How To: Law at University

“I chose to go to law school because I thought that someday, somehow I’d make a difference.”

Christopher Darden.

Studying law at university can be an invigorating intellectual challenge at times and a mentally taxing workload at others. Being able to balance the demands of your studies and social life is difficult, especially whilst also trying to be considerate of your future career plans and employability. Countless websites, blogs, podcasts and posts all offer their own advice for making the most of your university degree and I hope these law-specific ones will be of use to you regardless of what year you are currently in. Whilst not exhaustive, here are some key tips to help you manage the valuable commodity of time throughout your studies of law in the most optimal manner.

Stay Organised

It’s no surprise that throughout your law degree you’ll be inundated with a plethora of reading, coursework, essays and paperwork. Keeping on top of all of these documents should be a top priority. Everyone works in different ways – be it on paper, a laptop, or through other means – and as such you will need to organise your work in the most effective way that accounts for:

  • Security: How secure are your files and notes? What would happen should you lose them? Do you have a backup or recovery option should that happen? How can you make sure you only allow access to your files to those you want to share them with?
  • Accessibility: Can you access your files from anywhere, or at any time? Can you access them across a variety of formats (mobile, desktop, smartboard)? Is your access reliant on any one network or device that could fail or break?
  • Shareability: Should you need to collaborate with others, how easy is it for you to share or develop your notes? Can you do so in realtime? Is this reliant on having a physical device, such as a memory stick, or access to a specific digital user account?
  • Usability:  Once made, can you easily navigate through your notes, particularly by searching for key terms or cases? Can you utilise colour coding or highlighting to categorise your notes? Can you amend, comment or erase sections of your notes as necessary?

Go Beyond Your Textbook

A law degree is packed full of intellectually stimulating reading, cases and arguments – but law is increasingly starting to offer so much more than that. With a new wave of legal tech investment, alternate service provisions and a blending of the legal sector with a multitude of others, the average career path in the world of law is starting to fluctuate. Be sure to make time to network, attend keynote events and do some of your own research on what it is you want to specialise in. That way, you can augment what you learn in a textbook with some of your own passion-driven interests and further reading. When it then comes to applying for graduate roles, you’ll have a wide variety of experience and insight that can help demonstrate your interest in a particular field, firm or company.

First Year DOES Count

There’s always been somewhat of an urban myth that your first year of university doesn’t count and is therefore not a priority in the long-term. Whilst it is technically true that your first-year results won’t contribute toward your final degree classification, it will certainly contribute to your efforts to secure work experience or vacation scheme opportunities at university. Such first and second-year opportunities can be vital in helping you kick-start your career. Extremely poor first-year grades (for the sole reason that you did not take the year seriously, free of mitigating circumstances) will not only be a potential drawback on your initial applications, but will also not allow you to properly develop your writing and exam skills that will be vital throughout the later stages of your degree. The fundamental, basic concepts you will learn throughout your first year will also underpin everything you look at later on in your studies. Hit the ground running as best you can!

Think About Post-Degree Paths

Following on from the previous point, law is a unique industry that can start recruiting for your post-law-school graduate role as early as your second year at university. The fact that opportunities can open up so early means its vital to keep on top of application deadlines and what recruiters are looking for from their candidates. Schedule a meeting with your careers advisor to learn more about what pathways a law degree can offer, or try it yourself by attending law and non-law career fairs and events. Networking early is never a bad thing to try!

Keep It Short

Given the mass volume of information and paperwork you’ll have to process during your degree, you need to make sure your notes are up to scratch come revision time. Make sure to revisit key topics and build a concise set of notes you can quickly reference to understand the key points from any concepts or modules you’ll be tested on. Having easy-to-find, resourceful notes – be they digital or physical – will save you countless hours of unnecessary re-administration and research come the exam period, when you’ll most need your time. Making sure you’re as set up as you can be now by avoiding procrastination will help you tackle any tough deadlines or workloads later on.

Stay Curious

If you don’t know something or are unsure of it – say so! Law juggles a lot of new concepts that you will likely not have learnt about before commencing your degree and it can easily feel overwhelming at times. There is no shame in using every single resource the uni can throw at you as and when you need it – it will be nothing but beneficial in the long-term, both for your mental wellbeing and (hopefully!) your final degree classification.

Be A Student

Law is an intensive course and you may have lots of lectures, reading lists or seminars to tend to (hopefully not too many of all three!). Make sure to make time for extracurricular clubs and activities, law-related or not. Not only will they help you manage your stress and improve your social circles, but also be great additional experiences to later talk about on an application or in an interview.

Build A Routine

Perhaps the most important and vital tip til last – build a routine! It will be nigh-impossible to even attempt the above tips without a solid foundation of a routine which must account for:

  • Sleep
  • Socialisation
  • Healthy diet
  • Exercise
  • Mental wellbeing
  • Study

To do this most effectively, hack your habits! Take an honest assessment of which 10 negative habits you want to try and work out of your day-to-day routine (poor sleep, skipping meals etc.), as well as 10 positive habits (going to the gym, reading for 10 minutes etc.) that you want to encourage. Take 5 minutes to consider what you would like your life during your degree to look like across every axiom of your life – friends, family, health, studies etc. Then, spend 5 minutes thinking about what will happen if you allow your negative habits to spiral out of control and take hold of your progression through uni. Doing so will help you visualise where you feel you can focus on most to help you move toward that first plan for yourself and away from the latter. This is an example of future authoring, which I would heavily recommend to anyone, as it really helped me plot a pathway through how I wanted to approach my time at university.

I hope the above tips help you, regardless of what stage you’re currently at in your degree. If you’ve got any questions or want to learn more, feel free to get in touch with me at the links below or by email at

Problem-Based Learning for Lawyers of Tomorrow

“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

Albert Einstein.

The legal profession is undergoing a revolutionary change right before our very eyes. The once conservative and traditional industry is being forced to rethink everything from qualification routes to fee earner structures, as a the ongoing march of digitalisation and automation continues. Clients can now be instantly contacted anywhere in the world through a smartphone. Lawyers are expected to keep up with global developments and anticipate how it will impact their clientele. Cloud-based collaborative working has promised greater flexibility and collaborative opportunities. Even entirely new roles, such as Legal Tech Managers and in-house freelance paralegals, are being created as a result of such changes.

Amongst these changes are a new appreciation for the broadening skillset that lawyers now require. Clients have always expected their lawyers to have excellent negotiation, advocacy and interviewing skills, but it has not always been clear where this development should take place in the legal education ‘timeline’ of an aspiring legal professional. The recent Bellwether Report echoed the importance of such skills, with 9 out of 10 solicitors agreeing they are of increasing importance if lawyers are to be successful. In his article for Forbes, Mark Cohen surmises perfectly that “[legal] practice is once again becoming the province of those lawyers best equipped to engage in it.”

Despite the above demands, legal education has remained somewhat resistant to change. The overwhelming majority of UK universities teach law via the historical lecture-focused approach to learning, with mooting and practical skills-based opportunities often only offered via optional societies and student-run events. Essential legal and personal skills, like negotiating, interviewing and researching, can therefore easily fail to receive the equal treatment they deserve alongside knowing what the letter of the law is. Interpersonal and group skills are more likely to be underdeveloped in a solely independent, private study style. One university, however, is aiming to change just that.

The University of York’s unique problem-based learning (‘PBL’) approach to teaching law is designed to teach students through life-like simulations of the legal problems that lawyers are tasked with solving. It aims to create a holistic approach to legal education, wherein future lawyers both know the law and have experience in how they can use it to solve client needs. In their own words:

“This is a modern, dynamic learning method that ensures you experience and understand law in its social and theoretical contexts, and helps to develop the skills and techniques you will need to work as a professional.”

York Law School Website.

So how does it work? I spoke with Dr Laurence Etherington, Admissions Tutor at York Law School (and ex-lecturer of mine) about PBL learning and how it translates to the world of law.

Photo courtesy of the University of York/Alex Holland.

So, what exactly is PBL?

PBL established itself in the world of medicine before it made its way to legal education. Its structure is something like this, all guided with an academic mentor and complimentary lectures/reading throughout:

  • You and your group (Student Law Firm) will be presented with a legal problem, often in the form of a client’s email or similar
  • As a group, utilise a legal, solution-based approach to analyse the problem and identify its key parties, interests and facts
  • Brainstorm the legal questions that need answering, as well as any broader ‘normative’ academic concepts
  • In private or group study, research the answers to your self-generated ‘Learning Outcomes’
  • Present your feedback and complete your solution to the problem, before beginning the cycle again by picking up a new problem

I personally found that the result of this process means you not only finish the process fully satisfied with your legal knowledge, but can now apply it to future situations through the (often memorable) ‘non-legal’ details of the scenario you’ve just tackled. You generate vital legal research skills, an ability to work with others and fantastic opportunities to develop your interpersonal and legal skills along the way. For those of you more visually inclined, you can check out the Law School’s own explanatory videos below – with a familiar face featuring too…

How does this PBL process then help develop a student’s knowledge beyond simply ‘knowing what the law is’?

LE: “PBL involves a lot of research, still with support but less direction than more traditional approaches. So a key skill is the student learning how to research effectively and how to identify what they need to learn. There can sometimes be a misconception that PBL results in a focus solely on practical issues. There is no reason why this should be the case as the aim is to understand Problems, not (simply) solve, or provide answers to, these. In fact, the collaborative approach to learning should provide a great foundation for more critical perspectives, with a variety of views in the regular debates and discussions. The depth of analysis of problem scenarios also provides a deep understanding of the context within which the legal questions arise – why they matter, as well as how they come about.  

Regular, intense, small group sessions mean that students should be able to develop their team-working, and related, skills. Really importantly, effective collaboration should become second-nature with the roles and responsibilities required for approaching Problems being identified and allocated to group members. Students also have the opportunity to learn more about themselves, what they like doing and what they are good at (which are usually the same things). I think that there is also less opportunity to shy away from things and so students can be stretched out of their comfort zone (hopefully in a supportive environment).”

Why should a law student consider PBL over more traditional teaching methods?

“That’s an interesting one because I wouldn’t say that all students should choose PBL. It’s really a matter of thinking about whether this style of learning is right for them (and it won’t be for everyone). I would also say that, although there are certain features which I think are very different and which may provide some advantages, that isn’t saying that PBL is automatically ‘better’ than other styles of learning for all students. However, with those caveats, I think that these are three of some of those potentially advantageous differences.

  1. The social nature of PBL study means that students might find that they are more involved in the subject and their studies. That can be in a general sense of individually and collectively having to take more responsibility for their own learning and development, but also in quite specific ways, such as having to share research and debate complex issues. Explaining is a great way of developing deeper understanding, of course. Debate and discussion is obviously a part of most (possibly all) Law programmes. But I think that PBL demands more regular and deeper engagement with this aspect of study, making it a particularly rich experience.

    On the ‘responsibility’ point, the degree to which PBL involves guidance can vary significantly but this is more limited than most other approaches. As well as encouraging more independent research, requiring students to identify their own question puts them in charge of the exploration – with flexibility around the specific issues and areas that are covered. This also helps students to develop ‘legal awareness’ in the sense of being able to see the world through the ‘lawyer’s lens’ – being able to identify where and how the legal issues arise for themselves.
  2. Again, this can vary according to the format used, but with law it is natural to approach PBL through a less rigid frame than might be the case elsewhere. Problem scenarios raise ‘messy’ sets of issues and these are not always limited to single-subject areas. That approach should help students understand that traditional subject areas overlap in many ways – with property law being an important aspect of some theft cases, and tort and criminal liability arising out of the same acts, for example.
  3. Finally, I also think that PBL is really engaging – students are generally very enthusiastic about their learning. It is usually a lot of fun, despite being very serious, which is fantastic for students and staff.” 

How can PBL experiences help applicants stand out in application processes, for both law and non-law careers?

“I guess that this flows from the features that have already been mentioned. Independence and willingness to take responsibility are obviously really important for employers. Less obviously, that can also include understanding when guidance is needed – being self-aware enough to know the limits of your current knowledge and skills.

Problem-solving is often mentioned by employers as a key skill. PBL can help with recognising the different perspectives and approaches that might be taken, so that a variety of options might be developed and evaluated. The ability to deconstruct problems, breaking them down into manageable and meaningful components within complex scenarios, and to then develop a strategy for addressing the issues raised by these, is tremendously helpful.

Most obviously, the team-working skills and (very importantly) extensive experience of working in different groups, should be invaluable. Of course, there is a question of how much PBL actually develops students in this way, rather than attracting students who are already well-equipped and interested in PBL’s style. I’m not sure how much that is the case, but a PBL student should be more likely to have these abilities and they will also have had extensive opportunities to further develop them.”

I’d like to thank Dr Etherington for his comments on PBL in law, as well as the University of York for allowing me to use their photos. If you’d like to learn more about PBL, feel free to get in touch with me or the Law School at the links below.

My ‘Trainee Talk’ with The Corporate Law Academy

“Everybody and their mother has a book and a podcast these days.”

Loren Weisman.

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with Jaysen Sutton, founder of The Corporate Law Academy, in his ‘Trainee Talk’ podcast series.

TCLA aims to assist aspiring commercial solicitors in their journey towards a Training Contract, providing a number of guides, resources and mentoring contacts. The online learning platform is full of really useful information that is invaluable to helping you through the application process for commercial firms – from online applications right through to assessment centres and interviews. TCLA also runs a number of networking conferences and events, designed to help you learn more about what a trainee’s responsibilities are, learn more about a certain sector of commercial law, or to simply develop your professional network.

Their podcast series, ‘Trainee Talk’, interviews current and future trainee solicitors at various law firms on a broad variety of topics. During my podcast episode, entitled “Leveraging your Unique Selling Points”, I spoke about:

  • My journey into the world of Law and securing a Training Contract
  • The development of this blog and my plans for it in the future
  • Mental health and wellbeing within the legal sector
  • The benefits of meditation and mindfulness – especially for Law students
  • My advice regarding networking, drafting an application and interviewing

…and much more! You can find links to the podcast episode and TCLA below.

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