Now that exams are over and find myself with some free time, so thought I’d write a blog post for those who are either starting or thinking about starting the LLB with the
. UoL provides you with a box of guides and books, a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) on their site and expect you to complete a three hour exam per subject at the end of the year, everything else is down to you, the positive side to this is that's it's low expense and open to just about anyone, anywhere with basic entry level grades. University of London International Programmes
I started this degree almost 4 years ago in November 2008, having not done any studies for 12 years and certainly nothing law related. I made a number of mistakes, particularly in the first year, so decided against sitting exams and lost my exam fees, changed from Scheme B to Scheme A but found the following year my job was extremely busy so did little study and decided not to do exams, considering dropping out. I then decided to knuckle down in 2010, change back to Scheme B, work hard and now it’s paid off. About to enter my third year SchemeB and quite pleased with my performance in the exams, I’ve learnt a lot. It would be difficult to summarise in one post what I’ve learnt during this course, but hopefully this post could give a little guidance for those starting out as to the pitfalls to look out for and maybe learn from my initial mistakes.
My starting point was attending the Induction day at Russell House in September 2008, I hadn’t actually enrolled as a student on the degree but had decided that this was what I wanted to do. The induction day was invaluable, as it gave a little foretaste as to what to expect. We were given an outline of the course and lecturers gave us a brief introduction of the first year Intermediate subjects, CLRI, Contract, Criminal and Public. We were given advice that Scheme A would be demanding if we were working and/or had families to support, which is the case with myself. We were advised in this situation that Scheme B would possibly be a better option.
In my opinion this is the starting point when about to embark on the degree what scheme you want to do, having in mind the LLB takes 3 - 8 years to complete, however if you wish to practice it needs to be completed within 6 years under the Qualifying Law Degree (QLD) route. There are four options Undergraduate Scheme A (12 subjects), consisting of four subjects per year, Undergraduate Scheme B (12 subjects), three subjects per year, Graduate Scheme A (9 subjects) four subjects 1st year, five subjects 2nd year, Graduate Scheme B (9 subjects), three subjects per year.
My first bit of advice in deciding which route to take is that the LLB is very demanding, much more demanding that many students realise, I have seen many drop out being overwhelmed with the workload. Scheme A is in my opinion not an option for those with families and/or work. The Undergraduate route four subjects per year, the Graduate route would mean that five subjects are studied in the final year, if you want to practice a further Legal Skills Pathway is required, meaning that for both routes on Scheme A more than full time study is required in the final year on an already difficult degree, anyone who combines this with work and/or family is heading to be included in one of the failure statistics. Check out the following link on the Criminal law lecturer Norman Baird’s QED site as to the statistics of failure rates in the second year Graduate Scheme A, showing a 43% failure rate. This failure rate has it's reasons, Graduate Scheme A is not even worth considering in my view unless all of your time is dedicated to studying law without the distractions of work, family or a 'significant other'.
With all that in mind I decided to go via the Undergarduate Scheme B route and enrolled in November 2008, intending to sit exams in May/June 2009 … my first mistake. We were advised at the Induction day that by enrolling in January, it would mean we gain a further academic year. As the QLD has to be completed in six years for the LLB, by delaying a couple of months we could gain a year, as the deadline for applications for that year was December. It would mean not being able to sit exams in 2009 though, which was on my mind. So enrolling in November 2008, I paid my exam fees in January 2009.
Now for my second mistake ...my first year choices of subjects. I chose Public, Criminal and Contract … in hindsight I would advise everyone to choose CLRI in the first year and before tackling any subject do the first 5 chapters of CLRI, along with the online legal exercises. CLRI in my view is the foundation of this degree, it teaches the mechanics of the legal system and the exercises teach how to search for cases, statutes and journals … those databases do need navigation that is difficult to do without the guidance of the exercises.
Having had little guidance, except a few paid sessions with a tutor, no real networking with other students, I was really doing this blind. I did get together with a couple of students via the VLE through Skype which was a help, but over time they eventually dropped from the course finding it overwhelming. So when exam time came I wasn’t ready and put this down to not doing CLRI in my first year and having no real approach as to how to study law, so cancelled the exam, lost my fees but didn't lose an 'attempt'.
I then decided to convert to Undergraduate Scheme A adding CLRI to my subjects. After doing the first few chapters, I soon began to realise that this is the foundation of the course and should have started this subject before embarking upon the other three subjects. By this time however my colleagues on the Skype group had decided the degree wasn’t for them, so I thought about looking for others to study with, finding some to be unreliable.
Opting for Scheme A whilst at the same time working was my third big mistake, I soon began to realise coming towards exam time that I’d be overwhelmed with revision. I’d obviously not got much to study as I’d done most of the other three subjects, but exam time would mean real intense revision, my work load with my job became more and more and realised I couldn’t do exams in 2010. At this point I considered giving up, but at the same time really enjoyed the studies and could see that the LLB would be a rewarding degree.
So reverting back to Scheme B I decided in 2010 to really knuckle down. In order to do that I’d decided to network with other students, realising that the Skype groups I’d joined had become an unreliable way to study I decided to start a Facebook group. Initially there were a handful of us, this has now grown to nearly 900 members, including professors and lecturers who freely give their own time to help out students and I rather suspect actually enjoy the discussions. I also joined a small Skype group with two keen and dedicated American students Simona and Markus (aka Legalyankee) for Contract, which was a massive help, we met online from July 2010 on a weekly basis through to the exam of 2011 to study an exam question. I also decided to start this blog, both to network with others and as a template of my studies.
I cannot emphasize enough the value of networking with other students. The LLB is hard as it is, even harder when on your own. The value of having colleagues to interact with on the same degree is hard to put into words. Though these interactions are online and not face to face, there is still a feeling of all being in it together. Without a doubt there are some that I would gladly invite into my home after getting to know them online. Some students I have interacted with via both Facebook and Skype are some of the most determined people I have ever known and feel privileged to have interacted with them on this degree. Further, having lecturers easily accessible through social media is an invaluable tool in this study box.
So when exam time came in 2011 I’d decided to attend the QED revision seminars held at UCL, which really brought all of my studies together. The exams went well and haven’t looked back since. Embarking upon the second year we decided to form another group on Facebook for Finals subjects which has grown to nearly 700 students, it has been remarked that some of the discussions are of academic quality, again I cannot emphasize enough not to do this on your own with so many options to interact with other students.
I’ve decided to take Public International Law and International Protection of Human Rights in my third year as electives as this was the very reason I started studying law in the first place. Having had some teaching experience in human rights projects, I’m looking to gain some more next year. Now that I’m over the hump of this degree, having done most of the core subjects I’m looking forward to getting onto this next stage of the course. After finishing the degree I have no intention to practice, though would like the option as I’m doing the QLD route, but looking more towards doing an MPhil, along with some teaching.
If I could offer any further advice it will be that law will now become your life, intending on studying 3 hours per day, it is generally more than this. If sometimes however you miss a day or two, or even a week, do not try to recapture lost studies as you’re only putting pressure on yourself. I think it’s also important to get some free time away from studies, something recreational. It’s also important to sleep, I know a number of students who have little sleep, but from my point of view I’m more productive when not tired. Follow the Subject Guides closely, the first 3-4 chapters generally will give the basics to the topic, study these closely, read the Learning Skills for Law guide do the activities as we learn by doing, do the essential readings and read the cases. The sample exam questions are provided at the end of each chapter to help us learn. Providing all of this is done, you will be ready for the exams, I can speak from experience. There are no shortcuts, no point in reading summaries on the subjects, no point in narrowing your revision to the basics ... all of the studies asked of you will have to be done.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, knowing back then what i know now i'd be completed this year, not that it bothers me, i'd embarked on a journey blindfolded with little advice and still on target to complete within 6 years of my initial registration. Feel free to join the facebook groups or ask any questions on the bottom of the post. The LLB is one of the hardest things you'll do, but equally one of the most rewarding. Studying the Common Law, the history, the politics, the growth and development of the law along with it's complications and contradictions has been a truly rewarding journey, i wish you well in yours.