Anyone who ever says they did well in their first year of studying law at university either means they achieved a 1st and a breakdown, or they failed the course but made life-long friends. It’s a tricky time; you’re an ‘adult’ now, but three months ago you had to ask to use the bathroom.
Mistakes in your first year are fast and easy to come by, but here’s some advice from an second year law student that will hopefully make your uni life easier (or at least a bit more manageable).
First Year Law Student Lesson One: “First Year Doesn’t Count” – A Myth Debunked
There is so much to be said for the way you act in the first year of your law degree. One of the most commonly used phrases around any uni campus is “first year doesn’t count” – do not fall into this trap, law students! While it is perfectly acceptable to struggle and get 40% at almost any university (except well, maybe Oxbridge), law is a bit different.
The university you study at will probably not treat you any differently, nor will any reasonable person, but the issue is what happens after uni, or when you try to get work experience. Most law firms want training contract applications in during second year, and they will peruse your application and see that you’ve written your ‘3rd’ degree classification on your CV. This is cause for concern: most BPTC courses have at least a 2:1 entry requirement and solicitors’ like to give scholarships to people they will be employing soon.
This is not meant to frighten you, only to make you aware. First year won’t bring your degree down and you could just choose to not disclose this later, but if you are actively searching for schemes throughout your education (and you should be) this could really hurt you. It demonstrates a lack of commitment to your studies – what if you don’t care in third year? Or on your LPC? Some firms or chambers wouldn’t take the risk.
The best you can do is put the effort in – this is law, it can be complicated and it can be boring, but it’s a well regarded subject for a reason, and it will be worth it to see a 2:1 or even a 1st by your name.
First Year Law Student Lesson Two: Preparing for University
This leads to the next point: come prepared to work. You’ve had your summer, now get ready to work. In no way do I encourage a first year law student to lock themselves away until they are broken from stress, but there must be a balance. If there are recommended textbooks, try to get them, either in the library at the start of term or by purchasing them; read the first introductory chapter then close the book if this frightens you. You’re walking into your first lecture having an idea of what you’re stepping into.
This year I am studying land law – a very daunting challenge for me – but I read the first chapter of my textbook and found myself actually prepared to enter the first lecture.
If this is not an option for you then please pay attention in your introductory classes (I’d suggest always paying attention, but this is frankly unrealistic) and try to avoid feelings of confusion; when a slide doesn’t make sense, or you’re losing track of your lecturer, make a note to read your textbook or an online resource about it.
Trust me when I say that falling behind will affect you for a long time in this subject, I speak from experience. If you feel that you are not keeping up with the content, speak to your seminar tutor or a lecturer – you’ll soon realise they are actually here to help!
The older students aren’t, contrary to what we would like to believe, as scary and unhelpful as you might think. I don’t know why, but the second a fresher tells me they’re studying law, I immediately want to give them as many tips I can. Not all of us might be as helpful or as willing as others, but you never know when you’ll strike gold and someone will explain promissory estoppel to you on a night out (true story).
First Year Law Student Lesson Three: Time Management
This is a crucial part of uni and getting it into your head now will do you wonders for the rest of your time there. Believe me when I say, you cannot go through uni with no social life, but as written above, it’s all about balance.
You need to join societies; a law society is best if you’re only signing up to one thing – you could apply for a committee spot in a later year. However, avoid signing up for everything. Personally, I signed up to two last year and this was enough for me, others signed up for four or five and ended up dropping out of all of them. If you sign up to everything you’ll attend nothing and not get the full benefit of the society. If you can, attend a taster session before parting with your money; you’ll have a better idea of what the society offers and who the committee are.
Though I encourage a first year law student to join societies and have a fun time at university, do not make the mistake of forgetting your studies. There’s nothing better than coming in from a day of lectures you didn’t understand and getting into bed, but you have to do some work! I can’t tell you how many nights I spent saying “I’ll get that done tomorrow” (I might have even started this year doing that…) but you have to just get your textbook out and power through it.
Do any work you can at the start of the week (or the weekend if you’re seminars are at the start of the week); take any time you need off after seminars are over. If you are good at planning, plan your workload and arrange some chill time, whether this is drinking or watching Netflix. You need the time to relax but forgetting work or missing sessions will only make you more stressed, especially when it comes to revision and your notes are really thin.