The purpose of education is two-fold. Firstly, to make us knowledgeable about a subject, which allows us to apply what we’ve learned later on in our lives. And secondly, to inculcate a mental sophistication which refines our thinking capabilities. One of the reasons we chose the University of London is because we believed in the quality of its education and its ability to do both of those things.
Yet, unfortunately, most of us don’t do one of the major parts of the carefully designed curriculum: the readings. I admit, there are hundreds of them, and, especially to a new student, they can seem quite intimidating. Unfortunately, what most of us do instead, is either skim or not read them at all in order to cover our courses quickly. I too have to read constantly in order to try and keep up. And that’s exactly why this topic appealed to me: why were so many of us not willing to commit to such an essential part of the course and yet expect to do well in the exams and later as professionals?
I want to make a case here to encourage myself and my fellow students to read, read, read. Read not only the Essential Readings set out in the Subject Guides, but also beyond that.
Law is a field that has everything to do with our minds. The more intellectually capable we are, the better we will do in your legal career. It is extremely essential to have the competence to think on a wide range of issues logically, without ambiguity and in depth. Law needs us to have a brilliant mind, and that can be achieved.
Just like physical workout helps our bodies function better, mental exercise helps improve our minds. The readings provided by the university are essential to understanding the topic dynamically and thoroughly. But they also perform a secondary, and perhaps, more important function – to train our minds like an athlete trains his body. Reading is one tool that can manage this feat exceptionally well.
A study at Emory University says people who read more have complex brains, which basically means that they have more neural connections developed, leading to more flexibility in thinking – a great tool for any legal professional. According to Ken Pugh, President and Director of Research at Yale University, reading can have a substantial impact on your memory too. It also helps expand vocabulary, improve communication skills (need I say how important that is for lawyers), and develops analytical prowess – all necessities in understanding complicated legal issues.
Achieving our goal
Similar to an athlete, having once decided on our goal (of having a keen legal mind), we must choose a route to achieve it. For a law student, reading is that route – our version of a workout. It requires us to be committed enough to read every single day, without exceptions. We must challenge ourselves regularly to improve the quality and quantity of our readings. No matter how hard it gets, or in how much of a hurry we are to finish the course, we must resist the urge to skip them, and instead, try to discipline your minds to stay focused, determined and consistent.
To me, the fact that all the required readings in the Subject Guides are written by some of the top legal minds is of equal significance to there being essential readings in the first place. They are judges, lawyers, academics etc. – the people who are already where we probably dream to be someday. They have decades worth of experience and expertise and we have a chance, through reading their articles and lectures, to learn from them directly, understand what they think, why they think, what they do and how they communicate. It also helps in trying to get familiar with the culture of the system they form and are a part – of which we will one day be too.
If I hadn’t read them, I would’ve never known how witty and humorous so many of them are, as opposed to the severe, dull personality I expected a senior judge or acclaimed scholar to have.
Reading beyond our course
There are a few versions of this that I regularly practice, and all of them help a lot in adding to my understanding of the course:
- Readings related to the topics: The first and most important would be to simply read more on the topic I’ve just studied, or am going to. The search can either be broad, regarding the whole of the topic i.e. judiciary, or it can be narrow i.e. black women in the judiciary. We could read summaries and others’ notes. All kinds of such readings will add to our knowledge of the topic and will be a lot like revising.
- Reading/watching material related to the authors we have to read works of: The internet is full of information on and by influential thinkers like philosophers, judges, commentators etc. They will connect us on a personal level to them and their work. Unsurprisingly, this is hugely helpful in remembering information concerning those authors in our courses.
- Keeping up with current issues: Many things are beyond the scope of our courses, or simply irrelevant to them. This does not mean they can’t be useful to us. Catching up on current developments in law is an easy way to keep us engaged with our education and also to give us an upper hand come exam season.
It is a commonly known fact that the more we are involved with our subject, no matter in what way we choose, we can only hope to be more qualified. As a result, it will bring us closer to the achievement of our goals, not only in our education, but also in our profession.
I have personally always been connected to books and was aware of the importance and significance of the effect reading can have not just on my mind but on the minds of those around me. In my experience, people who read, no matter what the readings, are more likely to understand things better, more inclined to empathise, and have a clarity in their thoughts despite their age.
Having said that, I’ll now head back to the countless readings awaiting me and I hope this will encourage you to read, even if it’s the Essential Readings. Good luck!
Kinza is studying our LLB independently in Pakistan.