourself six months down the line having underestimated the time that you have and what you can realistically take on.
1. Prepare Prepare Prepare
As the saying goes, fail to prepare, prepare to fail. One of the most important lessons I learned here was to not underestimate the value of planning what you are going to do and when. Planning for the terms ahead proved an invaluable exercise, it meant that during times of stress I had a clear plan that I could follow without worrying about what I had or hadn’t covered and what I needed to do.
During my time at UCL, I used the Bullet Journal method to keep me on track. Through this I was able to break down my goals and focus on what I needed to achieve each week. I planned for what I knew I could realistically, and not ideally, achieve. In my final year, this was particularly useful during exams; by having a plan, I was able to avoid doing ‘all-nighters’ and burning myself out.
2. Stay Organised
Again, it might seem obvious, but being organised is essential to everything and not just studying but for maintaining balance. A good way to view your degree is to think of it as if it is a 9-to-5 job. For each day I had to be disciplined and follow a schedule. This helped me to set time to go over what I had learnt in lectures and combine it with what I had read each week, but also leaving time for me to do the things I enjoyed. In scheduling this, it saved a lot of time when it came to revising.
Getting into good habits early on meant that I was being efficient with my time and I was able to avoid a lot of stress at the end of the year. In this it is also important to remember to set some time aside for yourself. Although I was planning my time so I could achieve the best results, it was also vital in setting realistic expectations and avoiding burn out.
3. Taking Notes
When you first start off on your course, you have to find what works for you. You can either do it by hand, or by typing. In my final year, I took all my notes by hand using the Cornell Method for a few reasons.
Firstly, it meant that I was forced to actively listen rather than typing verbatim everything the lecturer was saying, which tends to happen. In this way, it meant I had to process everything and only write the essentials as you generally can’t write as fast as you can type.
Secondly, save yourself time. By reviewing the lecture outline and the set reading beforehand, it is easier to work out what is unique information versus things that can be found in your textbook. In short don’t write every single little thing the lecturer says, instead, focus on active listening and picking up their opinions, arguments said by other academics, other current affairs they might mention in passing and, especially when they are summarising a case. It will give you a good idea of what the contentious issues are and save you time on reading afterwards.
4. Review Your Reading and Notes
Lastly, as soon as you can, review your notes and look at them more than once. Revision begins way before the actual exams. The more you engage with the materials, the more familiar it becomes and unfortunately, there was no shortcut to this.
When it came to my exams, I was able to save time as during the year I had been summarising my notes as I went along. I had gone over each lecture and edited my notes so that they made sense when it was all still relevant to me. Another skill to develop here is learning how to skim read and spot what is relevant. Sometimes, however, there is nothing to sweeten the bitter pill and you just have to force yourself to read.
When it comes to studying law, remember to take it as it comes and realise that what you’re feeling or going through, most students have experienced at some point, and you are not alone. It just takes some time, patience and perseverance.