Interview with a Law Student
This is the Interview with a Degree Student: Law edition.
Being in Year 12 or 13 means being regularly asked what you plan on doing after high school, whilst also being unsure of the answer. It’s really difficult to know exactly what to study if you choose to go on to uni, especially if you’re not yet sure on a career path. After all, there’s a whole world ahead of you that high school doesn’t exactly prepare you for.
However, StudyTime has got your back; by interviewing those who have walked before you down the road to each degree, we’re aiming to give you the best advice and context to help you decide what you want to do with your life (or what you don’t).
Out of all of the degrees, one of the most feared and highly-revered by parents-in-law has got to be law.
Even the mere mention of it conjures up hours spend in a dusty library, pouring over mountainous piles of cases and volumes of textbooks. Unfortunately for the many students relentlessly pursuing an ever-fading dream of becoming Harvey Specter in real life, there’s no walkthrough guide for the law.
However, are all of the law school horror stories true? Answering your questions from Instagram along with an introduction into her experience so far is a real-life law student taking a break from her sixteen-hour summer study sessions. I was honoured, privileged, and now mortgaged (she got avocado on toast for her time) to sit down with Rosa Henderson. Rosa is a member of the Women in Law executive at Auckland Law School, and earned a special certificate for her intellectual excellence last year. She’s also funny, which is a rare talent amongst law students, and the reason I’ve picked her for this interview.
What is law all about?
Finding a way to financially justify a BA (laughs). Kidding – for me, studying law is about learning how to use language and communication to advocate for causes. You initially learn about legal history and how the country runs; we study cases and learn the laws within its different areas; and we learn how to apply them to new situations.
What is your biggest piece of advice for students going into law?
I’d say that first-year students are too nervous and competitive going into law – work hard but study smart, not anxiously nor excessively. Remember that it’s your first year of university, and all of the time you have to get involved with other things shouldn’t be spent freaking out in the library. The friendships you make will keep you sane throughout the four to six year law school journey. Try to go to every lecture if you can, but at least try to catch up on the ones you’ve missed so you’re not left learning a year’s worth of content the night before the exam (unfortunately, this doesn’t work as well as it did in high school).
Looking back at your own first year, what would you have done differently?
I’d have tried to go to every lecture if I could have, but I’d be hypocritical if I said I always do that now. I’d recommend my past self to have at least tried to catch up on the ones I missed earlier, so I wasn’t left learning a year’s worth of content the night before the exam (unfortunately, this doesn’t work as well as it did in high school).
What have you enjoyed the most?
Mooting (mock courtroom battles). You get to dress up and pretend to be Suits characters or a more successful version of your future self; you get to practically apply what you’ve learnt; the feeling of standing up and arguing is extremely satisfying even if you’re not a confident public speaker; and it’s much less scary than you’d think.
How do you recommend preparing for lectures?
Read the lecture material as best as you can, so you at least have a vague understanding of what the lecturer is talking about, and learn your lecture content as early as possible.
Side note: Victoria University uses the Socratic Method, which involves the lecturer asking students questions at random throughout the lecture, so it’s more discussion-based. For students at Vic, it’s important to get a deeper grasp of the readings beforehand and think about how you might answer probing questions on them.
How do you recommend preparing for the exams?
For open book exams, the first step is to make sure that you have a good grasp on the lectures and some decent notes. To make my notes, I like to try and obtain some from an older student, and then cross-reference them with mine and any readings from the course. Once I have my notes, I heavily condense them because you don’t have time to flip through hundreds of pages in an exam. For exams that aren’t open book, I’d condense my notes even more and test my ability to recall them as early as possible before the exam. Also, keep up with lectures throughout the year because there is far too much to cover in one night!
Rapid-fire round. Before the interview, I posted an Instagram story asking for your law-related questions (about 85% of them were “Is it hard?”).
By popular demand, is law hard?
Extraordinarily so. Kidding. It’s hard, but it’s not overwhelming if you don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed through keeping up throughout the year.
What about “soul-destroying”?
You can take the edge off of the soul destruction by pairing it with a conjoint degree.
Someone asked if a law degree is just reading the terms and conditions of things for three years straight. Is this true, and (because it’s not three years) how many years does a law degree actually take?
No, it’s also interpreting and applying a wide variety of terms and conditions! And we get to do it for a whole four to six years!
What’s the deal with conjoint degrees?
In New Zealand, a Bachelor of Laws is four years, but because of the workload and the limited number of students who go on to their second year, it’s more common for students to combine their degree with another degree (a conjoint degree) and graduate with both in five years.
This is my question to you, based on a lot of questions we received: what advice would you give to year 12/13 students trying to plan out exactly what they’re going to study, specialise, and do post-grad study in?
You don’t actually need to plan your next five years before you go to uni, because once you get there, plenty of people can help you do that. All you need to know are the courses you want to take and what you need to get into them. From personal experience, your studies and desired careers change from your first year. Don’t have a life plan.
Would you recommend taking any specific subjects in high school, and are there any prerequisites?
I’d recommend to just relax about your high school subjects, to be honest. Make sure you get the best marks you can by doing the best you can in NCEA, which means taking subjects that interest you, as there are no specified subjects for law.
How hard is it to make it into second year?
That’s really subjective. It’s obviously more challenging and competitive than high school, but if you make sure that you know what the examiners want by taking good notes in lectures and seeking help from other students, you’ll be fine.
What’s the Socratic Method, and what’s it like?
Rosa: I’ll let you take this one, Jordan, as you attend a much more rigorous and intellectually demanding law school!*
Jordan: The Socratic Method is a teaching style traditionally used at law school and still used in a number of the top law schools in the world, including at Victoria. It’s basically a style of lecturing where there is a dialogue between the lecturer and students, rather than straight lecturing at students. This means that the lecturer will often point at students and ask questions at random. It’s quite the little adrenaline rush, and I personally can’t go for an hour of my international politics paper without getting bored. It keeps you on your toes, which helps you focus. It’s also kind of fun.
*Not actual quote.
Do you have to be comfortable debating and/or public speaking to do law?
Not necessarily. There are a lot of places that a law degree can take you that don’t involve public speaking, but it is helpful to be open to the experience as you will have to do at least some at law school. I really encourage people to try mooting and debating competitions, as they are a really good way of developing that skill and are also fun. Most people are scared of public speaking a little bit, but it gets so much easier the more you do it.
How long should you spend studying?
I think it depends on how well you’ve managed to keep up in lectures. I’d say to keep up to date with the material, at least skim the cases before lectures and know the main points. Creating good notes throughout the year means that you don’t need to cram come exam time, and unfortunately, there’s a bit too much to cram in law. For someone wanting numbers to put into their Google Calendar, I’d say maybe an hour per lecture along with your readings.
What’s the most interesting and boring areas of law?
Oh, wow, that’s tough! I haven’t felt a genuine interest in years. . . it’s highly subjective, and it’s going to depend a lot on your lecturer or tutor.
What are the biggest misconceptions about studying law?
Some law students are actually really nice people!
Do you have to write a lot?
When do you start specialising in areas of law?
Your fourth year.
What’s the best law school?
Jordan: Vic… Auckland.
Is law school competitive?
Once you’re in law school, much less so than everyone thinks. To get into it by passing your first introductory year, yes.
How do you motivate yourself to study, and does it get boring?
Every course gets boring at times. Personally, I motivate myself through competitiveness and by thinking about where succeeding at university could take me (internships, exchanges, honours programmes). Also, I watch a lot of Suits.
What jobs can you get with a law degree?
The obvious ones are becoming a barrister (lawyer in court), solicitor (legal adviser to clients), public policy (government legal stuff); and depending on your conjoint it may also be helpful for business (on the legal and international sides), international relations (diplomacy), and even fields like journalism.
What are the pros and cons of studying law?
Pros: it is a prestigious degree, you have the opportunity to argue with people in an environment in which that is a good thing, the sense of community in law school, and the abundance of opportunities for careers in a range of areas.
Cons: there is a lot of reading and content, and it is hard (and long).
That’s it for law!
Your first year of any degree is going to be daunting, especially one that conjures up as many thoughts of dread, dusty textbooks, and students wearing suits for no reason as law. By learning effective study methods, time management, and exam strategies early, you’ll get the best shot at getting ahead in whatever you want to do.
Make sure you also do your own research, because only you can decide if one of the many careers available from law is for you. Check out the uni website as well as careers.org for more, but don’t stress.
Remember planned happenstance: don’t worry about your life plan; do things that you enjoy in the general direction of where you want to go, and you’ll be sweet. Stay tuned for our next interview.
If you have any other law-related questions, flick us a DM on our instagram @studytimenz and ask for Jordan.
Special shout out to Rosa for her time; follow her on instagram here: @rosa.henderson