Study Skills Series: An Introduction

by Robert Craig, University of Bristol Law School

Picture by Jason Tong

 Welcome to the first in this series of short blogs on how to make the best use of your time as a law student. It aims to cover a number of topics and was originally written for my first year public lawyer students:

The first thing to say is that nothing in this series is prescriptive in the sense that the points made are just suggestions and ideas to think about. They are not gospel, and many students will find other ways of doing things that work for them. It is important that you work out what works for you and not feel compelled to do anything that does not work for you and your way of doing things. You will figure it out.

Law can be deceptive. You see, it looks like English. But it really isn’t English. Our medical cousins have absolutely no hesitation in making clear that there is an entire dictionary of words that newbies need to learn before they can even play the game. Law is the same. Some years ago, there were major moves to make law more ‘accessible’ by removing many Latin terms and replacing words like Plaintiff with Claimant.

This only goes to show that really clever people can do really stupid things. The only effect of these changes was to bolster idiots on Twitter into thinking that they could comment on issues that they simply did not understand. This is because the words looked familiar, even though the meaning of words used in a legal context can be highly specialised and unusual. An amusing example of this was the endless arguments on Twitter about what constituted a relevant “decision” under Article 50 after the referendum. I had a dig at those ‘barrack-room lawyers’ here.

So the first thing you need to realise is that it is going to take you some time to get to grips with this new and interesting language. Let me give you a quick example of what I mean:

“Sales of property by fiduciary to his principal – These authorities show that, when the principal does not seek to rescind the sale or cannot do so because rescission is barred on the grounds of affirmation, laches or bona fide purchase, he will only have a remedy where the fiduciary acquired the property after he entered the fiduciary relationship” pg 303 7th Edition Parker & Mellows The Modern Law of Trusts (emphases added)

This is clearly absolute gibberish to anyone who has not studied law. Each of the words in italics has a specific meaning that will inevitably ping a whole series of neurons in the brain of anyone with a law degree. The idea that this could be made more “accessible” to amateurs just shows that some lawyers forget that they are actually bilingual. They speak English. And they speak Law. Well, if you are starting a law degree, here is the inside skinny: you have some vocab to learn.

This series covers a range of issues that have confronted students over the years and attempts to give you some tips and tricks which you may take or leave at your discretion. It starts by considering how best to prepare for class and a couple of methods to try to help you use your time more efficiently. It then looks at class participation and formative essays. All the posts are linked together – or you can keep coming back to this page to click through to each post.

And don’t worry, soon you will be fully conversant in this brand new strange language…

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