‘A will can be written on the inside of an eggshell’: 12 things you only know if you’re a law student

As any law student can attest, studying law isn’t exactly like Legally Blonde’s Elle Woods made us believe (nor Suits or Ally McBeal, per questo motivo). But it is a brilliantly unique experience – as these current and former students are only too happy to tell you …

1. TV dramas aren’t accurate
“Once you’ve studied law, watching legal dramas on TV will become painful. You’ll be unable to stop yourself from pointing out inaccuracies, much to the annoyance of family and friends ('No! They don’t use gavels in English courts!'). You don’t magically emerge the other side of your degree as a solicitor or barrister like TV suggests, either. After finishing sixth form or college, these career paths usually take at least six years before qualification, whichever route you take. It’s a huge commitment.”
Bryony, paralegal at Aaron & Partners

2. You need to read … a lot
“When I started studying, the head of my course told us ‘you read for a law degree’ and never stopped repeating it. He was right because you can only be taught so much and the law is constantly changing. You need to read to keep up to date and expand your knowledge, which is key to getting a good degree.”
Emma, solicitor at Cartmell Shepherd Solicitors

3. The first year really does count
“As a student, it’s easy to get swept up in the ‘you only need 40% to pass’ chatter, but what you learn in the first year is really important – such as the principles of contract law – so it’s important to pay attention. Don’t spend your entire first year in the student bar – it may be fun, but it’s really not worth it.”
Adam, law graduate

4. It can be life-changing
“I started my degree at 35 and by the time I qualify I’ll be over 40. Before I began studying, I worked at McDonald’s and became one of their youngest store managers, before running my own retail business. I always dreamed of studying law but was worried I’d be too old – thankfully, my wife encouraged me. Walking into class and being called ‘Sir’ put things into perspective (I was definitely the ‘father’ of my year!), but university challenged me intellectually and the skills I’d gained in my career already were all transferable. Looking back, making the decision to study law was the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Lee, law student

5. Academic and practical law are two very different things
“When studying, I was interviewed by two graduate scheme partners who asked me what I’d do about a particular property dispute. Hoping to impress them, I proudly suggested they ‘enact a proprietary estoppel’ (a court term connected to land law). I remember them looking perplexed and asking me: ‘But why would we want it to go to court?', which completely blew my mind. At that point, I thought that’s how everything got resolved, quando, in reality, court should be a last necessity. I genuinely had no idea about the practical side of law.”
Ben, law graduate

6. You will become a night owl
“Becoming a law student means accepting that you’ll often be the last one in the campus library at night, pyjamas on with a few energy drinks to keep your eyes open. If you’re not a night owl already, it might be time to start becoming one.”
Rhiarnae, law graduate

7. Focusing on ‘quirky’ facts helps
You will need to remember dozens of different cases for each module. Rather than trying to memorise the name of each case, the easiest way to remember is to focus on one strange, quirky or funny fact about the case or trial that will trigger you to remember the precedent it set. Per esempio, Lord Denning’s speech about the value of cricket as a social activity in Miller v Jackson. Trust me, it works.”
Robert, law student

8. Law has a funny history
“One thing I learned was that common law is an odd creature with precedents set in strange circumstances and used as the basis for everyday law now. I always wondered how people ended up in the situations the court was being asked to issue a judgment on. It seemed to be the strange ones that established precedents – for example, a will can be written on the inside of an eggshell.”
Daniel, solicitor at Wilson Nesbitt

9. Denning – and speed reading – are key
“All law students know the importance of what Denning has to say. He was one of the most influential – and controversial – judges of the 20th century and his judgments are important to anyone learning law. I also learned that the arts of speed reading and highlighting are vital! If you were to pore over lengthy judgments and texts at the same pace as when you are reading a novel, you would never get to the end of the reading list – so it’s pretty imperative.”
Rachel, associate at Indemnity Legal

10. Lectures can throw up surprises
“Studying law means discovering some unusual things. Per esempio, judges don’t like it when you smile in court, and when reading case names aloud, per esempio, they’re read as ‘Donoghue e Stevenson’ not ‘Donoghue V Stevenson’. Due to the large number of students in lectures, registers aren’t always taken, either, therefore attendance (or non-attendance) isn’t always recorded.”
Annie, solicitor at Blacks Solicitors

11. People will suddenly ask for your help
“The most surprising thing about studying law is the amount of family and friends that come out of the woodwork with legal questions and concerns. Trust me, you’ll get plenty, and they expect you to magically know the answers, even after your first term of law school.”
Luke, trainee solicitor at Parker Bullen

12. Some lectures are more useful than others
“Studying law means you will learn a lot of useful life advice you didn’t get taught at school – from how to set up a business and the legal implications, to what to look for when buying a house. And the subjects you dread can actually be the most interesting.”
Emilia, law student

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