You may already know a number of people who have studied law and have regaled you with a multitude of war stories. However, contrary to what Elle Woods father may have taught you, law school is not just for people who are ‘boring, ugly and serious’. On the other hand, a lot of people enter into studying law with a number of false expectations and are rarely informed as to what the realities are. So here are 8 things which you should consider before deciding to study law…
Why do you want to study law?
Sounds like a very basic consideration but it is important. Law is hard so you need to be sure that you are entering the course for all the right reasons. You won’t be surprised to hear that a number of people want to study law because they love Legally Blond, Law & Order, Suits, The Good Wife, How to Get Away with Murder and all the other myriad of legal shows out there but being a lawyer is NOTHING LIKE YOU SEE ON TV. That’s not to say that it’s not as cool or interesting, it’s just really not the same!
Be prepared to read, a lot and when I say a lot, I mean A LOT
Think cases, academic articles, books…..therefore you will have to appreciate the art of reading from the outset and be willing to get to grips with it at the early stages. If not, you will fall behind and hate your time studying law. Fear not, by the time you get through your first year, your reading speed will have improved immensely and you will have learned to be tactical with how you read and be able to scan items and identify the nub of the issue early on!
You’re friends and family will consider you their new Legal Counsel
“You’re doing law, I have a question for you actually?” This will be a common thread throughout your legal studies – from everyone, even people you have just met. There have been a number of times that I have been in a cab on the way down to the courts for work and the cab driver will ask my advice for some “hypothetical situation” that doesn’t at all involve them. This still applies regardless of the niche you’re studying and the fact that you’re a student won’t matter. People will expect you to be an encyclopedia on the law and be ready to answer all of their questions. No, I do not know why you can’t return that dress you bought…
Answering an off the cuff question is one thing about how the courts may work or why something happened that way in some TV show but sitting down with a person for a consultation when you are not at all qualified is a no go. You are not a lawyer, and even when qualified weigh up the pros and cons of offering advice and always provide disclaimers.
You can’t just go to college to do an undergrad/postgrad and then be a lawyer
Within Ireland and the UK at least, you don’t just do an undergrad and walk away from it as a qualified lawyer. The length of time and cost of becoming a lawyer, especially in Ireland, is one of the larger misconceptions that people have. To outline the cost and time it takes to qualify as either a solicitor or barrister could be a post in itself. The main take away though is that it’s not as simple as just completing an undergraduate degree!
The bad news is that if you ever want to use your legal skills and be in a position to provide legal advice – you have to have a recognised professional qualification to do so and report to some governing body such as the Law Society or the Bar Council. The good news is that studying law does not mean you need to seek a professional qualification. Studying law will provide you with a whole range of skills which are useful within a number of areas of employment such as research, policy, communications, journalism, and governmental positions etc.
You will live in the library…
Or the coffee shop if you are like me, the main point is that it takes time to complete all that reading I mentioned before, as well as keep on top of coursework and prep for exams. There are a lot of aspects of a law degree such as lectures, seminars, coursework and then exams. Each section carries its own workload in itself. Fear not, it’s not all doom and gloom and you don’t need to give up your life – I have always managed to work (either part or full time) and have somewhat of a personal/social life!
Law is a rat race
For someone who came from a non-legal undergrad, I was not fully ready for the competitiveness which exists between students and colleagues within the legal world. Law school in itself is extremely competitive, it’s one of the few places where students are reluctant to help each other unless they are friends. As well as that you will constantly be plagued by pressure to apply for internships, training contracts, attend career fairs and networking events, join different clubs and extra curricula’s to boost your CV, take part in law review, mooting, debating and mock trials. Law students are also notorious for playing hide and seek with books in the library. After all, with all that reading and the expense of law books, books are precious resources! Sounds toxic right? but the good news is not everyone is like this, you will find your group or person and they will be there to have your back. Don’t panic, you don’t have to be a shark to make it in the legal world…
There WILL be subjects you hate….and no single ‘eureka’ moment…
Studying law isn’t always going to be about studying all the hard-hitting cool stuff that you’re interested in, you need to know the fundamentals as well as the cool stuff.
There will also be no single eureka moment where you can say you understand everything there is to understand. Law as a subject is both historical in nature and then ever developing and changing. Don’t fret though, it will all come together eventually!
You need to be organised….somewhat
I caveat this consideration with the fact that being organised means different things for different people. Find out what works for you in the early days of your studies and stick with it.
You need a sharp mind to do law and this requires some kind of organisation. In order to study law, you will need to develop a number of skill sets such as being able to command and understand the details of legislation and case law as well as apply it, whilst also being able to place them in the wider context to understand their significance.
You need to develop an ability to remember a lot of things! For one area of Equity and Trusts law alone, I remember sitting down and learning approx 50+cases. Learning cases doesn’t just mean learning the names of the case and some facts, it means being able to understand how the case may apply to a legal problem/question you are presented with and why it is significant. So you need to organise yourself to be able to achieve this as it requires discipline.
Most of all…..
Enjoy it, the law is one of the most dynamic and interesting subjects to study. It is an intrinsic part of so many areas of everyday life so embrace the pain that is studying law and you will learn to love the grind!