5 Hard Lessons I Learned About Succeeding in The Nigerian Law School
Inspired by the countless law school stirring success stories I had read and the enviable arm-length list of record-breaking students who had taken home the most prized awards at the annual call to bar ceremony, I arrived at the Nigerian Law School with one goal on my mind – taking the bar exam by storm and graduating with a precedent-setting first class.
Like many ambitious law school students, I felt I was more than capable of pulling off this incredible feat, without maybe breaking any sweat in the process.
It later turned out I was way off base with my assessments and had made a serious error of judgment.
As the weeks wore on and got to know about the mounting amount of bookwork I had to deal with, and the sheer bulk of materials to commit to memory, I went through something of a crisis of confidence.
Not that I didn’t believe I was smart enough. The pressure of law school was just beyond anything I had been used to.
There were raucous group meetings to attend after each day of class. And tricky time-consuming pre-class assignments that always seem to arrive on schedule, taking up whatever time I might have had for personal study.
And the classes didn’t make things any easier either. Their fast-paced nature gave me hardly time to catch my breath, making it difficult to make any real sense of earlier topics before we were unceremoniously ushered to newer ones.
I felt as though I was being asked to juggle many balls while having to maintain my balance at the same time.
As the days passed by and I became more and more frustrated by my seeming lack of progress.
I began sinking under the weight of my increasing academic responsibilities, and my early sense of optimism and ambition had quickly given way to a pathetic sense of desperation, quite similar to that of a drowning man struggling hopelessly to grasp at straws.
At this point, I thought my struggles were probably the result of a lack of motivation to work harder. So I tried to calm my fears by reminding myself of the age-worn proverb that when the going gets tough, only the tough get going.
Likewise, I toughened up, tried to up my intensity, rolled up my sleeves further up and went back to work.
A few weeks later, it occurred to me that my efforts were getting me nowhere. Frustration started to creep in, my motivation began to ebb, and the futility of my efforts began to look like those of a man trying to escape from a quicksand, or that of an animal hopelessly trying to reach beyond the end of its tether.
My dream of first class was starting to look like a mirage. Worse still, I was suddenly beginning to wrestle with the scary spectre of failing the bar exam.
I wondered at my dramatic fall from grace, about how I had gone from wanting to be the best graduating student at the bar exams to entertaining the ugly possibility of failing.
When I tried to relate my experience to other students, I came to understand many of them were going through exactly what I was.
But many of them had gone a step further and began settling for less. Bright, hardworking minds felt it would be great if they could escape with just a pass grade.
Others had allowed their fears of failing run riot and had gotten paralyzed from engaging in anymore studying. In the process, they had set in motion a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy that had all but jeopardized any chances they had of passing the bar exams. Many of these students ended up flunking, while some barely got themselves over the line.
It was during this trying period of my time at the Law School that I stumbled on an important realization that saved me from a potential academic disaster:
That the Nigerian bar final exams are more a test of a law student’s coping and survival skills than of their intellectual ability or previous academic performance.
That’s why smart hardworking students fail the bar exams. And other seemingly less likely ones bag the first class. While I narrowly missed the first class, I graduated with the next best degree distinction after that.
Though I have no regrets about my bar performance, still I feel I might have fulfilled my dream had I learned the lessons I am about to share here way earlier or a little sooner than I did.
Any law school student who learns these lessons I am going to share and does as I will be advising will stand a higher chance of bagging the law school’s Holy Grail or the next best thing to that, just as I did.
Here are some of the lessons I wish you’d learn about succeeding in law school.
- GROUP MEETINGS: THE WONDERS OF COLLABORATION.
“Group meetings, huh? I’ve never really been big on those. Meetings are such a waste of time! Besides, I have more pressing matters to attend to. I would rather stay in and hit the books”
This is what often goes on in the minds of a lot of law school students when they think about going to group meetings.
Makes sense, doesn’t it? Not until you’ve considered the likely consequences of boycotting something meant to be facilitate your success at the law school.
At a superficial level, the after-class law school group meetings may seem pointless to attend. Particularly when you consider the mountain of materials you have to plough through each day. When you have that much to do, naturally the last thing you want to do is to be seen around other students who might be slacking on their studies for all you know.
But in law school, everything serves a purpose. And students who think they are better off reading than being in group meetings may actually be setting themselves up to fail.
And here’s why.
As part of the vocational training, almost every course taught in the law school requires students to take part in pre-class activities to tackle a number of practical drafting exercises before each class.
When there aren’t any, students may often be required to meet to brainstorm answers to posers for the following day’s lecture.
These tasks are sent out to the various group leaders prior to every class. And students are required to meet in groups at different times to address them. Most of these tasks can be so bulky that no single student, however smart or hardworking, could tackle them all on their own.
This calls for collaboration between students given the urgency and the limited time.
And group meetings affords students just that. Through these meetings, willing students band together; rub minds and brainstorm these tasks collectively; practice different legal drafts and share responsibilities on specific pre-class drafting assignments.
Those slow on the uptake are not left out either. They too get to learn from other brainy colleagues who seem far ahead of the learning curve.
As students participate in these meetings, they have a better grasp of seemingly complex topics, gain mastery of a wide range of legal drafts, and as the day of reckoning draws nearer, they go about their activities with supreme confidence while relishing the prospect sitting an exam they have all but completely rehearsed for.
On the other hand, their colleagues who might have been skipping these meetings begin to lose their grip with their studies. Each time they pick up their neglected draft books to stare at the various draft of court processes they hadn’t practiced, they can hear the pulse of their heart beats deafeningly echoing through the walls of their dorms.
And because they have been focusing on reading alone and ignoring the practical aspects of the law school training afforded by participation in group meetings, these students start to realize, but rather too late, that they aren’t ready for the bar exams.
These chain of events are what form the ideal prelude to a student’s failing the Nigerian bar finals exam.
I do credit a huge part of my success in the bar finals exams to my involvement in these same meetings that some students attempt to snub. Not only was I attending them, I was among the few responsible for spear-heading them. It gave me a sense of responsibility and ensured I was abreast of everything going on in class. Not to mention, it helped me master the numerous legal drafts required to excel at the Nigerian Law School.
- HAVING A ROUTINE IS THE ROUTE TO BAR FINAL SUCCESS
Many law students who flunk the exams don’t do so because they didn’t read hard enough, or lacked the smarts. They just lacked the consistency that often comes by setting a study schedule and sticking to it as a tick might stick to cattle.
Not fixing a time for when to read, sleep, rest, and relax would more than likely harm any chance a student might have of excelling at the bar exams. Going a day without leafing through your books may not appear to carry any serious implications for your success at first glance.
But without a clear-cut agenda to guide your day, this might lead to a complete abandonment of your studies. And this can go on almost continuously without a student’s notice until it’s too late to correct.
The bar exams may be set on a day in the future, but for the sake of preparation, you have to see it as occurring every day. With this approach, you will read almost every day and there wouldn’t be any room for senseless slacking.
Additionally, it will help you avoid the risk of break down that many indolent students often run when they leave their reading to the last few weeks to the bar finals.
This last-ditch approach to studying is behind why some students collapse and have to be bundled out of class with the exams around the corner.
Some go nights without a wink, trying to brute-force information into their heads that, with a little planning, they might have gradually committed to memory only to experience a brain-crash. Don’t make this same mistake.
- READ IN ADVANCE BEFORE EACH CLASS.
Besides being huge fans of interactive learning, it appears the law school administrators are equally evangelists of undisguised learning. If you studied abroad you might be at a loss as to what I am getting at. But any Nigerian law student would understand.
Most Nigerian law lecturers pick lecture topics at random from their syllabus and aren’t that fond of following the sequence of their course contents or topics in their lecture handbooks. Owing to this, what might have been reserved for the last week of lecture could be taught on a student’s very first day of lecture.
This creates an air of uncertainty, and students aren’t ever sure of what topics to prepare for before each day of lecture, making reading in advance the exclusive preserve of the super-motivated, reading-obsessed and highly brainy ones.
But this isn’t the case when it comes to the law school. Their curriculum is better streamlined and well-structured. All topics to be taught on each course are outlined in a course handbook arranged by lecture weeks.
Law school lecturers follow the lesson plans in these handbooks to the letter, thus allowing for predictability. As a result, students can read up scheduled topics well in advance before each class.
Following this approach as a student won’t only give you a head start, but stand you in good stead to having a solid understanding of everything you are taught in class, saving you the time you might have spent feeling lost in class, or the money you might have spent taking remedial classes.
More so, lectures in law school are pretty rushed, and unless you learn to read in advance, you may not have time to go back over what you’ve been taught before you are rushed into the next.
Not doing this would mean you might show up in class feeling like a pre-historic Homo sapiens hunter-gatherer at a tech conference – With everything going right way over your head.
- EXPERIMENT TILL YOU HIT THAT WINNING FORMULA.
Another important lesson I learnt at law school is that what worked yesterday may not work today. What I mean by this is that whatever style of learning or reading technique that made you outstanding in your university may not work in law school.
This is because the workload is a complete animal from what you may have been used to in the university. You will therefore need to improvise new learning techniques and quickly adapt. Let me use my own experience as a reference point.
In my first few weeks of resumption I had considerable difficulty settling in. Back in the university, I excelled by taking notes and making summaries of voluminous texts and lectures. My notes were so brief but concise that what might have taken others hours, I read in only a few minutes.
I attempted this same strategy in law school. But it failed miserably.
The problem was, the sheer volume of materials and books we had to read were just beyond what I could comfortably summarize – it would have taken years! And even then, I might not have finished.
I had to adapt. What I did was to completely do away with my habit of making hand-written notes.
Instead, I settled for the undetailed soft copy slides from each day’s lectures (lecturers often made these outlines available after every class) and fleshed them out with additional information from my textbooks. I read my textbooks before each class, and made my e-notes on my PC after class from these slides.
It may sound like a simple enough problem, but more than three-quarter of law school students in my time felt like quitting law school due to this inability to make notes, compounded by the frenetic pace of lectures and the ever increasing bulk of reading materials. Mine was a classic example of adaptation.
- DON’T FORGET TO UNWIND
In Law School is a there is always something to do. If it isn’t some marathon reading session, then it’s attending long-winded lectures that seem to last a lifetime, or being summoned to unplanned group meetings to address surprise pre-class assignments. There are hardly any intervals when students aren’t being asked to do one thing or the other. Amidst these breathless flurry of unceasing activities, it can be difficult to find any time for respite or diversion of any kind.
The intense academic pressure and tension that come with being on this rather energy-zapping schedule often subjects many law school students to high levels of stress that often culminate in rapidly deteriorating physical, emotional, psychological and mental wear and tear.
The students most affected by this are those who come to the law school hell-bent on getting a first class.
Not that it is wrong to have such lofty dreams, but it can be an excuse to not strike a fair balance between work and leisure. When this happens, a student might end up getting zonked out as to resemble the UNDEAD in Paul Anderson’s Resident Evil.
Not to mention the deleterious effect it would have on your health. And you can’t engage in any serious study if you aren’t in tip-top health.
So learn to take regular breaks in-between readings. You’ll come back fresher, energized and motivated to go again.
You may already have heard about many terrifying things about the law school. But as someone who has been there, done it (and got the T-shirt), I can tell you Law School is not as difficult as people think.
However, that is not to say it’ll be plain sailing. Take it from me, it’s harder to fail in the Law School than to succeed, as long as you are open-minded and are willing to make the little daily efforts to your ultimate success. It’ll even come as a surprise to you that some of my fondest memories of my life as a law student are those from my time at the Nigerian Law School.
So go forth and conquer.
If you want to get in touch with me, you can reach me on my email @[email protected]
A youngish lawyer with penetrating insight, Patrick Herbert is the Editor-in-Chief and founder of Lawstudenthub, a site dedicated to helping new wigs find their footing in a trickily slippery legal profession and stay current with emerging developments in the legal industry. He holds an LL.B from the University of Benin and a BL from the Nigerian Law School, Abuja.
To get in touch, follow him on social media.