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Letter to my fresher-self

A fantastic piece for any fresher by Membership Secretary Jonathan Hsu (Queens’)

Congratulations on making it to Cambridge. This is a great achievement and you should be very proud of yourself. Cambridge is where you can push yourself and learn more about the law in a very unique way. I am sure you have many questions about studying law and so, here’s are some advice I’d have found helpful in my first few weeks.

First, understand that everyone’s learning style and study habits are different. But that does not mean that your way of learning at high school is exactly going to be the most effective style for you at university. Studying law requires you to learn from a myriad of sources: lectures, supervisions, cases and articles. So my first piece of advice is to be open-minded about the way you are learning. Do get as much advice from second or third years. Take their advice and try it out for yourself. There is no one way of studying law and learning to adapt to a subject that you have never learnt before is difficult. Luckily, I assure you, everyone here is willing and happy to help you out as long as you maintain an open mind-set.

Second, you must bear in mind that the lectures and supervisions are there to aid you in your own journey in learning what the law is. So you should try your best to learn from the primary sources of material, i.e. cases and articles, with lectures and supervisions playing a supplementary role where you consolidate your understanding. Be willing to ask questions in a supervision about anything you do not understand.

Third, if the reading list seems too daunting initially, do not worry, you are definitely aren’t the only one. I’d recommend going for softer introductory learning materials that give you a ‘big picture’ or summary of the area of law you are about to learn. Nutcases and nutshells would be the go-to study guides for law students.

Fourth, once you have finished your reading list and gone to the lectures, take a minute to step back and actually think of what you have read. Ask yourself questions like do you actually agree with the commentators or do you think the case was decided correctly. Once you have your opinion, be prepared to have it challenged by the world class expert on the topic that is your supervisor. This way, not only would you have a comprehensive understanding of the law, but you would also have a fun and exciting time exploring your own view and contrasting it with others.

Fifth, I appreciate that you would think that you already have a lot on your plate already studying law without thinking about your future career or learning about the legal world beyond your textbook. This is where the Cambridge University Law Society (CULS) comes in. Joining CULS is the best way for you to have fun and prepare for life beyond Cambridge. CULS holds law firm and chambers events for students to talk to solicitors and barristers to see what life is like as a lawyer and to also learn about the distinctive cultures of each set or firm. Such insight would greatly boost your applications for vacation schemes and mini-pupillages.

Sixth, the numerous talks and sharings by eminent judges and the most prominent legal minds organised by CULS will let you see the law we learn at university from a different perspective. Various branches of CULS such as mooting and pro bono work tirelessly to give you experiences in advocacy and volunteering. These activities help you delve much deeper into the law and also nurture your passion for this fascinating subject. In short, joining CULS would whet your legal appetite, broaden your mind, let you better prepare for your future career and boost your CV greatly. So definitely do join asap!!

Seventh, it is important to bear in mind that while you would have a lot of work to studying law at university, you should definitely still have fun. Be it going to bops or law balls with friends, being a freshers representative at CULS, trying out mooting with your peers, or joining various clubs or sports teams, it is important that you do not stress yourself over work. You will go back to studying more refreshed and enjoy studying law even more. And oddly enough, the more you enjoy it, the better you do and you will also have spent less time just procrastinating. Of course, that is not to say that you should only have fun, but it is best if you can find the right balance early on. Establishing a good work ethic, finding a balance between study and fun, having a good support network of friends and doing extra-curricular activities you enjoy are all essential for you to be a happy and successful law student.

Eigth, exams take place in Easter term and they are the only things that determine your grade. Conventionally, Cambridge students state their third year mark as their degree classification. E.g. 1st year (2.1), 2nd year (2.1) and third year (1st). Someone would say they achieved a 1st. However, since your first year marks are the ones you use to apply for vacation schemes and your second year marks may have an impact on you getting a training contract. It does not mean that you can
slack off for the first two years. (unlike our friends from the other place) Hence, it is good to have your exams in mind from the very beginning. Bear in mind that all the lectures and supervisions do not count for anything. They are all there to prepare you well for your exams. So you should not treat each individual supervision as the end goal for your reading or writing your essays. Hence, always seek improvement in your understanding in the law, your way of tackling problem questions or your style in essay writing.

All in all, studying law is a very enjoyable process if you let it be. With the correct mind set of openness and willingness to improve, you will learn a great deal about the law and also have a great time at university. Managing your time wisely and studying in a smart and efficient manner will allow you to excel academically and also participate in a wide range of extracurricular activities. So all the best to you and wishing you to an amazing start and wonderful time at Cambridge!

Best wishes,

Jonathan Hsu