A letter to first-year law students

Sébastien Laymond’s advice on how to successfully get through your first year at the school of law

No. The rumours you’ve heard aren’t true. Law isn’t an impossibly strenuous and boring course. As the building block of society, it is a wondrous and tremendously important subject, and when applied correctly, it can do great wonders for us both individually and collectively. However, for us to properly understand the law and its application we must be equipped with perseverance, meticulousness, and a great pair of eyeglasses. The law isn’t one-faced. In fact, it arguably is one of the broadest subjects one could possibly study, simply by way of its interrelatedness with the multifarious domains that it must regulate. Grasping a correct understanding of the law therefore demands time and effort. To ensure you make the best use of your first year, I have devised a list of tips entirely based on personal experiences and conclusions that have occurred during my time as a law student.

The Berkeley Is Your Friend

It took me an entire month to step foot inside the Berkeley Library. This was due, in part, to its intimidating appearance. I felt as though I didn’t belong there, as though all my work could’ve been satisfactorily completed in my room. I couldn’t, however, have been more wrong. Not only does its soothing silence make it an inviting and great place to work, but its architecture is incredibly stimulating. It’s a fantastic place to spend your time in between classes. The Berkeley truly has everything a law student could ask for. Holding a seemingly infinite stock of textbooks, articles, and law reports from Irish to Australian precedent, its resources will surely quench your insatiable thirst for legal knowledge and give you the strongest possible foundations for any legal assignment.

Overcoming The Weight of Your Workload

Dr. David Kenny illustrates that studying the law demands a vital degree of academic autonomy: “in law school, we like to throw you in the deep end and make you swim.” Your initial workload, for example, is essentially equal to the workload you’ll be tasked with completing throughout the entire semester. It’s up to you to find a pace that is suitable to your needs. Whether that implies that you will be ahead, behind, or synchronised is up to you to decide. From personal experience, I would strongly recommend you remain at least 3 days ahead of your lectures. Although this demands a greater effort, it ensures you have greater leeway for your essays and examinations, as well as ensure that you can take a well-deserved break at the end of the day.

“To decrease the chance of an unfavourable opinion, it’s always useful to look up your professors’ previous works!”

With regards to assignment workloads, a piece of advice would be to always ask your correctors for feedback, irrespective of the given grade. Doing this will give you a greater understanding of what you must and mustn’t do assignment-wise. However, don’t forget that every corrector has their own preferences. So, only use the advice you see as broadly applicable. To decrease the chance of an unfavourable opinion, it’s always useful to look up your professors’ previous works!

Reading Cases

It is extraordinarily important that you read cases in their entirety, irrespective of their length. I say this for these reasons: 

  1. Judges have a tendency to insert factoids within their judgments to give an explanatory backdrop to their decision. Knowing and retaining such a backdrop is imperative to properly apply the given law.
  2. It allows you to acquire a more efficient and time-saving reading technique. This will benefit you in the long term, given the complexity of some cases.
  3. It allows you to fully comprehend and better apply legal phraseology, i.e. proper structure and way of writing, an imperative skill for essay-writing. Don’t utilise archaic legalese.
  4. It will allow you to discover some other precedent, which you could potentially use to substantiate an argument relevant to your current topic of study or a future one.
  5. There is a positive correlation between your retention and proper application of precedent on a given topic and your received grade. In effect, the more you read, the better you do. 

“To save you some time with your reading, I present to you your new best friend: the vLex highlighting function”

To save you some time with your reading, I present to you your new best friend: the vLex highlighting function. Being one of your recommended legal software, use it over any other. It highlights the most important sections of some cases and will act as a saviour. 


Completing your seminar coursework before attending them is a must. Your assigned seminar coursework is usually very relevant to assignment/examination questions and some of your seminarists are big fans of the Socratic Method (the so-called cold calling). Doing your preparation beforehand will always afford you with an overall greater understanding of the topic at hand.

The Meaning of ‘Critical Analysis’

In a vast majority of your first-year essays, you will be asked to execute critical analyses. Being able to do so adequately is an extremely important task for both students and lawyers alike. This personal experience of mine shall illustrate the process pertinently. For my first essay, I had to criticise any aspect of law. I immediately embarked on a critical analysis of the Skidmore v Led Zeppelin case, a decision taken by the American Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 2020. Upon finishing my first draft, I was told not to restrict my work to negative points, as undertaking a proper critical analysis demands that you sift through large amounts of diverse information, coming up with both positive and negative critiques of a certain thing. To succeed in critical analysis requires a focus on multiple angles. 

“The first weeks of law school can be very intense. Having the right person by your side will help tremendously.”

Finding your Feet 

Finally, the more emotional aspect of law school. It’s important you remember that everybody’s in the same boat entering college. The first weeks of law school can be very intense. Having the right person by your side will help tremendously. Don’t be shy with your new coursemates! Also, don’t forget to reach out to your tutor and the university’s help services for words of advice and encouragement. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Your lecturers don’t expect you to know everything within your first year. Don’t forget to partake in the wonders of college life, as well as young student life in general. These years only ever come once!

Sébastien Laymond

Sébastien Laymond is the Editor of the 'SciTech' column for Trinity News, and is currently in his Junior Sophister Year reading law.