It's easy to have misconceptions about a subject before you start university, Jia Xin explores four misconceptions she had about studying law.
Before I started studying law for my A levels I thought that law graduates were confined to being lawyers and it would be ridiculous if they refused to practice law because it would be a lot of hard work for nothing. I was also told that I must have incredible, super fluent English skills to be a lawyer. When I did not do very well in my A level law exam a friend said that it was because law was very subjective and markers might be biased against you if your argument does not match their opinions.
So, is there any truth in these ideas? Here’s what I’ve learned from studying law at university..
1. 'Law students all become lawyers'
When asked about my degree, the reaction I always get is “wow you are studying law. You are going to be a lawyer!” Most people are not aware that there are so many more career choices with a law degree, you don’t always have to be a barrister or solicitor.
The career options available to those with a law degree is a lot broader and more diverse than you might expect. This is because the skills you obtain in a law degree are applicable to almost all fields. After your 3 years of legal study, you will have strong critical thinking and communication skills. Those are essential to almost all jobs. Employers also like to see candidates with law degrees because of their strong analytical and problem-solving skills.
Many law students decide not to pursue careers in law after their degree and I can imagine they get a lot of flak for it but there’s really no reason for this negativity. Law graduates can enter the fields of politics, banking, and academia – just to name a few. One of the increasingly popular fields in the legal sector is Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) especially for divorce cases and corporate cases. This is a path that many law students might be pursuing in the future due to the increase volume of cases being brought to ADR.
2. ‘Law students must have perfect English’
This is a very common misconception in my home country, Malaysia, where everyone speaks at least two languages and for most people English is not their first language. For some people Law is “a degree for the English educated or international school students”. This is not true. I studied in a Chinese school for my primary and secondary education, my English might not be superb but that doesn’t mean I am not eligible to study law.
A certain level of English is needed to study law in order to ensure that you can communicate and present your argument well and to minimise grammatical errors to allow others to read your arguments easily. It’s also important to be able to understand what the lecturer is saying in class. However, you don’t need to include a lot of verbose and elaborate vocabulary in your essay. Instead, simple and plain English is preferred in legal writing as it allows the text to be easily understood by readers. Always remember that writing a legal argument is totally different than writing an English essay.
3. ‘Law students write lengthy paragraphs without getting straight to the point’
Most people have the impression that law students must know how to write lengthy statements, twisting and turning, without getting to the main point. I am unsure what gives them this impression but again, legal writing is always different from writing an English essay. You don’t get extra credit by writing an introduction that is two pages long. Regarding the appropriate length of an essay, it’s always quality over quantity. You are not guaranteed a first by writing 10 pages compared to someone who writes 3 pages.
When you are writing assignments or exams, recognising the issue and going straight to the point is what the examiners are looking for. This shows them your understanding of the question. In law, you should shape your arguments clearly and keep a rigid structure throughout your essay. Structured paragraphs are very important and much better than cramming everything in a super long paragraph. It is all about letting the readers know which stance you are taking while defending your views by considering opposite views.
4. ‘Law is very subjective’
In fact it’s the total opposite. Law is a very objective and precise subject. I think it’s quite similar to science except from the fact that it has an essay-based exam format. Students who studied sciences at high school instead of humanities are not going to be disadvantaged – instead they will benefit from the analytical and precision-driven experience that studying science has afforded them. When studying law you are entitled to raise your own opinion in your arguments but, like any good scientific study, it must be backed up with evidence.
The only ‘subjective’ element in law might be that there is no exact right or wrong answer. Students can argue either side but they must make valid arguments with references strong enough to sustain them.
Learn more about studying Law at Queen’s.
Jia Xin Chang
LLB Law| 1st year |Malaysia
I’m an outgoing introvert: I can be very talkative but I’m super quiet most of the time. I’m known as a 'weirdo' among my friends but I call myself unique! I’m constantly unleashing my love for rock music and I’m also a casual blogger - writer's block is real!