Gandhi & Me - LLM at UCL 2008-2009

Grüezi and welcome

By stephan on Jan 20, 2009

Grüezi*, dear readers. First of all - and before introducing myself - I have to apologise for the rather daft name of this blog. Apparently studying has deprived me of any form of creativity. "Gandhi & Me" was the first half-original name I could think of. It might, however, be quite an appropriate blog name. Not that I would strive to become an even remotely famous or revered person. No, no, no. I am pretty satisfied with my humble existence. Yet, professors and deans certainly hope that a considerable amount of their students will become alumni they are proud to impress current and potential students with. I won't forget the introductory courses at UCL when several speakers called us the future elite. Ahem. Me? Thank you. But quite an overstatement of my deeds and abilities - and as some might argue of that of the UCL as well.

But I'm deviating. Introduction was the supposed topic. So here we go. My name is Stephan. I am a Swiss lawyer with a few years of legal experience back in Switzerland. Since last September I've been studying at the University College of London (UCL). After completion of the LLM I hope to work for a few more years in London before returning to Switzerland. More information about me? I'm sure you will learn more about me if you dutifully read all my blog entries.

I've wanted to blog about my experiences since the start of my courses, but for several reasons (to be disclosed at a later point) I never got around to do it. Until now. So, once again: Grüezi and welcome.

* Grüezi: Swiss German for hello.

Time is not on my side

By stephan on Mar 31, 2009

Time is definitely not on your side as an LLM student (*) - to start off with a sweeping generalisaton. Of course it depends on the approach you choose. Some students are just keen on the title and do not care about fancy 'distinctions'. Hence they use their intelligence to pass the LLM with as little effort as possible (the so-called 'party approach'). On the other end of the scale we find the 'all-you-can-eat approach'. You paid a hefty lump of money mostly by yourself and you want to grasp as much knowledge and experience as possible.  So you read as much as you can, audit additional classes and attend guest lecturer events.

Whatever approach one chooses, it can be generally stated that an average LLM student always lacks time. The reading for the courses takes up a lot of time since reading lists are ranging from extensive to ridiculous (even if you focus on the recommended reading). Add finding material and printing it. Or as one fellow student put it: "I feel like I have done a lot of work just finding the materials to read."

Maybe you want to stay in London or the UK after the LLM and apply for a graduate programme? Be prepared to spend a lot of time applying in the early weeks of your courses (deadlines are ludicrously early), going to interviews and career events. Or you might want to get involved in the countless societies, clubs, moot courts and volunteer opportunities. Some people even work part time next to a full time LLM or cruise the world to attend conferences and pursue their academic career. Hats off, I couldn't do it.

It can become too much. "Everyday I have a nervous breakdown.", I overheard one girl say. But: Don't panic! Thousands of people have mastered the LLM before you, loads of them neither as intelligent nor as zealous as you.

(*)  My lack of blog posts may serve as the perfect proof.

Legal writing for non-native students

By stephan on Jun 19, 2009

Even if you have written academic articles in your home country, you might want to improve your English legal writing skills to be prepared for exams and the dissertation. It’s not just grammar and vocabulary. The English legal writing has its peculiarities regarding structures and conventions an LLM student should be aware of. Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of books on this topic, but a course might be more helpful.

The UCL Language centre offers a specific ‘Advanced Legal Writing’ course for non-natives which I have attended and which I can highly recommend. The course will prepare you for the essay and problem questions of your exams and help you writing your dissertation. Additionally, it will teach you how to handle the enormous amount of reading, take notes more efficiently, draw up case notes and other useful techniques.

The class size was small enough (around 8-15 students) to address individual concerns and problems, the teaching was very good and the atmosphere in the class relaxed. You will be expected to do homework (preparing essays, reformulate legal letters). This might seem like the last thing you need considering the piles of reading material waiting for you. However, it is well worth the time and effort. I cannot stress enough how much I have learnt in this course.

Unfortunately the course is not included in the LLM course fee and costs an extra £330. A mistake in my humble opinion. Taking into account the high percentage of non-native students and the high level of the LLM course fees the course should be offered free of charge. All the more as it is in the best interest of UCL to maintain a reputation of forming students who not only perform well in their subjects but who are also well-versed in English legal writing. Nonetheless, the course is definitely worth the money.

You can find more details about the course on the website of the UCL Language Centre.

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