A (Counterintuitive) Guide to Surviving Law School 🥶

14 Dec 2022


Studying a law degree is no easy task. Firstly, the subject matter itself can be quite challenging. Dissecting legislation, reading judgments and articulating legal arguments where there are grey areas in the law are skills that need to be honed overtime and may not come naturally to some. Moreover, the workload itself can be intense where law students need to complete large volumes of readings and sit lengthy exams.

Surviving law school is an achievement in itself. Thankfully, there are things that can be done to reduce your workload and make studying law much, much easier. What I will recommend might seem counterintuitive at first glance but my recommendations have nonetheless helped me through my degree and given me clarity on a lot of things.

Here we go!

#1. Make out-of-uni work your main priority

Say whaaaaattttt!! 🤬

Yes, I mean it.

Personally I've found that my marks have gotten better when my main focus has been on my part-time job, volunteer projects or even personal hobbies. When I reflect on why this might be the case, I think it comes down to you being forced to use what little time you have left as productively as possible. This forces you to be efficient and very clinical with how you study; you don't have any time to make your notes pretty or do other useless sh*t that won't improve your marks.

I've also found that prioritising non-uni work has helped me keep my options open and my perspective broadened. I know that my degree is not all the be-all or end-all of my success at uni. This in turn gives me space because I know I don't need to compete with other students to do well just so I can land a clerkship; it's taught me to cultivate my own space and run my own race rather than continually chasing after others. Psychologically, I feel much more at ease when I study.

#2. Minimise your readings. In fact, don't do them at all (if possible)

I've gotten away with not doing my readings for the past two years, and thank goodness! Skipping your readings does save a lot of time at home. More importantly, it actually forces you to appreciate your lectures a lot more because you're forced to listen more so you pick everything up.

In saying this, there will be some subjects where you still have to do your readings so you can understand the subject and revise areas where you're a little unsure of what the law is. Fortunately, however, a quick Google search for a topic with a 10 minute read of a reputable webpage often affords more clarity (for me personally) than convoluted textbooks written by university academics.

This is also not to say that you should never read a case in your life. In fact, I highly suggest that you do all your readings in your first year of uni so you can develop the skill of digesting cases and interpreting legislation. As soon as you've got those skills down-packed, you won't need to spend as much time on the readings to learn it.

#3. Form study groups and share notes

This tip isn't overly counterintuitive but it's so important that it needs to go down in this post. Study groups are your life jacket. Not only can you share notes and circulate questions to clarify your understanding of the material, but your study groups are an invaluable source of emotional support to get you through the tough times.

Don't do law school alone, ever.

#4. During exam time, focus on making comprehensive scaffolds

For law subjects, your notes aren't that important in the grand scheme of things. Sure, having a good set of notes helps, but they are only 30-40% of the study you need to do for your exams.

Most value comes in making study scaffolds that break down each cause of action into its elements, with each element having a brief summary of the legal tests, the cases and any legislation. Here's an example of a study scaffold I made when studying Federal Constitutional Law.

Guard these study scaffolds with your life. They'll help you attack problem questions and memorise the material.

#5. Don't follow the clerkship route if you don't want to

Law students in Australia are often pushed into clerkships with law firms or graduate positions in other reputable organisations. If this is not for you, please don't stress! Trust me, you don't have to go down the clerkship route if you don't want to.

For me personally, I've worked out that I don't exactly want to practise law or work in a law firm. I've decided to continue my current work in the education sector and see where that leads me. While this might seem like I have 'wasted' my degree because I'm not practising law, this couldn't be any further from the truth. Yes, I'm not using my content knowledge per se, but I am using the writing and critical thinking skills I have cultivated through my degree on a daily basis in the work that I'm already doing.

Contrary to popular belief, a law degree is extremely versatile. The end game doesn't always have to be you becoming a practising lawyer. Get creative!

A Final Message

Yes, law school is tough, but there are things you can do to make it more manageable. But most importantly:

You've got this!


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