A Science Student’s Take on Law School

Jeffrey Law
May 17 · 11 min read
Can the law be complimentary with fields of science?

This is my opinion on how things look like for me. A lot of these are generalizations of a significant extent. You are certainly allowed to think differently and otherwise (Duh) from my piece, but I tried to write this with as little bias as possible. This piece is heavily influenced by my own experiences which may commonly vary from others.

What triggered my desire to enter law school was the sense to do justice for others, to ensure there was a sense of equality in the community or at least advocate a safety net of non-discrimination among vulnerable groups. One of the target groups was the unfairness between treatment of races, the looking down of one on the other. My experience with this was mainly with an elderly Malay lecturer who had racist beliefs towards Chinese males but was sweet and gentle with all the female students regardless of the race.

Of course, after finishing my second year of a law degree, it was long overdue to conclude that my intentions and objectives, at least initially were very underdeveloped and maybe even not realistic in certain aspects. The fairness provided by the law that “ensures justice is served” is never always 50/50. It may be very well decided that a good decision has been made if all parties to the proceedings were satisfied with the outcome. In a divorce proceeding, particularly one that concerns a pre-nuptial agreement, a husband may be entitled to most of the wealth and fortune and the wife may be left with little just because she was content with what she had.

What really struck me, was really the reality of all things. But studying a law degree has made me spirited and passionate in examining human nature: their behavior and the workings of their mind. Laws are passed because of an emotional reaction(even though one may say that to make law, one must see things from a neutral view). The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 is an example where the people feel the need to put homosexual couples in equal grounds with heterosexual couples by granting them the right to marry. It was very well a dramatic response to the social injustice protested by the public. Therefore, I study law to understand human psychology, to be able to fathom the court’s concept of “fairness and injustice”, and to evaluate the social structure that binds us all today. I hope to one day be blessed with the opportunity to work with others who share the same mindset as I do, to critically assess the science of the mind in relation to law-making.

With that, the first facade of law school is broken: not everyone studying a law degree plans to practice and be an attorney.

I studied at a private institution which of course I will not name. The people who choose to take a degree in law come in either looking confused, confident, disinterested or unconcerned. Most don’t have a heated and fiery passion like mine. Reasons can go from family pressure, doing better in law among other subjects at A-Levels, or even being motivated from the riches to be earned from practicing. I have a friend who told me the only reason he choose to take this degree was because he thought he could be rich in the future from advocating in court.

Students who study law tend to be prideful, but not necessarily in a bad way. All of us have a sense of pride in what we do, it is what defines our self-identity. The pride in law students may come of as a bit arrogant at times, or even a bit egotistic. At surface level, the self-esteem that law students placed for themselves may seem intimidating to others. This pride would go on to grow as they study, and later into the work culture where lawyers tend to be extremely assertive and opinionated. This behavior manifests beautifully in court hearings, lawyers are not afraid to speak up and fight for who their representing. In my opinion, this cocky attitude is usually somewhat apparent even as early as their youth years. That is not to say that they are bad people: being prideful in this context has nothing to do with being immoral provided that it does not reach the state of arrogance. In fact, this self-important behavior helps them do what they do best in court. It also makes them great leaders because of their confidence in speech and willingness to lead a group to achieve a particular aim. A friend I know who studies with me has served as the president for the Leo Club of our college, he also happens to be quite humble and modest. I believe it is attitudes like these that makes them such good potential candidates to be working in this field.

However, the fact that they are brave enough to speak out does not mean that what they bring in their speech is good content to devour. Numerous law students are extremely hot-blooded in certain topics and issues: sexual assault, politics, inequality in racial treatment… Like most emotional people, their thought process tends to be clouded with very “fired-up” feelings. This prevents them from seeing issues in a different light or perspective, which makes objective-based discussion slightly annoying at times. You could call this a shortcoming of law students’ bravery to public speak, but being self-aware of this flaw can tremendously help one to formulate better arguments and opinions in the future. So for those who are aware, they tend to provide very persuasive points and applaudable comments on relevant issues. But the blame is not to be put on them for behaving as so, I believe it is the current social media approach that has tweets restricted to 280 characters, putting everything at face value and encouraging minimalistic reading that has shaped the young adults of my years as so. I have been to numerous talks and speeches by much older and professional lawyers which I have often times walked out of the talk learning nothing new. It can be hard to find a law student that has really good content in whatever they preach but when you do, it would be quite rewarding if you crave a healthy and open discussion.

Most people tend to equate law students with excellent public speaking skills. This might be one of the biggest misconceptions in the public’s eye. In general, public speaking has little to nothing to do with the admission of people to a law degree. A well-spoken person is likely to study a course which he has an interest in, and that can very well not be a law degree! Most people do not even have the grasp in basic techniques, but that is because they rarely have the chance to speak in front of hundreds of peers or a crowd. Public speaking is a skill, it needs to be sharpen and trained in a person. Therefore, those that articulate well most likely have experiences in relation to speaking out in the open: Model United Nations, Debates, Public Speaking Contests and so on. But it is not these experiences that drive them to study the law, it may very well be but it is possible that there are other bigger factors at play. Although public speaking is extremely crucial in advocacy, it does not play a big part in the admission of law students to a law school. A lot of people learn how to talk well from base zero from various mooting and debating experiences that the law school has to offer.

What the Law Degree Actually Is

Any area in life that you think needs regulation and restrictions of, probably has some law over it. So there can be a great deal of areas that require legislation over it. The truth is that we do not even study half of these areas. The same is that for someone practicing medicine, in the sense that you do not know the entire specifics of the workings of the human body. Usually, you are only well-versed with a particular part. And granted the limited time and brain capacity of an average student, you only have enough resources to be good at certain parts of your field. Mandatory subjects include contract, criminal, tort, land, public law, the English legal system, equity and trust. Some would argue that company may be a required subject but for the most part, it is an elective for students to choose.

The law is bulky, no doubt about it. We basically learn the history of law for every single little common law principle, mainly to appreciate and value the current and modern postulates or concepts that are our foundations today. With accumulation, a single subject may come up to at least 500 pages of material to study in terms of textbooks alone, not counting the endless pages of court’s judgements and opinions in journals or articles. Despite its mammoth substance, it is quite fast to get the gist of it. Unlike Physics where understanding electromagnetic or centripetal force may be incredibly hard to comprehend and grasp for some, the law can be quite straightforward at times. There can be simple concepts such as understanding civil liability as “love thy neighbor” which simply means to not harm the people around you but there will be hundreds or thousands of cases that establish and validates this principle in different contexts. Of course, there will be at times where the law seems confusing because of the messy work left by the judiciary and precedent but for the sake of this discussion, most principles are sort of “common sense thinking”. After all, the law is for all to read and if it cannot be simple enough, then the general public won’t be able to understand enactments without a law degree which would be absurd!

Also, we do not actually study the entirety of a subject. We usually only know the fundamentals. So a 500-page textbook may only be a 300-page one because of how the syllabus determined by the course allows it.

Studying

Lecturers often give enough materials for students to work on to adequately pass the subject. To score a higher score, you had to put in significant extra work yourself. Most students are ignorant to doing extra work but that is partly because of the “spoon-feeding” culture our Asian society adopts. Thus, many students fall on the passing grade and the unluckier ones would fail the exams which is the why the failure rate for some subjects can be quite high merely because the lecturer gave them minimal material to work on.

Studying the law at first can be tough. You never know when it would be enough to stop on a certain topic. Unlike most science subjects, when you know how the human digestive system works or how the elements chemically bond with each other, you can call it a day. But the discussion on law never stops. There are countless of opinions and controversial cases out there waiting to be studied, endless materials for one to dive in. Most times, students adapt their studying methods to fit the syllabus and examination material, not that it is wrong to do so. But it is quite strange to see that we would be tested on a certain aspect of law without actually knowing the whole of it but only a specific part of it. In journals and older case law judgements, the language used can be a little bit funny and weird which makes understanding significantly harder. Most modern judgements and opinions are usually very understandable, even to an outsider. But once you get past the language barrier, reading would be much easier. As a law student, you would spend most of your hours in books and online sources, reading and only reading. It is hard to formulate your own opinions on the subject matter when your knowledge on the source may not be in depth enough to make a stance. Hence, most students tend to follow opinions of academicians that they think best, it is easier that way.

Written exams are cruel. Students are required to write 4 essays in a short span of 3 hours. When the law is so wide in scope and enormous in material, it is almost impossible to put out one satisfying answer to your potential. At most, one would have to give and take with the limited time s/he has. A lot of substitution has to be done in order to allow space for fundamental principles of the law to be written on paper but the real substance matter may lack in elaboration and sufficient justification because of the time limit. Exams are hard to score mainly because of this which is why many dedicated students find it hard to score an A. Written examinations require a technique of putting things in concise but equally meaningful sentences and phrases, a technique that needs practice. Law school does not in any way actively promotes the practice of this skill in any way, it is only natural that most students would only know of the true challenge of exams after having gone through themselves.

Advocacy

In my college, at least, advocacy is not integrated into the syllabus. Consequently, a lot of people graduate out of law school without any prior practice and guidance in delivering speeches in court as well as the formalities involved. Many of the relevant events are held outside of the lecture halls, in time and space.

The debate culture among law students is no exceptionally different from the regular debate culture among non-law students. There will always be a number of delegates and participants that always points fingers towards the opposition, frantically yelling unprofessionally that the opposing team is wrong or using some words that throw shade on the others. Although, there is a certain calmer atmosphere in mooting competitions that is apparent in the competing rooms. But as the students gained experience and grow older in age, their arguments also tend to be more carefully drafted and delivered than the younger speakers. The mooting community in Malaysia is considerably small, it is quite easy to recognize formidable opponents and befriend participants sharing the same involvement.

Afterword

To the people who are contemplating on studying in law school, I suggest that you do not be easily intimidated by the usual gossips and misconceptions of taking a law degree. The area can be hard to score a decent grade without an outstanding amount of effort, and even more so for a first class degree. But are not all undergraduate degrees like that in a way? Note that you will be burying your head in words of either heavy books or on a bright computer screen. If reading is a burden to you, it does not mean that a law degree turns to be an option for you to strike out. It would just mean that it would be burdensome for you to get through the exams, by a much bigger extent. But if reading turns out to be something you like, much will be in your favor. Most of my friends who seldom read in general find a tough time while doing the degree. Read books on areas you are interested in but are not mutually exclusive to the law, such as sociology and the book Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari. Pay attention to the recent issues concerning relevant discussion on the law, such as the current state abortion laws in US states not allowing abortion anymore where the one of the most compelling arguments involve the workings of the hierarchy of the judicial system and precedent. For me, I love indulging in social matters which usually provide a much more visible link towards how humans work and behave.

For the rest, I hope this clears up most of the myths, confusion and misconceptions.