1st Year Toolkit
by Anna Csepanyi
Dear First-Year Students,
Welcome to SOAS, and congratulations on being accepted into one of the most unique and interesting Law schools of the country! Your time at SOAS will be possibly some of the best years of your life, where you will grow as a person, learn a lot, and explore what you would like to do later with your degree. It can be a daunting task, and many first years are not familiar with how an English Law degree works, how to study effectively, and what your options are once you are finished, so to help make your first few weeks at SOAS as easy as possible, we have compiled a set of useful descriptions and guides for you to help understand these a little better.
What is a barrister?
The two main career paths that you can take after your degree are becoming either a barrister or a solicitor. Barristers specialise in representing clients in the courtroom. They have to present their client’s case before the jury and the judges, and persuade them to rule in favour of their client, or give them a more favourable judgment at least. They are skilled public speakers, and have extended knowledge of case law and legislation.
In order to become a barrister, you will first need to have a qualifying Law degree (such as the LLB, or study any other non-law degree and take the one-year Graduate Diploma in Law). After that, you will have to take the BPTC (Bar Professional Training Course) at a higher education institution in the UK, and join one of the four Inns of Court. During your BPTC, you will learn key skills needed for becoming a barrister, and will receive the qualifications that allow you to practise law. When you are done with your BPTC, you will be called to the bar, and will be able to officially begin your legal career.
What is a solicitor?
Solicitors are legal practitioners who will usually be the first person people turn to when they are seeking legal advice. They have a more direct relationship with their clients than barristers do, and they usually guide a client through every problem that they may face, but will not represent them in court. They also are trained in drafting contracts, wills, and other administrative matters. They often instruct barristers on how to represent their client, too.
To become a solicitor, you will first need to have a qualifying law degree, (such as the LLB, or study any other non-law degree, and take the one-year Graduate Diploma in Law). Afterwards, you have to do a training course called the LPC (Legal Practice Course), in which you have to study both areas of law, such as Business Law, and take courses in skills that will prove useful during your career as a solicitor, such as Drafting documents. Once you are done with your LPC, you have to do a two-year training with a firm. After that, you will officially be allowed to practice as a solicitor.
Do I have to work in commercial law?
No! Of course not. Many people who attend SOAS do not wish to enter into the field of commercial law – instead, they end up in other areas of law, such as Criminal, Family, Immigration, or Human Rights. They often work for NGOs, charities, and potentially even various government bodies, like the Home Department. Keep an eye out for articles in which we will explore non-commercial options after finishing your Law degree!
Do I have to become a solicitor or a barrister?
No, you don’t have to. Many people choose to, but that doesn’t mean that you have to do it too. Other career paths include, but aren’t limited to: academic research, paralegal, in-house advisor, legal secretary, law enforcement, legal publishing, and many others. We will try our best throughout the year to include as many different career options in our articles as possible, so that you will have a more rounded picture of what your future might entail.
Who can help me?
First of all – we know that this can be a lot to take in at once. It can be hard to start university, and it often proves to be a difficult time for many, but it doesn’t have to be!
The SOAS Law Society is here to help you. We organise many events throughout the year, which will help you understand the legal world a little better, explore your career options, and meet new people. We will be here for you to try and make the transition from college to university a bit easier. Feel free to approach us and talk to us anytime.
You will also have a personal advisor, who is a teacher and tutor in the Law school. They are there for you to help you with any questions, problems, and issues that you might have throughout the year. It is highly recommended that you meet with them at least once per term.
The Student Hub in the Paul Webley Wing is able to tell you exactly where everything is, and who you should turn to if you have a problem within the SOAS administration system, with your module sign up, or just generally do not know who would be able to help you out. You usually do not need to make an appointment with them, and they are open during teaching time, on week days.
Your coursemates will also be a good support system for you, as well as your friends from outside of the course. They might offer you not only emotional support, but also academic support. You can organise study sessions, which we find to be extremely useful in preparation for tutorials and exams. Make sure that you have a support system to rely on, for it can drastically change how your university experience turns out.
Lastly, the Student Advice and Wellbeing centre will be able to help you with personal, mental health, and just general advice issues. They can help you with most things that you might face throughout your time at SOAS, and they can even provide you with free counselling sessions. Also, they sometimes bring in puppies and provide free massages too, which are a godsend especially during exam season.
How can I study effectively?
You should try to utilise as much of the study spaces at SOAS and at your home as possible. Very often people struggle to study in their rooms, as it is too comfortable and they get carried away by doing what they normally would (aka browsing the internet and not studying) instead of using their study time for what they wanted to do. It can be helpful to study in new environments, such as the SOAS Library, which has many books that you may find helpful; the Senate House library, which has very comfortable sofas and loads of seating; the Learning Hub in the Paul Webley Wing, where you can chat with your coursemates and exchange ideas; or just any nearby café to fuel your brain.
Finding the study guides, books, and online resources that work for you are also vital. Many basic terms will be unfamiliar to you, so getting a Legal Dictionary can be helpful if you would like to avoid online dictionaries, which can give you the wrong meaning of the word that you are looking for. Getting good study guides, such as LawExpress or Nutshell Cases can help you too, because they provide the same material as what you study in your classes (but with shorter, less detailed explanations), and they are worded differently – sometimes, the only thing you need is for someone to describe the same concept in a different way.
There are many online video tutorials available for your core modules, which can be great for when you are too tired to read anymore. They are often done by legal professionals, who teach or used to teach at universities, and can be a great way of understanding new concepts.
And lastly, utilise websites like Westlaw as much as you can! As easy as it sounds to just read the cases on Wikipedia, the information there isn’t as reliable as the ones on professional legal websites. You will be able to read whole cases on such websites, including the judges’ commentary on the case, which will be a good way to show that you actually understand the case. You can also find legislation there, with explanation on whether the legislation is still enforced or not.
We know that studying Law is so different than what many of you have done before, but it is honestly one of the most exciting subjects that you could’ve chosen to study. We are looking forward to meeting as many of you as possible throughout the year, and wish you the best of luck!