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Stayin' Alive Throughout a Law Degree

University can feel like a never ending cycle of studying and trying to excel. A combined law degree is no easy feat - five, sometimes even six years of full-time university is a long time when other degrees are usually three or four years. At first, everything radiates novelty, you’re (hopefully) studying something that interests you, you have three months of summer vacation, learning is self-directed and you don’t have class 9 to 3 Monday to Friday. But at the halfway mark of your degree, you may find yourself in a law school slump. The challenge is to maintain enthusiasm or even muster the stamina to finish it off. Here’s what you can do if that happens.

1. Remind yourself why you chose this degree in the first place

Ploughing through subject after subject and fighting off one assignment after the other can be draining. Reflect on why you chose to study law. Were you glued to the trials and tribulations of the fearless Atticus Finch in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’? Did you want to be a boss lady like Amal Clooney, spending summers on Lake Como and fighting human rights abuses in the International Court of Justice? Or was it because if Elle Woods could do it, you could too? (What, like it’s hard?) Whatever it was - a brush with the law when you were younger, popular culture or a person - return to it.

Even if you thought law was the natural progression after performing well in high school, there’s surely a reason why you’ve persisted. It might be pride, or the one concept in Contracts you found interesting, or you spoke to a really cool barrister who moonlights as a film director. Remember that there are many ways to make a law subject enjoyable!

2. Set goals

Set goals if you feel like you’re lacking direction in your degree. You could set short-term goals, from finishing your readings or planning your research essay by the end of the week, or dedicating Saturday to catching up on Evidence. Completing these goals give you a sense of achievement that can replenish your motivation. You could also set long-term goals, like maintaining a consistent study pattern and attending all your lectures. Make sure to evaluate your goals: “If I couldn’t tick a task off this time around, should I adjust my expectations or shift the goalpost to make it more attainable, but still challenging?”

3. Talk to different people in the field

Speak to different people - older students, lawyers, academics or just anyone doing cool things with their law degree. Studying such a theoretical subject where your head is most likely buried under a casebook or s 1318 of the Corporations Act means that it’s easy to feel disconnected from the personal side of the law - the people behind it all.

Attend networking events in subject areas of the law that interest you, email that lawyer you met a while ago at a careers fair and ask if you could pick their brain over a coffee - they might even become your mentor. Hearing about others’ career paths inspires me and reminds me that there is a life beyond law school.

4. Take a break or lighten your work and study load

Consider whether you have too much on your plate. Working three days per week, taking a four-unit study load, with mooting competitions and society activity on the side whilst socialising regularly can lead to burnout. Eventually, studying and going to work can begin to feel like a chore. If you’re heading in this direction, lighten your work or study load. Doing one less subject or working one less day is beneficial in the long run if it improves your health and happiness.

5. Don’t dwell on bad marks

A law degree is hard. Even if you’re intelligent, you have to put in work in order to do well. Transitioning from the smaller, insular high school environment where you may have been the top of your grade to law school where you’re just one of many smart people in your cohort can make you doubt whether you can stand out. Hearing people exchange marks after getting back their assignment can make you feel even worse - how did you work so hard yet only get a 65 whilst Brian over there started the night before and got a 78?

It happens. So what if Brian started the night before and got a 78? It’s just one assignment, and you’re probably learning a lot more than Brian did from the assignment. Assignments are about honing your research, analytical and writing skills. So get as much feedback as you can; consider points of improvement. A bad mark does not define your law school experience nor how well you know the law.

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