It is not a particularly nice feeling being asked to write a piece about doing a law degree in an almost retrospective manner. The main reason for this is that it means I have to acknowledge that I have graduated from Exeter University, having spent arguably the three best years of my life here so far…
The reading list debate…
The first point I think that needs addressing is the problem of how to prepare for your first year. Whether you’ve taken a gap year or are heading straight to university, it is inevitable that in the weeks and months before your course begins it will cross your mind that you should be doing something to prepare.
Some universities have summer reading lists or send you your list of textbooks early. However I have found from experience that, unless you’re specifically told to read them, browsing through your textbooks without the guidance of lectures and seminars can create more problems and worries than it solves.
Research law topics at your own pace…
With regard to textbooks, I think it is important to not be afraid to read around your subject. By this I mean if you are struggling to read a textbook, go to the library and see if there are any others on the topic. Personally I had an absolute nightmare with the property law textbook I was recommended last year, so when revision came around I took the financial hit and got another one which claimed to set things out in a more straightforward way. It did, and I got a first in property law.
On a similar vein, I’m sure most people at school had one teacher who was very intelligent but struggled to convey their knowledge to the students. You may encounter this from time to time at university: an academic who is brilliant at research and well respected in academic circles, but who may make little or no sense to someone just starting a law degree.
This is where journals come in handy. Journals can be read either in paper form in the library or electronically online and they basically consist of opinion pieces from people in the legal world who may well write in a more accessible style than your standard textbook.
Prepare for a different style of learning…
It’s crucial to prepare for the different style of learning you will encounter at university: independent learning. I know some incredibly clever people who have gone completely off the rails at university without their parents or their teachers nagging them to write an essay or revise.
Similarly, I have met people who didn’t enjoy school who flourish at university, because there are fewer people telling them what to do all the time. The old adage of cutting the apron strings couldn’t be more accurate when it comes to writing essays and revising at university.
Asking for help
Having said that, there is a support network to help you out. University is a service for which we pay thousands a year. If your car broke down and the mechanic just took you to a garage and left you there with a tool box, you wouldn’t feel like you were getting a good service. It’s the same at university. Your lecturers are there to help you, as is the careers service and any student Law Society you may have. If you have a problem with an essay or a module, your lecturer should have contact times during which you can go and see them.
One final tip: type up your lecture notes. It’s something I decided to do one day when I was waiting for dinner in halls and I’ve never looked back. Students spend weeks before exams going over their old notes and typing them up, scratching their heads over bizarre side notes that made sense when they wrote them six months ago. When you get home from the lecture spend half an hour typing up what you’ve just written and you’ll be in a great position to start revising later in the year.