The 7 Best Things about Being a Law Student
About the Author
Samantha Love read Law at Merton College, Oxford, and is currently following the BCL course.
Let’s be clear – every student has a different experience of university, and your work isn’t the sole defining feature of university life.
Getting used to being (mostly) independent, exploring a new city and picking up new skills and interests have been a huge part of my university life (knitting, anyone?). Obviously your friendship groups also make your time at university what it is. So life as a law student isn’t characterised solely by these things, just as if you asked a chemistry student what they enjoyed most about university they probably wouldn’t start with ‘blowing things up’. That said, law students really do get stuck into their subject! And obviously enough it does define your time at university at least as much as your friendships, hobbies and struggles with the laundry machine. This is just a glimpse of how genuinely great it is to be a law student:
1. Dinners and mingling
If you don’t have a taste for champagne yet, it won’t be too long! Unless of course you’re the orange juice type, in which case you’ll just have to make do with the frankly amazing selection of restaurant foods you may get the opportunity to sample over the course of your university degree. Now, I’m aware that I have been unduly spoilt at Oxford on this front and unfortunately not quite so many of the bigger firms will target the universities that are further from London, but law students everywhere are well-known for their fancy dinners and parties. The university law societies are very active and they’re a great way to get to know fellow lawyers -and some of your future colleagues – whilst getting plenty of sponsored food and drink and meeting representatives from law firms. Their events are a good way to relax whilst still feeling like you’re doing something productive; which of course you are! And that’s without mentioning the annual law ball at most universities, which are often very popular and fun evenings. Best polish your dancing shoes!
2. A shared community
In line with the popularity of university law societies is the fact that as a law student you – or at least I – feel like you’ve joined a whole new community of like-minded people. Obviously every lawyer and law student has their own field of interest, but because every lawyer has to have a grounding in the basics we do at least have an education in common. This, predictably, leads to a lot of in-jokes! The Facebook group ‘Things Law Students Don’t Say’ is full of jokes which are apparently just bizarre to non-lawyers but are hilarious to anyone who’s had to struggle through the Land Registration Act or read a dissenting Lord Denning opinion. It also makes speaking to people who work as lawyers much easier; you can usually understand enough about their work to be able to ask more questions and know how much the work might appeal to you.
3. Reading a subject which is relevant to real life
This is possibly a blessing and a curse. Personally, I love being able to apply my legal knowledge in everyday situations, even if I’d feel hesitant about giving legal advice or relying on my instincts if a friend were to ask for advice about a genuine problem. And it is great that I can discuss a fair bit of my work with friends, or at least discuss the principles involved – they might not want to hear the ins and outs of my essay but I’ve had a good few arguments about what equality law should have to say about affirmative action policies, and whether UK law is right in saying that only men can commit rape (women commit sexual assault: same sentence length, different name and stigma). This relevance to everyday life can get slightly frustrating when your friends ask you for advice or you start to over-think things that can be sorted without resorting to the law, but then again it’s great to do a degree which you feel is really relevant to real life. It also gives you a better understanding of politics and world issues, such as what really needs reforming in the EU. I personally love that my degree filters into the rest of my life in a very obvious way and is of some interest to everyone who has an interest in society generally – something we share with medicine, politics and economics students, among others.
4. Opportunities abound
You may (naïvely) begin university thinking that doing a law degree is just about getting a law degree. There are so many other things you can get involved in without even leaving your discipline that it would be entirely possible to replace proper work with just law-related extra-curricular activities and still not have enough time in the day to see your friends as much as you’d like. Pro bono schemes run in many universities now, whereby you offer your skills to do case preparation for those who can’t afford to pay for a lawyer – often immigration or social security work. Some pro bono schemes look for researchers too, to present papers either to the government or help research for a case being brought against the government, though that’s more often for graduate students. If you are interested in that sort of work, there’ll likely be human rights-based campaigns running at your university, and it’s surprisingly easy to find your way onto a scheme to work with a legal project abroad during the summer holidays. Entering moots (mock trial competitions) is a great way to improve your legal knowledge and speaking skills, so that you’re ready for the Bar if that’s what you are thinking about. Obviously there are also the law societies and Bar societies, and in some universities there are societies for legal careers outside the usual divide between the Bar and the firms. All these opportunities only serve to reflect the diversity of legal interests and career choices which everyone will have at university. And that is my next favourite thing about being a law student:
5. Having a road map (if you want it)
Let’s be clear: a law degree can take you almost anywhere. In most situations it doesn’t narrow your options any more than a less vocational degree like history would. Neither will do you much good if you want to be a marine biologist but they will both set you up with transferable skills should you want to go work in consulting, international aid or anything else which doesn’t require a specific degree. That said, the wonderful thing about doing a law degree is that you know that you can go and work in the law afterwards, competitiveness aside. There is a nice sense of security in having something approaching a road map ahead of you: the degree is fairly vocational and there are a few obvious career paths that are very natural next steps. There are very high numbers of law students continuing on to the applied training courses, hopefully with a training contract or pupillage guaranteed, and because so many of us take one of these routes there is a great deal of help and advice available from everyone between the careers service and the second years. For those with their sights set on a training contract in a relatively large firm, you’re likely to start your final year clutching your offer letter and knowing that your (financial) life is relatively secure for the next few years. It makes focusing on those all-important grades a bit easier when you had all the interviews out of the way before term starts. The scholarships available for Bar school are helping to make this side of things less risky than it could be too, which is helpful as well. This is not to say that the process is not competitive and that there aren’t future hurdles – the obvious ones for the big two careers being passing your BPTC/LPC, completing pupillage/training contract, getting tenancy/kept on. However, in contrast to many of your final year friends there is a path laid out with relatively good financial support if you want to take it.
6. In contrast… a wide range of career options
On the other hand, if you aren’t after life as a corporate solicitor in the big smoke there are still so many options available. Legal work obviously isn’t limited to barristers and solicitors, and the skills you develop over the course of a law degree aren’t limited in usefulness to a legal career. By the end of 3 or 4 years working to deadlines, wading through huge piles of legislation to pick out important details, communicating ideas to others on paper and through speech, and simply keeping track of a huge amount of paperwork I like to think any law student could run a small country if pushed. Alternatively, you might want to move into an area which interests you and where your particular knowledge would be an asset. If employment law was particularly fascinating have a think about working in human resources; your knowledge would be priceless on those days when the boss asks about redundancy consultation procedure, if only because you know which piece of legislation to start with. Or if environmental law was a particular passion then go work for an NGO in that sector, perhaps. Almost every aspect of life has some legal implication, and the wide skill set of a law student can be adapted to many tasks. There is a whole world of employment out there for those who can really see where their skills and interests make them invaluable.
7. Being the one with all the stories
As a law student, you share two things with the medicine students. One is the right to complain about your workload on a slightly more regular basis than your non-law friends. I am still not entirely convinced that the law students deserve this rank, especially in relation to medicine students, but it does seem to be the case that even if nobody is listening to you complaining you are at least allowed to carry on longer than students taking certain other degrees. More fun is the second common link with medicine students – the stories! There is no end to the number of gruesome and weird tales which all of you will be able to tell by the end of even your first year of university. It is a little ironic that two degrees that are meant to attract public-spirited characters contain an incredible amount of information that essentially boils down to gossip. Almost all of the important criminal law cases come under at least one of the following categories: desperately sad, thought-provoking, and genuinely idiotic. You will have great fun teaching your friends the facts of the cases in the third category; for revision purposes only, of course. Even some of the contract law cases contain some interesting characters, and the land law cases a surprisingly long line of sneaky husbands and landlords. It’s enough to make you despair of the human condition, and always ensures you have something interesting to say in response to the question ‘what did you do today?’
There is never going to be one single ‘best thing’ about doing a law degree. Apart from anything else, we all take different experiences from it. I personally love consulting the law journals that somebody somewhere is still making a lot of money from binding, and that make you feel as though you are really part of an institution – especially the ones that are so old that they’re held together with ribbon! And yet I have plenty of friends who read journals online and cannot understand why I find this such an important part of my degree. There is no accounting for taste. But for anyone who genuinely enjoys their law degree (which is most of us!), we can all agree on the fact that our degree constantly surprises us – with the range of things we are able to learn about, how much of an impact it has on our daily lives and how fascinating it can often be. For a degree which contains so many compulsory modules it is amazing how different every law student’s experience of university can be. So perhaps the best thing about a law degree is that you get to choose which the best part is!