What is expected from a UNSW Law student? | Law

What is expected from a UNSW Law student?

As you would already know, UNSW Law is regarded as the finest Law School in Australia with its graduates in high-demand. To make sure you reach your full potential, we do have a set of expectations of UNSW Law students detailed below. Read also the thoughts from students on what they wished they'd known before they started studying law.

Expectations of UNSW Law students

You don’t need to be the best, but you should strive to do your best!

1. Your readings are essential not optional

Complete your readings before you get to class and being prepared to answer questions. Learning law this way means you continually learn and reinforce your knowledge so that when assignments and exams come around study is not a major drama and you have learned things in a more permanent way than cramming the night before. It also allows your class to spend time discussing the interesting and challenging aspects of the material rather than wasting time recapping the content and facts. It is impossible to overestimate the importance of doing this. If you feel that you can get away with not reading for class you are only disadvantaging yourself. It truly is the most important thing you can do as a law student.

The rule of thumb for reading for class is that we would expect you to read for two hours for every hour of class you attend. Don’t be overwhelmed: you will be slower at first, but get faster as you get used to it.

2. Skipping class is a bad idea

The Law Class Attendance Requirements policy means that if you do not attend most of your classes your teacher may not be permitted to assess your work. Attendance is required. It is required because in many classes you will be assessed on your class participation, which includes reading and responses to the material, listening and responding to other students and your teacher. Note that academic hours usually run from 5 minutes past the hour until 5 minutes to the hour. You should be in class and settled, before the teacher arrives. If you must be late, enter quietly and do not disturb the class and apologise and explain to the teacher at a convenient time. Ideally, tell your teacher if you know you’ll be late ahead of time.

3. Tell your teacher what’s going on

Keep your teacher informed if you have any major issues such as illness which might impact on your work. Don’t wait until things have become really serious when an early chat might avoid problems. You may also want to apply for Special Consideration.

4. Do your own work if you want to learn (and pass)

Student plagiarism and academic misconduct is taken very seriously. As with all other areas of life doing your own work is the right thing to do. Passing off others’ work as your own is not only bad for your learning, but it is dishonest and risky. Students may be excluded from their degree for plagiarism or other academic misconduct, so make sure you are familiar with the policies and guidelines to avoid problems. Other forms of academic misconduct include preventing others from getting access to material in the library by deliberately not returning an overdue book, for example.

5. Follow the assessment rules

Make sure you hand material in on time and keep a copy of all material handed in. You will also be asked to attach an assignment cover sheet to anything you hand in. This sheet requires you to sign a declaration that it is your own work - that is, that you have not committed plagiarism. You are required to keep a copy of any assignment you hand in should it get lost and needs to be re-marked. Don’t lose marks for presentation and citation. Follow the correct rules according to the Australian Guide to Legal Citation.

6. Show respect for your fellow students

We also expect the normal codes of polite conduct to be followed - courtesy to others and respect for them as human beings. One of the great benefits of a legal education includes developing the ability to argue strongly without it degenerating into a fight. This is one reason the Bar has such a strong code of civility. Being on holiday isn’t an excuse for missing exams; be available for all classes and assessment for your course - this includes examinations in the examination period. Don’t book a flight overseas during this period as this may result in you being unable to attend the exam and therefore failing.


What I wish I'd known before I started

Read below what three students wished they'd know before they started studying law - and some things they already did know.

Student 1

  • Managing the work life balance

  • Accept the fact that you will procrastinate and that you need some time off to achieve your highest performance. Nobody can study 24 hours straight without resting. Then, might as well prcrastinate in a good way. Go out to movies, dinner with your friends, go to the gym, cook, clean, stc. I really recommend cooking for procrastinating; healthy, saves money, better quality than take away and it makes your friends happy too.
  • Plan weekly events that you do with your friends. This will force you to go out and refresh yourself. I had trivia on Tuesday, weekly JD dinner and drinks on Thursday. Planning to join touch football on Monday from next semester!
  • Plan at least one event once a month that really excites you. I usually travel or attend big events. I think this helps me confront the massive amount of work that needs to be done and makes me happy even when I`m really low.
  • Handling academic demands
  • Know your goal. Knowing your goal can be to (1) know how well you want to do in this course and (2) to understand how good you have to be to get a certain mark. (1) is different for everyone and you really can't set your goal unless you know exactly what you want to do in the future, which I think is rare. So I think the best is to just try your best and try not to think about marks. Best marks come when you try your best while you maintain your work life balance. After my mid term assignments, which were all really good results, I got too caught up in trying to get high marks which led me to sacrificing my work life balance. As a result, I burned out. I got sick, physically and mentally. I just somehow couldn`t study for a whole month. After that I learned my lesson and got hold of my life again. I accepted the fact that I need to refresh. Since then, I've been so much more productive than before. I would really stress this point because I think people who come to law school can be high achievers and have a competitive personality which may lead them to make the same mistake as me.

Also, I think I was depressed and didn't realize it until I realized that I was getting messy and not taking care of myself well. When my friend asked me why I don't put on my make up anymore, which is bad and impolite under Japanese standards, everything all came together and I thought I needed to change. If I didn't know that getting messy and lazy was the start of depression, I may have been sucked into it.
And as for (2), I really recommend looking at past exams before starting the course and try to read as many HD and D papers/essays as you can. It gave me a good guide to what is asked for by the lecturers. Looking at HD and D papers also helped me learn how I should structure my paper and how to present my ideas in the most effective way. For example, I didn't know whether I should note that certain facts are irrelevant. High marked papers tend to note this point which I think lead to their marks. Also, I didn`t know you can point out that the facts are insufficient and hypothetically split the conclusion in two ways.

  • This overlaps with (1) above, but STAY HEALTHY. You have to be healthy to achieve your highest performance. What I mean by healthy is being healthy physically and mentally. I think going to the gym really helps too. 
  • Getting the big picture before looking into the details. I recommend looking at study guides before you read the textbook. Understanding the basic concepts and ratios of the major cases before tackling with the textbook helped me read faster and understand the textbook better.
  • Study with your coursemates. I learned a lot from debating and explaining about the subject with my coursemates. Also, if you're in a study group it forces you to go to the library and study. Moreover, studying with good friends make studying so much more fun!!
  • As for exams, try writing past exams by hand under the given time limit. This really helped me understand how tight the time limit is and encouraged me to follow your advice to write all my answers before the exam which worked out really well. Thank you again!!! 

 Student 2

  • Make friends quickly – There is a lot of material you will need to get through and having friends makes that far easier. You will also find that some classes are more seminar and discussion based than others. In the absence of the necessary discussion you will need to properly learn your material, you will need to find your own group of friends to discuss your learning.
  • Ask questions – There is no better time to ask what you may think is the most stupid questions than in your Foundations of Law class. Don’t be afraid to speak up as their will be fewer opportunities to and more questions to ask as time goes on, so make sure you leave Foundations understanding the issues and the practical context in which they occurred.
  • Proficient case reading – Case reading is one of the most important skills you must acquire whilst studying law. The more efficient you become at case reading, the better your understanding, exam preparation, and ultimately time management will be during you studies. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to improve your case reading proficiency other than to start early and attempt it as often as possible.
  • Effective & efficient case notes – It will be equally important to ensure you capture the content of your case reading in as efficient a format as possible. The aim is to cover your note taking as broadly and thoroughly as possible in the shortest amount of time. It is important to understand that concise and accurate notes will be vital when you commence preparing for exams.
  • Go to Peer tutoring at least once – As the saying goes, “you don’t know what you don’t know”. It doesn’t hurt to invest a few one hour blocks of time and you will almost certainly find that you pick up something that you hadn’t considered.
  • The best piece of advice my class was given during my first semester was that if we could cope with the level of difficulty encountered during the first semester, we would be more than capable of completing our law studies. This is true of most students who make it to the second half of their first semester. Its hard going during the first few weeks but if you find you are enjoying yourself and coping with the workload then you should not have too many problems.

Student 3

Apart from the obvious things like making sure to keep up with the reading and viewing your colleagues as supporters/friends rather than competitors, I would also (poorly) quote what our lecturer told us all a few weeks ago: That we should not get too obsessed with results (though they are important) and focus on the very reasons we have decided to study law in the first place. Holding true to this will get you through the tough (or boring) times and give you the strength to learn from your mistakes and get on with it. Don’t let ‘yourself’ get in the way of what you want to ultimately achieve.

Remember, the world needs heroes... and those heroes will all need good lawyers!