Article written by Nicola Gatfield
At the time of writing this, I am working as a Paralegal after graduating with a First Class Honours in LLB Law (Hons) with Human Rights degree from City, University of London. This is my first published article featured in The Student Lawyer.
I would like to extend my warmest wishes to you at the beginning of this academic year. It is an incredible achievement and a reflection of all of your hard work that has paid off to get to this stage. Now, here is some advice that has helped me succeed as a student during my undergraduate degree.
To begin, preparation is fundamental to thrive throughout your law degree. It is important to start your reading early to stay ahead and reflect within the time you have in reading week. This will allow for you to decipher and interpret the context behind cases confidently. But, if you ever feel yourself falling behind, it may be wise to ask for support from your peers to form study groups so you can divide the reading in order to stay on top of your work.
Furthermore, creating and following a schedule will also help make your experience at university more manageable and less stressful especially in time for your exam season. From my own experience, allotting time to reading, annotations, extracurricular activities, and time to unwind will benefit you significantly in the long run if practiced from the beginning of law school.
From studying during the pandemic and attending online classes, I can confidently advise in retrospection that taking an active role in seminars is crucial to achieving high marks in your exams. Whilst your tutors will greatly appreciate your effort and curiosity when engaging alongside your fellow students, you will also take more out of the class.
TOP TIP 1: Stay wired into your studies. If you have a smartphone, download your university email onto your device and stay in the habit of checking it regularly. This will be your point of communication for many of the faculty. You do not want to be the one student who finds out your class is cancelled when you’ve already arrived!
During university, you will become part of an integrated and diverse community with a passion for learning. As previously mentioned, do not be afraid to seek guidance! Reach out to your tutors and professors by booking a meeting where they will always be prepared to give a helping hand – whether that be career advice or if you’re using the correct referencing format.
Do not isolate yourself during your studies. Those in the classroom may also be your future colleagues, and you can make life-long friends who will be prepared to drink away the stress of finals when exam season is finally over.
Attend your university law events. It is common for representatives from leading law firms and chambers to visit and hold workshops at your university to build up soft skills and introduce their ethos to prospective employees. They will often advertise vacation schemes, insight programmes and opportunities to become campus ambassadors for first years.
TOP TIP 2: Similarly, I would highly advise attending your university law fair. These often occur every autumn with a variety of companies in attendance. It is wise to research before you go to make the most of your conversation and consider a variety of employers rather than strictly magic circle firms. This occasion will be invaluable when determining which organisations suits you and will also create a good impression with recruiters when mentioning conversations with employees during your application.
You can learn a great deal about the law and improve upon your advocacy outside of legal teaching. For instance, joining mooting or participating in a mock trial will allow for you to improve upon your research and public speaking ability. Whilst it may seem daunting at first, you may find it incredibly enjoyable! Be ready to open up to these chances at university.
You can also make a difference by joining a committee and organising events for your study body. From my time at City, societies included the Animal Law, Model UN, Pro Bono and The 93% Club. However, if there is an area of law that interests you and is not featured by the Students Union – why not make your own club! This will provide you with the opportunity to learn from your members, and the chance to exhibit your strengths to the wider student populations. With an increasingly competitive graduate jobs market, it is the involvement in these activities that distinguish the good applicants from the great.
TOP TIP 3: Remember to think bigger and do not just target legal experience. Widen your portfolio of experience to build up skills. This could be volunteering with charities, learning a language, gaining a part-time job to support your studies, taking up a new hobby whether that be a sport, cooking, art or exploring the city you now live in.
I understand there is a lot of pressure to achieve high grades and have vacation schemes, mini-pupillages and jobs lined up. Nevertheless, try to make the most of your time as in the years ahead, there will come a time where you miss being a student, so enjoy the ride!