How to write a first class law dissertation.

 

So this weeks post is going to be a law post instead of a chronic illness post. And more specifically a post for law students who are either currently trying to write their dissertation or want to get a head start on the whole process.  Now my only qualification is that I myself got that magical first and in doing so I saw that there were few blog posts dedicated to legal dissertations.  So what I want to do here is give the graduates perspective on getting a first in your dissertation.

The first place to start is with choosing your topic and more specifically the question that you want to answer. The number one most important thing here is to make sure that you are passionate about what you want to write about. As much as you can anyway, as at least with my university you need to write three proposals and the uni gives you one. If that’s the case then spend a lot of time thinking about the three proposals you put down. Ensure that you can really see yourself spending a year working on any one of them. Passion makes the whole thing so much easier – I found that I actually wanted to work on my dissertation and enjoyed doing so because the topic was so me.

When choosing a topic you also need to do your research and I mean proper research not just reading the relevant textbook chapter or lecture notes but actually start looking into journal articles and case law. You need to look out for whether there is enough but also to make sure that there is a gap in the scholarship and the law for your dissertation. It also helps if your topic is current.

Don’t be shy. Ask for help. Be that friends, family, professors. Sometimes just talking out your ideas really helps. I also mention this because from my knowledge it is common for people to need to refine their questions and if your supervisor says this do not get disheartened and work with them. Easier said than done I know. I wasn’t asked to refine my question and I didn’t refine my question but I can imagine it feels a bit like falling at the first hurdle. But you haven’t fallen and you have got this.

But Hannah, my problem isn’t my topic. I have my topic, I have my question. I just don’t know how or where to start. 

I definitely relate to not knowing where to start. It can all be so overwhelming but I’m going to share some planning and writing tips that should help you get over that block. Although it’s important to remember that we all work differently and ultimately you need to do what works for you.

Firstly it’s necessary to make a brief and flexible plan, utilising your initial research. Essentially, write down each overarching concept, idea or argument that you want to cover. This will really help you break your dissertation down into chapters and sub-headings within those chapters. This and be done in mind map format or in a word document or you can handwrite it and stick it upon your wall/place it at the front of your dissertation folder, on your desk or whatever works for you.

I had a mind map, I had random scribbles in my notebook whilst I tried to work it all out in my mind, but for this I used a word document, as then I could add research to it as I went along either by writing in my own words, copying and pasting or just “see y at line 34.” This really helped me keep my research, which there was a lot of, organised and help see the links, as well as where I maybe needed to do some more research, and what that research needed to consist of. It is so essential that you keep your research organised in whatever way that works for you and your dissertation.

Set a schedule, set deadlines. Be that “I’m going to work on my dissertation on a Wednesday,” or something else.  That will definitely help you get from the overwhelmed stress procrastination block and mean you don’t leave it all to the last minute.

So what do I do now I’ve started?

Immerse yourself into your topic, but if you need to take time out that’s okay to. It’s a marathon not a sprint and wellbeing is a key component to success.

Use your supervisor to your advantage. Use them way more than I did. You are not a burden it is quite literally their job and if you have a good supervisor they can be a real helping hand.

Keep a notebook or a section of a notes app or both with you at all times for those random thoughts. Most of them will be useless but some will be gold.

Make use of a wide variety of sources for your research, don’t just look at legal journals, books, cases and legislation.  Use videos, podcasts, or even journals from other disciplines if these may be relevent. This can definitely help with motivation as well as give content that is laking in the legal resources.

Keep challenging yourself to go deeper, get others to challenge you. Writing a first class dissertation isn’t easy for most of us and I certainly submitted it knowing that that piece of work was reflective of the top end of my academic ability at that time. To add on to this believe in yourself. A first is not out of reach.

Proof-readers are essential. Especially if your chronically ill and suffer from brain fog. Once you’ve spent that long on something an extra pair of eyes or two are useful to let you know when you’ve made a typo, when something doesn’t make sense, is repetitive or where there’s a grammatial error.

Finally, make it original. Come up with an original solution, an original justifiation. Add a bit of personality to it. Some level of originality is needed for a first and adding a bit of personality to it will help keep your examiner interested.

This is longer than I wanted it to be but to close, you can do this!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From 2:2 to 1st

Passion is a key ingredient to the study and practice of law, and of life – Elle Woods

Earlier this week I received my overall degree classification and my final year module results. And well… the title says it all. I got a first. Very much feeling like Elle Woods right now despite perfectionist me trying to get me down because some people get higher firsts. Yes I need to learn to be easier on myself. I am mentally and physically unwell and a first is more than enough! But anyway, in light of the progress I have made throughout my degree I thought I’d discuss a little bit of my journey and give a few useful tips getting the undergraduate degree you deserve. This will be aimed at law students but a lot of it will apply to many disciplines.

So a came out of first year with a 2:2 – albeit a high one because my strengths lie in exams. And back in the day there was a huge difference between exam me and coursework me. Now that difference is only marginal – but still there. Exams are my strength. For some coursework is there strength. There are a few tips that arise from this point.

  1. If you know your better at coursework before going to uni select a uni that offers a lot of coursework for your course – I think for my uni it was 60/40 for my class. Which is quite high for a law degree. If exams are your strength then maybe select a more exam based.
  2. If you don’t have this luxury – which I know I didn’t, then find it in your first year and really play to it. Take exam based modules if you have the choice or if coursework is your strength, take coursework based modules.
  3. Work on closing that gap – ask your lecturers what they are looking for, what you need to improve. Read books around your course in the holidays and refer back during the year and make sure you are away of the mark scheme at your institution and what it asks of you.

In first year I was a very busy gal. Yes I worked hard with my degree and I wanted to do my best but I was also doing a lot of other things and dealing with some terrifying and debilitating health issues which I will not discuss because just thinking back to the levels of pelvic pain and myriad of other symptoms is too much.  In my first year I had two jobs, spent 6-15 hours a week doing drama related activities, debated, attended poetry society and catholic society. I did a short course in advocacy, spent maybe a little too much time in the pub, had movie nights with my friends and went to the gym 3-6 times a week.

I was for the first time ever truly living my life – maybe as a distraction from the worry about my fertility levels and also because I very much like to seize the day if the opportunity to do so arises. Hilariously, I also applied to switch to theatre and got accepted. I made pro and con lists and couldn’t decide. But the day before I had to make a decision the judgement on the Charlie Gard case was handed down and it captured me.

It was then that I knew.

I was going to persist with the study and hopefully one day, the practice of law. That is still the case. I’m planning on working for a year because I need a break and then going on to do the BPTC. I would also like to go into law academically at some point because, just like Elle Woods, I learnt to love law.

2nd year I started off trying to be as busy as I was in 1st year, despite my chronic fatigue having got worse over the summer and still very much being symptomatic with suspected endometriosis and dealing with fibromyalgia – which I think I developed towards the end of my first year.

I was on two committees, had a job, dabbled in model UN and the climbing society. I also walked to and from uni.  So it was no wonder that despite working really hard that in my first piece of coursework I only got a 53. (And it was trusts law which I really did not understand, didn’t even answer the question – as I realised once I got feedback.)

All the meanwhile I was getting progressively more ill so I cut back. I had my degree, my committee responsibilities, many GP appointments, transvaginal ultrasounds, gynaecology appointments and blood tests and that was about it.

And what happened? I took that feedback from the 53 and on the next piece of coursework (EU law) I got 73. And it wasn’t a fluke. I got 73 in my land coursework and 68 in my tort coursework.

Admittedly this was not all sunshine and rainbows. My mental health in 2nd year was appalling because of the pill I was on at the time. Cerazette I hate you. I started self harming again, attempted suicide. But hey atleast I got good grades.

Going into exams I was determined to keep this up. So me and my concentrate revision guides and Q&A’s got to work.

Just want to put a disclaimer here – do not rely on revision guides too heavily. They are useful to supplement your own work and  resources, to clarify areas you don’t understand and to improve exam technique. 

And my exam results were as follows

  • Tort: 74
  • Trusts: 77
  • Land: 76
  • EU: 69

Not too shabby at all and certainly more than I expected.

So after summer we go into third year. This year the workload was higher as we had a dissertation on top of the 4 modules. But we had choice over our modules and our dissertation topics.

Now I got really unwell with my ME/CFS and suspected POTS over summer so third year, gonna be honest. I only had my degree. But this is not be saying that you should have no life to do well. I was in a unique situation. Of being pretty much bedbound, and not very functional even in bed at the end of the summer but being too stubborn to take a year out. And I did have some life – just not as much of a life.

I spent time talking to my flat mates, had 7 theatre trips and other things happened.

But for the most part is was study, rest, attend medical appointments and apply for grad schemes (+ the interviews I had associated with that).

My health has honestly been a laughing matter this past year. I’ve managed to improve my ME/CFS drastically although I’m still probably on the mild/moderate borderline. My nausea is no where near as bad as it was in first term. But my joints are horrendous (Yay HSD), my fibro pain got a lot worse and I spent 2 months working my way up to the maximum dose of gabapentin. Which helps. But it made me really anxious and paranoid which I just deal with tbh, my mental health is still a lot better than it was in 2nd year.  Suspected endo and suspected POTS are much less of an issue but my skin is causing all sorts of issues.

But there we go. Life goes on.

I would say I learnt to love law in 2nd year but in my 3rd year I really developed that passion for law. Which I think can make everything more frustrating because suddenly it matters so much more. I absolutely chose the right modules.

It’s that passion that I believe really helped drive my success and allowed me to work the hours that I worked, despite so much going on health wise. It was no longer about just getting the grades because I need the grades. I was, for the first time, doing my degree for me and only me and because of that I wanted to do the best I possibly could.

In terms of revision it was a lot of recall, a lot of colour. I made PowerPoints for essay plans and colour coded problem answers. It was extra research where I felt it was needed or where I was just genuinely interested and it was tactical emails to lecturers, asking specific questions on things that were likely to be relevant to the exam that I needed clarifying. I asked about the structures expected of us and clarifications on the operation of specific parts of statute, sentencing guidelines and case law. It is also important to not underestimate the benefit of talking with your peer group about specific topics within your modules. And in relation to coursework lots of research and thinking. Thinking about the question, the wider context and the merits of the research itself. Again talking to your peers and getting people to proofread is helpful here.

So third year finishes and results are as follows

Coursework

  • Children and the Law: 73
  • Evidence: 73
  • Sentencing: 73

I was a consistent bunny.

Dissertation

  • 80

Exams

  • Children and the Law: 75
  • Evidence: 73
  • Sentencing: 75
  • Family: 86

I was a successful gal. In terms of academic achievement anyway. Not much else. But we have provisional job offers, we’re waiting to hear back from interviews and I’m meeting with someone about some volunteering on Monday.

I also want to note that I am not naturally intelligent and I really struggle with reading comprehension. I never expected these results and it was REALLY hard! Now I’ve finished discussing the journey I’ll end this post with useful tips and try and link a few useful resources.

  1. You need to peak at the right time! Third year is the most weighted year at most uni’s – don’t burn yourself out! Pace yourself. Take first year to get involved in all the things.
  2. If you don’t understand ask for help.
  3. Look after yourself. You won’t reach your full potential otherwise. This means trying to sleep atleast 7 hours a night, taking time to calm down. Go for a 10 minute run, do some yoga or pilates. Try to eat a balanced diet.
  4. Don’t become too isolated!
  5. Switch up your study space.
  6. Practice makes perfect.
  7. Extra research is a must – if you can go beyond the reading list that is even better – but you do not need to read everything on the reading list. If it says it’s optional, it means optional. Utilise them for coursework, seminar preparations  or when looking at specific exam questions.
  8. Attendance is key. Especially seminars but I also found it necessary to attend lectures as I focus more in a lecture than when just listening to the recording in bed.
  9. You do you. Comparison is the thief of joy. Please do not succumb to it. I know it is hard, I know law school is a breeding ground for comparison but you will save your self a lot of tears if you don’t succumb to it.
  10. Your lecturers will try to psych you out. Which makes sense. If you want to be a lawyer you need a thick skin. Be prepared!
  11. And finally, enjoy it!

Resources for law students:

And I am sure there are many other nuggets that you may find and I have found along the way. I just wanted to pinpoint the main and more universal resources.

Hope this was helpful and if anyone reading has useful tips and/or resources please share in the comments.

 

 

 

 

Productivity Culture

25140929636_d98329b29d_z.jpg

Another day, another blog post – I definitely have a creative muse right now. Today, I am going to write about something I would like to call productivity culture.

I feel as though in todays day and age productivity is so much more important than it was in previous generations. Maybe this is because of the internet, specifically social media which gives us access to so many people who previously we would have seldom come across.

Social media is full of those who build their platform from their business, their studying, their bullet journals, it is also full of a range of other stories, which when taken the wrong way or read in the wrong mindset can put the rest of us to shame. These ultra-productive people have upped the anti for what it means to be successful, to be productive, to be trying your best.

And obviously that’s not true, success is relative and the rational part of me knows that success is relative, and that everything happens for a reason. I also believe that a lot of the time these online personality’s are just inspirational and nothing more – they certainty don’t intend for harm to come from it. I was studytubers, follow studygrammers myself. I hold nothing against the concept or them as people.

But, I do know that I sometimes have to step back, and there have certainly been times when I have been left feeling like I’m somehow not good enough because I’m not ultra-productice or ultra-successful in life. This brings us to a deeper problem. For some teenagers and young adults, just desperate to be successful, for anxious minds this can cause harm. It can lead to the belief that you have to be doing something worthwhile at every waking second of every day. That you have to sacrifice your sleep, your downtime to being constantly busy.

Busy is the word that brings me to belief that this culture is also heavily represented outside of social media, in certain industries. In law, medicine and academia to name a few. And it can certainly be represented by that family friend everyone has who is doing all the things and puts you to shame. Makes you feel like your not doing enough to be successful in life.

Your not doing enough worthwhile activity. You feel bad for spending maybe a little too much time on social media, watching TV or watching YouTube. For not being successful enough. Currently, I’m unemployed. I’m waiting to hear back about a provisional job offer, and have one assessment centre and an interview lined up next week so it’s not like I’m not trying and I’m really trying to be okay with not being ultra-productive during my time off. And not being ultra successful.

Yes I’m being relatively productive (depending on your definition of the word) because the second I’m not distracted I realise just how bad my chronic pain is. Which is not good. I’m really trying to learn that comparison is the thief of joy and we do not all have to be ultra-productive and ultra-successful.

We are all unique and we all have different roles in this world, we are not all meant to be ultra-productive or successful and nor do we have to be.

It’s all relative. Everything is relative. And self care is so so soo important! Some need more of it than others.

It’s okay to let your body rest after running off adrenaline to get through exams. It’s okay. It’s okay if your barely managing your academic commitments, let alone anything else. And so long as your trying, it’s okay if your presently unemployed be it due to fate or otherwise.

We don’t all have to be ultra-productive all the time.

Be you, be unique and that’s enough.

If you just want to binge TV and do nothing else, that’s okay! If due to illness your unable to do much else that’s also okay!

Listen to your body, your heart and your sole and don’t get caught up in comparing yourself to someone on the internet. If you feel your family or teachers expect to much of you, please don’t let it get to you too much.

And a final reminder – it is okay to rest! We do not have to have every second of our schedules filled out at all times!