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For those who will be entering your first year of university in just a little under a month, here are some of the things you can do to prepare for it.
First year doesn’t count?
Though your grades in the first year of university may not technically count towards your final degree, I personally encourage first-year students to do their best to understand the materials and explore what learning methods fit them the most. It took me a while to get used to the volume of readings and legal research. If you have time, I'd encourage you to take a LexisNexis or Westlaw course so you can get the most out of those websites. For those of you who are unfamiliar with LexisNexis or Westlaw, these are databases that contain almost all case reports, journals and other legal materials that you'll need throughout your law degree.
For each module, go through the marking schemes and try to get as much feedback as possible for your essay attempts throughout the year so that you'll have an understanding of what is required for you to do well in exams. If you're thinking of applying to vacation schemes in your second-year or even training contract, most of the law firms that I've researched require a minimum overall 2:1 grade. I also heard from current trainees that law firms do look at first-year results (although they would take any mitigating circumstances into consideration).
Should you prepare ahead of time?
Personally, I think the best way to prepare for the first year of a law degree is to just get to know your coursemates. You could arrange for meetups with them ahead of freshers week to get to know each other and find someone with similar interests as you!
Before starting my first year, I was worried that I might have difficulties understanding the materials since I didn't have any legal knowledge or foundation as I did science subjects pre-university. However, after finishing the first year, I don't think my lack of legal foundation affected my ability to understand the materials though I personally think if I'd done more essay-based subjects in pre-university, my ability to critically analyse the materials would've been better. Additionally, my course materials were released a week before the academic term started so I didn't do many law-related readings over the summer. Nevertheless, if you're interested in picking up something to read before university starts, you could check out Letters to a Law Student by Nicholas J. McBride and The Rule of Law by Tom Bingham (I used this in my first-year final exam essay!).
There's more on kickstarting your legal career with this Feature: 'A first-year student's guide to opportunities in law'.
Should you start thinking about your future career?
Perhaps you have been dreaming of becoming a solicitor/barrister even before entering university. Or like I was, you're not sure about what you're going to do with a law degree. You could start thinking about your career but I'd encourage you to consider what you're interested in. For example, you might be interested in motorsport racing or fashion. You could do a quick Google search to read about what's going on in your area of interest. Start thinking about if you're a business owner in that industry, how the news would impact your business. If you have a subscription to the Financial Times, you could also read about commentaries on how the industry is affected by the wider market phenomenon or current affairs.
You don’t have to worry about not knowing every single technical term used in the articles but your knowledge will slowly build up over time if you start keeping up with news consistently. Following this, you could start looking for work experience in your area of interest. In this way, you'd be able to articulate why you're interested in this area of work if you start applying for first-year schemes in the legal industry or outside of the legal industry.
First-year schemes and open days
I applied to a few first-year schemes in my first year and attended a few open days as well. These gave me an opportunity to explore the different practice areas in commercial law and find out whether commercial law is really for me. I also got to familiarise myself with law firms' application process by going through the application cycle in my first year. It allowed me to identify my strengths and weaknesses (eg, Watson Glaser test) in preparation for vacation scheme applications.
For incoming first-year students who might be interested in commercial law, there are various virtual law fairs for students to meet law firms' representatives as well as presentations by them on a particular topic. I attended a few of these virtual law fairs to gain first-hand insights into commercial law and started narrowing down my areas of interest as well as determining which firms I might want to apply to. I also spent my summer researching the different law firms, their cultures and values.
What I wish someone would've told me before I started university
Prepare to get sick. I had freshers' flu, covid-19 or just flu at least once in three months so do take precautions! I couldn't get out of bed for a week because of freshers' flu. Prepare plenty of paracetamol, lemsips and Vicks VapoRub just in case!
Do reach out to your seniors or peer mentors for help. I was apprehensive in the beginning just out of fear of rejection but most of the time, people were more than happy to have a chat! When I was applying to first-year schemes, I often reached out to future trainee solicitors or trainees working at the firms on LinkedIn or Aspiring Solicitors to ask about their experience with the firms.
Do join a community where you can connect with other students who might be on the same journey as you. I joined Aspiring Solicitors in my first year of university which helped me SO MUCH in terms of understanding law firms' application process, resources to improve myself as well as having a growth mindset to deal with rejections constructively. There are a few organisations that provide amazing opportunities to aspiring solicitors of diverse backgrounds such as SEOLondon, Rare Recruitment, Aspiring Solicitors, GROW Mentoring and more! For aspiring barristers, BridgingTheBar provides training sessions, mini-pupillage and mentoring opportunities for their candidates.
Find a full list of diversity access schemes here on LawCareers.Net.
Lastly, I often get caught up in other people's successes and get impatient with my own progress. So, to all the first-years who are still trying to figure out new friendships, your career journey and going into a new environment, focus on your own journey!
I hope this post will help you in some ways in preparing yourself physically and mentally for your first year of university!