I got invited by a group of students who are going to the Nigerian Law School in a while ago to share a few tips on surviving law school. I put pen to paper and came up with this. I decided to share with you and I hope you can forward this to as many people who will be facing this challenge in the coming months. Enjoy.
Congratulations! You are about to embark on a very challenging and interesting journey. However, before I talk about the future, I think it is important for us to look at the past. You have just survived at least 4 years in the university studying law. You definitely went through interesting experiences while you were at university. You did ridiculous overnight reading before your contracts exam, you successfully completed a final year project that at some point you thought you might never complete, you survived the dreaded computer science course and those somewhat unnecessary courses you had to take in the Psychology department. Essentially, you conquered many challenges in order for you to be here and for that I say a big congratulations.
I speak about the past in order to put the future in perspective. Law school is just another challenge which you have to overcome, and with all the challenges I have listed above, you have to agree with me that you are already a bit of an expert at overcoming academic challenges. Before we go on, I need you to remember two scenarios. Scenario 1 is how you felt when you had a huge challenge ahead of you and you thought you might not survive, while scenario 2 is how you felt when you actually overcame the challenge.
Unfortunately, you are at scenario 1 all over again, which is why you need all the advice and encouragement to move you successfully to the place where you can confidently say you have overcome. In order to do this, I will be sharing a few tips which I believe can help you along the way.
1. This is a fresh start
I’m not sure how I can emphasize this because it is an extremely important point. Even if you had a 3rd class in University, this is a chance to have a 1st class. You can actually do it. The only limitation exists in your mind and of course you need to be ready to put in the hard work. I know of a young man who had a 2nd class lower in university and he ended up finishing as the second best student in law school. Also the fact that you did so well in university and were nicknamed “the untouchable or the efiko” doesn’t mean you automatically will be the best. This is a blank canvas and you have the liberty to paint whatever you want on it.
2. Do not be afraid
There has been so much bad news about the rate of failure in law school these days and you might be afraid. My dear friend, please STOP IT! If you see a venomous snake about to attack you but you are so afraid that you cannot move, there is only one conclusion, the snake will bite you and you know that venom and the human system don’t go well together. If however you toss fear into the garbage and decide to run or take some form of action, your chance of survival increases immensely. Use this analogy in relation to law school. If you believe that failure is inevitable, then it really is, but if you believe that you have what it takes to survive and excel, then you will make it.
3. A lot to read and so little time
Honestly, law school is not difficult, the only issue is that there is so much to read and so little time to study and prepare for the examination. It also doesn’t help that you have to write examinations on consecutive days. These I believe are some of the factors that make it a bit difficult for students to achieve their full potential in law school. However if you look on the bright side, at least you know these are the challenges and you need to start preparing ahead of time. There is really no time to waste. You need to start reading as soon as you get into school. From experience, I must tell you that I did not understand most of what I was reading when I stared reading in law school, but when lectures were rounding up and I revisited those things that made no sense to me at the beginning, I can assure you that they made perfect sense, because I now had the answers to the things that puzzled me. It is not too early to start reading.
4. Don’t compare your intellectual capacity to that of another
You need to know who you are. I am a very thorough reader and I probably read through all my text books from cover to cover not less than 4 times. This is excluding my copious notes which I read more times than I can count, and I solved so many past questions that even law school had forgotten they set those questions. That is my style. Some people need to read it only once for them to understand. Woe betide you if you assimilate slowly and you are associating with Johnny who reads once and understands it.
5. You cannot escape the hard work
There is no short cut in law school, and if anyone tells you there is, I advise you not to believe them. You will work hard, but you also need to work smart. Listen to your lectures, get the vibes of your lecturers, be very attentive especially during revision. You also need to be sensitive to the news. For example, it would have been a bit ridiculous for a student who wrote law school exam this year not to thoroughly study election petitions for civil litigation. Keep your ears and eyes open.
6. Beware of “Oversabi”
The best students are not usually those who make the most noise about their “intellectual gigantism.” A word is enough for the wise.
7. No teacher sets an exam purposely to make you fail.
This is to demolish any ideology in your mind that law school loves to fail people. I am a product of the system and the system is so anonymous that it is ridiculous to think that the exam is set purposely to fail you or a large percentage of the students. Yes, I may not agree with the grading system (and I know so many people, including myself who have been victims of the grading system) but you have to beat the system. YOU CANNOT HAVE A FAVOURITE OR WORST SUBJECT. Once you have a worst subject, you can be sure that your grades will not be good. You need to love your subjects equally and give all of them the same attention, or else you need to get ready to accept the grade from your worst subject as your final grade. Again, I don’t agree with this system, but until it is changed, you have to do your best to beat it.
Law School tests so many things apart from your academic ability. It tests your ability to manage your time and choose your battles. If you do not learn very well through group discussions, then be wise about how you contribute to the group. You can volunteer to be the typist or a core researcher for the group, rather than taking on a role that requires you to continuously argue over what is probably wrong anyway. If on the other hand, you easily remember things that you argue about, then you can volunteer to be one of those who will critique the answer to be presented in the class and so on. If your roommates can “gist for Africa” and you know you enjoy gist, you might have to find somewhere else to study or else you may discover that you prioritised sweet gist over studying. Also you will meet a lot of annoying people in law school, so please choose your battles wisely, don’t spend all your time resolving one quarrel after the other when you should be doing more productive things. During your court and chamber attachment, how do you use your time? That might not be the best time to take a trip to London oh, but then, what do I know. Focus on why you came to law school and if you are in a campus like Lagos, I assure you that distractions in all shapes, sizes, and complexions will be there, but you need to keep your eyes on the prize. In a nut shell, time is precious and you must learn to prioritize.
9. Follow instructions.
A large number of students fail in law school for very simple reasons, such as not writing their examination numbers, not flipping the page to see that there are extra questions, forgetting the difference between “or” and “and” and so on. Law school also tests your ability to follow instructions. Please listen attentively and follow instructions.
10. Trust God like you haven’t read
When all is said and done, you must remember that you need to trust God will all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read, instead it means you should trust God like you haven’t read and read as if you aren’t trusting God. Remember to connect yourself with people who are positive and can encourage you when you feel overwhelmed. Don’t associate with people who have settled for second best.
Thank you for reading this. I think I am uniquely qualified to talk to you about law school, because yes I had a great grade in University and I went into law school determined to do the same. In the end, I had a second class upper but I won 4 prizes along the line.
This was a season of mixed feelings for me because even though I was happy I won all those prizes, I felt I should have gotten more. However, the experience was invaluable to me for many reasons, which is why I am so eager to share my experience with you. You see when my result came out and I had less than what I expected, I looked back and asked myself “Mariam, could you sincerely have done anything differently?” and I could sincerely answer myself in the negative. I did every single thing that was within my human capacity to do, I did not have any regrets! At the back of my mind I didn’t think “I should have studied more, I should have listened more, I should have bought this textbook instead.” I had peace of mind that I did everything I could, thus irrespective of the outcome, I wasn’t filled with regret. I encourage you to do the same. You do not want to after the exam ask yourself “What if I had done xyz.”
Despite all I have said though, please be rest assured that your grade from law school will not affect your destiny (it might seem strange to you now, but believe me, it is true) because we all have different paths that God has prepared, and if you know you have implemented the ten tips above in all sincerity, I am confident that your story will end well. I also want to use this opportunity to encourage those who have written this exam in the past but failed. I am a firm believer in the biblical principle that all things indeed work together for good for them who love God and are called according to his purpose. In as much as this may seem like an easy answer, I have discovered that a lot of times, the things that are easy to understand are pure and true.