Tips for Surviving a Law Degree


Just about start your first year of law school, or part way in already?

Congratulations on your achievement so far – law is one the most difficult degrees to get into. You will be following in the footsteps of great people throughout history – from Cicero to George Washington, and Gough Whitlam to Michael Kirby.

Law has moulded the minds and careers of world leaders who have shaped our modern social and political structure. That said, expect the next few years to be a hard slog, full of long lectures and midnight sessions in the library; but with the right preparation, you’ll be ready to take on the challenges of being a lawyer.

With law schools in Sydney about to start their first semester, Sydney Criminal Lawyers asked a number of law students and graduates for their tips on surviving the degree.

Whether you’re in your first year, or have already got a couple of years under your belt, we hope you find some of this information useful.

“Read Judgements, and use study groups” – Jay, University of Melbourne

“To do mediocre, just do the readings and learn the basics of each case suggested, but if you want to do well, read the judgements, and take extra notes.”

“Most subject co-ordinators are lazy or busy, most of the assignments are based on recent cases, do the research and you can find the matching case with judgement.”

“A lot of the case law and legislation is dry and mind numbingly boring, studying it, even more so. Studying it with others breaks it up, form study groups.”

“Speaking of study groups, that is the best way to find out where your legal argument for your assignment is weak, because your friends generally have a better one, unless you are that friend.”

“Make the most of teachers, and make time for reading” – Kate, University of New South Wales

“Make use of your teachers. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, discuss issues or seek guidance. You’ll find it so much easier to get to an answer by interrogating your lecturer’s practical experience than any other way.”

“Remember, Law is reading. There’s no way to get around the fact that you will have to do a lot of reading. Learn early how long it takes you to read and process text so you can manage your time.”

“Don’t be afraid to read legislation and cases, textbooks are fantastic for gaining a superficial knowledge of a subject but nothing beats going to the source.”

“Lastly, Kirby will always be a dissenting judge.”

“Use internships to build experience and connections” – Irina, Macquarie University

“The best tip I can offer is to intern during law school. Not only does that knock off work experience days for your Practical Legal Training, but you learn a lot and make some connections. Maybe even pick up a mentor. “

“It’s not pleasant doing unpaid work, but I was offered a full-time environmental law job from my interning as well as some legal work in a small government office, so it leads to good opportunities. Plus, interning can be done for small, ethical organisations, which makes doing unpaid work not so bad.”

“Seek opportunities, go overseas, and don’t be afraid of exploring a double degree” – Chris, Macquarie University, Human Rights Lawyer

“Get involved in professional opportunities early. The more entry level work experience you get at the beginning, the more you can leverage that into corporate law, human rights law, international law, criminal law, public policy in Canberra, or whatever you so choose.”

“If you want to end up in the field of human rights, international law, or the government, try and make the most of overseas internships right away. Apply for everything right from 1st year, and shamelessly self-promote.”

“The other degree you do law with (assuming you are doing a double degree) will likely have an impact in the type of law you go into, or the profession that you go into. For example, I thought philosophy and anthropology as majors were quite irrelevant for my law degree. Now that I study Human Rights in Europe, 90% of what I do is philosophy and anthropology, and a small amount is law. When I was working in Cambodia it was 50% law and 50% anthropology. Government seems to be 50% philosophy, 25% anthropology, 25% law.”

“Make friends outside of law, and with other committed law students” – Diana, Open Universities Australia

“Make friends with people in other disciplines, especially philosophy, it’ll give you a well-rounded and reasoned understanding of the law.”

“So far as surviving in the strict sense, just apply yourself. There is a ton of reading, forming groups with other committed students can help, as you can divide the reading up and discuss it.”

“Study law for the right reasons, use the internet, and be confident” – Edward, University of Sydney

“Figure out why you’re doing law. The civil liberties and rights of people are constantly under attack, and being eroded by, the Executive branch of Government, and lawyers who are in it for the right reason will aim to defend that erosion. Know that ultimately you’re not going to be praised for it and it its going to be a hard slog. Be prepared to do things because you believe in them, rather than because they’ll make you money or give you prestige.”

“They mostly want to sell you the readings to make money, you can find most of the stuff you need online or on Austlii. Don’t bother buying the books, don’t bother doing all the readings, skim it you’ll get the gist and you’ll be fine.”

“The final piece of advice to not listen to your fellow law students if they are trying to psyche you out and make you feel less confident than you should be. Be confident that you’ve learned what you need to learn, and you’ll go into the exam and you’ll do just fine.”

“If you don’t like it, drop out” – Chris, University of Technology Sydney

“If you don’t find law interesting, drop straight out because why are you doing it if so? You’ll hate it, and yourself, forever.”

All the very best!


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