The Spider in the Lecture Hall: Lessons Learned on the LLB

The Spider in the Lecture Hall: Lessons Learned on the LLB
2023-08-09

It was my very first week at the University of Aberdeen. I, along with the rest of my cohort, was attending one of various induction events hosted by the Law School during Freshers’ Week. We were tightly packed in Regent lecture theatre, all 300 or so of us, eagerly taking notes about our first assignment to be submitted the following week. Teaching hadn’t yet formally commenced and we were already being given homework! As the session drew to an end, we began packing away our notebooks and laptops. I reached beneath my seat to grab my things, only to jolt backwards at the sight that greeted me. A terrifying beast had invaded one of the shoulder straps of my backpack and was eagerly exploring its new kingdom. Overtaken by sheer terror, I cowered as far away as the tight seating would allow. My antics didn’t escape the attention of those around me, and I caught more than a few confused glances. In a panic, I turned to my would-be knight in shining armour: the girl next to me with whom I had carried out one of the session’s interactive exercises. The hero of our tale raised her weapon (picked up her water bottle) and dealt a deadly blow to the demon (swatted it, making it fall). Reluctant to spend even a second longer in the vicinity of the beast, I thanked my saviour and evacuated the lecture hall at a speed I, to this day, have been unable to match.

As you can imagine, dear reader, this was not how I anticipated to begin my university experience. However, 4 years later and freshly graduated, I’m happy to report that the rest of my academic journey was free from such encounters. In all honesty, my time here has been overwhelmingly positive. Alongside the skills developed throughout my degree, my experiences have bestowed upon me important life lessons which will no doubt set me up for success in the future. I wish to share some of these with you, in the hopes that doing so will ease your journey through the LLB and beyond!

Year 1, Lesson 1: Embrace Fear

Lesson 1, dear reader, is all about fear. Embrace it. You will only begin to thrive when you step out of your comfort zone. Admittedly, my performance during the spider spectacle was not at all consistent with this message. However, I was able to redeem myself some weeks later at the Taylor Law Library when I added my name onto the First Year Mooting Competition sign-up sheet. Reader, believe me when I tell you that my anxious brain was deeply unhappy about this move. In fact, the only thing stopping me from immediately turning around and crossing out my name was the undeniable shame of chickening out.

Not long afterwards, I received an email containing the name of my mooting partner, our mooting problem, as well as the date of our moot: Thursday 17th October, 2019. With only a week to prepare, I felt the familiar tendrils of fear creeping into my mind. But it was too late to back out now. And so I persisted. I channelled my nervous energy into my work, diligently researching relevant case law and constructing what I hoped would prove to be water-tight arguments. Of course, it wasn’t all smooth-sailing. Half an hour before my moot saw me taking a brisk walk outside Taylor building to quell my anxiety (and let out some last-minute tears, away from the judgment of prying eyes). However, my efforts paid off. My partner and I emerged victorious from Round 1, and the moot judge even commended me for my ability to answer her questions (something I had been particularly dreading). Moreover, I walked away from the competition (i) an experienced mooter (which came in handy during the advocacy exam in 3rd year), (ii) a better public speaker, and crucially, (iii) a far more confident individual. You see, dear reader, the reward for moving forward with the moot in spite of my fear far outweighed the discomfort of leaving my comfort zone.

Year 2, Lesson 2: “Unprecedented Times” Present Unprecedented Opportunities

Oh boy, that global pandemic sure was something, huh? I’m sure I don’t have to go into any detail about the challenges brought by Covid-19. But what I will say is that it revolutionised the world of work and became the catalyst for countless new opportunities. The sudden shift to virtual events and schemes meant that suddenly law firms and other organisations became accessible in a way that had been almost unheard of pre-pandemic. And despite the transition back to in-person events, many pandemic-era schemes have remained. For example, many firms have created virtual work experiences programmes which are free and accessible to all. Moreover, employers continue to see value in using online platforms to connect with prospective applicants (e.g. virtual Law Fairs and online events). Make the most of these opportunities.

Because there are comparatively fewer schemes directed exclusively at Year 1 and Year 2 students, events like law fairs and insight evenings can be immensely beneficial. They provide an opportunity to gain knowledge about a particular firm and engage in networking (not only with representatives from the firm but with other students as well). Attending these events early on also allows students to plan ahead, gain relevant experience and boost their CVs well in advance of major application cycles. And when these events are hosted virtually, you can do all this without even leaving your bed!

Year 3, Lesson 3: Motivation is a Fairweather Friend, Discipline Will Keep You Moving

Year 3 marks the dawn of Honours years and the death of all shenanigans, tomfoolery and hijinks. For those who haven’t been keeping on top of their studies, now is the time to really knuckle down and get serious about grades. (Of course, I do not mean to downplay the importance of Year 1 and 2 grades - these are very important when applying to internships, work placements and the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice.)

This year was a real turning point for me, both personally and academically. I finally became acquainted with the concept of self-discipline. Before this, my study routine relied largely on motivation - an entity whose presence in my life had thus far proven to be inconsistent at best. It usually manifested as sporadic and short-lived bursts of inspiration, most of which came about in the middle of the night. Without fail, this sudden drive would be all but forgotten. Reader, I’m sure I don’t have to explain to you why this is not an optimal routine for a student who wishes to excel in their studies. Something had to change. And it had to change quickly.

The key to this change was mindset. Focusing on what I ‘wanted’ to do or what I ‘felt like’ doing on any given day simply wasn’t conducive to achieving the goals I’d set for myself. Instead, I started to frame studying as non-negotiable, i.e. something that ‘had’ to be completed. If, for instance, I knew I had to hand in an essay soon, I would tell myself “OK, I need to write up X amount of words today. My desire to write is irrelevant - I will not end my day without having completed this.” This mindset extended to areas outside of university as well. I made a conscious effort to be active. Over time, exercise came to be a non-negotiable. This had the benefit of increasing my overall fitness, helping me establish a good daily routine and improving my mental wellbeing. In turn, I was able to apply myself more effectively to my studies. And this was reflected in my grades, which were higher than those I’d achieved in the two years prior.

Year 4, Lesson 4: There is Power in Performance (AKA: Fake it Till You Make it)

I’ll be real with you reader, I’m probably the most introverted and least sociable person on the planet. And of course, in my infinite wisdom, I have chosen a career path that requires people skills. Very strong people skills, at that. I hope you find the irony amusing, reader, because I certainly did not. Upon realising that the success of my future relied on my ability to communicate like a normal human person, my first instinct was to curl up in my bed and hide away forever. But after an unspecified amount of time spent wallowing in self-pity, I knew I had to do something about my predicament. Unfortunately for me, the best cure for my ailment turned out to be exposure therapy. To learn how to talk to people, you actually have to talk to people. Go figure.

Exposure took on many different forms. First, it took the form of involvement in student societies. I took on various Executive Committee positions for a number of student societies during Year 4. This meant that my presence was required for recruitment drives and other society events. I would later find out that I had a particular talent for pitching my societies at Freshers Fayres. My roles also sometimes meant that I had to interact with high profile legal professionals during events. These were particularly daunting. In these moments, I relied heavily on the age-old maxim ‘fake it till you make it’. This proved to be a vital and ever-present theme throughout the final year of my LLB.

It was especially helpful when I was volunteering for Islamic Relief at the Scottish National Party’s 89th Annual National Conference. The goal was to raise funds for Pakistan following the country’s devastating floods. I was given a bucket and a card reader and told to approach as many attendees as I could. As someone with no particular affinity for politics and no previous experience of bucketing, I felt more than a little out of my depth. But I rehearsed a little speech in my head, slapped a smile onto my face and got to work. As it turns out, I also have a weird talent for convincing political delegates to donate money. And I ended up meeting Humza Yousaf, who, only a few months later, would become the next First Minister of Scotland.

Most beneficial to my journey of self-improvement, however, was my involvement in the University of Aberdeen Student Ambassador Network. Student Ambassadors are the face of the University. It is their job to provide an authentic student voice and promote the University at various events. This can involve giving campus tours, providing directions to guests during open days, answering questions about student life at applicant evenings and much more! All of these responsibilities require engaging with others. When I first took on the role, I was quite nervous. What if I was asked a question I didn’t know how to answer? What if my mind went blank during a campus tour? I was able to work around some of these worries by using methods I’d already become familiar with. Like I did for my moot in first year, I quelled some of my nervousness for campus tours by preparing well in advance. This involved planning out multiple tour routes, writing out my own script, memorising that script and dragging my sister to campus to be my pretend tour group so that I could practise delivering it. But of course, I couldn’t prepare like this for other situations. This is where ‘fake it till you make it’ came in handy.

I spent a lot of my time as a Student Ambassador pretending to have a level of confidence that I simply did not possess. Sometimes, this meant being proactive and approaching lost-looking families during open days instead of waiting for them to approach me. Other times, it meant responding with “I’m afraid I don’t know how to answer that, but I can certainly help you find somebody who does” instead of panicking and freezing on the spot. It also meant admitting when I hadn’t understood a particular instruction and asking for further explanation instead of silently hoping that one of the other Ambassadors knew what to do. I realised that being confident didn’t mean having all the answers - it meant remaining calm, understanding my own abilities and knowing when to ask for help.  

The more I spoke with people, the more I began to accept that in reality, these things (i.e. small talk, public speaking, networking etc.) don’t come naturally to very many people. Everyone, at some point in their lives, has felt the same awkwardness and discomfort that I once thought was uniquely mine. I wasn’t the only one ‘faking it’. All this time, I’d been surrounded by dozens of fellow fakers without knowing.

Since beginning my degree, I’ve learned so much and grown immensely. For starters, I have defeated many a spider - unassisted at that! These changes haven’t gone unnoticed by the people closest to me. Over winter break I went to the Aberdeen Christmas Village with a childhood friend. While waiting for our food, I struck up a conversation with the staff at the food stand. I’d met one of the staffers while working as a Student Ambassador and was asking him about how he had been settling into his course. Later, my friend remarked (verbatim) “Wow, you’ve changed a lot! I don’t remember you being this sociable.” My growth is not the result of having done a law degree - or any degree for that matter. Focusing only on studying would have produced nothing outside of achieving good grades. And while grades are important, they are not the be-all and end-all. Looking beyond my studies, seizing the opportunities that came my way and pushing myself out of my comfort zone again and again is the reason I’ve been able to learn and improve myself. And I’ve had so much fun in the process!

Reader, if there’s one thing I want you to know, it’s this: it’s OK to be unsure. It’s OK to be afraid. But don’t let these feelings stop you from moving forward. Put yourself out there - if it doesn’t work out, then at least you’ve tried something new and gained some experience. You will gain nothing from standing still. So go for it! And just remember, nothing will ever be as scary as the spider in the lecture hall.

Published by School of Law, University of Aberdeen

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