The Learning Curve

Earlier this month, I found myself having a conversation with some friends regarding our general state of shock over the fact that we are now halfway through our law school experience. This milestone caused all of us to reflect on our time at UBC Law and there seemed to be one thing in particular that was at the forefront of our minds: the differences between first and second year. It might seem as though not that much could change in a year, but there were many marked shifts that all of us had picked up on, and we weren’t just thinking about the fact that the Law Café is now fully operational (now we really have no reason to ever leave the building…still undecided as to whether this is a good thing or not).

The main difference that I would like to explore here is the way that you learn. I still remember sitting down with my first ever case (Kelsen v Imperial Tobacco) and not knowing where to begin. December instilled a small amount of confidence that we could at least make it through a law exam without fainting, but I think for most of us, we still felt a little bit like Bambi (wide-eyed, shaky, excited, nervous, you get the picture) until we got our April grades back and saw what changes we had made worked, and those that didn’t. This was so important because it enabled us to start to truly figure out what professors look for when we are writing an exam, and in turn this greatly influenced the approach to studying.

I can distill the idea behind this change down to efficiency. In first year, I think the intense fear and confusion as to how to approach law school exams probably led a lot of the class to get bogged down in a lot of irrelevant details when reading. I enjoy Lord Denning pondering the majesty of the British countryside while setting the stage for a judgement as much as the next person, but truth be told, that probably isn’t what your professor is going to be looking for when you only have 3 hours and a fact pattern that seems impossible to unravel. By second year, you develop the ability to scan for the ratio faster, become more intuitive about the facts that are going to actually be worth knowing, and learn when using other people’s CANs is (and is not) a good idea.

I have often heard people comment that second year is harder than first year. From an academic perspective, this is probably true. The spoon-feeding days of first year are long gone and it is sometimes only when you are a day into studying for an exam that you really start to get a picture of how the cases of a course tie together. However, I don’t think that this year is harder on the whole. Yes, the volume of reading is greater, but you can get through it faster. Yes, the courses are harder in terms of the law being more challenging, but they are courses that you have chosen and thus are more likely to be interesting to you.

So, 1Ls, fear not, because it only gets better from where I stand – especially because now that you are more adept at handling the workload, you can more fully enjoy all of the social events that law school has to offer (Mardi Gras masquerade this weekend anyone?)

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