Law school is rarely the way it’s depicted in film or literature – while Legally Blonde might be a fun Friday night watch, it doesn’t exactly show the reality of studying law at university. There’s so much more to this experience than meets the eye, and it’s not all late nights slogging away in the library or brushing up on your skills in the moot court.
No matter where you are in your law school journey – whether you’re just starting out your Bachelor of Laws, are mid-way through a degree, or are in high school, trying to figure out if a career in law is for you – hearing from people who’ve been there can be helpful.
As we pursue our PhDs and explore areas of the law in depth, we feel pretty well-equipped to advise the next generation of legal eagles. So, we thought we would share some things we learned during, and after, law school that we wish we knew earlier. We hope you find these points helpful – here are ten things we wish we knew before starting our law studies at Bond University.
1. Read smarter, not harder
Whether you’re studying a Juris Doctor, Bachelor of Laws, or are pursuing further studies like us, it’s undeniable – law degrees are absolutely packed with reading. So, it’s important you know how to work smarter, not harder, to help you study and learn effectively.
One of our top tips is to read cases backwards – it’s not a crime novel, so in this scenario, it’s actually ideal to learn the conclusion first. Once you know the crux of the decision or orders made, it’s far easier to identify the relevant parts of the rest of the judgment.
Headnotes are your friend, as they’ll quickly tell you what a case is about before you start wading through it in its entirety. Skim reading isn’t for slackers, but is actually a valuable tool that lets you get to the most relevant information, fast! Don’t skim everything, but rather, pick and choose where you can gloss over something and where it’s worth spending more time to understand a concept.
2. Always create your own notes
While it might seem easier to rely on others’ notes, or use templated notes found online, always try to write your own notes, as the course might be taught differently from uni to uni, or semester to semester. We’ve seen so many law students make this mistake and learn an important lesson from it – your interpretation of a class and concepts is always the most worthwhile.
Notes are also central to the revision process – it’s even been scientifically proven that note-taking can help you remember things! So, don’t skimp on these, and you’ll thank yourself later.
3. Introverts make good lawyers
We used to think only confident extroverts could make good lawyers. How wrong we were! After spending a lot of time in the courtroom, we discovered that being an introvert was not an impediment, but rather a valuable characteristic for a legal professional.
You don’t have to be the loudest or most charismatic person in the room to be a good advocate. In fact, this can often have the opposite effect to that desired. Knowing your stuff and understanding things from others’ points of view are far more important to being a good lawyer.
You might also be surprised, as we were once out in practice, that everyone gets nervous – even senior professionals and barristers. Use your nervous energy to your advantage; it’ll give you the agility necessary to think on your feet.
4. Managing stress is a skill
Stress is a natural part of life, and definitely a theme throughout law school (and unfortunately, beyond). That doesn’t mean we should just accept it, though – it’s vital that as students and professionals, we learn mechanisms to manage our stress to prevent it becoming overwhelming and insurmountable.
Everyone’s tolerance to stress is different, so it’s crucial you know your boundaries and allow yourself time to rest and recharge in line with these. Make self-care a priority in your downtime, and identify the activities that you enjoy or make you feel replenished. Different things work for different people, but possible activities include yoga, meditation, exercise, listening to music or podcasts, being in nature, and spending time with loved ones.
5. The law is constantly evolving
The law is ever-changing – not just case law, but legislation, too. This is one reason why law is such an exciting profession to work in! The evolving nature of law means that as a practitioner, you can be creative and innovative with your arguments and keep up with changing societal values.
Learning at university isn’t the end of the journey either. CPD (Compulsory Professional Development) and other opportunities to stretch yourself as a legal practitioner abound, whether it be researching a new area of the law or representing a client in a specialised tribunal. So, whatever it is, embrace the challenge and variety!
6. Developing your legal research skills is essential
There will be areas of the law that you’re unfamiliar with, but nonetheless, have to deal with, during your career. As a result, you’ll be better equipped to handle this if you’ve got some well-honed research skills up your sleeve! Being able to research a new area and accurately advise your clients is critical, and this skill will serve you well throughout your time in the legal profession.
If you’re a new law student just getting started at Bond, the Faculty of Law librarians will be your new best friends. Attend a session during Orientation Week to get to know them, or make an appointment at any time during the semester to grab some great tips and handy pieces of advice.
7. Opt for the ‘most reasonable’ option
Sometimes it can seem like the most forceful argument wins, like gladiators battling on the field. But, after watching hundreds of cases – both civil and criminal – it’s clear to us that the real ‘winners’ were those who presented arguments with the most reasonable conclusion. Craft your argument this way and you’ll not only be a step closer to understanding the nuances of the law, but you’ll also develop a few necessary skills for lawyers – logic, reason, compassion, and restraint.
8. Language lovers don’t fear simple English
If you love language and words – probably a given if you’re studying law – it can be difficult in the beginning to avoid flexing your literary muscle, and using intricate or flowery language. But ultimately, verbosity has no place in the legal profession, where keeping things clear is a key consideration. Remember your audience and create your argument using straightforward language to ensure it’s heard and comes across the right way.
Don’t despair, as this doesn’t mean your writing has to become dull and uninteresting. Anyone who has read a judgment by Lord Denning knows how engaging legal writing can be! It’s a skill, so practicing this early and getting the hang of it will pay dividends later.
9. The law is more diverse than you think
There are areas of law, such as building and construction law, that have their own sets of legislation and regulations – so it’s likely you won’t come across them at law school. But, when you enter the world of law as a practitioner, this may change, and you’ll be expected to adapt quickly.
Approaching the legal profession with an eager-to-learn attitude will help you stay on your toes as you encounter these new and diverse areas. If you go into your time at law school, future career and beyond with an appreciation for how complicated the law is, you’ll be better equipped to deal with new challenges along the way, and to expand your skillset as a result.
10. Law graduates have so many options
There’s more to law than becoming a solicitor or barrister, or working in private practice – in fact, with a law degree under your belt, the world is your oyster! Don’t underestimate the potential for a career outside of ‘traditional’ lawyering, as there are so many sectors and companies that value legal skills. Plus, the other skills that lawyers carve out during their studies and careers – think good communication, research abilities, empathy, confidence, problem-solving and more – can make for a well-rounded approach to almost any career path.
There are a range of government departments and commissions that utilise in-house lawyers or counsel, so if becoming a barrister isn’t for you, this might be an area worth investigating. Many businesses, finance and accounting firms, tech companies, and trans-national corporations are also keen to hire people with law degrees.
Think broad and explore all sorts of career options – after all, you might find the perfect fit for you.
We hope you find our insights into life in law school and beyond helpful. Ultimately, this exciting time in your life will be what you make it, so be sure to follow the path that feels right to you, and seek out opportunities at every turn. Bond makes it easy for law students and grads to access the best of the best, from events run by the Law Students’ Association to personalised support from the Career Development Centre. It’s all at your fingertips – now, channel Elle Woods, and go get ‘em!