PROSPECTIVE law students need to know a few things about surviving law school anywhere in the world.
Not to sound immodest, but I correctly anticipated many of the things that came when I went into law school. My law school was in the UK, so at least one hunch of mine turned out true (that caselaw was a mess in presentation).
I can only give a UK perspective, but I think the picture pretty much applies to law school anywhere (with a few factual adjustments needed here and there).
Law school is undergraduate in the UK
For anyone who doesn’t know this yet, people in the UK go into law school straight from their senior secondary school (known as the ‘A’-levels).
This is in stark contrast to the situation in the USA, where law school is a graduate school — you need a first degree of some sort before going in. The ‘professional schools’ in the UK (architecture, law, medicine, engineering, accounting) are not graduate schools, although they do run postgraduate programmes
Crank up your language skills
(via Slate: Justice Scalia Explains Himself)
For starters, the law student must be a fluent reader, and therefore a proficient writer.
This completely overrides any other skill. The whole thing about law is about reading up and “being read-in and read-up.” I’ve had a lot of law classmates (native and non-native speakers) whose command of English ultimately let them down.
You can’t hone your thinking skills unless you’ve got sharp language skills.
A lot of the caselaw are old cases, with plenty of roundabout phraseology (because of following the maxim “There are dangers in being precise”). I’ve had one classmate who couldn’t handle the flood of woulds, coulds and shoulds, and that’s a real handicap. My own command of English is at quite a high level to begin with, and even I found ploughing through the crap pretty intense and hard.
Many of my classmates (English yakkers and foreign mumblers alike) wished they had upped their English-language proficiency before going into law studies — as well as learning to sleep less.
The straw that broke the camel’s back
(via Boundless Open Textbook)
Then there’s the need to be able to summarise the crap.
“If you can’t explain it simply, then you don’t understand it well enough.” — Albert Einstein (a physicist, not a lawyer)
That really is the straw that broke the camel’s back for a lot of people. It’s worse in Common Law than in Civil Code law studies — Common Law judgments are a helluva lot longer.
No kidding, but sadistic law professors can (and do) force us mutts to summarise a 40-page judgment into a 100-word summary. And then in court we realise they’re not being sadistic at all but for our ultimate benefit.
The reason is simple. Clients pay you to solve their legal problems. You should be able to tell your clients where they stand in just one meeting. Besides, in court you get three minutes per round of speaking. If you can’t summarise, you’re royally screwed in this department.
Everything’s hitched together!
In the Common Law domain, most law degree programmes at bachelor level tend to contain 12 ‘heads’ (major divisions) — constitutional law, contract law, criminal law, land, family, succession, etc.
Very soon (and all too soon), you’ll realise in the first two weeks of Year 1 that those heads aren’t separate affairs. They’re all blimmin’ hitched together!
And then you wonder, how the heck am I supposed to know about Probate Law (Year 2 or 3) for this Contract Law (Year 1) question?!
Exactly. How are you supposed to know?
(Answer: Read outside your ‘year.’)
When you’re reading a divorce case, you’re never far from issues that overlap probate, contract, land, tax, and even nationality or immigration law. Divorce my aunt fanny! Everything’s about money.
(via LinkedIn: Carlos Delacruz)
If you’re doing the LL.B. (Hons) degree in English law (as I did), you quickly realise the horror of the number of cases you must memorise (or pretend to).
Constitutional Law: ca. 200 cases, inside out.
Contract Law: 300 – 400 cases, plus 200 exceptions.
Criminal Law: ca. 350 cases.
Family Law: bloody limitless!
Equity and tort: ca. 200 cases.
And the list just goes on and on. Altogether, close to 3,000 to 4,000 precedent cases over the entire degree.
And because the UK has an unwritten (uncodified) constitution, you pretty much regard practically every case as having constitutional significance.
This is the point when you start thinking of emigrating to Timbuktu just for sanity’s sake!
The caselaw: part deux, part crap
(via Twitter: Law School Problems)
The most irritating thing about the British way of teaching law is the way cases are presented in the study materials.
It just gives you the bloody case name and very little else. You have to figure out the relevance of the case.
INSTEAD OF THIS…
Doctrine of part performance: Part payment of a debt is not settlement: Pinnel’s Case  5 Co Rep 117a.
THEY GIVE YOU THIS CRAP…
Part performance: Pinnel’s Case, this case, that case, another case…
Yet this isn’t a bad thing. It can be a good thing, if you have a reasonably constructive attitude about it. It trains the mind to really zero in on relevance (assuming you know what might be the relevant points).
What if you’re that perennially ‘unprepared’ type of student?
If you’re that type of person, you shouldn’t be doing law in the first place. But I don’t judge others why they got into law (so I claim), but this bunch of tips tends to work: Unprepared for Law School Exams? Here’s How to Avoid a Disaster.
The hourage and the classmatery
And now we’re back to this need to be a proficient reader and writer.
Oh, it’s great to learn the hack “I.R.A.C.” (issues, review, application, conclusion) for doing the essays. Sure, 5,000 words is peanuts. Then the sadistic bastard professor caps the essay at 1,500 words just to weed out the runts from the c*nts.
This is the point when you feel being a hack journo at the local favourite sex-addled gossip tabloid was a better calling than lawyering.
All in all, the average Joe Bloggs doing a law degree who has a good command of English and a good(ish) educational background will spend roughly 20 to 30 hours a week studying — on top of the 20 hours of class attendance and 20 hours of socialising with classmates you hate their guts of.
Pleasantries only, not pleasantness
We’re all connected, don’t you know?
The really pleasant part of studying law is also the most unpleasant part — flexing your mental muscle and learning the best way to lord over your peers. And to bulldoze your way through the course and any counter-opinions.
You just learn — and learn you must — to make pleasantries while learning to shove it down their throats, and getting the same in return. You’ll quickly learn to enjoy your newfound sado-masochism. All in all, you learn to be a psychopath like the medicos are but remain too much of a wuss to stand the blood and gore like the medicos can.
In return, if you’re industrious, if you’re diligent in your studies, if you know which buttons to press and also 66% lucky, you’ll learn just from using words alone to send people quivering and cowering in fear like jelly being wobbled.
At the end of the day, you don’t die but just sell out
(via Law School Toolbox)
What to do at the end of the degree?
You become a lawyer! You become a cardboard character in a Johnny English movie remade into a sitcom with sudden impact characteristics!
Anyone who has less than 80% desire to become a lawyer is just wasting his (or her) breath and time. Unless of course you’re like me, who went into printing instead.
Not the best of perspectives, but there you go for what it’s worth, as in billable by the hour.
© Lipsync Lawyer, 24 Dec 2016. (B16325)
© The Naked Listener, 29 October 2015. (B15343)
Featured image courtesy of the Twenty Sixteen theme.
‘In Law School’ image via Nerdy Law School Humor.
How to cite this post
Lipsync Lawyer. (2016 Dec 19). The thing about law school. Blog post ID B16325. http://wp.me/p8dCZK-9.