When you are a Bar Student, getting completely swept away and overwhelmed with the course can happen in a matter of days or weeks. Reading week can provide you with the opportunity to catch up and ‘read’ up on what you have missed as well as prepare for what is coming up next. As a result, it can appear as an oasis on the horizon for a recently enrolled Bar Student.
However, without proper planning and preparation reading week can leave you even more overwhelmed, not less. Whether or not you have a reading week allocated to you on your course, the advice in this blog post serves to help you make the most of any break you take from classes whether during reading week or end of term holidays. The majority of the advice in this post is written for the context of catching up on knowledge subjects, primarily Civil and Criminal Litigation. Some tips for practical skills subjects are at the end of this post.
A cautionary note: The Bar Course is cumulative. Do not attempt to cram knowledge.
In week 5 of my ‘live’ blogs during the Bar Course, I talked about looking forward to reading week to help me consolidate my knowledge and catch up with anything I had missed. Consolidating knowledge is different to learning or cramming knowledge. The best strategy on the Bar Course is to work at it little and often, and be able to track your progress through the material. To help you track your progress, I have created Syllabus Spreadsheets designed to help you manage your knowledge and revision of the topics on the Civil and Criminal Litigation course.
Before you proceed with consolidation, establish a strategic framework for your learning
As a Law Tutor and Study Workshop host, I do my best to encourage people to adopt a strategy to the Bar Course. The core element behind this is understanding that the Bar Course is not like the LLB or GDL. You are assessed on practical application of knowledge. If you remember completing problem questions for Public/Administrative Law, then the process is similar.
When it comes to establishing a strategy for knowledge subjects on the Bar Course, the best place for you to start is the BSB Syllabus document. Your knowledge must be developed around this document. All examinable topics have to be covered and tested in order to prepare you for the exam. If you have not yet fully acquainted yourself with the syllabus, spend the first part of reading week doing so. You will regret it if you do not have a strong grip over the content you must know ahead of the assessment.
My workshops on strategy for Civil Litigation and strategy for Criminal Litigation can be helpful if you are struggling with this.
Deciding what to consolidate and how
The idea behind the learning on the Bar Course is to allow you to show knowledge of the process of reasoning that parties or the Court may follow (what decisions can a party to proceedings or a judge adjudicating on proceedings make) and the procedural framework that governs that reasoning (what decisions can a judge make in light of the established procedural framework). Your questions for knowledge assessments (Civil Litigation, Criminal Litigation, Alternative Dispute Resolution/ADR, Ethics) will be based around “real life” scenarios and you are to reason down to the best approach in line with established rules and guidance.
The source of these rules and guidance is largely contained within the procedural texts that govern particular courts/practice areas. The White Book and Blackstone’s Criminal Practice cover the main areas of Civil Litigation and Criminal Litigation, but other texts cover areas such as ADR (The Jackson ADR Handbook), Employment Law (Tolley’s Employment Handbook) and Commercial Law (The Commercial Court Guide).
There is no need to rewrite the rules in these practitioner texts. Great lengths have been taken to produce literal volumes of procedural rules. The skill is how to navigate these practitioner texts. If you are struggling with this, my workshop on how to navigate the White Book for Civil Litigation may be helpful.
In light of the above, consolidation of material on reading week should focus on leaving you better able to deploy an understanding of court procedure and stages of the litigation process. You should focus less on writing pages of notes and more on reviewing the structure of the courts, the main stages in the litigation timeline (see my Civil Litigation Timeline worksheet for a helpful resource) and the decisions and orders that may or must be made at different stages/in particular circumstances. If writing notes doesn’t leave you any better able to answer questions, abandon that strategy and focus on diagrammatic note taking, flashcards and helpful revision texts (click here for a post on my 5 best books for the Bar Course).
Remember, tracking your knowledge is key to avoid covering the same material over and over again without any practical purpose. My knowledge tracking spreadsheets can help with this.
Advice for practical skills subjects
As well as knowledge subjects, Bar Students have practical skills subjects that test oral and written advocacy skills. The difficult part about these subjects is that it is only through constant and consistent practice that you have any hope to improve your abilities. It doesn’t matter if you think your drafts and opinions are a hot mess, procrastination can be a thief of progress on the Bar Course. Get stuck in and keep having a go until you get better.
Reading week is a good time for you to review your advocacy performance recordings and consolidate your feedback into headline points of improvement. The same goes for your written work (skeletons, pleadings for drafting and written opinions). I also suggest that you take the opportunity to do practice drafting in timed and untimed conditions to just get used to feeling comfortable and confident whilst drafting.
Take time out on Reading week to see what you have coming up over the next few weeks of the term and mark any important submission deadlines in your diary. Make note of when you have an opportunity to get formal feedback. Nothing should take you by surprise. Try to be as well prepared as you can on the Bar Course.
Good luck, work little and often and REST!
There is never going to be enough time for you to fully grasp everything and perfection is not attainable. Look at your learning on the Bar Course as a map to navigate you towards a limited range of outcomes (in the context of procedural rules of litigation) or help you understand the strategic purpose of oral and written advocacy. Most importantly, take some time out to rest and take care of yourself.
Good luck with your studying!
Until next time,