What I wish I knew before starting my Law degree?

By Samar Mohammed

Now, I am not the only one whose idea of law school was shaped by watching Legally Blonde, Suits and Law and Order. I thought that my future as a law student and lawyer would look like this;

However, in reality, this is what law students look like MOST of the time:

As a fresh-faced, anxious and impressionable 18-year-old, I was completely unaware of the journey that lay ahead. Forget about the academics for a second, you also have the added pressure of moving to a new city, making new friends and learning to iron a shirt without wrinkles.

Now, it’s been 3 years since completing my degree and on reflection, I can safely say that there are 8 things I wish I knew before I started my Law degree.

1. Yes, there’s a lot of reading BUT it’s important!

If you’re considering a career in law, you should be prepared to read...ALOT! I started my degree thinking I was prepared however, I was quickly proven wrong. In addition to core reading, you will have additional reading to complete (most of which I skipped). It wasn’t until I was tested on the material that I realised the gravity of my mistake. In hindsight, the reading is assigned for a reason; to provide students with an extensive overview of the theory. It’s testable and if utilised correctly, it will make you stand out as a student.

2. Get involved in as many different societies as you can.

While joining the Law Society at University is essential to networking and growing your knowledge, don’t forget to develop essential soft skills through other societies. Since leaving University and attending interviews for Paralegal and Trainee positions, I noticed how strongly firms stressed the importance of a wide set of experience. At interviews for Paralegal and Trainee positions, I was asked about my non-law hobbies such as Kickboxing/MMA, volunteering and writing. These hobbies allowed me to hone resilience alongside team-work, leadership and interpersonal skills which are paramount to your success as a lawyer.

3. You won’t always get it. You will fail.

Many law students are afraid to fail. Law students are often perceived as being ‘academically-gifted’, confident and overly ambitious. Any sign of weakness is considered a direct question to their suitability as a future legal professional. In my first year, I achieved a low 2.2 in my Tort law module. This result made me question my suitability for law, my ability to succeed and my desire to continue. However, it was only after graduating and working within the legal sector that I realised the importance of failure. Failure can teach you resilience, adaptability and improve your self-awareness provided you take on a ‘growth mindset’. Failure is normal, but it’s what you do with that experience that matters. Don’t give up and learn from every setback.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Law is hard, challenging and mentally-exhausting. After pulling numerous all-nighters, dealing with a medical condition and relatives being diagnosed with Cancer, my mental health suffered. After trying to deal with it myself, I noticed my grades began to suffer. I learnt that it’s okay to ask for help and support when you need it. Mental health is a real issue and it was only once I reached out for help that I overcame those issues. Universities have great mental health support networks that provide confidential assistance to students. Don’t be afraid of reaching out and getting the help you need to reach your potential.

5. Take advantage of legal opportunities.

Throughout your degree, you’ll have the opportunity to attend law dinners and networking events with legal professionals. Take advantage of these opportunities by being confident and build a rapport with those in attendance. Not just the Partners, Trainees or recruitment teams but also your classmates. Your classmates are part of your generation of lawyers and will walk the same path as you. By forging those relationships now, you’ll find a circle of like-minded individuals to help you along your journey.

6. Make study groups.

In the third year, I worked with classmates in study groups. These study groups provided a fun, supportive and engaging environment to work collaboratively and learn from one another. On reflection, those study groups were the turning-point of my degree as I got to work alongside bright, charismatic and driven individuals that challenged me to better myself every day.

7. Reward yourself.

Reward yourself for the small and big victories along the way. Whether that be passing your coursework on a module you hated or memorizing a set of flashcards of cases. By celebrating each victory, you prove to yourself that you’re growing every day. This boost in morale will provide greater confidence as you progress with your degree and later in life.

8. There’s a difference between working hard and working smart.

I was a hard-worker; I studied for hours and hours in the library, often forgetting my meals and gave up on socializing. However, after working in my study group, I learnt how to ‘work smart’. Rather than reading everything and making notes, learn to skim-read textbooks, highlight key cases, take regular breaks to avoid overload and pre-plan what topics to study. Organisation and efficiency when studying provides greater focus and attention to detail.

Your Law degree is the first step in your legal journey- you will stumble, question yourself and your choices while hitting countless walls. However, you will rise from your failures, gain confidence in your abilities and overcome numerous obstacles to become a better version of yourself.