So you want to study law? Well, you’re crazy. Really, turn back now before it’s too late. Abandon hope all ye who enter the legal profession. I mean it, close this page, open up the prospectus and pick another course. Biomedical sciences perhaps? A little bit of archaeology?
You’re still reading? Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you. If you are dead set on studying law (and, heaven forbid, even pursuing a legal career thereafter…) then here are some tips to get you going with your application.
The LNAT is an aptitude test that some universities have adopted to gain a measure of candidate’s critical reasoning. The first thing to do is to check whether your university requires it as part of your application. The second thing to do is to check when registration and testing dates are, and build your schedule around them (hint, 2019 applicants need to get moving with their registrations now!).
With that done, it’s time to get practicing. These tests are designed to test your ‘natural’ ability to reason critically and think analytically, but realistically these are tests that you benefit from practicing – getting used to the format and style of the exam, practicing a particular way of thinking, building confidence and perhaps most importantly, making sure that you’ve mastered the art of timing – there’s nothing once than diligently ploughing through the first five questions in the first hour, and then rushing the last 15 in 20 minutes.
Get some experience
Your tutors and all the personal statement gurus will stress the importance of getting work experience; testing your aptitude and suitability for the area, and showing enthusiasm and commitment to the field. Certainly, if you are able to secure a place in a solicitor’s office or a chambers, that’s brilliant. However, your work experience is only as valuable as you make it – if you only end up making cups of tea for everybody, and can’t find a way to ‘spin it’ into something more glamorous on your personal statement, then the value of the placement is negligible.
Moreover, getting a placement generally requires you to have contacts, and that can be tricky. Universities are increasingly cautious about rewarding privilege, so getting a placement is by no means a deal-breaker. But with a little creativity you can gain all the benefits from other sources. Why not visit your local magistrates courts in order to observe the justice process in action? Alternatively, go to your local Citizen’s Advice bureau and see of they are in need of volunteers. Another option is to engage in your own legal research and write a legal paper to contribute to an online resource.
A final key area is debate club. If your school doesn’t have one – organise one – it’s a way of showing even more initiative and drive, which universities love. Debate clubs are key for sharpening your analytical skills, logical reasoning and speed of thought – as well as teaching you to temper passion and emotion with intellectual clarity.
The most important thing with any experience you do gain is how you frame it on your personal statement – extract the key skills you used, or demonstrate your analytical capabilities by discussing a key insight you gained whilst on the job. If you’re not sure about how to extract the best value from your experiences, contact us at Oxbridge Personal Statements, where we’re perfectly placed to make the most of all your hard work and set you apart from other candidates.
Know what the law is – and what it isn’t
Your personal statement needs to demonstrate that you are genuinely interested in the law. And people who are genuinely interested in things don’t just go around posting facebook statuses saying how ‘interested’ they are in something – they spend their time getting their hands on everything they can to learn more (and then they probably post about it on facebook anyway).
At least getting to grips with the basics is important – especially if you’re applying to Oxford or Cambridge, where you’ll have to talk at some length with people who really know their stuff. Make sure you’re clear on the structure of the law courts, the division between criminal, civil and administrative law, the differences between civil and common law systems, and the role of case law and statutes. Especially in relation to these last two – get your hands on some and plough through them. The average landmark judgement runs to 40 pages – nobody loves the sound of their own pen on paper as much as a judge. At university, you’ll be expected to read as many of 40 of these cases a week and discern the precedent (that means ‘the legally important lesson that can be generalised from the case’). You’ll also need to know key extracts from statutes off by heart, so it can’t hurt to have a look at a couple of statutes and see just how convoluted and jargon filled they really are.
If you can’t hack reading just one of these mind-numbingly boring cases or catastrophically confounding statutes, you’ll have no hope over the next three years. Really, it’s important at this stage to recognise that both studying and practicing law really isn’t that glamourous – if you’re thinking Ally McBeal you’re well off the mark (OK, I’m showing my age there, maybe ‘Suits’ is a more er, suitable reference). Indeed, a key idea to promote in your personal statement is not that you’re set on a career in the field, but that you have a genuine intellectual curiosity for issues of law and jurisprudence (that’s the philosophy of law).
Indeed, once you’ve had fun with a bit of case law, why not try a couple of the philosophers to get you going; Hart, Rawls, Dworkin, Raz and Bentham are all key legal philosophers and any grip you can get on their ideas will put you ahead of the game in your personal statement and interviews. In your personal statement, you don’t need to name drop every case you’ve read or philosopher you’ve engaged with – but showing a strong base of knowledge is a key way to show that you’re engaged, driven, enthusiastic, intelligent and capable – and those are the keys to application success.
It may seem like I’ve been unduly harsh in my assessment of what is needed to get going with your application for law – the fact is, it’s a tough and competitive field and the drop out rates both a university and within the profession are high. That said, it’s incredibly intellectually stimulating, rewarding and – let’s face it – pretty lucrative too. You just have to be sure you’re made of the right stuff, and it’s better to find that out now than before you commit three years and £27,000 to the cause.