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Lessons learnt from my first year of law school

Student looking through bookshelf

Looking back at my first year of university, some things worked out great, but others not so much.

Before diving into my second year, I tried to figure out what did and didn’t work well for me, and looked at ways I could do things differently.

If you’re just starting your first semester of law, here are a few pointers…

Be smart about doing your readings

In my first semester I thought I had to do all my weekly readings (yep, even the ones that were recommended but not compulsory), and this ate up a lot of my time. Doing all of your readings is not a bad thing, but you’ll soon be able to pick out which readings are important and which aren’t. Work hard to develop the ability to quickly pick out important bits of information from your readings.

Find a note-taking system that works for you

Typing notes when listening to lectures made me focus more on taking down the lecturer’s words verbatim, rather than really processing what was being said. This made it really difficult for me later on when it was time to apply that knowledge in assessments.

I started handwriting my lecture notes this year, and this has worked a lot better. It forces me to actively process the information and only take down the most important points. If handwriting is not an option for you, try and make a conscious effort to only type up the key points.

Seriously, attend your tutorials

An important skill for law students is application of content. Tutorials give you the opportunity to do this, so attendance is highly recommended. I skipped many of my tutorials last year because attendance wasn’t compulsory. This had a huge impact on my marks, because I knew the cases and sections of legislation but I didn’t know how to apply it in exams.

Get into a study routine

Find a routine that works for you and stick to it. I usually follow the reading guide when making my review notes, combining relevant information from the lectures, tutes and readings. You should type these notes up so that you can refine them as you go.

Closer to exams, I also made a set of short notes that only covered the principles and relevant case authorities. These notes outlined how I should deal with legal issues relevant to each topic, which really helped with answering problem-style questions and avoided having to flip through hundreds of pages of notes to find the answer.

Many students spend too much time making neat, pretty notes, leaving no time to actually study them. Avoid falling into this trap by reviewing the material weekly to improve your understanding.

Don’t think it’s too early to get involved in extra-curricular activities or find work experience

Being involved in extra-curricular activities or gaining legal work experience early on is extremely useful, and can help you to stand out when applying for jobs. One of the best decisions I made last year was taking on a legal volunteering opportunity that was offered to me. Immersing yourself in hands on legal work early in your degree can teach you many valuable skills, and having the experience can be useful when applying for roles in the future. Being involved also allows you to network and expand your circle of contacts. You won’t be at a disadvantage if you don’t have legal experience early on, but definitely take the opportunity if it arises.

Law school is an amazing journey, even though it’s gruelling at times. Work hard but don’t burn yourself out, and use failures and disappointments as motivation to work harder. Be sure to reflect and figure out what works best for you and what doesn’t. Good luck!

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