Bristol’s law degree needs to change if students are to be more than robots

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By Maggie Sawant, First Year Law

The University are teaching us to be robotic lawyers, not to think deeply about the law. This needs to change if students are going to stay motivated and turn up to exams.

There is undoubtedly a stereotype surrounding law students at Bristol. They are chronically stressed, overworked and ‘all they do is talk about law’. I must admit, this stereotype is accurate.

As law students, we must accept the intensity of our course. However, the extent of this workload obstructs learning. Our motivation disappears as we drown in books and deadlines. Even in first year, we are in a near-constant state of stress, impeding effective learning.

Tutorial reading lists are recognised by tutors and students as unachievable. Clearly tutors cannot rely upon students having completed the reading, and students cannot work at a pace that enables them to understand all of the information. With them causing so much stress, what is their point?

Also, tutorials become unpleasant learning environments, with students seeking academic supremacy inadvertently intimidating those who wish to use contact hours to strengthen their understanding.

We need to see our degree as more than a reading list and develop a broader view of the study of law.

Of course, a lot of work has to be expected if high grades are to be achieved, but I dislike this mechanical approach to learning and regret that I do not have time to deepen my understanding of the subject. I envy those who have a reading week: I wish I could have one week where I could read at a more leisurely pace, consolidating my learning, and even independently researching areas of personal interest.

The workload also has other adverse effects, preventing high quality work being produced. For example, summative coursework was due in the middle of the January formative exams. In this situation, the quality of at least one component had to be sacrificed for the benefit of the other.

On top of the workload, from the first term of the first-year, career opportunities are thrust upon us. Although this is obviously extremely beneficial, all law students are heavily induced to follow the same career path, causing unhealthy competition.

Furthermore, to be able to apply for these jobs, students must participate in highly-demanding, competitive extra-curricular activities. This additional stress prevents us from appreciating the captivating intricacies of law.

It seems we are taught to absorb information robotically: we are taught to be lawyers.

Of course, this is the obvious purpose of a law degree, but surely a greater understanding of the fundamental principles that underpin the law would aid our legal education, as we would have a deeper appreciation of law as an academic discipline.

Additionally, given the huge volume of reading that must be done just so we grasp the basics, there is little time for students to critique the law. We should take on the role of an academic, not an automaton churning out an examination paper almost identical to that of our course mate.

So that is why there were empty chairs in all of my exams: first-year law students are not engaged – they are overwhelmed.

They see the law in front of them as an incomprehensible wall of information, embodied by a weekly reading list that is impossible to complete.

How does this improve?

We need to see our degree as more than a reading list and develop a broader view of the study of law. We also need to recognise what the law school already offers in terms of alternative opportunities. For example, I recently attended a talk on non-law careers for law students, which discussed the wide range of places a law degree can take us.

However, the Law School, alongside the UBLC, needs to promote more non-law career pathways, instead of heavily inducing all students to follow the same career path, which may not necessarily be right for them.

Most importantly, for students to be able to fully appreciate what is on offer, we need more time. A reading week is a necessity which certainly would not be wasted given the overwhelming academic motivation of law students.

We should be able to enjoy our degree. Chronic stress should not diminish my passion for the subject, nor annihilate my motivation.

Featured image: Epigram/Ffion Clarke

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