Updated: Oct 16, 2021
Taking your first steps into the world of higher education and all things law can be a daunting prospect. This is especially true if, like me, you didn't take any law based subjects during your schooling and further education and don't have any family in the industry. Even so, I promise you that doing a law degree can be very exciting, inspiring and satisfying, especially when you ace an assessment or finally understand that one topic you never could quite get your head around! Having learnt a lot from my time as an undergraduate student, I feel that I should pass some of these small pieces of wisdom and knowledge on, so that future students may also benefit from them. Please remember, however, that this article is my opinion only, they are not secrets to definitely get a high grade, nor are they ways to guarantee you have an easy time at university; trust me, working long nights is likely, but university is only as good as you make it! So without further ado, here are my top ten tips!
1) Be Yourself!
Now, this may well just appear to be a cliché, but honestly it isn't. Remember that universities are very diverse places, full of people more mature than at any other educational institute you have ever been to. This means that people are more accepting of differences and much less likely to judge you and give you a hard time for it. I vividly remember students having deep conversations about upbringing, religion, ethnicity, disability etc., and never really with any sinister motives. People want to know the real you, they will accept the real you and you are very likely to find other people just like you at university; perhaps more so than at any other point in your life, so it's worth making the most of it! There are clubs and associations for everyone too, for example I remember there being a Greek society, a Polish society, an LGBT+ society and so the list goes on, mixed with all of the activity groups you'd expect. So please, do not think that you need to be someone else or that you need to hide a part of who you are, universities are a place for people to be themselves. You'll thank yourself for being authentic!
2) Attend the Lectures!
Whilst I was far from perfect with doing this, it is a very important aspect of university. Sure, you may well be able to get a 2:1 or a 1st without attending the lectures, but not only is it more difficult to achieve good grades without going but also means you don't learn as much as you might have. You're paying a lot of money to attend university and the lecturers are genuinely very nice people, many of whom have a vast amount of experience in the field, and they want to help you! You never know, you may even get freebies out of it! (We had a few lecturers who would give out chocolates, for example, and as a uni student free food is always good food!)
3) Get Involved Outside of Your Studies
Sure, you have a lot of reading to do and cases to prepare your answers for, but you must have some fun otherwise you'll burn out. It doesn't even have to be getting involved with the clubs, societies and sports that I mentioned earlier. Most universities hold themed nights at their on-campus bars, such as karaoke, quizzes, 90s night, darts competitions etc. These are great ways to get involved in university life, embrace the campus culture and make friends. Plus, making the most of these nights is great for budget conscience students, as the food and drink on campus is often a LOT cheaper than going off campus!
4) Dress the Part
It occurred to me soon after starting university that most students were in one of two camps when it came to course attire; there were those who thought they were in Suits and then those who thought they could get away with wearing tracksuits every day. The latter is an especially bad idea if you're going to be taking part in an event with a law firm or chambers (this might sound obvious, but I saw numerous people trying to talk to Partners at such events whilst wearing tracksuits, trust me it's not a good look!). I think that it is important for students to balance their attire, dressing depending on what the day looks like. For example, if you've only got to use the library and attend a short lecture, then sure, dress for comfort. However, if you've got a roleplay assessment, for example, you might want to think about dusting off your suit/dress and wearing that. Perhaps surprisingly for some, dressing the part also makes you feel the part. Acing an oral submission or a big presentation is a lot easier when you really get into the spirit of the assessment and properly embody the thought that it's not just an assessment but the real deal!
5) Don't be late; Lateness Isn't A Good Look
Each university may well have their own policy on lateness, but at York any lateness was marked down and reflected in your feedback and module results. Obviously then, being late should be avoided at all costs, even if its only by a few minutes. Whilst it may seem unfair to some to have your attendance marked so strictly, there are a few points to remember about this. Firstly, this is university not sixth form or a casual weekend job; the lecturers have a lot of material to get through and being disrupted by late arrivers is not ideal for them or for the students who did turn up on time. Secondly, you'd be surprised just how much you miss out on by turning up a few minutes late. I had a few occasions where this happened and you sometimes completely miss out on the context of the session, meaning that for the rest of the class you haven't a clue what's going on. Thirdly, it's expected that you will behave in a mature and professional manner, so treat it like you would a training contract or pupillage, you certainly wouldn't turn up late if this was the case! Moreover, the lecturers do want you to have a good time during the sessions, so getting there early is a great way to bond and have fun with other students and the lecturers - you'll find the lecturers have a great sense of humour and are happy to have a casual chat, so put the effort in and it'll be reciprocated!
6) Don't Underestimate the Independent Research
Again, the amount of research you're expected to do will vary by university, but by-and-large you'll have more to do than you realise. Researching cases, legislation and theories is more of a rabbit hole than you'd expect, so what may seem like a five minute research task may well turn into an hour of digging deep into past cases. Not only is this aspect of the course vitally important so that you can engage properly in classes, it also really helps come exam time. The more research you've done, the better your research is laid out and the better you understand the law, the easier the exams and the studying will be. It also goes without saying that putting the effort in to doing the research developes the skills you'll be making use of as a lawyer, so don't neglate the 'homework', even if it seems tedious or 'too obvious' to bother with.
7) Don't Be Afraid To Explore Obscure Areas Of Law
If you're like me, you'll find that the traditional aspects of law that you learn about aren't the most interesting types of law there are. Whether it's music, aviation, maritime, fashion or travel law, for example, there are a tonne of obscure areas of law which most universities don't teach you about; after all, it's hardly the bedrock of legal knowledge, so you can't blame them. What you can do, however, is still tackle these areas of law in essays (where appropriate, don't use an essay on the law of obligations to talk about feeling obliged to talk about Ralph Lauren, not only is that the wrong type of obligation, it also won't go down well with the markers, even if you're passionate about fashion). I, for example, tackled social media advertising law, aviation and space law, disability discrimination law and bits of maritime law, despite them not explicitly being taught to us. Even if you don't get the highest possible mark for it, your markers and lecturers will respect you greatly for taking on something on your own and spending all the extra time doing the research. Not to mention, it can be really stimulating and intruiging to write an essay on something you love, so where possible don't be afraid to show off your individuality!
8) Be Humble in Victory and Kind to Yourself in Defeat
One of the most important things to remember is that everyone works differently and has their own modules they will excel in, but equally their own they will struggle with. I think one of the best quotes I've ever heard is "Don't compare yourself with others, but with who you were yesterday". This is very apt, as you will come across people who score a lot higher and lower than you, but you need only be concerned with making sure you're bettering yourself, not the specific number. If you are someone who cares a great deal about the actual mark, remember that if you get a high score it's not advised to show off about it as that's likely to ruin others self-esteem and sense of worth, as well as being a guaranteed way to lose friends, but equally if you get a bad grade it isn't the end of the world and you should be sure to not be too hard on yourself; self-loathing and self-pity are not only not helpful, but also make you take your eye off the ball and the ultimate goal.
9) Be Careful When Choosing Off-Campus Accommodation
It's unfortunate that I have to write this, but there are many student letting companies and student house landlords that will try and rip you off, so stay alert and wise to whats happening when searching for a place. It must be said that some landlords and agents are genuinely wonderful, however, as with all things it's the bad ones that people remember. I have personally experienced and seen landlords ignoring mold, not fixing water leaks, trying to claim for pre-existing damage and trying to get students to pay future council tax, as well as agents trying to do the same and charge for extras which are either non-existent or aren't legally enforceable. Aside from this, do NOT overstretch yourself with what you can afford as most of the contracts are pretty water tight when it comes to paying the rent, so if you find it's too expensive it ends up being tough luck. Also, be very careful about who you live with and where. The last thing you want (which will ruin your uni experience, and trust me on this because I know from experience), is to be living with someone/a group of people who ends up being unhygienic, overly noisy or rude as getting them off the contract will prove to be very difficult and will make the house an unharmonious place. Equally, living a long way from campus is no fun, it means waking up earlier, more expensive buses and taxi's (if you don't drive) and a horrid journey in the midst of winter when the public transport inevitably stops running.
10) Don't Do Things Just Because Others Are
The temptation when starting at a new place is to just do what everyone else is doing, even if you don't enjoy it. Whilst it may be an idea for the first couple of weeks to make effort to try new things, after that period it's wise to only do things if you actually want to, or if you want to in order to support someone else. More specifically, when it comes to deciding which events to attend, don't attend that Criminal Law workshop if you haven't the slightest interest in it just because Jessica is, they won't thank you for it in the long run and you'd have spent your time more wisely unwinding in a way you like or researching a different type of law which you actually like. Moreover, when it comes to events with law firms and chambers, turning up if you have no intention of applying to them or working in their areas of expertise is not recommended, even if you think it'll make certain people like you more. Not only is it a waste of your time that you'll end up regretting, but it is also a waste of time for the firm/chambers employee's and doesn't look good if you (as a result of not being interested) turn up without any knowledge of them or any questions to ask.
I hope you find these tips useful. They certainly aren't the tips you'd normally reading about, but I feel that there are many things to be said about the university experience which many sites neglect to mention the importance of. So please do carefully consider the tips contained in this list, they just might help you to have a more fulfilling time at university.