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Studying Law: Going it Alone or With a Group?

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A 5-year law degree can seem lonely, especially when you’re reading about the reasonable person, the mens rea element of culpable homicide and everything in between. You end up spending nights and weekends with your textbooks rather than with your friends. Should you study with people? Or will you just end up gossiping? Am I going to cover more content alone, or will I end up watching Eminem being played in the High Court on loop for 10 hours?? Is my study group composed of lay members of the jury, or President Cooke and Sir Geoffrey Palmer?

Despite many tutors and lecturers encouraging study groups, many tend to run away from the idea. You obviously only spend 10% of the time studying and the other 90% of the time talking about all things non-law related. Not always true – you just have to lay some ground rules for your study group and come together at the right times.

Going it alone has its benefits. The added urgency of an approaching exam instills an irresistible urge to do readings. If you can resist the feisty temptation of scrolling down your Facebook wall, then you can read a 40-page Contract law case in no time. It’s like filing a statement of claim. You need to know what the key law is in order to file the claim. Going it alone is necessary for reading cases before lectures and reviewing notes after lectures so you know the basics of what’s happening.

Once you reach week 12 and the court hearing aka the law exam, is approaching, it’s always useful to test your knowledge by cross-examining the knowledge of your learned friends.

In the same way statutes are ambiguous and people pay lawyers (yay) to have a conversation with them about statutes, the contract case on promissory estoppel makes no sense, so seeking the assistance of your friends can really help clarify things. Every case you read in class is a product of an overly formal conversation between a lawyer and a judge. What talking to other people brings is a sense of clarity of what you know and what you don’t know.

Beware though, the old saying two’s company and three’s a crowd applies. It’s hard to contribute and interject in a conversation with three or more people, which is why keeping the study group small helps.

Hot tip: group study is great for doing past exam papers under timed conditions. It is more realistic to have others panicking with you about the equitable doctrine of unconscionable bargains in test conditions. Moreover, it’s always good to have the pressure that someone else will judge your practice answer. Going through your practice answers is a good way to test your reasoning too and identify weaknesses in your arguments that you might not actually see.

The key is to do a combination of both. Studying alone helps lay the foundations. Group study tests that foundation – and makes it stronger. With that being said, different people do have different study styles. You may work better with some friends than others, or you may even just prefer to be a lone wolf.

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