A Short Guide to Studying Law at York

It can seem daunting when one first starts an undergraduate degree and being exposed to the multifaceted nature of studying at university. Not only are you having to familiarise yourself with the campus and the city of York, you are also attempting to make new friends, enjoy an active social life and adjust to independent living, not to mention learning the academic conventions of university level learning, which differs from the way FE courses are conducted.

 

 

In FE sixth forms or colleges, you would have been accustomed to one style of learning: in a small classroom with one teacher. Degree level learning will present you with a variety of learning styles, which will include lectures, seminars and PBL sessions which will be conducted by a wide range of academic teaching staff. Lectures typically include a large number of students and offers some student participation in the form of questions and answers. As lectures offer entry points into a topic, effective note taking is integral to succeeding on your course. Good note taking is an art form, and clear, relevant notes of orally delivered information will supplement written information on lecture slides. Although lecture sizes are large, don't hesitate to speak to your lecturers personally as they are more than happy to give guidance on assessments and course content.

 

Whereas FE course content is compulsory and regulated by exam boards, degrees are personal and can be tailored to your individual interests. Course content will not be spoon-fed and often lecture attendance will not be monitored, therefore it is your prerogative to be self-motivated and conduct self-directed study by reading from a variety of sources rather than one or two exam board issued textbooks. Therefore, time management is crucial- it is a good idea to plan out your week in advance and allocate space for leisure time. Part of the ethos of University level study is encouraging the development of free-thinkers and critical analysis. Ergo, in order to study effectively on a law degree, further reading of textbooks, case notes, case judgements and statutes are essential to compliment your lecture notes and broaden discussion in seminars and PBL, and ultimately, your understanding in a topic. UG study is not centred on the regurgitation of facts, but rather informed and original responses.

 

Not only will you be assessed via essays and exams, you will also be expected to perform oral presentations such as debating and mooting. The ability to communicate effectively and structure your arguments in a logical and succinct manner is an essential skill for the aspiring lawyer, whether written or verbal. In order to develop your skills for these assessments, it is advisable to join societies such as the debating society and the mooting society and practice giving presentations. It is recommended to read Finch and Fafinsky’s Legal Skills[1] for comprehensive guides on oral and written skills along with legal study skills and note taking techniques. Reading pages and pages of case judgements with dense, complex, and often at times seemingly incomprehensible archaic language will make studying law more of a challenge at times. As legal jargon entails many French and Latinate terms that may be unfamiliar to you initially, it is helpful to keep a glossary of such terms on hand. It will inevitably take some time to adjust to this new way of working due to the inherently challenging nature of law degrees in general- however, your study skills will improve over the duration of the course by structuring you time, coming prepared for lectures and seminars, and most importantly, by keeping on top of your required reading.

 

A significant amount of your learning will happen through the PBL process. This begins as a group task, where you will identify your weekly learning outcomes, and is followed by independent research. The purpose of the independent research is to find answers to the questions identified by the group. Conducting independent research for PBL can feel sisyphean at first, but do not be discouraged. Rather than beginning your research with Google - as many of you undoubtedly will - start by reading the relevant section in the block guide. Follow this with a textbook. If the learning outcome is a normative question, read journal articles. Journal articles can be accessed through Westlaw or LexisNexis. Lexis PSL - accessed through LexisNexis - provides easy to follow practical guidance and is especially useful for questions about procedural requirements. Once you have completed your research, it is advisable to organise the gathered information so that it is easily retrievable. By doing so, you can use the information to revise for exams later in the year.

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If you find it difficult to adjust to independent study - many of us do - or feel that there is a specific area in which you would benefit from a little extra guidance, there is lots of help available. The law school is a great place to start. Speak to your peers - it may be something with which they could help you - and speak with the teaching staff. You will regularly see staff around the law school; do not be afraid to ask them questions. If you would prefer to speak with a member of staff privately, the teaching staff have office hours once per week when you can arrange to have a one-to-one chat. Email the member of staff to find out their office hours and request to meet them.

 

The library also provides support to develop your academic skills. Law has its own dedicated Academic Liaison Librarian. They can help you to find, manage and evaluate information resources, and can also talk to you about relevant IT tools including support for managing your references. Furthermore, the library’s Learning Enhancement Team provides help and support with core academic integrity skills. They also offer specialist writing support, including one-to-one appointments. To find out how to access support through the library, visit the library website.

 

Finally, it is normal to feel overwhelmed when one starts university. If you do, do not be disheartened. Persevere and you will adapt, develop, and succeed.

 

[1] Emily Finch and Stefan Fafinski, Legal Skills (6th edn, Oxford University Press 2017)

 

[2] University of York. (2015, March 9). Problem Based Learning - York Law School. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=79&v=CrZ6O2Pu9No