Article by Demilade Adeniran
Having recently completed the first year of my law degree, I feel it would be quite a claim to say that I have 110% completed first year the perfect way. There is no perfect way or cheat sheet to the first year of university. However, all in all, I enjoyed first year and I feel reasonably prepared for second year. I strongly believe that should be everybody’s aim. Live your best life and be prepared to live your best life. Below I have outlined some of the things I did this year and some things I wish I did this year, in order to make the most of it. In this article I will be providing personal tips from my experience in my first year of law, which I believe everyone can benefit from.
Hopefully, if you have applied to study Law at university level, you would have a brief understanding of what the ‘study’ of Law entails. Very few of us knew that most of what we’re learning is focused more on what the exceptions are to the Law as opposed to the actual Law itself. In other words, Law is not a clean-cut highly objective course, it entails a lot of subjectivity. For example, as opposed to purely learning a list of rules, such as“You have the right to remain silent”, you will be shown situations where the right to silence does and does not exist. It tests your ability to make arguments and form your opinion on factual and subjective context. You will be tested on these skills through oral work, group projects and written assignments. To make the most of first year, enter knowing that you will not only need to know the law but form an opinion of the law and be ready to back it.
Universities put a lot of effort in helping students do well. A lot of universities will have an academic support service which runs workshops on study skills, time management skills, essay writing and so on. Your library may run activities like these also. Although you may have come across these things when preparing for your exams at secondary school, university has a completely different structure of learning. As such, it is important in your first year to get as much information as possible on how to take in and manage information. Even if you only learn one new thing, that is one thing you would not have known. Another support available to you is peer mentors. I believe like most colleges or universities have a system in place where students in years ahead who are studying law, are appointed as “mentors” for the year. They organise meet ups and help out with showing you around campus. Something I’ve noticed this year is that after a couple of months, people stop interacting with their mentors. After the first couple of months, you know how to use the library and other facilities and then assume that the work of your mentor is done. A mentor is around your age, so constant communication could possibly lead to a friendship where you could possibly ask for notes, ask for advice about an assignment, ask about the structure of exams etc. Don’t forget that they’re happy to help you and want to make every part of first year enjoyable, just not the first two months. Lastly, an underrated support is the college or university tutor service. This is something I am definitely guilty of not using enough and aim to make good use of more next year. Usually a member of the academic staff will be appointed to be your tutor. They become the first point of call if you are facing serious personal issues and have a pastoral role. It can be helpful to talk to your tutors if you are worried about exams and what is expected from you in assignments and so on, because even if they may not be your lecturer, they are from the law school and will know how lecturers think and will give you a different perspective to what your peer mentor says. To make the most of first year, seize the opportunity to learn and talk to the people appointed to make your first year journey easier.
To “chop life” is a colloquial term found in Black Irish and Black British culture and it means to enjoy yourself, have fun and just live your best life. I think it is very generic advice to tell people to “join societies!!!!” and “get involved in college life!!!” but this advice is still highly important, no matter how generic.There is an important distinction to be made between joining societies and participating in them. In my case, I joined 10+ societies during Fresher’s Week. This included the Trampoline Society. University will shock you as there is practically a club/society for everything but that is definitely a side note. I think the key is to try everything then be consistent with the ones you like the most. It gives you something to look forward to every week and can also build you a solid group of friends. If you count the Student Union (in my role as class rep) as a society, I pretty much stuck to that and the Afro-Caribbean Society all year. I know a lot of people who joined societies, went to one or two events all year and that was it for them. There is definitely a society for everyone and you should make mental health and well being a priority, as Law can be a very challenging and time consuming course. Do not feel guilty for having fun, schedule at least two events to go to every month that are completely out of class work. If you plan well and learn to prioritise and manage your time effectively, your grades will not suffer. Societies are cool because they really make an effort to brighten your university experience. A lot of societies will have competitions as well as plan trips abroad.Society life can contribute so much to you having fun during your first year at university and you deserve to have fun! To make the most of first year, make ‘chopping life’ one of your priorities and participate in society life.
I am (arguably) very idealistic so I am under the impression that there are a good amount of people studying degrees because they have a passion for the subject matter and they want to grow. In reality, it’s a mixture of that and the fact that a lot of people made a calculated decision in choosing law as there is quite a blindingly obvious career path after a law degree. Except there isn’t. The UK and Ireland are in no way like America. Lawyers or ‘attorneys’ don’t exist. Solicitors and barristers exist. Also, there is the added assumption that your law degree is useless. That’s an exaggeration but I hope my point is clear as things are not always as simple as they appear. a law degree in Ireland or the UK is not enough to let you practice as a solicitor or barrister. An important and helpful thing to do is find out what steps you need to take to qualify into your preferred profession. Once you see the steps, identify what opportunities are available to you as a first year to further yourself down that path. Are you able to go to a law firm open day? Attend a career fair? Apply for an insight day? Shadow a barrister? To make the most of first year, try to identify the steps you need to take in order to be the professional you aspire to be!
You may have friends who are studying Science or Maths degrees who for instance have 35 hours of lectures per week. You on the other hand, may have between 15 to 20 hours a week. Your friends may get an assignment/quiz a week while you may only get one or two assignments per module per semester. Subjects like Law are thought to be beyond the capacity of the classroom. You are meant to make up for that (35-15=20) 20 hours of free time by doing your readings, both assigned and unassigned and preparing for seminars. Although it is very demotivating working through pages of words you may not fully understand, doing your assigned reading is important because it keeps you on track with where the lectures are, making them easier to follow and it also helps you become more familiar with legal writing. Your writing becomes better when you read. As well as this, being committed to your reading means less stress and more organisation around exam time because you are not worried that you have missed sections of the course. In order to make the most of first year, do the work you are given and do not think your 15 hours of lectures is all your work for the week.
To conclude, making the most of first year, no matter how subjective that assertion may be, can be made more achievable by knowing what you are getting yourself into, taking advantage of the services and support available to you, understanding the profession not underestimating your workload and also making conscious effort to enjoy your first year!