Legally Ranting

Renewed Vigour

Posted in Law School by legalrants on December 11, 2010

This semester’s results were just released. Thank goodness, I fared significantly better than last semester — I guess in some way, this is really important in renewing my vigour for the remaining 4 semesters. Reflecting back on this semester’s efforts, I realised that I had totally revamped my studying methods, though there is probably more to improve on. Here are some tips to any law school newbies on how you might want to approach studying law:

1) Daily revision — I cannot overstate the importance of this. It is vitally imperative that you refresh your memory on what was taught in the day’s lessons as soon as you get home, or whenever you can. Reflect on what the lecturer(s) had emphasised, the important cases and to extract the main legal principle from each of those cases.

2) Building upon the previous point — I find that sometimes I get too bogged down on the minute details of a case and miss the larger picture. It is infinitely more important to see the “big picture” than to endeavour to arm yourself with all the little nitty gritty facts.

3) Of course, once you are able to see the “big picture”, go on to know (as opposed to memorise) the facts of the case. This is particularly useful if you need to draw analogies to issues in the exams. Sometimes, by cogently and persuasively comparing (or contrasting) the facts of the exam problem to a known case, you save yourself alot of uncertainty. But nevertheless, beware of falling into the trap of conveniently classifying the issues into known categories of cases — examiners often want to see that you are able to be innovative and flexible as well.

4) Don’t read ALL the cases — of course if you can, that would be fabulous. But often, nobody has the time to do that. With cases stretching into hundreds of pages, and each judge giving their own individual judgement, it is often difficult to extract a clear ratio from the case — if you have time, you can dissect each judge’s judgement, if not, just know the “big picture” and extract the main legal principle from the majority judgement.

5) Do not ignore dissenting judgements and obiter dictas. Knowing what the dissenting judges said and other obiters are often very useful in “analysis” type questions because they provide an alternative view which are often motivated by some very practical or persuasive legal concerns. Examiners would be impressed if you can state that Justice XXX disagreed with the majority for the following reasons…..or observe that a seemingly harmless obiter in a majority judgement may have (or indeed had) riveting effects in future cases.

6) Make associations between cases and legal principles. Often, we are thrown huge chunks of facts, theory and legal principles that it is very hard to make sense of it all, or to understand how everything fits in (this is part of the “big picture” concept). I find that the most difficult, or at least tedious aspect of revision is to find a connections and associations between all the cases, principles and facts that were taught to us. This also requires that you know the cases very well. Therefore, it may very well be that you are able to make these connections ONLY towards the end of the course. One subject that immediately comes to mind is Contracts (I hear a few sighs…)

7) Know your strengths and weaknesses and try to find an optimal balance. For example, I know that I often have trouble concentrating in class — sometimes, I get distracted by external things, sometimes, I get so hung up on a legal principle that I lose track of what is going on after that. I decided to bring a recorder into class to record all my lectures and seminars so that I can review them after class. This was working well for a while, then I realised that I was spending too much time attending the lectures/seminars and then reviewing them once again. I finally made an executive decision to bring my laptop to class and take down notes while still recording the lesson. In this way, I jot down the important points in class, and only rely on the recording to review the important material, or the areas which I am unclear about. Along the way, I found that actively jotting down notes in class trained my on-the-spot critical thinking ability and I found that I was less confused and more immersed in the lesson. Bottom line is — find a way that works well for you, it may involve trying different methods, but you’ll get there eventually.

8 ) This is related to exams and assignments — write as much substance as you can without looking like you are talking rubbish. Substance is what gains you marks. It is not enough to just give ONE opinion. Try to offer different perspectives and views and alternative arguements. This makes examiners very happy.

8) Lastly, always come prepared to class. While this may save you some embarrasement when being called upon, it trains your personal discipline and more importantly, enables you to absorb much better and faster in the class. However, I’m often guilty of not preparing for class for various reasons, usually laziness — this is what I endeavour to strive for in upcoming semesters.

This is a snapshot of my reflections over the past semester. Law school certainly has a steep learning curve, I just wished I had developed more of these habits in my undergrad years.

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