Reflections on first term

It has been a busy semester so far. We’re in the middle of exams at the moment – two down, three to go.

About two weeks ago, I felt like I was in the eye of a hurricane. Many of my colleagues were having meltdowns, some due to the demands of school, and others due to collisions between school priorities and events in their personal lives. One of my friends had to miss two weeks of school because her aunt passed away in California and she is the executor of the will. Another friend, still living at home, was feeling overwhelmed by family problems while also struggling with her studies. I was hearing anecdotes every other day about people spontaneously bursting into tears at the library, although I never saw it myself. However, the few times I went to the library to do some readings between classes, it was difficult to find an unoccupied seat, and the tension in the air was palpable. As a result, I have done most of my studying outside of school.

As everyone around me seemed to be falling apart, I found myself strangely calm. Keeping up with readings and not worrying too much about grades have helped me to avoid feelings of panic. I have also been very lucky to develop a network of supportive friends, who share notes and study together. We help each other understand tricky concepts, push each other to keep going, and share a sense of humour that makes the work enjoyable. I can’t imagine slogging through some of this material alone. Honestly, some of this stuff is extremely dry. I have found group study with people I enjoy to be invaluable. The friends I have made are truly wonderful – I would not have been able to predict how rewarding that aspect of law school would be for me.

At the moment, I am taking a break from studying for my Civil Law Property exam. The last exam I wrote was a 48-hour take-home exam for Foundations of Canadian Law, a social-science-based course that takes a critial and very theoretical look at our legal system(s) under various different angles, in terms of its social functions, and in the context of other legal traditions of the world. This exam was a 2500-word paper. Most of my colleagues at school dislike this class because it is so theoretical, but it is exactly what McGill is all about. It is the most “trans-systemic” course in the curriculum.

Last Friday, we had our first exam – Constitutional Law. I was not too happy about how it went for me – I felt disorganized, and I think I missed the point of the first question. We’ve been learning how to pick apart legal reasoning and apply different legal tests to constitutional problems. However, when it came time to do that in the exam, I feel like I started analyzing the given problem from the wrong angle, which resulted in my wasting time and having to rush at the end. I am grateful that this exam is “to assist only,” and that I will be able to redeem myself next semester by doing an optional assignment. We learn from our mistakes – now I know how to avoid doing the same thing in my next exam.

So, it’s time to get back to studying Property. I will try to post again before going home for the holidays.


Ottawa common law – Exams

The first term of school has flown by and I’m almost done exams (2 left). Looking back, I’d say the term was an enjoyable and rewarding experience, although certainly not without its challenges. I’m looking forward to having a couple weeks off for the holiday so I can reflect over it all from a distanced perspective.

As for exams, our class is fairly non-competitive, which helps with setting up study groups. That said, study groups are just one method (of many) for studying. They just happen to work extremely well for me personally. I’d say whatever method worked best for you in undergrad is the one you should use in law school. The class character did shift coming into exams, but we have a ritual of going out for a drink after each one and it definitely helps maintain the group mentality. All exams are open book, which I at first assumed would make them easier, but after some experience I realized that the professors expect very comprehensive responses and a much higher level of structure or organization. If there is any advice I could have given myself before they started, it would be that “law exams are not terrible”. Just make sure you put in the appropriate study time, and don’t worry about grades too much.

Anyway, I should get back to studying. This will be my last post until next term so have a happy holiday everyone!

November 19 – Windsor

Most of the classes that were missed due to the strike have been made up and we are now preparing for midterms.  Some days are grueling as we have been having tutorial sessions – I’m finding myself at school for 12+ hours a couple days a week now.  Tensions are running hight amongst the students.  It seems like everyone is really stressed at this point.  I’ve come to the realization that trying to stay fully caught up with readings is unrealistic, and regardless of what the professors suggest in terms of doing all the readings, going to classes, going to tutorials etc., you have to be selective in the work that you choose to do.

Volunteering for Community Legal Aid has been a great experience.  I plan on attending one of the court cases that I’ve been working on with the second year student who will be litigating.  This should expose me to how things work ‘in the real world.’

November at Queen’s

Well, I made it through my first law school exam in Public Law a few weeks ago. We will get it back either this week or next week. It was a practice exam and the final is in December (this is the only semestered course we are taking this year–all others have finals in April). It was a closed book exam which is new but they are trying it out. I also handed in a paper a few weeks ago in Torts and hope to get it back this week. I actually had fun writing it (I think that’s a good thing, right?)

Exams are just around the corner. I am trying to adjust my study time to include some time for preparing my outlines for the exams. I also have a few assignments due soon as well, so things are certainly busy. The reading is getting heavier for some courses but I know that in just over 2 weeks classes end and I can focus on exams.

That’s it for now. I’m in the library and will get started on some reading.

Ottawa (common law) – Week 7

Life at uOttawa continues to keep me busy with various readings and assignments. Aside from the amount of work, nothing has been overly challenging yet, but exams are still to come. I have my first one on Monday and I’m currently writing my exam summary for it. All exams are open book, so a good class summary is the key to success. At first I had no idea how to structure my notes for summary creation, but I think I have the hang of it now. Wish me luck!

As for social life, Ottawa could not be better in my opinion. We are a pretty tight group, and all of us hang out together when we get the chance (usually after class). There is always somewhere to go on the weekends, and the only conflict is when you are forced to choose. While there is a lot of hard work, you definitely don’t feel alone in your labours. Having a good social life has been really important for me and provides an incentive to keep on track. Safety in numbers!

Anyway, there are quite a bit of midterms coming up, so I’ll let you know how I manage.

Turkey was yummy…back to the books

We are now firmly in our 6th week of school, and things are moving along. I have formed a study group with some colleagues, as we have a practice exam coming up in Public law in a week and a half. Beyond that, we have some assignments (legal opinions) and exams coming up. I am still managing to stay on top of my readings, but I am well aware of the exams approaching, and will need to carve out some extra time to start to organize my notes.

Most exams are open book, so you can bring cases and notes with you. The main skill you need is to be able to apply legal reasoning to the exam question. Based on previous cases that have set precedents, how would the courts decide the current issue? This is the type of thing we will someday advise our clients on, so it’s an extremely relevant exercise. That being said, I am trying to stay calm and not get too worked up about the exams.

As always, time is flying by. I cannot believe we have been here for 6 weeks, although because of volume, some days it feels like we have been here much longer. We have learned so much in a relatively short time period.

Tomorrow in our Criminal Law class, we are arguing a case. The class is divided into our small sections, and my section is arguing for the defence. Our class will lay out the crown and defence cases, and our prof will be the judge and rule based on how we presented the evidence. Should be fun!

I am in the library and it’s time to get down to preparing my case for tomorrow.

Windsor Law

Well after being out of classes because of a prof strike for almost 3 weeks we’ve finally gotten back into classes.  I just completed my first full week backand there have been many adjustments made to the academic schedule.  This will definitely be the most intense semester.  However, this certainly will not affect the amount of material we cover and what we will gain from our teachings.

I’ve been made aware of the value of ‘learning the system’ and how this will benefit me for exams.  Apparently, there is a certain way of going about studying and using study notes that, if mastered, should result in better grades.  One has to know what material to sift through and what to concentrate on.

Osgoode week 6

Hi all,

So I have been caught up in readings and a few assignments. I started to be proactive and have organized a note group with some friends. This way we are each responsible for taking notes in one class per week and we rotate which class we take notes for. This is very helpful because now I can focus more attention on the reading and will have a great set of notes. I also recommend finding upper year students and getting their notes as many courses use the same textbook or cases for several years in a row.

I feel a lot more organized and I am enjoying what we are learning. I find that most of it is applicable to daily life in so many ways. For instance, in contracts we learn about the consumer protection act, which impacts us everyday.

There are also tons of social events and for the most part professors try to keep this in mind when scheduling midterms, which is great! People here are really nice and genuinely want to help out, there is even a mentorship program set up to help first year students. All in all school is going well and I feel prepared and excited for what is to come!

On a side note, from what i have experienced thus far there are people from all areas of academic study which makes discussions really interesting and prooves the misconception of needing to study political science in undergrad to go to law school. From this point, I think as long as you are ready to do a lot of reading and critically analyze what you read, you will do just fine!!!

I’ll keep you posted!

Life at Queen’s

I have finally set aside some time to write a few words on here. My intentions were to get on here sooner, but suddenly we’re one month in, and here we are.

The first week of class was exciting. It was mostly an intro from our profs, and the readings began immediately. All of my profs are excellent. They are all approachable and truly care about the study of law.   At Queen’s we are put into small sections of 25 students or so, and we travel with that section in all of our classes for the entire first year. Most of our classes are joined with one other small section, to make a group of 50. Class participation is encouraged and welcomed by all of our profs. The Socratic method is not strictly enforced, although sometimes it happens, but the profs are all friendly and they know we are just starting out. I think the first week or two, we were all a bit on the shy side, not knowing if we had read the materials correctly, etc. As time has progressed, there is more and more participation, which is great, since we all learn from each others’ comments and questions.

Into the second week, our profs gave us direction on how to read the materials. Most of our readings are actual cases, and they are groundbreaking ones that have determined major points of law going forward, so it’s exciting stuff. Reading cases is a skill that none of us had coming in, so feeling like you don’t know what you are supposed to get from the cases is completely normal. At Queen’s they offer you a chance to connect with upper year mentors, who reinforce this point. We’ve been told by our professors and other students that at some point, it will start to click, and we will be able to read the cases with a “legal mind”. I can feel that already starting to happen and it’s great! The only way to learn this is through practice.

On to my next point. It is absolutely critical that you keep up with the readings. If you read the cases before class, you get so much more out of it. I do my own case briefs beforehand (which I learned from our profs and my upper year mentor) and then just edit them as needed during class. Once we do a case in class, we move on to the next one(s), so if the reading is not done on time, you are in perpetual catch-up mode, which can be pretty stressful. I would say I do about 3-4 hours of reading each night. It varies–sometimes I do more, sometimes less, but I am always on track with the prescribed readings. If I am able to read ahead, then I have some breathing room for other things, like Grey’s Anatomy! It’s important that you have other things on the go besides school, to stay balanced. One of our profs asks after most weekends if we did anything “non-law related” on the weekend. Most students just chuckle, but I think there’s wisdom in that. If you keep up with the reading, you will be able to carve out some time for yourself.

They really encourage school involvement as well. I am part of the Pro Bono Society and am participating in a weekly radio show about legal issues. I have also joined some clubs here at the law school, but am careful not to overextend myself. These things are important and do look great on a resume, but school is my priority, so I am careful not to pack up my schedule so there is added pressure on my time, which is already pretty limited.

One last thing: I never bothered with sleep in past. I would get the minimum to function at work. Now, I really try to get 8 hours a night. If it’s late and I am not done reading, I will get some sleep and wake up early to finish up before class. This seems to be working well for me. Each class is mentally challenging and demanding–we are stretching our minds and looking critically at materials, etc. so if I am tired during class, it’s a painful experience.

Well, that’s it for now. I have class in another hour and a half, and have to finish a case before then.

This is turning out to be a fantastic experience. It’s new, exciting and challenging. If you love to learn, this is the place to be. Everyday I learn something new about some new point of law. It’s pretty cool.

Fourth week at Ottawa

After a week or two of adjustment, I’m beginning to get a better understanding of the workload. I’m willing to admit that I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the readings, but somehow I’ve managed to get every one of them done. I think the trick for me is to find a good reading area, and minimize distractions. I’ve already handed in four assignments, and have three more due next week (wish me luck). While it is true that there is a lot of work to do, it is definitely manageable if you decide to keep up. The best part of it all is that you can still have a social life, and I’d recommend having one (when time permits). We’ve already had a few socials with the faculty (including a boat cruise last Friday), which I find helps me release after a long week of readings. I also joined some clubs and sports leagues.

So far, I’m still having an excellent time at UOttawa.