The First Year of Law School: What you Need to Know

It’s October, which means for all UK universities, students have started their degrees and students are already taking the first steps towards their career goals. Be it law or non-law related, it will be a challenging 3 or 4 years but you can do it. Having researched the legal sector, talked to law students (current and former) and delved into the literal thousands of pages on how to crush it in law school and on your degree, I’ve narrowed down the few but unbelievably important factors those studying law now need to know for the first year of their law degree.

Your first year DOES count!

I’ve seen this time and time again where law students say, “the first year doesn’t count so I don’t have to work hard now.” While first year may not count towards your final degree result, it surely does for your future employers and any companies you wish to apply for during your university breaks!

Don’t fall into the idea that getting a low grade from not trying won’t hurt your chances at a career – it will, so don’t do it! Unless you have legitimate reasons as to why you did not get a good grade (we’re talking minimum 60% overall) such as illness, most firms will simply not care about your application and go for the students who have achieved better grades. 

Your preparation for learning

Covid-19 has seen a LOT of changes in the learning structure that universities are giving students. Instead of in-person lectures and seminars, a significant majority of teaching has gone online, and universities are supplementing it with pre-recorded or ‘live’ lectures. It may not be how most students want to kickstart their degrees, but sadly it’s how we are going to have to handle it for the foreseeable future.

Print out your module handbooks. Go through them with a highlighter, identifying the learning aims and objectives, the learning outcomes the university expects from you, the course structure, how you will be assessed, the reading lists and staff contacts. All of this is going to be extremely helpful to you in understanding what’s expected of you, what you can expect from your tutors and the university, and help you start to slowly organise your week to fit your studying needs.

Online Learning

This is a new venture unless you’re a part of the Open University, whose degrees are either entirely, or for the most part, online. You will have to be even more precious with you time than if you were able to go to lectures as previous years have allowed. 

Buy a planner and spend a few hours on a Sunday going through what you need to do for the week ahead. Time block your heart out! Put appointments, lectures, seminars and everything related to your degree or extracurriculars in highlighted blocks or bright colours. When you have a system like this, it will be difficult for you to miss anything, and extremely beneficial for your studies and social life to have time blocked your day effectively.

If you are in university accommodation, buy an ethernet cable NOW (Make sure it fits your laptop or computer too)! Most universities have a high speed ethernet system in place, so by using this service over the basic university Wi-Fi, you can prevent time lags on lectures and seminars and ensure you don’t have the dreaded 11:58 internet shut out that has plagued many a student. Grab some sound-cancelling earphones or headphones too – these will ensure your online learning will not be disturbed by your flatmates walking around, shouting or banging doors and also provide a good blocking feature to get you into the studying zone. 

Make a space in your flat or university your study zone. Obviously, given the pandemic this will be your university accommodation and most likely your room. Ensure you are not studying while in bed! Many studies have been done on working in bed, and the vast majority of them say that this is one of the best ways to destroy your productivity. If you are able to book a study room, do it! By getting out of your flat and into an isolated bubble to read up on your next workshop or seminar, you get the benefit of exercise by walking to the library (Harvard Medical School has shown that regular physical activity reduces stress, anxiety and helps fight depression) and also have a few hours away from the stress that remote working is causing millions of workers currently.

Networking

This has a huge advantage due to the majority of law firms putting open/insight days and presentations online – you don’t have to travel for it and waste time and money travelling to these events! This also allows more time to be able to study or do alternative plans without worrying about spending 2+ hours on a train to London.

Go online and look at the various events that are being held online and apply, apply, apply! These will be vital in getting your questions about how the firm is handling the pandemic and recession, and also give you the ability to have comfort and the ability to still talk to firms despite the restrictions in place in the UK. This time also gives you the chance to get more in tune with commercial awareness, which is brilliant, so get your laptop open and research the news stories that you think will help you get that training contract or vacation scheme!

Stay Calm

This is one of the most important things to remember: Stay Calm. The news is unbelievably stressful at the moment, with students across UK universities testing positive with COVID-19, and the uncertainty of how this year at university will play out still not being confirmed by the government. Aim to turn off your phone while you study (or airplane mode if you use it for music) and minimise your access to social media if possible. Your phone will be a huge distraction, and frankly, you don’t need more stress while you are doing online learning with limited interactions with staff.

If you find yourself becoming stressed or your mental health becomes low, do contact your GP or academic advisor and talk to them. Bottling up what you are feeling or going through can cause an increase in anxiety and take a toll on your physical health.

Above all else, remember that you are more capable than you know when it comes to this year. It is going to be difficult with the lack of social interaction many will face, but you will make it through so long as you stay focused, organised and know when to reach out for help.

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