Friday, 18 September 2015

Countdown to BPTC registration

Many students think that collecting their books and signing on the dotted line is all they need to do to prepare to do the BPTC. However, to give yourself the space to succeed on the course, you need to have made some preparations and put certain systems in place. Let me explain…

The BPTC Wheelie Case

Barristers used to carry big shoulder bags full of their books and briefs. Rucksacks were always frowned upon, as it was somehow “heroic” to strain the back on the way to and from court. Thankfully times have changed, and the advent of cabin compliant luggage has meant that the wheelie bag has become the portage of choice for many barristers.

Why should it be any different on the BPTC? You are going to get given lots of big, heavy books (Newsflash: the White Book is actually 2 huge hardback books and a paperback supplement!) and a stack of case papers (briefs for baby barristers). So you can either struggle during the first days of the course, trying to carry them all, or you can bring a wheelie bag. I leave the choice to you. But don’t hold me responsible for any backache or loss of height so caused; 100% contributory negligence!

A Student Oyster card

Public transport in London without an Oyster card can become very expensive. A regular Oyster card will save you money. If you are a student at a UK university, you can get a student Oyster card which will save you even more money on fares. You need your student registration number. You can find out more about the student scheme here: Applications can be made online.

Plan out your journey to law school and have a plan B. Trains are delayed or cancelled, traffic can slow down buses, and even the Tube can go wrong. You need to have another route to get to law school when things go wrong. 

Register at a GP practice

You may be in good health, but this is a worthwhile step to take. The Autumn term is a time when colds and flu get spread around the faculty. Attendance is compulsory, and you may need to get evidence from a doctor if you fall in and are in danger of missing lots of classes. Take the precaution of being registered from day one and you don’t have to worry should you get taken ill.

Get accommodation sorted for the duration of the course

You need to be able to devote your time to the hectic workload of the BPTC. You do not want to have a room or flat sorted for a month or so, only to find you have to move later on. It will be disruptive, you might end up missing classes, causing attendance problems. You might also lose books or notes when moving, which will be a disaster when you come to revision and consolidation. So make sure you have accommodation where you can bed down for the duration of the course.

Warn your family and friends the BPTC needs your full commitment

It is genuinely lovely that your family and friends want to spend time with you. You’re lucky. Mine… well, let’s not go there!

The BPTC has a very hectic workload. Also, the three big exams (the centrally set papers in civil litigation, criminal litigation and ethics) are demanding to prepare for; they are truly not exams you can cram for at the last minute.

So what I am advising is harsh, but necessary. Commit to the BPTC from September to June. Do not be tempted to go home over the holidays or study leave if you know that you will not be able to work when you go back. Family and friends often do not understand how much time and work you will need to put in. Or try to manage their expectations before you go home. Think about how susceptible to distractions you are.

Get organised

You will need to organise the many books, manuals and case papers you receive from us. You should be thinking of making notes in your classes, too. It all adds up to a big pile of stuff. You need to organise it all, or you will lose things. You also need a coherent idea of what is going on day by day and week by week on the course. I will be addressing the issue of getting organised in a future blog post.

Those are my thoughts on the necessary preparations to make for registration day and the first week. I hope you find it helpful.

Good luck – and I look forward to meeting you all very soon!

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Surviving the first 2 weeks of the BPTC: advice from former students 2

The BPTC is a frenetic and hectic rollercoaster ride, taking you from an academic knowledge and understanding of the law, to a different plane; one where you have judgment, practicality, problem solving skills and the confidence to with the major responsibility of other people’s legal conundrums.

There are some very simple things you can do to make sure the foundations of your learning are strong, and they are best put in place from the very beginning.

My former students helped me by providing advice to incoming BPTC students so plentifully and generously,  that this is my second post. If you missed the first, you will find it here:

So, once again, I am proud to say: “OVER TO THE STUDENTS!”

Eloise Turnnidge emphasises how important starting well on the BPTC is:

“Hit the ground running! There is so much work to do starting in the first week. Consider your timetable and the preparation required, then plan how you're going to use the time. It helps to get into a good routine early on.”

Ahsan Zaman had a four point plan:

“I advise simple methods:

1. Don't be tense (stressed), have fun, just try to enjoy the environment of City.

2. Strictly follow the lectures during the first two weeks.

3. Every day give at least 4 to 6 hrs to prepare your class-work. It would be better if you prepare your work in advance during the off-days.

4. Make a few good friends who strictly follow the classes and are more serious students than you.”

Working together can be a great way of building your confidence up and getting ahead. Group study, done efficiently and without distraction can be one of the most effective ways of learning. 

Peter Khoury endorses this advice:

"Get to know the other members of your tutorial group! Setting up a study group as soon as possible will assist you in keeping up with workload and also allow you to share personal frustrations along the way."

Friends and group mates in the course are not just there to be study buddies. A support network is vital. You will need people to give you a listening ear and a big hug from time to time.

Wasiul Hoque Chowdhury advises keeping good company:

"Just try and enjoy yourself and stay away from people who demoralise you. Then you would do great!!"

Staying positive and building confidence will stand you in good stead. Avoid negative people who bring you down... unless they are your tutor! ;)

Heath Jamal sums up with this excellent list:

“1. Don't panic. You will get through this.

2. You're not alone, everyone struggles and feels a little overwhelmed.
3. Engage with your group, they are the best support you will have.

4. Use the energy to get organised, in particular files for the mountains of papers you will get.

5. If all else fails, speak to Snigdha. Not only is she an amazing teacher, she also really cares about her students.

6. The end line is a long way off but keep in mind that the reward is amazing. Nothing beats Call Night!

7. Give yourself a break, you are not superman/woman.

8. Work bloody hard, but from time to time, say what the fuck and go have fun!

Good Luck.”

You will see I included the profanity. Sometimes you do have to say “what the fuck!” In other words, accept that other things are also important in your life. Taking time for friends and family. Taking time for your hobbies. You will need these things to keep you sane.

Alvin Chai, a former BVC student has written practically a whole, wonderful, blog post on the subject:

“Your partner in crime is very important. Get to know your classmates and have 1-2 people who you can count on. These are also the people who will help you in notes sharing, and proof read your work in the future (except for assessment work). They are the people who will know exactly how you feel, having deadlines after deadlines, watching the sunrise of London after sleepless nights, studying through Christmas. These comrades will make your challenging days much better.

I was fortunate to have a few of these friends on the BVC. Snigdha, Chris is one of them. English is not my first language, so advocacy was not my strength, but having Chris to learn from was of great help. There were so many solution, ideas and realizations that came from long talks with my team mates.

There are such people who do not share positive energy. Stay away from them. Choose to spend your time with those who are disciplined, with positive energy – these things money can’t buy.

Coming back to Snigdha’s question about how to cope with the first two weeks of the BPTC:

1. Spend the first few weeks building relationships. Having a team mate is better than going it alone. This is a challenging ride, but you will learn skills that are good for life.

2. Prepare or read before going to class. I didn’t do this at the start, I do regret it.

3. Spend money buying ring folders to have your notes organized by subjects. No last minute magic can help you if you are not organized.

4. Don’t care about what other students tell you such as we can slack first, work later. They will wish they never say such things.

5. Hunt down past years papers for civil and criminal MCQs (if such things still exists) for practice later. Do it early because such information is hard to find during my time, but worth it. :P [Sadly, only the papers released by the BSB CEB to the providers are available these days. Sorry! – Snigdha]

6. Go find out how to online book your dining sessions early. Sort these things out early so you don’t need to have a last minute panic.

7. Revise on how to use the online databases, legal research skills are gold because they will be the first steps of many of your work tasks.

8. Need to understand that there are subjects that you will really need to allocate time to practice them such as Drafting because you are required to draft in exam conditions with a time limit. Last minute prep just doesn’t cut it. Suffice to say, they are many type of examination methods. Plan your time accordingly for how to approach them. Talk to your tutors about this, and they will be able to give indication on how to prep for each subject, the strategy etc.

9. Snigdha is truly an educator and a friend. She will give good actionable advice from advocacy to study. Get to know her if you get the chance.

10. If you are new to London, check out places you can get your favourite food. Comfort food goes a long way as small reward, as motivation.

11. Enjoy your time in London with like-minded course mate. It’s gonna be memorable. At the end of the day, you need fun too.”

Jeremy Heywood says:

"I would say the following: 

(1) take a deep breath and don't panic about it - the course is going to throw up some new challenges but there is nothing to be scared about and everything is eminently passable; 

(2) make sure to take some time in the beginning to get to know your tutor group outside of the classroom - these are the guys you are going to share this with and (if they are anything like the folks I met) they are likely to be pretty awesome and stay with you long after the course has gone; 

(3) be realistic and give yourself down time - no one works well when they are knackered; 

(4) never be afraid to take part, or ask for help (from your tutor or your classmates) - everyone is in the same boat and you will get most out of the course if you speak up and play a part in it; and 

(5) enjoy it while you can - it is a really good, fun, course and one of the best years of study and fun I have had. 

That was my approach anyway. Hope all is well. J. x"

Katie Beard has these thoughts about keeping your sense of perspective:

“My advice is don't panic/worry/overwhelm yourself.

Don't worry about what other people have done before starting the course, or that they are better/have more experience than you. Get to know as many people as possible and most of all - try and enjoy it.

Before you know it you'll be buried in revision so make the most of the first 2 weeks to take everything in and enjoy.

Also- use your inn! And pupillage workshops and extra advice sessions - it will really help in the long run.

Good luck, everyone! :D

Oh and find Snigdha - she is a diamond and helped me so so much x”

Do try to avoid being too competitive or comparing yourself with others. We do learn at different paces. Provided you are not slacking or avoiding doing the work required of you, don’t worry if you perceive others are doing better than you or “getting it” more. Stay calm, keep working. It will all fall into place.

Vishal Shamsi recommends making the most of the induction programme, which I heartily endorse and reminds you of the importance of sleeping properly:

“I started a week late because I could not arrive in London on time and OMG, I was so lost on my first day! I missed all the introductory LGS and SGS, so I basically I just jumped into the deep end of the pool.

My advice would be to make sure you attend all the introductory lessons you can, especially the ones that familiarise you with legal research and our law library. Knowing how to research and use the library in the beginning saves so much time throughout the rest of the year.

Next comes managing your day and getting enough sleep. Throughout the BPTC, sleep might be the least of your priorities, but I think it’s really important to not just stay awake during LGS but also actively make notes and participate where required. Llack of sleep WILL put you to sleep during lessons, trust me!

I guess organizing all the notes, books and your time would be the key (the first reading week helps with this).

Also studying for BPTC and knowing how to study for BPTC are two different things, Snigdha Nag has some amazing material on pinterest that can help with that, she also shares it on facebook from time to time. :D

I hope this helps x”

Sleep is your body and brain’s way of resting and repairing itself. You will learn most effectively if you ensure you get enough sleep. Pulling all nighters at your desk makes you feel like you are working heroically, but robs you of the ability to think the next day. You need to sleep to learn. It is as simple as that. If you put in consistent amounts of work during the day, you should not need to stay up all night working.

Shakir Ahmed has these thoughts:

“Enjoy the first couple of days. Check out the CLS library, the beautiful fields. Drink coffee from Starbucks. You are going to need a lot of it in the next nine months. Check out other amazing restaurants around CLS. You might also have a look at the Grays Inn and Lincoln's Inn, which is very close to CLS. Now the serious part: prepare before you go to classes. Make friends with like-minded people and study together sometimes. It makes studying easier. And if you have any problems or facing any difficulties talk to your personal tutor. He/She will give you the best advice.”

Brilliant advice, but I would remind you that other coffee establishments are available.

Imtiaz Bin Hafiz continues the theme of how important being organised for the course is:

“Get bundles to arrange the heap of papers given to you. Make separate files for each subject.”

Dawn De Coteau has this concise and sage advice:

“Follow your instructions, get going with the preparation from day one, as there is no downtime on the BPTC.”

Tom Jones has a deceptively simple tip:

“Use the first two weeks to try out different ways of taking notes and preparing SGSs. Type in some and write in others and see what works for you.”

I cannot stress how useful this advice is – do not assume your previously used methods and techniques will work for the BPTC and the life in practice which awaits you. Yes, you are graduates and intelligent people, but you may find that your previous note-taking and learning methods are not effective on a course of this pace, volume and difficulty.

Ahmed Durrani says that getting relevant work experience is important, and can give you a break from the relentless pace of Small Group and Large Group Sessions:

“Prioritise. That's the magic word. Even though the workload will seem daunting, it is equally important to engage in other activities such as mooting/work experience/mini-pupillages, etc, to give you that much needed, and simultaneously a very useful, break from studying.”

David Green has the following to say:

“The pace is unrelenting and you don't get a reading week till November - so learn to move on.

Allocate a fixed amount of time to a task (eg an opinion for class), and use it, but don't exceed it - it's better to have 3/4 of a class opinion and all of your civil and crim lit reading for the week, than it is to have a perfect opinion, no sleep, and incomplete notes for your other classes.

Take good notes - you'll revise from them. I typed all of mine: if you do too I STRONGLY recommend Microsoft OneNote (which is free as part of MS Office - if you have office you already have it). It's perfect for taking notes on the fly and organising, categorising and searching them. It got me through my GDL and BPTC and I still use my notebooks from each.”

Managing the workload is immensely important; you may find that you have more than one class to prepare for in a day. It is not going to help you to prepare exhaustively for one and then go to the other unprepared. We are capable of self-deception, saying “oh, I want this piece of work to be perfect, so I’ll carry on with this skeleton argument rather than read up my civil litigation”. What you might actually be doing is spending time finessing an already good skeleton argument to avoid doing the civil litigation preparation because you dislike the subject or find it difficult. David’s advice is astute and worth absorbing.

I would like to express my sincerest and deepest gratitude to the students who have essentially wrote this post.

These two posts on surviving the first two weeks of the BPTC are amazing, but only because my former students are amazing and brilliant people.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Surviving the first 2 weeks of the BPTC: advice from former students 1

I’ve been trying to think of what advice I would give to students coming to do the BPTC. But my own study experience was… well… a little while ago.

So through the wonders of modern life, I used the medium of social networking to ask former students for their advice. As ever, alumni have been kind, generous and unstinting with their help.

In fact, the City Law School alumni have been so magnanimous and altruistic to you, new students, that I have more material that I can use in a single post. Further advice will follow, which you are well advised to come back for shortly! UPDATE: You will find the second post here:

I am very grateful to the students featured here for their astute observations, practical advice and the time they have put in to make this post possible.

Over to the students!

Prashant Sabharwal begins:

“My post is a tad long, but I hope it'll help: Be a professional from Day 1 - you're no longer a first-year undergrad LLB student, you're an aspiring barrister who has paid a hefty fee to get into the BPTC. Remember that at all times.

Be organized, take the first two weeks very seriously and think of them as the head start you'll need to succeed by the end of the BPTC year. Invest in folders, multi-coloured tabs and highlighters. Make full use of your Inns of Court, use their libraries (in addition to the ones at City) and actively seek out barristers: many of them actually want to see bright individuals succeed and will be willing to give advice.

Be smart about your time, take the assignments as seriously as a real case - and, if you can, work in the Free Representation Unit. Don't just do the usual stuff like marshalling, mini-pupillages etc, but think outside the box to get pupillage.

Finally, two more things: First, have fun and make friends...there is nothing gained from being ultra-competitive at Bar School. Usually, the types who are ultra-competitive don't end up with tenancy anyway (of course, there are exceptions) - they certainly don't end up with the network you'll need (let alone friends who you'll need to keep you grounded) to survive and thrive in small profession like the Bar. Second, no regrets: You gotta be absolutely sure that you invested your money well, take risks and be willing to face the possibility of failure - so, don't have your head in the clouds and have a Plan B ready. You never know, sometimes, the journey to your new destination ends up being quite interesting!

PS: Snigdha's classes are awesome, and she is probably the best mentor you can ask for. So to the ones who will get to know her - consider yourselves lucky!! Good luck to all of you!!!”

Thanks for your advice, Prashant! And for the totally unsolicited vote of confidence!

Stephanie M's useful observations cover a number of areas:

“Wow. How to survive the first two weeks? Good question. First off, take everything you expect it to be and throw it out the window. Every person's experience is different.

Once you know who your personal tutor is, take advantage of that knowledge. Your personal tutor wants to help you. They aren't there just for show. If you are having an issue, let them know as soon as possible.

Understand that you will never get a full 8 hours of sleep every night. There will be a lot to get done in preparation for classes, but remember that you are one person. Tackle everything one task at a time.

Lastly. You are on a vocational course. Remember that. This is your chosen profession. Act like a professional at all times. The time for childish excuses has passed. Your professors expect the best out of you so give the best you can always. Some of them may appear terrifying, but it helps to remember that they once stood where you now stand. It is ok to make mistakes, just pick yourself up and start again. Don't give up when it gets tough. Keep trying and do your best.”

I am very pleased that Stephanie has pointed out that support mechanisms do exist on the BPTC. Personal tutors and the school office are always happy to do what we can to help. Don’t get bogged down struggling by yourself. Excellent thoughts, Stephanie!

Justine Mitchell, advocates getting organised:

“Hi new students! 

It may sound obvious so apologies for insulting your intelligence but, for me, the key thing was organisation - from the outset! You will receive many books, leaflets, booklets, power points, workbooks etc during the first week alone. It is crucial to get them into some kind of organisation because there simply won't be time later on in the course. 

Get into the habit of allocating certain folders to your topics in week one. Colour coded may be an advantage as highlighted by a very helpful former student.

Also, start filing your electronic PowerPoints into e-files on your memory stick/e-folders/ cloud etc from WEEK ONE! All PowerPoints were available from around 4pm Friday - get into the habit of downloading and storing them in the correct e-folder from week one. You do not want to waste time later down the line searching for the relevant PowerPoints from weeks before. Just a few pointers - hope it helps! Good luck peeps!!  Xx”

I absolutely endorse Justine's advice. Taking time to file work away each week will help prevent you losing your notes. It will also take far less time than trying to file things termly.

Philip Vasquez had similar advice to offer:

“Be organised from day one, do as much as you can and don't slack on the reading, meet as many people as you can, get to know the staff around the place - they're all nice people.”

Kerlern Ong advises note-taking and preparation for classes:

“I think the main thing to do is to prepare and attend all seminars and lectures! Notes are very important! I always highlight in different colours. Just missing one session will drag you down by a lot. Also, there's no point in going to a seminar if you haven't done the work or prepared before hand. If you're sick, always book a replacement class to go to ASAP.”

Note-taking is, to me, immensely important. Many students may be used to receiving handouts and downloading documents or slides. But nothing is better than a note you have made yourself during class, reviewed and filled in gaps after class and filed away later. It's half the battle when it comes to revision. 

Angelina Kok supports my advice on making notes: 

"Start doing your notes from Day 1 because there is hardly any time to play catch up later on. Organisation is key otherwise you will never be able to locate anything in the truckload of course material coming your way. Last but not least, don't worry if you're feeling overwhelmed for the first few weeks. It will get better." 

George Matthews suggests a form of consolidatory note-taking to help you remember things and have key points easily at hand. His advice is achievable, easy and makes perfect sense: 

"After a class, while it's fresh in your mind, write a one page summary of the key principles of the topic covered (e.g. time limits, routes of appeal, legal tests to be applied). This will make revision so much easier for the big knowledge-based exams like civil and criminal lit. It doesn't take long and you're in the best position to distill what you've learnt about that topic. This will prevent you having to go back and learn it all from scratch when revising because, chances are, you won't be revisiting the topic again before exams."

Jack Stephen had two pieces of advice: 
“Simply start as you mean to go on. And never underestimate the discipline that will help you succeed.”
"The other thing I would say is treat them like you treated your A-levels in terms of how you revise and learn. Assuming people did well in their a-levels!"

Discipline is essential. Don't slack off and don't fall behind. Once this happens, it can be extremely difficult to catch up on lost ground.

Cristen Tishae agrees:

"Try to keep on top of as much of the reading as humanly possible! Also try to keep on top of the paper, there will be mountains of it!"

Hasan Mahmud said: "Just follow Snigdha's guidelines...."

Short and simple advice, which I honestly have not paid money for…

Of course, there are always wags out there with a humourous take on advice to prospective students…

Alex Cisneros says:

"Drink heavily. And don't be afraid to work in the Inns' libraries."

I endorse using the Inn libraries; they are havens of peace and quiet. You can get away from the student stress often permeating the school's library and get more done without the distraction of other students. As for the drinking, please, students, drink responsibly!

Keerthi Tillekaratne says “Don’t go to Snigdha Nag's class. Go to other ones. Ha ha just kidding.” 

Thanks for the ringing endorsement, Keerthi! ;)

I hope you find this collection of advice helpful, students. Please do get in touch to let me know if this has helped you. 

Good luck on the BPTC!