With hindsight, there are many things that I wish I’d known before I started the GDL. I wish there had been someone to pass down their knowledge and experience other than telling me “good luck, it’s going to be hard”. Now that I have completed the GDL and come out the other side, I thought it would be a good idea to ask my GDL course mates what things they wish they’d known before starting the GDL and share them with you. Hopefully they help.
A small note: these tips were given by students who completed the GDL at City Law School where you sit all seven GDL exams at the end of the year. Some tips may not be helpful if you are completing the course where the exams are formatted differently. Here at City we had seven three-hour papers as well as seven coursework submissions and a 4,000 word Research Project at the end of the year.
Give equal time to all your subjects throughout the year
“I’d say give equal time to all subjects across the year. Torts was my fave and I got really good feedback on my coursework so then I ignored it for ages especially since it was the last exam. Similarly I neglected Public after a while because it became my least favourite but I should have stuck to equal prep/reading time throughout the year for each.”
This is a good point and definitely brings up the important matter of the GDL being a balancing exercise. You’re balancing the course, applications and attempts to have some sort of normalcy in-between the madness. Give equal time to your subjects and give your best effort for your Coursework (if you have any)
Don’t over commit
“I’d say don’t overcommit at the start of the year. I did too many minis, too much mooting, too much pro bono, and not enough GDL work or sleep.”
The GDL is a really demanding year and with application deadlines looming and the pressure to secure a Training Contract or Pupillage weighing upon you, it can feel as if you have to take on a lot. Yes it’s important to gain experience, yes it is important to involve yourself in Pro Bono but also remember you came here to complete your conversion course. As I said in my post ‘Why I stopped pressuring myself over Pupillage’ , the competition for applications isn’t going anywhere. You really can afford to find a balance that works for you. If that means you don’t apply for things until next year then so be it. Take care of yourself and remember that this is a process.
Don’t leave it too late to clarify things
“If you miss a concept at the start of year for the love of God set aside the time to work it out. Do not do what I did (face core concepts for the first time at 5am the morning of the exam)”
Don’t play yourself friend. Make good use of your professors, tutors, revision guides, textbooks and friends.
Science students, don’t worry if Public law doesn’t come to you intuitively
“…just general encouragement to science students that it’s okay that Public law will not seem as intuitive to them as for History/Politics students. I at least felt like the course was taught with a lot of assumed knowledge/understanding, which definitely freaked me out at the start”
I definitely agree with this. I mentioned in my GDL vlog about how I prepared for the GDL that I read some introductory texts before I started the course. This is really helpful especially if you have been away from academia for a while or came from a science background like my friend here. Try to ease yourself in. Before lectures I used to watch videos to give a general overview. Marcus Cleaver’s YouTube channel is a godsend and I thoroughly recommend it. Lectures feel much less like a baptism of fire this way!
Don’t get bogged down in too much detail
“Don’t take on too much detail. In any given exam answer, you’ll rarely cite more than 15 cases. Lots of the lecturers give too many cases to the point it’s almost anti-helpful, and if you are working out what you don’t need to remember before exams, it takes too much time.”
To each their own with this one. Some people (like my Criminal Law lecturer) will learn every. single. case. The rest of us mere mortals need to strategise. During the year it will become clear in lectures and tutorials which the key cases are. These almost certainly will be indicated as essential reading on your tutorial handouts. Once it gets to revision time and you’re checking past papers and mark schemes (as I recommended in my ‘How I survived GDL exams’ post) it will become clear the amount of cases you need to cite. Following your ‘IRAC’ (Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion) structure will help you gauge the amount of case law you should be citing. I promise you now that you don’t need to know every case. With good notes, a good revision strategy and a good set of flashcards you’ll be fine.
Work out what your goals are and get a hold of past papers early
“Work out what your specific goals are for the year, and push hard for those. Mine weren’t exams related so they weren’t my target. But I wish I’d asked for past papers on day one along with sample answers. Past papers along with sample answers were what saved me from going mad.”
This is true. If your goals aren’t to put all of your energy into the exams then that’s fine. But remember my Mum’s mantra failing to prepare is preparing to fail. If you anticipate you’re going to be spending energy and time pursuing another goal on the GDL (for example, a friend secured a Pupillage during the GDL and competed in various mooting competitions in England and in Europe) then ensure you are as prepared as possible as early as possible. Be sure that when you do turn to revision eventually you are ready and not scrambling for material or trying to work out what’s going on.
Make time for self care
“I think it’s important to make sure that you do things for you throughout the year of the GDL. It’s so intense and it really does take over and it’s important to remember that you’re human and do things that you enjoy to maintain your sanity”
I cannot stress how important this piece of advice is. Please take care of yourself. Please. This year is hard and you’re doing amazingly well. You deserve to feel good! Every day I went through a self-care ritual and let myself sit down and watch something funny or entertaining and relax. Don’t deny yourself human comforts, you need to be at your best self this year!
Remember, it’s just one year
I would always tell my friends on the course that I couldn’t wait until 10 years from now when I would call them up at their respective law firms/chambers to laugh about that year on the GDL. This is one small slice in time of your legal career. A tiny element of the future you are building for yourself. Put it into context and be sure to take it and treat it like what it is. It is a conversion course. You are doing this as a mandatory element of your legal training.
The real world is still waiting for us to seize it and make an impact. This course can feel like a different universe and sometimes you can feel like it will never end. But end it will and soon enough you’ll be looking back on the course ready to give advice to someone else.
Until next time,