Friday, 18 December 2015

What to do over Christmas

(originally posted as "My advice for students over the Christmas break" on Facebook on 20 December 2014, now updated and rewritten)

Dear Students

I realise you are all in real need of a break. How I understand! The tiredness and exhaustion have set in over the relentless first term! I feel the tiredness in every bone in my body, and I am pretty sure I am carrying a luggage set under my eyes these days.

But to simply take rest and not take advantage of the break from classes would be a mistake. By all means take the festive dates off; Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Years Eve, New Years Day. Except for those days, you are going to have to commit to getting some work done. This is especially so if you have gone home for the break where the distraction of the family and friends you have missed all terms are now near you. Spend time with them over the festive days, but realise you will have to disappoint them and spend time on your studies.

Crimbo Snowdude

So, all you need to do is revise ADR, right? Wrong.

Obviously, it would be a great idea to revise ADR. The exam is early in the New Year. So you will need to revise. However, some students make the mistake of simply reading and re-reading the text book. Firstly, you need to make sure you understand everything you have covered before you start revising. Revising has a “re” in front of it. This means you should be looking at the topics for the second or third time. Do you best to fill in gaps in your knowledge and understanding before beginning your revision in earnest.

Active learning techniques are best, when revising, particularly self testing. I have covered how to get the most out of your revision here:

I would strongly suggest you do not simply use the break for ADR revision. I advise that it would be a good idea to ensure you get all of your civil litigation, criminal litigation and ethics learning up to date. You may have a working understanding of most of the concepts and topics covered. If so, great. If not, that is your first task. You need to fill up any gaps in BOTH your understanding and your notes.

The Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree donated by the people of Norway
There will be very little opportunity for you to do any other catching up after the start of term. After the ADR exam, you will have classes, hand ins and assessments running side by side from now to the end of the course. Learning time will be hard to come by. The revision period will be short.

Do not expect to revise the other knowledge subjects either from the textbook or one of the revision titles alone. Books are resources for learning, not tools for revision. You therefore need to have good notes. Notes which cover the syllabus areas in the level of detail specified by the syllabus.

We now have better guidance from the exam board about what you do and do not need to learn. Certainly, for civil litigation, the elements of commentary from the practitioner text (the White Book) have been defined and set out. You cannot “learn” these from the White Book itself; make up your notes summarising the principles. Remember that for civil litigation, you do not need to know the names of cases (other than American Cyanamid v Ethicon and Norwich Pharmacal v Customs and Excise Commissioners). 

If you are not a CLS student, then you will not have your ADR exam in early January. I would suggest that you consolidate all of your knowledge subjects (including ADR) in the way I have suggested above. You may not have the immediate demands of exam revision, but you have got the opportunity to get the bedrock of your knowledge subject learning solid.

Do yourself a favour. Get your work sorted this Christmas break. When your mum or best friend is annoyed with you for not spending enough time with them, I am sure when you explain that awful Snigdha woman from the law school has told you you must do this, that you will be forgiven. Blame me. I give you carte blanche. Show them my picture and say “it is all her fault, she is that horrible tutor at the law school”.

Blame me, get on with you work.

And you can then enjoy Christmas and New Year 2017 guilt free and without annoying old me gnawing your ears.

Wouldn't that be great?

Please do send me pictures of your Christmas tree all decked out in 2016 so that I can see you celebrating in style when you have put the BPTC behind you.

Lots of love


Tuesday, 17 November 2015

How to get organised on the BPTC

Introduction / Disclaimer:

You might be feeling a bit overwhelmed right now. Overwhelmed with your workload, overwhelmed by "stuff". 

Too much work to do: 
Lots of chapters to read for each knowledge small group.... 
The deadlines for formal feedback work are imminent... 
Not enough time to write opinions, drafts and skeleton arguments...

Too much "stuff":
There are case papers, workbooks, student instructions, manuals… the course overview and your timetable. So many pages of information, so many things to cart around. ..

You might be wondering how to get organised and how to keep up with the work on the BPTC. You have my sympathies – this is a complicated course with lots to do and lots to learn.

These are my own personal thoughts and views. They may on occasion be provocative/irreverent or cheeky. They are not binding, and will not themselves guarantee success. But as a person who has often had to fight the forces of disorganisation and poor short term memory, these are good strategies for helping you keep on top of everything.

The 3 part strategy

There are 3 planks to my strategy (and sometimes I am a plank!):

1. Know what you are doing at any given time!
2. Have a “Survival Bag”!
3. File everything!

Know what you are doing at any given time

Half the battle of the BPTC is keeping prepared for classes and ensuring you have enough time to get everything done. This involves FORWARD PLANNING.

I hate to say this, but generally, students don’t do forward planning. Work is done at the last minute, with the deadline looming. Students justify this by saying “I work better under pressure” but I don’t buy it. This year is the year to school yourself into professional habits; professionals don’t procrastinate and then work in a mad rush, they plan ahead. 

You need to think about a week or a fortnight at a time. If you think day-to-day, you are going to suffer. On that day when you have 2 SGS, you’ll end up pulling an all-nighter and feeling knackered the next day. Not good. Whereas if you plan you work over the week, you will use gaps between classes and other times (quiet evenings such as Monday or Tuesday night when most aren’t so keen on going out) to get things done. Too young to watch Downton Abbey? Good, get some work done in the week, take time off on Sunday, and leave us boring middle aged people to watch adult-appropriate period drama!

The Course Overview and Timetable are the 2 most VITAL documents to tell you what you’ve got to do each week. So download, photocopy or a copy which you keep with you AT ALL TIMES. Have a copy at home, and a copy on you. Then you will always know where you need to be, when and what you need to do. 

I copy everything into my diary. I work with pen and paper – no worries about hacking, running out of memory or battery life. I write it with a biro, so those of you who say “oh but you might drop it in a puddle” – ha! Biro won’t run in the wet. And your laptop/PC/smartphone, if dropped in a puddle will definitely suffer more. So, who’s sorry now?! ;)

Have a “Survival Bag”!

Soldiers have a Survival Bag. So should you. This is a bag which is kept packed with your essential kit.

That kit should contain:

1. Course overview grid

2. Timetable

3. Pens – plenty colours and a couple spare in the main colour you write in

4. Pencils

5. At least one highlighter

6. Lined A4 file paper (LOTS!)

7. Ruler

8. Calculator

9. Oyster card

10. City Law School USB stick

11. Headache tablets

12. Small amount of spare cash for snacks/ tea/ coffee

13. Swipe card

14. Library card

15. Smartphone, charger cable, power pack
16. Water bottle (reusable, please, let's look after the environment!) 

You will obviously have to add the preparation and work you need for each session on a day by day basis. But if your Survival Bag has these essentials, you won’t have to worry about keeping track of them.

If you are a laptop person and bring your laptop, bring your mains power cord as you might find that your battery needs topping up when you least expect it.

File everything!

Bits of paper pile up quickly. Individual bits of paper are easily lost. They get left behind, get scrunched up at the bottom of your bag. There are so many ways in which they will elude you when you need them the most. So you need to file everything, and have a system.

The filing system you see pictured above is that of my former student Eloise Turnnidge. 

She has some excellent and astute advice for you all:

"My advice on how to get organised...

1. Buy a folder for every subject, but choose a different colour for each. I found it helped me compartmentalise. It doesn't matter what the colours are, but for reference with my photograph, to demonstrate the amount of documents I had for each subject, mine were:

Pink - advocacy; divided into Civil, XIC and XX. 
Orange - litigation; one folder for civil, criminal and evidence respectively. 
Yellow - skills; somehow I managed to squeeze OPW, drafting and conference into two folders. 
Green - ADR and ethics. 
Blue - divided between my two options. 
Purple - general course information; timetable, course outline and assessments handbook, etc.

You'll need some file dividers, obviously. I split my folders by syllabus topic for knowledge subjects and by brief for skills subjects, which seemed to work well. The weakness was that some briefs were used for multiple subjects.

2. Recreate the same folders and colours for your electronic files. Continuity helps, especially when you have so much to do!

3. File everything the minute you get it! Otherwise you'll simply have mountains of unorganised paper.

Bonus tip! It really should not need to be said, but as an ex Apple employee I'm very familiar with the consequences of failure to do so... BACK UP YOUR DIGITAL FILES. REGULARLY.

Enjoy the course - it'll fly by!"

My own personal suggestion is that you need the following:

1. A ringbinder for each knowledge subject:

- Civil litigation, evidence and remedies

- Criminal litigation and evidence

- Ethics


2. A ringbinder for Drafting (which you will only use for LGS notes, suggested answers and work right now, but later will become your Drafting Exam Toolkit)

3. A ringbinder for Opinion writing (again, not something you will use right now, but will become your Opinion Writing Exam Toolkit)

4. Document wallets / elastic files for each of your sets of case papers, notes and work as you go along. Some of the documents may end up in the Exam Toolkits above, but that is something to concern yourself with at a later date.

5. A small (eg half inch) ringbinder for your current advocacy work. By this I mean the exercise you are working on each week. When you aren’t working on it, put the stuff back into the relevant document wallet in item 4 above. You need your advocacy papers in an easy access format, particularly if you are working with a bundle. You need to get to witness statements quickly and easily.

I realise I am suggesting that you buy quite a few files and folders. I am not actually a stationery obsessive (how sad do you people actually think I am?!). Neither do I have any shares in any file manufacturing company. Chance would be a fine thing! I just know that you need to have your revision resources building up as you go along. Revision time will be scarce and you don’t want to be putting your work in order then.

I don’t advise having a single lever arch file for everything. I find lever arch files cumbersome. They are big and bulky. It is not easy to just flick through the contents. You will need dividers. Using dividers will make filing contents difficult. Any system involving difficulty will usually end in failure. My system is SIMPLE.

After EACH LGS and SGS in any knowledge subject, on your way home (or as soon as you get home), make sure you fill in any gaps in your notes. THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT!  You have to do this while you still remember. If you are honest, you will realise that your short term memory is unreliable and that something on the day of a class you think you will remember without writing down will probably be forgotten 2-3 days later. After you have filled in the gaps in your notes, file them in the relevant ringbinder.

At the end of each week, have a filing session. File anything and everything that you can. It will minimise the loss of documents. If you write anything on scraps of paper, write it out properly on A4 file paper. Then file it. I have made lots of notes ‘for later’ on scraps of paper, train tickets, receipts and then promptly LOST THEM ALL. Copy and file as soon as you can.

Don’t like files and paper? Think online.

XMind and MyStudyBar are very useful. They can be used for creating mindmaps, revision timetables and the like.

Anki is great for creating flashcards and testing yourself.

Evernote is a superb cloud based notetaking system, is free and can be used with laptop, iPad and smartphone. Alternatively, use OneNote or iNote. Sync and back up your notes frequently. I like Evernote because you can also incorporate pictures taken on your smartphone into your notes.

I would like to thank Eloise for her time and trouble in setting out her advice and for providing a photo of her filing system.