Law School Advice
So, you’ve decided to study law.
Maybe you’ve always dreamed of a career in the legal profession, or watch a lot of Suits. Possibly being asked what you wanted to do with your life post-high school got too much, so you closed your eyes, pointed at something on a University prospectus, and found yourself in Law 121 surrounded by frantic keyboard clicking.
Whether you’re at law school to fight against injustice or just because you have an argumentative personality type - I’m here to shed some light on the differences between high school and first year law to help make this journey a little easier.
ISN’T LAW LIKE, REALLY HARD?
It’s a well-known fact that law students love to say law school is hard. But today, I’m going to let you in on a little secret (sue me).
First year law can be challenging, competitive and stressful. It is very different from high school. If you understand these differences, study smarter and seek help where you need it, you’ll realise it is also rewarding, interesting – and nowhere near as hard as we’d have you think.
Put simply, learning in first year law is self-directed.
Say goodbye to the same teacher and students turning up every week. In first year law, students attend lectures taught by a different lecturers in large classes of a hundred students or more. Not as scary as they sound, lectures are much less interactive than high school classes – just absorb and record as much information a s possible.
They’re also often recorded, so if you’re overcommitted to life, work, or your very very comfy bed, you can catch up with them in the privacy of your own home.
What you gain in freedom (and no one yelling at you for showing up five minutes late), you lose in interaction with the lecturer. First year classes are BIG and your lecturers can’t make sure you’re keeping up. Help is there, but the person who goes looking for it needs to be you.
Weekly office hours are a good time to ask questions. Hands on interaction also occurs during smaller weekly tutorials. Both are super valuable (read: please turn up) however unlike your nicer teachers in high school, lecturers can’t give personalized advice or look over your assignments.
For this reason, it’s important to ask for help from your older peers. Second year students are a wealth of knowledge – accumulated conveniently within the notebank (a collection of previous exam notes published online by AULSS).
Study groups, or private tutoring services, can also be helpful as they keep you accountable and on track throughout the year. Seeking help from others will make a world of difference in the transition to self-directed learning and keep you on track to smash first year!
Everyone loves to talk about how much reading there is in law school. Lecturers love to ask if we’ve done our readings. We love to complain about the readings. And those case books you’ll pick up in week one will lead you to the inevitable and unfortunate realization that first year law does involve more content than high school.
It also involves a different type of content than high school.
First year requires a similar sort of thinking to History or English-based high school subjects. It also involves memorizing facts and processes (the way you might’ve memorized formulas or methods in math or science).
While you’re learning legal history and applying precedent, you’re also learning to think critically about the law and to present your ideas in a logical and well thought out argument.
Learning every little bit of the content is less important (and impossible!). To pass, learn key cases and their facts. To excel, pinpoint the most relevant pieces and use them to craft well thought out opinions – you don’t need to highlight every page of the casebook!
If you were to take only one thing out of this article, I’d like it to be this: please, please, PLEASE don’t try to last minute cram.
The gifted among you may be able to walk into your end of semester exam on a few hours’ sleep and cruise out with a sweet A-.
But let me ask you this: when you sit that end of semester exam, do you really want to be a shaky, red-eyed, coffee filled mess who can no longer feel genuine emotion or see in colour? (If this sounds specific it’s because it is based on personal experience, and the answer is no, you do not).
In first year, law, there is just too much to cover properly before the break of dawn. First year lectures typically provide one revision lecture per semester while teachers in high school dedicate plenty of time to preparing students for exams – which makes revision so important.
Studying in first year is more hands on. Instead of just memorizing facts, preparing a good set of notes from lecture material, the note-bank and material provided by study groups or tutoring services is a great habit to get into for your future law papers. Remember to incorporate your own critical opinions.
Don’t just stare at your notes. Talk them back to yourself. Practice on past papers until you know them off by heart. Get a tutor who can help you.
Law school will force you to take your learning into your own hands – but that’s not a bad thing. Start early, seek help where you need it and repeat after me: you will be okay!
It’s no secret first year law is more competitive than high school. It’s a hard fact that only a certain number of students get into second year. The pressure of making the cut can be emotionally draining and incredibly stressful.
Prioritizing your mental health is much more important in first year law. High school is something you have to do, but law school is something you want to do. You may not have it all planned out but it’s important to find your own reason for being here because this will give you the purpose and motivation to succeed.
One of the best ways to survive (and even thrive!) in first year is to take time to get involved with university life, which brings me to my final point…
Love it or hate it, socializing at law school is similar to high school in that you’re surrounded by the same group of people for several years.
Student run organisations offer more than they do at high school: dedicated groups exist for Wellbeing, to support Maori, Pasifika and LGBTQUIA students while others encourage social sport, debating and mooting.
Get involved, because the friendships forged in the fire of first year will keep you grounded and sane.
In university, your schedule isn’t set for you. Paired with the pressure of first year, this makes it easy to get too caught up in studying at the expense of living life.
Study smarter, not harder and you can use the newfound freedom of university life to go on a run, hang with your friends or go to that party. It’s important too.
- Maria L