Swati teaches at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Faculty of Law. Her areas of research include public law and the law of torts. Swati has received teaching awards at NUS and at CUHK in Hong Kong where she previously taught. Swati obtained her Bachelor of Arts in Jurisprudence (First Class Honours) and Bachelor of Civil Law (Distinction) from the University of Oxford. She previously practiced law at Allen & Overy, specialising in international commercial arbitration. She is a Solicitor of the Hong Kong SAR and England & Wales and a Member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. When not at NUS she is a busy mother-in-training to her 3 year old “boss”, Sophie.
This Letter is addressed to her younger self on the first day of law school.
So – first day of Law School! Exciting and incredibly terrifying at the same time. So much to tell you – so much it would be great if you could realise or do from Day 1 but is unfortunately all part of the learning and growing experience that is University.
First – it’s going to be hard – very very hard. Very very very hard. You will be pushed to the edge and beyond and then back again. You will be surrounded by extremely intelligent and (seemingly) confident people. Don’t get put off. Hang in there. Everyone is going through their own battles – whether it is visible or not. And if they are not then use them as a guide about what University and law school can be like if you stay focused, calm, cool and collected. Accept that failure and disappointment are going to be a part of this journey. It is going to be very hard to stomach – but you will have to regroup. You will have to pick yourself off the ground and move on.
Second – keep on top of work as best as you can and get into a study rhythm fast. Even if it means reading only 10% of a reading list each week, just keep on top of it as much as you can. Don’t let stress and panic make the 10% drop to 0%. Accept that you will not be able to finish everything assigned to you – then you won’t feel constant disappointment and stress. Accept that you will be a slow reader to start with (very very very…very slow) and that you will pick up speed the more you read and as you progress. You will figure out your own way of being efficient. This could be by forming a study group or figuring out which journals or books or cases to focus on in any given week. This also means attending all classes – no matter what. Dropping classes and lectures is probably the first warning sign that you are starting to fall behind or are feeling overwhelmed. Going to classes will help you feel plugged in to a support network of friends and teachers and just anything and everything that is going on – don’t ever unplug or feel unplugged. Make notes in classes – even if it means just writing down what you have heard so that you can process it later. Make diagrams or mind maps – anything that can help you process material in new and interesting ways – this converts what you have learned from being something you memorise to something that is just part of your knowledge universe.
Third – get organised about your future. Find out early on what your options are (law or non-law; practice or non-practice based) and work towards them – it’s crazy how fast deadlines for applying for jobs, grad school etc come and go. Be prepared. During the summer and long holidays try anything and everything – do a law internship at a big but also a small firm; try something non-law; do something totally different and unexpected for yourself (travel alone; volunteer overseas) – something that will surprise you about yourself!
Okay enough serious stuff. Here are some non-work – but equally critical things you really should think about:
Definitely don’t spend your whole time at law school doing law. Get out, do something, pick up a completely new hobby or sport or activity. It’s a great stress release and another way of being disciplined. If you can, then get good at it – so that when you are feeling at a low point on the law front you have something else to keep you buoyant and confident and happy.
Don’t spend your whole time at law school with law students. Meet people studying other things – see the whole university experience from a totally different perspective and learn totally new things about the world (from anthropology to zoology). Understand the challenges faced by other students – that will also make you put your own challenges in perspective. And you will do the same for them.
Enjoy enjoy enjoy – you have some amazing years ahead – and you will come out a stronger and evolved person.