like thinking of my experience joining law school a few years back like sky-diving for a newbie.
You are ready to launch, ready for the thrill of the ride, but can’t shake off the feeling that your parachute may fail to work in the middle of the fall, even though you know countless people have done it before you with incredible success.
You will be just fine. Take it from a law student who is still falling but has got his parachute to work. Here are a few tips for you if you are joining law school.
The First Day
The tension and anxiety in your class will be so thick on the first day you may be able to cut through it with a knife. With the exception of friends you knew back in high school, the place will be filled with new faces.
Law students love an impression. As such, participation levels may never top those of the first day, with almost half the class trying to question and answer the lecturer in a bid to assert intelligence and one-up everybody else.
I vividly remember my criminal law lecturer getting so overwhelmed by the number of raised hands that she could not get through what she had intended to teach for the day.If you’re an extrovert, this environment could be perfect to help you thrive. Introverts though could have their self-esteem take a nose-dive. It is easy to find yourself feeling like a square peg in a round hole, thinking that you may not fit in or match your fellow classmates’ intelligence.
The first day isn’t cause to worry though. It is a marathon, not a sprint. Write down as much as possible, ask questions and take the course step by step.
You will Read…A lot.
There will be no shock as cataclysmic as the volumes and length of cases, books and academic articles you will have to read when you join law school.
It is a ring of fire that you will have to go through. However, you will soon learn that experience makes you a faster and more diligent reader, able to pay attention to the devil in the detail that could make all the difference in making that argument in your examination.
Don’t cut any corners or make short-cuts for the reading experience. Get access to reading lists for all your course-units and research on all their material.
These reading lists are not a substitute for your lectures, even though most of what the lecturer discusses can be found on them. Attend lectures religiously. Nothing is greater than the knowledge imparted by your lecturer.
Besides, the lecturer could hint on something that isn’t on your reading list. Do not take the risk.
The most crucial part of your reading is the law, so get conversant with different provisions of the law.
Read the Constitution and the relevant statutory law for your different course-units.
Read the cases in full, even though some may be bulky. Catch up on all suggested material from your lecturers, whether it is given in class or prescribed on your course-units’ reading list.
Go to the library as often as possible. Learn how to borrow books, cases and academic articles from the different journals available in the law section of the library.
And most importantly, learn how to sit in that eerie silence and read with maximum concentration. It will be difficult at first, but you will get the hang of it.
Finally, don’t procrastinate. While the content may be coming in like drips from a half-closed tap in the early days of your course, you risk having to contend with a full bath-tub if you keep putting assignments off. That will not bode well for your preparation in the weeks before your examinations.
Discover your best mode of learning
For something that isn’t so on-the-nose, law students rarely talk about the difficulty of discovering what method of reading best maximizes one’s academic potential.
Discovering this early could make all the difference in your legal education.
While some people operate best reading on their own, others need discussion groups to reinforce the knowledge they got from their personal reading.
Some need a few hours of reading while others need eight or so hours to catch up. Finding yourself out of the majority could make you feel like you are not doing something right.
As a result, you may try what the majority is doing with less success than those doing it. Remember this: there is no one-shoe-fits-all when it comes to how you approach your education.
Beyond the broad strokes that I highlighted in the previous section, you will have to find out what method of reading works best for you and make a habit of it to get incredible grades.
Learn a few legal skills
There are a number of non-academic activities you can engage in to boost your understanding of the law.
Take interest in Mooting, writing academic articles and pro-bono projects such as the Public Interest Law Clinic (PILAC) for those joining Makerere University Law School, to mention but a few.
Most of these activities will require you to read up on different fields of law not offered at your University or to go in-depth with research into those that you have learnt.
Follow different legal sites on different social media platforms for the latest legal information. The Legal Reports, and Barefoot Lawyers may be a good place to start.
Read different opinions and articles on topical legal issues in national newspapers like The New Vision and Daily Monitor as well as international publications such as the New York Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian.
Take up most of the opportunities that come your way and see your legal education grow!
As I wrote this piece, I typed ‘Make Connections’ before promptly realizing that I would not describe any of my law school relations as such.
The people you are going to meet at law school will be more than connections. They will not simply be people who share the ups and downs of the law school journey with you; the people in your discussion group, on your Moot team, on your class project and giving you company as you toil for endless hours in the library.
In all probable likelihood, the people you meet in law school (in your year of study and in other years) could well be the people you share the rest of your life with.