The GDL has begun and I’ve just finished my first week. Read on to see what my first impressions were and how I’m feeling about the course. I chose to complete the GDL at City Law School but this is still helpful even if you choose to complete the course at a different centre.
Induction week begins…
After all of my trains were cancelled and I had to scramble an Uber (RIP) last minute, I arrived on campus for my first ‘lecture’ entitled ‘Introduction to the GDL’. The room was small, dark (with no windows) and was packed with just shy of 200 people. Everyone was feeling equally as nervous and excited because when you’re undertaking a course like the GDL, all you’ve been told before you begin is that it is really, really hard.
When the programme leader began the session, his friendly attitude made me feel much more at ease. He gave us a really gentle introduction and overview of the course, made us laugh and went through the structure of the year. He told us about how our lectures and fortnightly tutorials would work and helped put our minds at rest about the final exams by telling us that we had around 6-8 weeks to revise after teaching finishes (we all gave a collective and audible sigh of relief).
The GDL needs teamwork
He made it clear that the course is manageable if you work consistently and ultimately work together. I thought it was good of him to mention the latter, and he told a wonderful anecdote about three ex-GDL students who completed pupillage together and were in competition for one tenancy spot. What happened was that they had worked so well together the chambers had no choice but to take all three on as tenants because the package was so effective.
It was a good lesson for all of us as law is competitive and almost all of us who’d studied in the UK had recently graduated from top universities where the pressure and competition against your fellow course mates/aspiring lawyers is fierce. He told us to relax and that there is life outside of the GDL and that City (where I am studying) has an excellent track record for securing employment for its graduates.
At the end of the introductory session I was left feeling much less anxious about the year ahead and ready to tackle it. Looking around the room there was a decent mix of people; some had come from previous careers, some had come straight from university like me and others had taken the year out before starting. Quite a few people were from the United States or Canada which was really cool!
My first lecture…hello Contract Law!
After the introductory session I had my first lecture of the GDL programme in Contract Law. It was to be our first, and last, lecture as the lecturer explained that because there was so much content he couldn’t fit it all into a standard programme of two-hour lectures. I know I wasn’t alone in feeling slightly terrified when he told us that, but it was actually a really well structured programme. He made the aims and objectives of the course clear and we spent the first session going through the basic principles of contract law. They really do their best to make the work as logical for you as possible and the readings were clearly signposted. At the end of the lecture I felt good about the subject going forward and, although it was my first proper introduction to contract, I saw a few familiar principles I’d encountered in the past when mooting at Warwick which was comforting!
Lexis Nexis, Introduction to the Law and European Law
The second day was slightly less hectic and I actually had time to travel to Law School and see how easy my journey was. As a town mouse from Bristol and having completed my undergraduate at Warwick, the concept of a morning commute on the London underground was daunting. I definitely found it strange having to take the tube to get to my classes rather than do the 20/30 minute drive to campus from Leamington Spa. But it was nice to see all of the commuters in their suits on their way to work. I imagined future barrister Blessing sauntering through the underground on her way to chambers in three years’ time (although realistically I would probably be running because I am always late, I think it’s genetic…).
The day started with an introduction to ‘Lexis Nexis’, one of the main law databases used by students and law practitioners. I thought it was really helpful that City made sure we were introduced to how to use the system as we would be referring to it in our studies and later in practice.
Introduction to the law…and the exam nobody knew anything about…
After that, we had a session called ‘Introduction to the Law’. Before it began I wasn’t sure what it was or if it was mandatory. Luckily, a friend of mine on the course told me to make sure I was there and I’m glad he did! It turns out it was an introductory lecture on the English legal system and we were going to have test on it after Christmas. It essentially set out the structure for the test which we would study for ourselves independently. It was an informal test but still counted towards your completion of the GDL course. The GDL appears to be a lot of independent work and because it’s only 9 months long, there is a lot of work they expect you to find the time to do outside of your teaching hours.
European Law – Brexit doesn’t mean an exit from the GDL…
Finally, the day ended with our first lecture in European Law. All I had to say after that session was that my brain hurt! The session opened with a discussion of Brexit and why we still have to do the module despite it. We were told a hilarious story of a student who emailed the university the day after the referendum vote to ask if they still needed to sit the exam! Once the ice was broken, the lecturer set out the aims and objectives of the module (I love that all the City lecturers do this) and then introduced us to the origins of the European Union and its different institutional structures.
I’ll be honest, it was a lot to keep up with and the pace of the lecture was really fast. If your note-taking skills were rusty or you hadn’t had to do a lot of speed-note taking during your undergraduate degree/professional life, you would have struggled. Although lectures aren’t recorded at City, most lecturers supply you with a handout book that you can follow if you miss anything the lecturer has said. I definitely needed to refer to that and it was good that there were no surprises in the lecture. You had the opportunity to look at what was coming in the next lecture and be prepared for it.
It was also good of him to stop and tell us what we should have understood by that particular point, which he regularly did. It gave you time to see what you hadn’t understood and know what you needed to read more about during your independent study.
Overall, EU Law was an interesting module and it really put a lot of things into perspective. I can’t help thinking that if more people understood how the EU worked, perhaps our shambolic Brexit fate could have been avoided…
Equity and Trusts, Tort and Introduction to Pro Bono
Wednesday opened up with our first lecture in Equity and Trusts and I’m going to start by saying that I am in love with my professor. She was the coolest and most engaging lecturer I have seen since my first year ‘Introduction to Politics’ lecturer (shout out to Dr Steve Kettell, you’re still the OG*). She turned what probably is the most boring and dense subject into something engaging, fun and that I actually wanted to learn.
We started with a historical overview of Equity (which appealed to the historian in me) and it was really good that she made sure we understood the historical context. This helped us have a better understanding of this area of law and why it is such a contrast to the common law. We went as far back as the 14th century to understand contemporary 21st century legal practice! She explained the basic principles of ‘uses’, the etymology of ‘trusts’, introduced us to ‘maxims’ and made sure we understood the relationship between common law and equity. She left us with homework to study the key concepts before the next lecture where she would give us a quiz. There was no point, she said, in continuing if we didn’t understand the core concepts.
Although the concept of a quiz was a bit scary, I thought it was great that they wanted to make sure we understood the basics before attempting to get complex. It made me feel that they really do care about you actually doing well on this course.
Introduction to Tort Law – or should I say ‘Tort-ure’? (No, I shouldn’t…)
We then moved on to our first lecture in Tort Law and I’ll tell you now that by this point I was exhausted and it was really hard to stay awake! Despite that, the content was really interesting and it was an extremely important area of law. We went over the basic differences between Criminal and Tort as areas of law, what counts as ‘principal torts’ and the aims of Tort Law.
What I really took away was that Tort was a practical subject and probably less to do with theoretical principles and arguments than other areas I would encounter later like Public Law. We went through different types of misconduct and injury and the impact of the European Convention of Human Rights and 1998 Human Rights Act on Tort law as well.
The lecture was very heavily focused on definitions and technical language and it was hard to stay fully engaged at points, especially because I just felt inundated by masses of information by that point in the week. Still, it was a good lecture and the lecturer also set out the aims and objectives at the start and you could easily refer to what had been discussed in your handouts.
To Pro-bono or not to Pro-bono, that is the question.
We also had a session on ‘Introduction to Pro Bono’ earlier in the day. It was a really good session and reiterated what we were told on the first day to make sure that we experienced life outside of the GDL. It was really clear that this is an important and essential part of the GDL experience. We had an ex-GDL and BPTC student there who told us about how much she’d loved pro-bono to the point that she’d started managing her own programme!
I’ll be blogging in more depth about my pro bono activity in the future.
Westlaw, Public Law, EU Law, Tort Law = 6 hours of lectures and I’m starting to regret this decision…
The day opened with a session on how to use the law database WestLaw which is like Lexis Nexis but from a different company. I didn’t actually attend this session because: a) I was so tired and miserable I was fighting with my boyfriend b) I had used Westlaw before at Warwick so thought I’d let myself off and sleep a little longer. Don’t judge me.
I <3 Public Law!
I eventually made it in for my first Public Law lecture and seeing as I’ve been eyeing this as my future practice area at the Bar I was excited! The lecturer really didn’t disappoint, and I was really glad I’d studied History and Politics before because it helped me grasp a lot of the concepts far quicker than if I hadn’t. This was a heavily theoretical area of law and one that those of us with history or political science backgrounds have a slight advantage in.
The lecture began with an overview of the concept of a ‘constitution’ and different definitions for it. We then looked at the development of the constitution in the United States and James Madison’s theories of constitutional governance. Madison, (someone our lecturer particularly admired) was one of the ‘founding fathers’ and the fourth President of the US. We went through the structure of the American political and legal system and the Bill of Rights. The aim was to give us a comparative understanding of constitutional principles in the States so we could compare then with the evolution of English constitutional principles from the 17th century in the next lecture.
Overall, it was very historical and theoretical and I loved every second! I really enjoyed how he looked to us for interaction and gave us opportunities to respond, ask questions and reflect upon what we had covered already.
There’s no need for me to go over what we covered in EU and Tort because we essentially picked up from where we left off and continued to cover key concepts, principles and basic definitions. By the end of the day I was extremely exhausted and a shadow of my former bright-eyed and eager self on Monday but I had really started to enjoy learning the law.
Meeting my Personal Tutor, Criminal Law and Public Law lecture number 2
Friday was (thank God) the end of my induction week and I had never been more excited for the weekend in my whole life. We started off by meeting our personal tutor and I thought it was great that after a really intense week we were able to launch all sorts of questions at him which he deftly answered or promised to answer in a later email (he did, and I thought this was awesome!).
It was nice to see him and meet the other people in the tutor group and I really saw for the first time how varied the mix of people on the GDL course were. He let us know where we could find him and when and it was extremely reassuring. He was there to provide support during the course and also professional support as we pursued our legal careers.
Criminal Law – the content was good – the jokes were…criminal
The day continued with our first Criminal Law lecture and I’d really been looking forward to it all week. Criminal is the heart of the law and definitely what everyone thinks about when they think about law. The lecturer was awesome and started with a really, really bad criminal law joke which broke the ice and made us all laugh after a really long and heavy week.
He introduced the four general principles of criminal law (terms that came up were things like actus reus, mens rea, criminal liability, burden of proof in the English justice system etc). We went through the different approaches to construction of an offence (when something is a crime or not) and took a brief look at specific crimes. It was a really good and light introduction to a fundamental area of law and I think everyone appreciated having a lecturer who was so full of energy after such a long week.
I really <3 Public Law…
Public Law lecture number two definitely confirmed this is my favourite area of law to study. We explored the development of legal sovereignty in the English context from the 17th Century and discussed different perspectives on where the power to make law lies. We also went through different theoretical understandings of parliamentary sovereignty. It was an awesome lecture and I realised it fit really nicely with my dissertation which was all about South Africa’s Black Gay Liberation Movement and the fundamental principles of South African Constitutional Law in Mandela’s new ‘Rainbow Nation’. You’re probably going to hear me go on about this module a lot in the future and I’m really looking forward to the tutorial on Friday.
At the end of the week I feel…
Tired. First and foremost this week has been extremely long and tiring but I have really enjoyed it. I liked the introduction I was given to the course and the energy that the lecturers brought to the teaching. Quite a few of them literally wrote the textbook on the areas of law they were teaching us. I’m excited to start tutorials next week and will be writing another update on how I prepped for them and the general structure function of law tutorials in about two weeks. Our first lectures in Land Law begin next week too, so I’ll add my first impressions of those to that post as well.
*OG = Original. Read this Urban Dictionary definition if you are still unsure what this means. If you really had to click that link you’re probably my Mum or Dad.