Studying for Law

Since I’ve been asked to help others study for Law, several times, I thought that I should just write an entry about how I think it should be approached. Keep in mind that I’m by no means a four-flatter and that this is the first time I’m actually studying Law. However, having a PhD and being a lecturer, does give me some insight into tertiary education that many of my classmates may miss.

So, take what I have to say with a table-spoon of salt. But here goes.

Read a lot and read widely. I cannot stress how important this is for Law. In engineering, I would tell my students the exact opposite – that is to do and not read so much because engineering is a physical subject, not theoretical. You cannot learn engineering from books.

However, Law is an entirely different creature. Instead of going out and practising Law on the streets, a Law student must be grounded in the underlying philosophy that underpins the legal reasoning and forms the foundation of the legal system that we have.

Therefore, I would have to say that Law students have to read a lot and not just the one text-book. I have to say that for most of my subjects last year, I read at least one book from cover to cover, and picked important sections from another. So, that makes it about 1.5 books on average.

My reading doesn’t stop there.

I read the cases too. Instead of reading the online versions, I actually go to the Law library and photocopy the cases so that I can carry them around with me wherever I go. I would just fold them in half and stuff them in my bag. I would read the cases when I was stuck in traffic, when I was in the toilet, when I was having dinner, etc.

However, I must stress that reading cannot just be done for the sake of reading. The reading has to be done with a clear purpose of understanding the Law.

Therefore, as I read, I questioned. This is advice that I would give to students everywhere, whether Law or Engineering. We have to always as just one question – why. In Engineering, the purpose is to find out how something works the way it does so that we can manipulate it. In Law, the purpose is similar – to understand the legal reasoning behind the decisions so that we can use it.

Now, I don’t stop there either. Once I understand the legal reasoning, I try to go a step further to ask – why – again. We need to not just understand the legal reasoning at face value but also the reason behind the reasoning. This typically dwells into very philosophical matters but it’s something important to know too.

Once that is achieved, I think that it’s safe to say that we’ve understood it sufficiently.

Memorising cases is only important as examples because our Common Law system works through analogies. However, it’s still the underlying legal principles that are more important. Those have to be understood. Then, the cases merely serve as examples to illustrate the point that we’re trying to make.

The rest of it is just positioning and garnish. I personally think that as a student of Law, we must learn to take sides in an argument. Some will disagree with me on this. However, I think that it is necessary. By all means, learn to see all three sides of an issue but always pick a side to stand on after that.

Anyhow, that’s what I think is important.

I must stress again that I’m no means an expert at Law studies. I’m an Engineer, through and through. However, all undergraduate education is the same – learning the fundamentals. So, that’s what we’ve all got to master and for Law, those are the legal principles.

PS: Instead of photocopying, maybe I can just print out the online versions. I wonder if that would save me some paper. Better yet, buy a tablet and carry the PDFs around with me.

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Shawn Tan

Chip Doctor, Chartered/Professional Engineer, Entrepreneur, Law Graduate.

9 thoughts on “Studying for Law”

  1. Hi, thank you for sharing and your advice. I have signed up for LEEP in contract and tort. Luckily it is arranged back to back. I really wish to join Prof Johan’s lecture but I couln’t travel that often.

    1. Those are also important papers. Consti is a different creature from the other Law papers. You really need to read widely for that – alternative news particularly.

    1. Hi,

      I need some tips from you. I understand that for MLS we need to give our idea or opinion when answering the examQ. But I find most of them are very factual like the history of acceptance of English law in our country. Take last year Q for example. Q 1 ask about acceptance of English law in the Straits and Q 2 about federated Malay states. Can I find out from you what is your approach when you answer MLS Q?
      Thank you

      1. MLS is a very factual paper. So, it’s mostly just stating what is in the book. But there’s always a little room for opinion.

        In these kinds of questions, the ‘conclusion’ is not fact. E.g. if they ask to contrast the FMS and UMS reception of English Law, some will say, it’s the same, some will say there is diff.

        If they ask about the principle of stare-decisis in our high courts, there are actually some unanswered questions of horizontal operation across time, which are again opinion.

  2. Thanks. When I read the past year Q, most of them will ask by jelaskan. Also, most textbooks will mention the unanswered parts also. Is it ok if I write what the authors think? Coz I do not really have much idea on my own…..

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