Studying Law at Cambridge
Submitting my first essay in the middle of Freshers’ Week set the tone for my degree in more ways than one. The content – constitutional law – was engaging and felt more relevant than anything I had studied before. It was this fascination that characterised my experience of the Cambridge Law Tripos. The course is three years and, of course, covers the seven compulsory modules that make it a qualifying law degree (LLB). These modules are constitutional law, criminal law, tort law, contract law, EU law, land law and equity and trusts. In first year, students all take the same four papers: constitutional law (shortened to consti), criminal law, tort law and roman law.
All students also complete a Legal Skills and Methodology paper in first year – in this paper, you’re given the chance to write an essay on one of three broad topics: statutory interpretation, case reporting or reform of the age of criminal responsibility. In our second year, we were given the chance to take three electives alongside the compulsory contract and land papers. I opted for international law, administrative law and criminology, sentencing and the penal system. The latter is a paper shared with Psychological and Behavioural Sciences and Human Social and Political Sciences and I found this knowledge-sharing and interdisciplinary collaboration really exciting.
The compulsory modules for third year are EU and Equity. Alongside this, students can either take three electives or two electives and a dissertation. To make matters more confusing, we could also ‘swap’ one elective for two half-papers in a really wide range of topics including, for example, Landlord and Tenant Law. I jumped at the chance to write a dissertation – this meant applying to three out of the seven possible seminar classes. I was delighted to be accepted onto the Tax and Policy seminar course, which consisted of weekly 2 hour mini-lectures and discussions in a small group. The two electives I chose were labour law and commercial law.
The teaching styles and learning structure of the Cambridge Law Degree are both unique and challenging. It is trite that lectures are given by renowned experts in their fields and as such are engaging and, at times, memorable. From offbeat analogies to impromptu requests for audience participation, my experience of law lectures was both varied and vital to my understanding of the course content. What really sets Cambridge apart, however, is the small-group supervisions where you’ll be asked probing questions about that week’s reading list and, in some cases, will discuss the essay you have written. Supervisions are particularly valuable to law students as you are expected to defend your arguments and conclusions in conversation with other bright students and renowned academics. In this sense, the transition from a secondary school style of learning to studying law ab initio was a sharp learning curve. My experience was that of feeling like I could always be doing more, and slowly gauging how much of the reading list needed to be read – and in what detail – to perform well in supervisions. I found long stints in the library unproductive and demoralising, so I would advocate a ‘little and often’ approach to getting through your workloads as a Cambridge lawyer.
A few hours, a break, and then a few more and repeat – that’s how I stayed switched on, engaged and motivated enough to get essays in on time and notes on all of the content. The biggest challenge of my degree was definitely time management –the workload is considerable and there are so many (almost too many!) extracurricular to be pursuing. There were weeks in which I had three essay deadlines, supervisions, mooting commitments and committee meetings. Ensuring that I met all of my deadlines was no mean feat, but I am sure that with strict scheduling and a good sleep pattern these stresses could be minimised!
I cannot stress enough that it was worth it – the late nights, supervision blunders and treks to 9am lectures. A Cambridge law degree will not only change but enhance how you see and process the world around you. It’ll equip you to ask the right questions, effectively challenge things you wish to change and you’ll never lose an argument again! You should choose law because our legal system holds a mirror to society – changing and adapting to reflect societal change – and knowing its history and underpinning principles is invaluable. Roman law, a first year module, will give you this insight. The highlights of my degree experience include the tax and policy seminars where I was able to learn from and discuss tax law with top academics and my second year contract supervisions where even the driest subjects were made fascinating by my supervisor.
Having just graduated, my advice to a prospective Cambridge law student is, primarily, planning will enhance your experience no end. Know what you want to learn about, attend taster lectures, make weekly plans to get everything done with time to spare. You’ll thank yourself: even if it feels manageable at first, you’ll need a robust scheduling system to get through week 5, converging deadlines and 400-page reading lists. I’d also urge you to have pride in your achievements and to know that your insights and arguments are just as worth sharing as the next student’s.