Mark's Blog

The Law Diet – 5 Tips For Boosting Brain Power During Revision

During exam and revision time I needed all the brain power I could get.

A single mark could make the difference between a good grade and an ok grade.

So before my exams I had a look at a few ways that I could boost my brain power. I don’t know which of these tips had the biggest impact, but I felt focused, thought I was working efficiently, and I remembered case names much easier than before.

I don’t want to claim that they these methods will 100% work, or that something I mention is completely scientifically proven. All I can say is this; it seemed to work for me. These tips should work for any sort of revision or exam preparation. I believe they are especially important for law students with such a massive quantity of information to remember.

1. Caffeine / Liquids

law students love coffeeWe all know that coffee helps keep you awake. It binds to certain receptors in the brain preventing neural activity slowing down. This is why we feel more awake when drinking coffee. It also increases dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine can play a role in many brain functions such as cognition, memory and learning.

There have also been studies which suggest caffeine can directly increase short term memory [source]. So a cup of coffee before revision can really help increase alertness – especially if you’re feeling tired. Don’t overdo it though. Drinking so much that you can’t sleep isn’t going to be beneficial!

I nearly always had a coffee before revision, a lecture, or exam. In a way I got used to learning when I was drinking coffee. This was great when I was feeling unproductive – a cup really kick started my revision.

But you must stay hydrated – not just on coffee! Even when you lose 2% of normal water volume the impact is noticeable – you get sleepy, headaches, and lose the ability to concentrate. But it makes sense to always be well hydrated so you’re always performing at an optimal rate. Don’t even get close to the stage when you’re starting to lose concentration.

I suffer from a horrible illness I like to call hangover brain. Essentially it means when I’m hungover I can barely master a belt, let alone the finer points of the Trustee Act. So keep your alcohol intake to a minimum the night before your revision & exams.

Unfortunately the The Buffalo Theory just isn’t true. The Buffalo Theory states that a herd can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. When the herd is hunted the slowest buffalo at the back are killed. This means the herd speed is improved overall by the predator killing the weakest & slowest buffalo. Likewise alcohol first kills the weakest & slowest brain cells, therefore improving the overall speed & efficiency of the brain. I would love to use this theory as justification for having a drink! Unfortunately it’s little more than a joke.

2. Multi Vitamins

not a real vitamin pill!Being a student you’re probably not going to have the best diet. Come exam time you’ll have even less time to eat and nutrition will get pushed down your list of priorities even further.

I frequently got cheap take away food on the way home from the law library just because it would save time. Cooking just took too long! Hopefully you’re a much more efficient cook that me but if you’re not there’s something you can do.

Be on the lookout for multi vitamin tablets which can help provide the body with the nutrients it needs while your diet isn’t that great. You don’t want to starve your brain of any key nutrients. They’re not too expensive. You should be able to pick some up from your pharmacy for around £6. But remember that they will never be as good as eating a proper balanced diet.

3. Brain Foods

The following foods should have some positive impact on your brain. These foods may also help reduce the chance of Alzheimer’s disease too:

  • Blueberries – Research suggests they can help improve short term memory loss. They can also help boost concentration for up to 5 hours.
  • Spinach – Spinach contains vitamin K which is thought to protect brain function. And it’s again a food which some studies suggest can improve memory and learning abilities.
  • Salmon – Salmon and other fatty fish are rich in Omega3 fatty acids which are one of the building blocks of brain tissue. In addition it can also boost your mood. A tasty way to beat the depression blues.
  • Chocolate – Dark chocolate contains flavonoids which is linked to brain health; especially memory storage. Apples, sprouts and strawberries also contain flavonoids.

4. Sleep & Rest

We all reach stage where we can’t learn any more and need a break. Try to take a break at least once an hour for 5-10 mins. Do something different. This will keep you refreshed and ready to constantly absorb new information. Research states that we’re better at remembering incomplete tasks or topics. Humans don’t like unfinished tasks so our brain lingers on the unfinished topic more than a finished one. So even if you feel slightly uncomfortable taking a break half way through reading a case, it could actually be beneficial. [Source]

Take a break from this article with a game of Pacman and see if you find it any easier to recall what’s been said so far! (Sorry I just wanted an excuse to put a game on the site!)

Sleep plays major role in our learning process. A good night’s sleep will provide optimal conditions for learning and remembering. You’re going to be doing more harm than good by having 4 hours sleep a night so you can revise more. You’re pretty much useless when sleep deprived. Try and get at least 7-8 hours.

Acquisition, consolidation and recall are the major steps in learning. Research states that consolidation may be done during sleep; it strengthens the neural connections that help memory. [Source] From personal experience I’d agree with this. So many times I remember being useless at remembering a certain case, but then after sleep I had no problem recalling it.  The bottom line is that adequate sleep is important for learning and memory. So get enough.

5. Exercise

heatrateExercise boosts metabolism, decreases stress and improves mood and attention. It also helps increase circulation throughout the body; that includes the brain too.

This will be especially beneficial if you’re a mature student of 30+. Different parts of the brain age faster than others resulting in blood flow being decreased. By doing exercise you can counter this.

There are more immediate advantages that come about after exercise too. Lots of tests have been done that show after a brisk walk, or exercise on a treadmill, the brain is able to recall information faster. So walk to your exams if you can. Or get there early and take a walk around campus. It will help you burn off some of that nervous energy & stress too. This should put you in the optimal state of mind to sit the exam.

You should be exercising, eating well, staying well hydrated and getting enough sleep anyway. But make sure you pay particular attention to this during exam period. It will do wonders not only for the health of your brain, but also for your state of mind. If you can keep this routine up in your day to day life then it should help you stay sharp and alert with pretty much everything you do.

Answering Problem & Essay Questions [Study Tips 3/3]

law examThe final part of our study tips series. Read part one on writing good lecture notes here, and part two on seminar prep here. This post will focus on writing great answers for essays and exams.

Even if your knowledge of a legal area is amazing, it’s no use unless you have great exam technique. It’s like a boxer training his body for a fight without practising his punching technique. Exam practice is as important (if not more important) as case revision.

Problem questions

Problem questions are all about logically providing an answer to the scenario you’re presented with.

Yes it’s generic advice; but you need to make a rough plan. It doesn’t need to be massively detailed at all; a series of bullet points will do, but you need to get down all of the key points.

Your planning time is also your thinking time. Personally I found it very hard to think further about the question while I was writing. I was concentrating on the current legal point in hand. Not the question as a whole. If you miss an important detail during the planning stage then you could be setting yourself up for a poor answer. Only once you’re sure you’ve got all the key facts down, should you start writing.

When you’re actually writing you need to keep in mind that you’re arguing a certain point. So when you’re writing about a certain point of law (that you outlined in your plan) you need to set it out in a logical and persuasive way:

  1. Briefly introduce the point of law and say why it’s relevant to the question.
  2. State your argument.
  3. Provide evidence for your argument. Legislation and case law are good examples of this.
  4. Conclude and strongly link back to the problem question.

You will need to repeat this structure for every single legal element that you believe is relevant to the question. In your final conclusion (based on what you write on your number 4 conclusion) make it clear where you believe the liabilities / obligations (depending on question) lie. If you don’t have enough information, or the case isn’t clear cut then say so!

Look out for chances to show your analysis and attention to detail skills. While showing this isn’t a key priority it’s something that can can either make a very good answer nearly perfect, or at least get you one or two extra marks. Sometimes this is hard to do when you’re just looking at the key facts and concentrating about getting the main principles correct. However if you pick up on something that most people don’t then it really demonstrates your sharp legal mind to the examiner!

Here’s a very simple example of the sort of analysis I’m talking about: During a contract exam there’s a question about the validity of a contract through an advert in a newspaper. The newspaper advert said that the first acceptance of the offer received in writing would get the goods. The question mentions one of the individuals accepting the offer did so by email. Would this acceptance constitute writing? Is an email really writing? The great thing about bringing this point up is that it can be explained in one or two sentences, and doesn’t even need to reach a definitive conclusion. Just bringing it up as a point of interest, or an extra consideration, will be beneficial.

Essay questions

It’s a little harder to give advice for essay questions. With problem questions you just start applying the law, but with essay questions you really need to think philosophically about a question. Spending too much time preparing for problem questions before the exam, and not spending any time on essay questions can be a big problem. You’re going to be severely limited if you think “I’m only going to answer problem questions”. Depending on institution you may be required to answer essay questions.

Personally I think that writing a good essay is more dependant on thinking about a certain area before an exam, rather than your actual technique. It’s so beneficial to think about and form your own opinions on a certain topic before the exam. But you still need to make a detailed plan. For me the amount of thinking time was much longer than for the problem questions. Even though essay questions are usually much shorter, you should re read them several times. It’s easy to go off on your own personal rant and not actually answer the question. Not answering the question, or only partially doing so, will massively decrease you chances of getting a great mark in the exam.

When planning an essay I usually followed this structure:

  • A very clear introduction. State what you are going to argue, and if appropriate give the core details of your argument. E.g “… I believe this to be the case because of the following key reasons [reason1], [reason2], [reason3], [reason 4].
  • The body of the essay. This will be broken down into smaller sections and will make up the bulk of your argument. Each paragraph should be a premise in your argument. You should use a similar structure to the problem question above:
    1. Introduce the law / premise of argument and say how it relates to the question in hand.
    2. Go into detail about your argument and provide evidence as you go along, this evidence could be legislation, case law, or a judge / academic. Remember to create a balanced argument and look at problems with what you’re saying. E.g “It could be argued that [point 1] has the following fault with it, however I believe the following counter argument can be applied...”
    3. Conclude this part of your argument.
  • You may need to provide a mini paragraph which glue two of your previous conclusions together. It may not be immediately obvious that two of your points are very closely connected. One or two sentences can avoid confusion and make your essay much easier to read.
  • My conclusions were usually longer than they were in problem questions. I really analysed all of my conclusions for each premise to provide a strong basis for my conclusion. I found that planning the conclusion was beneficial. I (briefly) wrote down my premises with the conclusion below so I could review my argument and make sure it was as logical as possible. Here’s a simple example of what I’m talking about:
  • P1– Law A creates inconsistent judgements
  • P2 – Law A doesn’t promote fairness.
  • Conclusion – Lack of fairness and inconsistent judgements mean that law A needs substantial improvements.So as you can see, you really need to tie everything together in your conclusion. So mention all of the points you brought up in the body of your article, and for clarity state how they support your conclusion.

Hope this helps the way you approach exams. This is just the way I do things, and it worked out well. Numerous methods are valid though. The best advice I can give is just to do as many practice questions as you can. Look at lots of past exam papers, make sure you look at your university marking schemes and criteria too. Give the examiners exactly what they’re looking for.

Mark Jackson

Preparing for your Law Tutorials [Study Tips 2/3]

This is part 2 of 3 in our study tips series. If you’ve not had chance, go and read part 1 about making good notes – it links in strongly with this post!

Some of this is probably common sense, but it’s surprising how many people go into seminars with zero / very little preparation. For me it was all about consistency. As you read in part 1, I liked to type up my notes from lectures. This actually is a great way to prepare for your seminar. You’re reminding yourself about the basics of the legal area, and you’re preparing yourself for the required seminar reading. This means that hopefully the required reading will be absorbed much faster and easier.

Let’s be honest. 90% of you aren’t going to do all of the required reading. But I don’t actually think it’s necessary to do all of it. It gets to the stage where it’s an information overload. You can’t possibly remember everything; further detail could add to confusion. For me the understanding of the subject was key at this stage, memorising exact details won’t help too much. When it gets to revision time you will probably have forgotten these specifics anyway. But if you understand the fundamentals of a legal area you can easily add on the complex details later. And these fundamentals should stay with you. If they don’t then a quick look at your notes should refresh you.

So I focused on comprehension and general understanding rather than trying to remember flashy details which will impress the seminar teacher.

What you should do is write down some questions to ask in the seminar. It’s not realistic that you’ll understand 100% of an entire subject area. There are always going to areas you’re a little hazy on. Others in your group may have the same question too.

To get the most out of seminars you should use them to perfect your exam technique. You’ll usually be asked to write answers to a set of problem / essay questions. Do this! But don’t put too much time into trying to make it perfect. Do it like you would in an exam and don’t get help from friends. Making mistakes is the best way to learn and improve. So if you try and write a perfect answer, and then compare it to your friends, then go and make more improvements you’re not learning as much. What you had written yourself could have been correct too. Emulation of exam conditions when writing your seminar questions is going to be the most beneficial way to go about things by far.

So when preparing for seminars it can actually be counter productive to do too much. You don’t need to pull out all the stops trying to impress your seminar teacher and classmates. But it’s a good idea to keep keep the end goal in your mind – doing the exams. Getting your time management right at university is hard. So don’t work harder, work smarter.

I should mention that these tips are just what have worked for me – not everyone learns in the same way. I usually hit a wall during revision and preperation where I could learn no more. I also found that with enough time and effort I could write very good problem question answers. It was completely different when time was limited.

There is one more thing that actually made a difference in my attitude towards seminars – you’re paying for it. You’re helping to pay the wages of the seminar teachers. You’re kind of like their boss! It’s their job to make you understand what you need to know in order to get a good grade. It’s an obvious statement but the more I thought about it the more I tried to get out of seminars. Just imagine yourself handing over a £20 as an entry fee whenever your go into a seminar! It will make a world of difference.

Read the final part in the series – answer writing.

Writing Great Law Lecture Notes [Study Tips 1/3]

This will be a mini 3 part blog series on study tips.

Essentially it’s what I wished I’d done sooner at university.

This part will be on writing great lecture notes, the next will be on seminar preperation, and the last will be on answer structure. It’s the stuff that’s worked for me in the past, hopefully it will work for you too.

When I first started at uni I made the worst law notes ever. They started out OK; each subject had its own notebook, I wrote down some important quotes by the lecturers, you could actually read what was written… it all went downhill from there. When my notes started looking like a page of spiders who had been drowned in a coffee flood I knew it was time for a change.

My notes weren’t bad when I first started out – they just lacked structure. I just wrote down anything I thought was important. Unfortunately this leaves you with a page of unconnected phrases. When you come to read them back later they’re useless.

You need to have some sort of plan & structure in mind or your notes will be as beneficial as a breakfast of gin and cough syrup before an exam.

Organisation

You need everything to be nice and organised. One notebook for each subject – just having a general notebook will make finding a certain lecture incredibly hard.

You should also be nice and clear with labelling. At the start of each lecture write down the date and the topic which will be covered.

If you can write information down quickly, accurately and neatly then great. If not then it may be a good idea to type up your notes later (and even if you are neat it’s still a good idea). Make sure you type them up ASAP while you still understand and remember what was said. You should be going over what’s been said in a seminar anyway – typing up notes can be a great way of doing this. It can help you remember and learn the facts law.

You can even do a little bit of extra reading to flesh out your notes. This will earn you a high five from your future self who is about to start exam revision.

Try and explain the concepts in as much detail as possible, but still keep it simple. This will stop you from having to completely relearn a subject.

What should the structure of the notes be like?

As stated above notes should’t just be a jumble of words. Whatever you write down, you should know where it fits into the legal area by looking at your notes. Having good headings will help you out but in your margin you should write keywords. These keywords will help you when reading the notes back later. Let’s say for example you’re at a contract lecture about consideration. Consideration would be your heading, but when you were talking about past consideration you could put that in the margin. So use the margin to pinpoint the legal area.

A crucial skill is being able to tell the important material apart from the waffle. A lecturer may drop a strong hint about what’s in the exam or they may summarise a legal area really well. It’s essential you write these bits down. But they may also tell you a story from when they were in practice, or mention points which although could be interesting, won’t come up in an exam.

You don’t need to write everything down, nor should you. Get the essence of what is said. The lecture should have at least some structure to it, so just follow the structure and paraphrase. Imagine you’re explaining it to your later self. You can’t just write down several words to explain a topic and think “Oh I’ll know what I mean; it’s simple”. With all the law crammed into your brain it’s not always that easy. Think long term!

Using technology

Using a recording device or your laptop in lectures could also be a great idea. If you’ve got a good recording device it’s a very attractive option. I mean… you don’t need to do any writing! What more do I need to say? However I did find writing stuff down actually helped me learn it and process it as the lecture continued. Not using a recoding devices also forces you to pay attention. It’s easy to get an attitude of “oh well the recorder will get everything so I’ll just look out of the window and think about Batman”.

If your typing speed is decent then writing your notes on a laptop is a really good idea. Typing can potentially be much faster than writing, so you can write a little bit more of what’s said. You can go back and correct typos / add more detail later. This also means you save time when coming to type up your notes – most of the work is done already!

Note taking can be done so in so many way. The above is just one example of a method that could work for you.

What’s your note taking process like? Tell us!

Part 2 on seminar preperation.

Part 3 on answer writing.

How Many Hours Will I Need to Put Into Studying Law Each Week? [Quiz]

Just how much time will you need to dedicate to your legal studies? Take our quiz for a rough (and not at all accurate!) guide for the work load during a law degree.

  • 1. Do you pay attention in lectures?
    5 questions remaining.
  • 2. How good are you at reading and understanding text?
    4 questions remaining.
  • 3. Which of these best describes you in tutorials?
    3 questions remaining.
  • 4. How good are your notes?
    2 questions remaining.
  • 5. A good memory is important while studying law. What time was the clock showing on the image on the previous pages?
    1 questions remaining.
  • 6. How much do you procrastinate?
    Final Question!

Chances of Obtaining a Training Contract [Quiz]

changes of getting a training contract

The percentage of students with training contracts is pretty low right now. So a quick, fun and not at all accurate quiz showing your changes of getting a training contract is just what we need! See what your chances are & share with others! Just answer these seven simple questions…

  • 1. How good are your academics?
    6 questions remaining.
  • 2. Hypothetical situation; you get the training contract and are happily working at your desk. You look up and see a bear entering the office. What do you do?
    5 questions remaining.
  • 3. How do you act at assessment days?
    4 questions remaining.
  • 4. Do you look good in a suit?
    3 questions remaining.
  • 5. Do you have any good connections?
    2 questions remaining.
  • 6. What's your legal work experience like?
    1 questions remaining.
  • 7. How persistent are you?
    Final Question!

Made by StudyingLaw.co.uk

More quizzes:

How many hours do I need to study each week?

Google Alerts; An Untapped Method for Finding Training Contract Vacancies

I’ve mentioned how useful Google Alerts is before but I want to go into a little bit more detail and explain how exactly it can be used to find new training contract vacancies. You can also use it to find vacation scheme vacancies, get notified about the latest news from a particular firm or find other legal opportunities in your local area. It’s really easy to set up and so underused.

Essentially you will get an email when when Google detects new content about a pre defined topic. But you can use a load of search parameters so you can get some really specific results emailed right to you. Let’s see how.

Using alerts

As I said, it’s very simple to set up. But lets go through it anyway. First go to Google Alerts, you should be greeted by the following page:

In the search query box you will type what you want to be notified about. This will be explained in detail below. In the result type box you can specify the sort of content that you want to receive.  For example news, blogs, web pages, discussions (forums), we recommend keeping it set as “everything”.

Next you can specify how often you are notified. This is completely up to you. Once a day is a good amount – if your search query is very broad this will stop you getting a flood of updates in your inbox throughout the day.

After that you may specify the quality of the results. Since the typical firm will have a high quality websites you can leave it at “Only the best results”. But if you want to make sure no opportunities slip through the cracks then you can set it to “All results”.

“Email” is self explanatory, if you’re signed in with Gmail your address will already be filled. Now click on “Create Alert” and you’re done. Alerts will take you to a page where you can view & edit all of your current Alerts.

Don’t worry if you’re not receiving alerts straight away. If your search terms are narrow then you might only receive one alert per month.

Finding training contract vacancies as soon as they become available

As we all know finding a training contract can be some what of a numbers game. We need to keep applying until we’re successful. The great thing about being notified is that it should be a new opening, and therefore there shouldn’t be as many people applying. This statistically increases your chances of getting a placement.

So what do we need to put in the search query box?

Obviously we need to start with “Training Contract” but we need to get more specific than that. Take a look at the following search query:

“training contract” “london” -jobs

This should find all new training contract vacancies in London. I included “-jobs” so it so you don’t get job websites or recruitment agencies. The term “jobs” doesn’t usually occur on law firm recruitment pages. Not all of the alerts you get will be for new vacancies, but if you find you’re continuously getting alerts from an irrelevant site you can edit the search term and add “-the site you don’t want included” to the end.  You can obviously chance “London” to suit your location. You can further tweak the search parameter by adding “commercial” or “family” in front of the current query to increase the relevance of the alerts.

Other uses

If you want to find out about new vacation schemes in Birmingham try this:

“vacation scheme” “birmingham” -jobs

Or for a new paralegal role at a firm in Manchester the following would be suitable:

paralegal vacancy “manchester” -jobs

If you have an interview coming up, and know quite a while in advance, it may be a good idea to keep tabs on the firm. Use this simple search term:

“Firm Name”

Remember to get all the variations in there like Firm Name LLP or Abbreviated Firm Name. This way if the firm releases some important news or information before your interview, you’re sure to know. Note – If you’re already working at a firm this is a great way to keep track of your competitors.

If you want to know about all vacancies then remove “-jobs”. This will give you results from jobs websites & recruitment agencies.

Just add the relevant terms to Alerts. You need to create a new alert for every new search query you want to be notified of. Then you just need to play the waiting game.

You can also use the above terms in a normal Google search when looking for pre existing opportunities.

My Experience Working as a Volunteer Adviser at the CAB

Volunteering in the Citizens Advice Bureau really taught me something important. The value of soft skills. My law degree helped when it came to understanding some of the areas I was advising on. But the giving of advice was actually the easy part if you got everything else right. I went into the job thinking the exact opposite – that the work would be like answering a set of problem questions. Only with real people. I was wrong.

The job

The actual name of my role at the CAB was “Gateway Assessor”. It was my job to take calls from members of the public and either give them general advice or take their details & refer them to the relevant adviser. Everything depended on the nature of the problem the client had.

You got general non legal enquiries like “There are bees in my garden when should I do?”. This isn’t even a joke, someone genuinely asked this. I gave them the council pest control number! These are the sort of issues you can deal with there and then over the phone. More common questions in this category are people asking for general advice on a certain subject, or people asking for a definition like “What exactly is a guarantor?”. For the non bee related questions you usually end up researching the issue on Advice Guide (the CAB information website) and then explaining the information to the client.

A lot of these simple questions could evolve into something much more complex during the conversation with the client. For example the client could just want some simple advice on budgeting, but then could go on to say that they’ve received a letter from a company stating that they will be starting legal action due to debts owed. Now in this situation it becomes obvious that the client needs more specialist help. Although I could educate them a little bit more on the matter by directing them to Advice Guide, they would probably need to see a face to face advisor. So the task then turns to questioning and writing case notes.

You need to get everything out of the client that you believe will help the specialist adviser. Much of this is common sense. In a debt issue you would ask how much money was owed, who it was owed to, if they’re employed, how much income they have etc. But you also need to know what they’re not telling you. The debts they’ve mentioned could just be the tip of the iceberg, or there could be a relationship breakdown behind the debt issue. This would then branch out into its own separate problem. But if you don’t know about it, you can’t help the client. I think people don’t like to mention all of their problems because they think you’ll be over burdened, or maybe they are just trying to deal with things one at a time. This isn’t the right thing to do – time may be an issue. Especially when it comes to appeals.

Regardless of the complexity of the issue we tried to take down a few details from each client. This is so the CAB can justify their funding and essentially say “Look – we helped all these people in January”. Briefly recording case notes on even the simple calls can perhaps help secure future funding.

What I found hard about the job

Being a man I’m awful at multi tasking so I found talking to the client, taking their information down, and researching their problem all at the same time a real challenge.

The hardest part was dealing with people who had lost loved ones and on top of that had various legal issues they needed to sort out. It really is heartbreaking to tell a father he couldn’t claim funeral expenses because his son was no longer classified as a child.

Another sort of challenge was dealing with the emotions of a client. They need to be in a calm state so they’re able to talk to you. Obviously if they’re very upset or angry then you need to calm them down. It took a while to get comfortable at doing this. I’m really not good at comforting people – I do ok when comforting friends and family by dishing out a few hugs / bottles of whisky. Unfortunately this isn’t possible over the phone. For people who were angry or upset I usually started by acknowledging their emotion; “Yes I can understand why you’re so angry / upset” and then going on to reassure them that the Citizens Advice Bureau would do everything in its power to help them. You just need to remember that the anger isn’t directed at you.

When we come across problem questions at uni they are set out in a nice, logical and structured way. Unfortunately when you’re being told about a problem it’s very unstructured. This makes sense really – especially when someone is telling you about a complex problem. It’s remarkable just how unstructured verbal communication can be when you have a ton of points to communicate. So at first, when writing the case notes, it was very hard to put together the whole problem in an easy to read way. Especially when you’d not had experience doing it before.

What I enjoyed

In a way I enjoyed doing the things I found hard because I was improving my skills and being challenged. For example it felt good to make sense of an incredibly complex debt problem and type it up into crystal clear case notes.

The work was very diverse too, as soon as the phone started ringing you didn’t know what the caller would want. It could be about benefits, housing, a consumer issue, a relationship breakdown, debt or any number of miscellaneous questions.

It was really nice hearing how much of a difference the information I’d given could make. Many people were really happy finding out they could claim the winter fuel payment or some other sort of benefit they were entitled to.

Many of these people were facing hard times too. So even a small amount of extra income every month can make a massive difference.

Even though gateway assessors don’t directly get involved in helping a client after the initial phone contact, it’s nice to know that you play your part in the whole process. A process which could have a massive impact on a persons life.

It’s also nice to know that you’re actually doing legal work which has an impact on real people. After you’ve spent all this time on your legal training putting it into practice for the first time feels great!

A valuable experience

Now obviously working at the CAB isn’t the same as working for a firm. But the skill you need will be similar. Whenever I hear people saying that they want to work in law I always wonder how much their expectations differ to reality. I know mine did. Working at the CAB really demonstrated to me the value of long term experience. Experience in a role where you have responsibility – rather than just shadowing.

While legal knowledge is very important the soft skills need to be there too, as without them you can’t properly put the legal knowledge to good use. Before I worked at the CAB I didn’t understand this – I thought of soft skills and legal knowledge as two very separate and distinct entities.

Working at the CAB was a great way to build these soft skills and I would fully recommend volunteering to anyone who is interested in a career in law, or just wants to help out. It should give you a good taste of what’s to come in a legal career and boost your client interaction skills tenfold. Hopefully this post has given you a rough idea of what it’s like to be a gateway assessor. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments!

Note: Some details changed to further preserve anonymity, although the essence of the facts remain. No specific clients are referenced – these are just general experiences.

Site Update – Welcome to Liam, Future Writers & A Few Ads

The site has come far in 5 months and I’m pretty happy with the way way it’s developing! It’s evolved from something that I do just in my spare time to something which I spend (nearly) all of my time on. I basically thought “If I could go back in time, what sort of advice would I give myself”. So I started writing articles around that premise. Then I expanded by answering a few of the most basic questions someone could have about a career in law. Next I started messing around with Adobe Illustrator and started making some legal based visualisations. Then before I knew it I had a site with 80 pages. That’s good considering I was worried that I’d lose interest quickly. I’m happy to say the opposite has happened. My enthusiasm and desire to build the site has grown.

Welcome Liam

Just want to say a big thanks to Liam who will be writing for studyinglaw.co.uk several times a month. Having a blog from a current law student is fantastic (the site is called StudyingLaw after all!) It’s just so useful to see the first hand experiences of a current law student. I’m sure both current and future law students will find his blog very beneficial. Liam sounds like he’s got some interesting posts lined up too, you can read his introduction post here.

Future writers

Having a blog is something that can really look good on a CV. You can tell a lot from a blog entry. Firms can see examples of your writing, your interests and even get a glimpse of your personality. In a way it can be seen as an online extension of your CV. It also demonstrates that you have a decent understanding of technology. Blogging is something firms are doing more and more of these days as a means of getting more business through the internet. So individuals who already know all about it could stand out.

The problem is people soon get discouraged from blogging. They start the blog, write maybe 10 blog posts and then think “Oh, no one’s reading” so quit. Writing a blog which gets loads of visitors takes many months and let’s be honest – people don’t tend to be that patient!

Someone contacted me recently who may be interested in doing something similar to what Liam is doing. This made me think that there may be a need for an established platform that law students can blog on. So I’m strongly considering opening a registration page on studyinglaw where interested students can sign up and submit their blog posts. Liam can post on his blog whenever he wants without any input needed from me. But if I did let anyone sign up then I’d need to approve the articles myself. This would be to limit spam and abuse of the blog. But after a while, when it was obvious the user wasn’t a spammer / Viagra salesman I could upgrade their account to an “Author” account. So they could post whenever they wanted without input from me.

I just think it would be a good idea for law students who want to blog, but don’t want to spend time setting one up and promoting it. It would also be a fantastic opportunity to network with students from other universities. If there are several  people blogging they would be able to comment on each others posts & provide advice and support. In a way it could be a mini community. I’m not losing anything by setting this up. If even one other person writes a blog, and it helps them in some way I’ll consider it a success! So expect this feature soon.

Ads

You may have noticed that I’ve added a few adverts to the site. This is just as an experiment at the moment. The site could do with some revenue for the following reasons:

  • I’m going to need to upgrade my hosting package in the near future (especially if the above idea goes ahead!)
  • I would LOVE to get some professional help so an expert can do the things I want to do, but don’t know how. My knowledge of HTML and CSS is quite limited.
  • Maybe have a designer look over the site. The logo that I made myself looks OK, but it can always be better.

I just need money to improve the site really. I’ve just added the two adverts which I don’t think are too intrusive. Not sure how much money they will bring in (if any!) and some seem a little irrelevant at the moment. Ideally I want to be able to pick the advertisers so I know they’re good quality. I do think that relevant ads can actually help. For example, an advert from a university on the GDL section I believe would be useful. So maybe this is something I’ll look at in the future. If the ads don’t seem to make much I’ll remove them obviously.