David graduated from the LLB Hons programme in 2015. He went on to complete the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice (DipPLP) with us at the Edinburgh Centre for Professional Legal Studies, and in September 2016 started a traineeship with Anderson Strathern.
How was the jump from Ordinary to Honours courses? Is it a lot more difficult?
It’s very different but I don’t know if it’s more difficult. In the Ordinary years, particularly second year, you have to juggle so many different courses and your schedule is full of classes. I think this means students tend towards cramming and skim-reading to get through each tutorial. In the Honours years, class-time is cut drastically and you have much more of an opportunity to read in-depth for each class.
Reading lists are much longer, classes are double the length and there is a greater expectation for all students to get involved, discuss the literature and challenge each others ideas. But you also get more out of it. There’s more time to mull over your views of the law and challenge the orthodoxy than there is in first and second year when you just need to hand everything in on time.
"In the Honours years, class-time is cut drastically and you have much more of an opportunity to read in-depth for each class."
What Honours courses did you do?
In my third year, I took European Union Law, Human Rights and Administrative Law. Realising that I’d focused almost completely on public law classes, I decided in fourth year to expand my specialisms by taking Contract and Property Law.
I really enjoyed all of my courses. Property Law was probably just my favourite but it was the Administrative Law course that gave me the inspiration for my dissertation.
How do course choices work? Do you get to pick whatever you want?
In the summer before each semester students are given a list of the courses which will be running in the next year. They then choose their top five options in descending order. The Law School aims to give students their top choices and if there are enough spaces on the class, everybody gets on. Some popular classes are oversubscribed and students are then given a space based on past academic ability. This means some of the popular classes – for example Contract and Property Law – tend to have more fourth years than third years, since people’s results tend to improve over time. Don’t worry if you don’t get all your first choices though, you’re likely to get a space the next year if you try again!
"Don’t worry if you don’t get all your first [Honours course] choices... you’re likely to get a space the next year if you try again!"
What is the Advanced Legal Methods course? Is it a good introduction to higher-level study?
Everyone in third year takes the Advanced Legal Methods course in the first semester. The course is designed to introduce you to Honours study, with lectures and tutorials focusing on different types of legal research (eg. Doctrinal, socio-legal, comparative etc). As part of the course, students complete a piece of research of their own choosing. Students can choose from a number of different themes but then have to write a 2000 word essay based on their own research question. The essay is a really useful test-run for the dissertation, giving you a chance to formulate your own question and structure, as well as interacting with the higher-level literature. Undertaking the ALM course definitely helps you feel more prepared for later Honours essays.
How do you structure your days when there’s so little class-time? Is the reading really strenuous?
You definitely need a bit more discipline in third and fourth year. If you don’t force yourself into the Law Library or towards the books, you can easily lose a day procrastinating and socialising. However, once you’re there it’s relatively easy to spend hours working through each class’s reading list. If you commit at least 4-5 hours a day during the week to reading, you can definitely keep on top of each class and still have plenty of time to spend on other things.
What did you do your dissertation on?
Building on some of the stuff we’d discussed in Administrative Law, my dissertation was on common law human rights protections and how they can or should interact with the Human Rights Act.
"[My work placements] definitely helped me to decide what sort of firms/organisations to apply to for traineeships in my fourth year."
Did you do any internships or work placements over the summer?
Between third and fourth year I did two placements in very different environments. I spent three weeks at Dickson Minto, a corporate firm based in Edinburgh and I also spent a fortnight working in-house with the Legal Services team at Fife Council. It was really useful to have these very different experiences of legal work, both in terms of the work carried out and the office dynamics. It definitely helped me to decide what sort of firms/organisations to apply to for traineeships in my fourth year.