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What is it like to study law?

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So you’re nearing the end of high school and wondering what you’ll do next. Or maybe you’ve finished your first degree and are considering a second. If you’re wondering what law school is like, check out this handy guide for would-be law students…

The Transition

If you’re going to uni straight out of high school you’ll notice the biggest difference is independence. Nobody cares if you do the work or not, if you go to class or not. As with all tertiary courses, success or failure in your studies is entirely up to you.

Because of this, self-motivation is essential. In law there is heaps of reading and you’ll find that you do a lot of work outside of class. What took up two weeks of class time in year 12 is now covered in about 30 minutes. But I promise you won’t die!

You’ll make some big adjustments in first year, but chances are you won’t be making them on your own. Most lecturers understand the challenges that come with being a first year law student (particularly a first time uni student) and are very helpful. On top of that, most law faculties provide mentoring programs for new law students. Typically the mentors are law students in their last or second last year of uni and they provide plenty of helpful advice to make the transition easier. It’s also a great place to meet other students in your year.

The Good Stuff

You probably want some fun too, huh? If you’re a law student there are plenty of extra-curricular activities available to help you procrastinate. University law student societies run heaps of social events such as pub crawls, an annual ball, cocktail nights, trivia nights, cruises, etc. They also organise competitions that will help you to develop essential “lawyer skills” such as negotiation, client interviewing and witness examination. At uni you’ll also find there are plenty of networking and career evenings, and there’s always a prominent judge, barrister or lawyer giving a guest lecture. If that’s not enough, law students with a creative flair can always get involved in the annual law revue.

Second Year and Beyond

Once first year is out of the way you’ll find that studying law becomes easier. Studying law is a skill that takes time to learn, even if you were a top nerd in high school. Just remember that you’re not the only one and you’ll be fine.

The middle years of law school are rather uneventful. You knock over some more core subjects and finally get a few electives. After some rather dry and heavy compulsory subjects like corporate law and administrative law, I opted for fun electives like human rights law and biomedical law.

Clerkship Time

In the middle of your second last year of law school (aka your penultimate year) it’s time to apply for clerkships. Clerkships are essentially work experience programs run by a number of major firms and some government departments. Thousands of law students apply to be summer clerks. Why? Because if you get a clerkship and don’t mess it up, you’ve got yourself a graduate job. That said, clerkships aren’t for everyone and many students don’t apply. If you think you fall into that category, don’t stress! You will find a graduate job that suits you.

Practical Legal Training

Before you can practice as a solicitor, you need to undertake what’s known as practical legal training (PLT- also known as College of Law). PLT comes right at the end of your law studies. It takes 6-12 months (depending on how lazy you are) and will teach you all the practical skills you’ll need to be a kick-ass lawyer. Depending on the university you attend, you may be able to do this in your final year. If your uni doesn’t offer PLT as part of your degree, you’ll have to do it once you graduate. After five years of study I couldn’t bear the thought of that additional study (and expense). For me, a law degree with PLT incorporated into it was a great choice. This is something you really should consider when choosing a university.

Graduation: what next?

Anything you like, really. When you graduate you’ll find that you have more options than you could have ever imagined. A law degree is no longer a one-way ticket to “lawyer-dom.” Law opens up plenty of opportunities: in government, business, the judiciary and more.

Even the career paths of lawyers are incredibly varied: working as a sole practitioner, a partner in a large firm, in-house counsel at a large organisation, a pro bono lawyer, etc. The list goes on. And the variety isn’t just about where you work. The type of work that lawyers do is also diverse. So much so that plenty of lawyers never see the inside of a courtroom, and for others it’s all they do.

Whatever your pre-law career aspirations are, your uni experiences will probably change them. Keep an open mind and you’ll find the possibilities are endless.

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