The GDL is an extraordinarily tough course. Both my personal experience and hearing stories from others has made me certain that the GDL is universally challenging. Here I share my tips for how you can meaningfully engage with the course and improve your GDL experience.
The GDL doesn’t have to be terrible
Notwithstanding the large and somewhat traumatising workload, there are many reasons why the GDL course can be the one of the most intellectually stimulating periods of your life. It is important to take the time to invest in your interests and find out which kinds of problems you enjoy or which subjects stand out to you more than others. The more knowledge you can build about how you want to shape your legal career the better.
1. Read the judgments
Many people don’t read judgments whilst they are on the GDL. I understand that given the compressed amount of time and the detail provided in lectures and textbooks, spending extra time reading judgments can seem cumbersome and frankly, boring. However, I urge you to avoid taking this view.
Reading judgments is what brings the different cases alive and makes it easier to understand exactly why a certain principle is reached. This is invaluable later when comparing and contrasting the different judicial approaches taken towards a particular issue in order to explain and critically reflect upon them.
You are doing yourself a disservice if you are not taking the time to read at least the headline cases. These cases tend to provide a helpful summary of the development of the law in a particular area with a full list of citations. Checking this off against your reading list will allow you to see how many of the judgments you have read and understood and which ones you need to clarify further. There’s no use being able to explain what the law is without being able to coherently explain why a certain view was reached.
Understanding why then allows you to narrow in on the strengths and weaknesses of a particular approach. Perhaps you can take things even further, making the case for an alternative approach using supporting evidence from other judgments in similar cases. Reading judgments will mean your reading list seems less daunting and you can engage with your work on a more meaningful level.
2. Participate in mooting competitions
This compliments (1) but goes further in that through mooting you are able to share your understanding of the law through an oral advocacy performance.
The thought of mooting whilst on the GDL can seem extremely impractical given that you only recently became acquainted with the law. Nonetheless, this should not hold you back from doing as many moots as possible. There are two main reasons why moots are particularly beneficial to GDL students:
Firstly, mooting gives you the chance to conduct focused research into legal principles that are likely to arise in your exams. This means that there will be at least one topic that you understand from all angles. This is a good feeling to have and can make you more comfortable with other challenging topics on the course.
Secondly, mooting will help you start to think like a lawyer. The GDL is an academic course but in moots you are required to think like counsel and present your submissions on the issues to the judge. Knowing that someone will have to make a decision on the basis of your arguments sharpens your analytical skills. Strength in this area is invaluable as it makes it easier to understand what the issues are in a case. This in turn makes your GDL work that much easier to understand and engage with.
3. Write a blog post, essay or journal article
Try to take the opportunity to share your thoughts and ideas about legal issues. Writing blog posts, essays or articles can help with your confidence approaching and applying legal principles. Working on these skills outside of the context of class or a mooting competition will help you to tackle problem questions more efficiently and without the added pressure.
It is good to have experience setting out your arguments on a legal issue before you tackle GDL exams. It gives you a much better understanding of the scale of the task. Although the GDL is an intense course, what is being asked of you in the exams is fairly straightforward. If you are able to show a wider understanding and engagement with the law then this will only serve to help you achieve higher marks in the exams.
Further, writing essays and articles will ensure that you have had a genuinely intellectually stimulating experience on the course. Focusing on the seven core areas of law for the purpose of an examination can mean that some of the more enjoyable elements of studying the law can be pushed to the side due to lack of time. Doing whatever you can to engage with the law beyond a surface level will improve your experience on the course.
4. Listen to legal podcasts/read legal news
There are many different mailing lists you can join to get a daily roundup of the latest developments in the law. I set some of these out in my post covering resources for pupillage applications. Podcasts such as Law Pod UK and the UK Human Rights Blog are great places to start. Ensure that you are absorbing as much information as possible about the contemporary legal landscape and the commentary produced in response to it. This will only serve to enhance your experience on the GDL as you will be able to contextualise your work.
Do what works for you, just don’t give up!
I hope this has been a helpful list of ways you can engage more meaningfully with the GDL course. The GDL is a lot, but finding the extra time to really invest in yourself and your interests will be what stands you in good stead going forward. Find what works best for you and good luck!