LLB students – ignore your first year at your peril

Sponsored Poststatutory interpretationThe early stages of your university career can often seem unimportant at the time, but the content covered in the early months can be just as important as that dealt with in years two and three. While it won’t count towards your degree classification directly, that early ground can be vital in giving you a good grasp of broader legal principles which can help make studying law that much more manageable. And what’s more, those early lessons have a habit of proving unexpectedly useful (yes, even in practice), and usually it’s when you least expect it.

For the majority of law students, the first few weeks at university are spent in an alcohol-fuelled haze as they explore their newly-found sense of independence having finally flown the family nest. As freshers’ week gives way to lectures, seminars and the onset of academic work, the majority of first year students keep having a good time firmly at the top of their list of priorities.

While any student’s university experience should be much broader and richer than merely studying, it’s important to balance those extra-curricular activities with those that are definitely on the curriculum. All too often, that first year sets the tone for the rest of your degree and if you spend that year in a drunken stupor, you might never fully recover.

Speaking from experience, I was a (relative) mess during the early weeks of my first semester, but by the time the first reading week had come round (in early November) I was beginning to see the need to apply myself. By the time we’d reached Christmas, I’d definitely hit my stride and never looked back. I count myself as one of the lucky ones as I know not everyone’s university career maps out in the same way.

Inevitably, at some point in each law student’s first year, they’re required to study a module concerning the court hierarchy system, the doctrine of precedent and aids to statutory interpretation. All LLB courses tend to have at least one ‘filler’ module in which all miscellaneous content from the first year diet is tossed in for fear of finding no other place for it on the timetable. For me, that module was rather disappointingly entitled ‘National and International Legal Systems’. I know what you’re thinking – a very safe choice.

As part of the focus on our domestic legal system, I remember covering aids to statutory interpretation and construction. Of course, the principles are very similar throughout commonwealth countries (statutory interpretation in Australia, for example, is much the same as in England and Wales).

I recall paying rather scant attention to that segment of the lecture and treating the preparation for a subsequent seminar with even greater disdain. I really couldn’t see that I’d need to have frequent recourse to the literal rule, the golden rule, the mischief rule or the purposive approach. Equally, the fact I was familiar with the canons of noscitur a sociis, ejusdem generis and expressio unius est exclusio alterius hardly made my heart skip a beat. In short, I short-sightedly chalked it up to academic codswallop that would be of limited application in practice.

How wrong I was. On several occasions, those misleadingly hazy principles of statutory interpretation have been central to the advice given to a client.

You live and learn is very much the moral of the story.

There’s no need to wait to see the folly of your hot-headed student ways; it’s far better to appreciate the full value of the material being taught at the time. The LLB is a hectic course, so its’ safe to assume that anything on the syllabus is on there for a good reason.

So, take it from someone who learnt the hard way; those rather broad, all-encompassing lessons that are covered in the first year are vital in helping you manage the challenges of the rest of your degree and indeed later on in practice.

Who was it said that light dawns slowly over the whole?

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