Law is a fascinating subject, but the lessons you learn go far deeper than the substance of the course itself.
As a law student, you're going to discover a number of fascinating things about yourself, about life, and about what matters most. In this article then, I want to share a few of the things that I learnt throughout the duration of my degree.
When I was at school, it always seemed as though true independent thinking was stifled; I was taught what to think, instead of how to think.
Teachers would give me all the material I needed to learn for the exam, and it was my duty to memorise it. Thinking for myself wasn't something that was rewarded. And so there was no incentive to do so. If I learnt the material I was going to do well.
However, a few months into my university degree I realised that the complete opposite approach is required in order to succeed. First class law students are those that disagree and have crazy ideas.
As a law student, you are rewarded for independent thinking and analysis. This means being comfortable with disagreeing with academic opinion, challenging your lecturers' ideas with your own crazy ideas, and injecting independent thought throughout your essays. As long as you have credible evidence to support what you are saying, almost anything goes.
This same is true in life: you are allowed to disagree and have crazy ideas. And being confident enough to express your true beliefs is what makes someone great. Perhaps, even, a genius.
For instance, if Einstein hadn't directly challenged the the orthodoxy of physics, we would have missed out on his annus mirabilis. The year that included his theory of special relativity and the famous equation E=mc2
All I'm saying is, don't blindly accept what you are told. Challenge assumptions and beliefs. And forge your own path.
There is going to be a lot of work throughout your law degree. You will have textbooks to summarise, cases to dissect, and journal articles to wrap your head around. If you're not time conscious, this can very easily consume every waking hour of your life. Leaving no time to do anything else.
When your life is solely focused on your degree like that, you quickly burnout and lose all the passion in what you're learning. Suddenly, life seems a bit meaningless.
This is a lesson I learnt in my second year of university. I'd spend countless hours reading around various legal topics, slowly eliminating other interests from my life. I was allowing my hobbies to dwindle, my friends to become distant, and (eventually) my grades actually began to suffer too.
The answer was to work less.
By working less, I discovered far greater purpose in life. I was able to form friendships that opened a number of doors for me, I learnt skills that made me more employable, and had a work-life balance that re-energised me.
Ultimately, I found that what I did outside of lectures was what acted as a catalyst for opportunity. Working too hard means your self worth becomes intrinsically linked to the grades you get and you feel depressed when things go wrong. You slow down and tire out. But making time for everything else means you are more rounded - meaning is found in numerous areas of your life - and the boundless possibilities of life are made known.
Related to the second lesson is the idea that working hard isn't necessarily related to success. Just because you spend longer on your essays and revision, doesn't simply mean you're going to be top of the class.
The truth is, the students that perform the best aren't the ones that work hardest. They work the smartest.
For instance, instead of spending the whole day reading a chapter of a textbook they pinpoint the specific information they need and learn that. Instead of revising every single topic, they use spaced repetition or a retrospective exam timetable to focus on the areas they are struggling with most.
My top tip is to not try and read everything you are given. Doing so would not only take a very long time, but would contribute very little to your overall understanding of a topic. Instead, only read a select few cases and find summaries for the rest, use only one textbook, and focus on the introduction and conclusion for journal articles. I must have saved hours every single day by doing this alone.
Anyway, try finding what works for you. The correct learning technique will give you more time to do what you enjoy, work on your passions, and make the most of what the university experience.
Just because you are doing a law degree, that doesn't mean you need to become a lawyer.
This seems like obvious advice, but it's very easy to ignore when all your friends are crafting beautiful law applications, the law firms are enticing you with marketing spiel, and your family is subtly pressurising you whenever your home (often using lines like "you're going to be a great lawyer").
I certainly felt the pressure. It seemed 'inevitable' that I was to become a lawyer working in a city law firm with an eye-watering salary, spending the rest of my life assisting corporate giants with their legal problems.
But, you need to ignore all of this. And think about what you really want. Ask yourself these three questions: "What makes me happy? What is my life passion? Where would I ideally see myself in 10 years time?"
Don't just accept the road you are taking because you've invested the last 3 years of your life into it. Not thinking about your career path now could mean you spend the majority of your adult life doing something you will one day regret.
You see, a law degree is diverse and the skills you develop throughout your university life are applicable to a host of other things. You could use your knowledge to start a business, become a writer, or work for an NGO. Nearly everything you can think of is still an option.
The only doors that are closed when you graduate are the doors you close yourself.
As a law student I would often find myself lost in a vast sea of information. It seemed to me an impossible task to tie up all the loose ends.
However, every year, all the information eventually came together. And it proved to be a huge life lesson.
I like to think of knowledge like rainwater. To begin with, rain falls across a huge basin and trickles into streams, brooks, and bourns. As they flow and gather momentum, these waterways become larger and coalesce. Eventually, they meet as one moving mass: a river.
In the same way, knowledge begins as rain drops. It seem disconnected and disjointed when you come across new information. But as you consume for knowledge, the connections begin to build and patterns start to emerge. Then, one day you have an "aha" moment: the knowledge becomes a river. Everything you know about a topic nicely ties together.
My advice is to trust yourself and the process. If you keep working hard, the confusions will be ironed out and uncertainties will be removed. This may be difficult to believe when you're painfully juggling 4 different modules and have been pulling out your hair over how equitable tracing operates for the past few hours, but if you stick with it I promise it will all make sense in the end.