Well, here we are. Just a year ago, move-in day was approaching and I was poring over UoA’s courses, trying to make decisions my future self wouldn’t regret when it came to enrolment. It was clear to me that I wanted to do law, but I had no idea what to expect. Whenever I told someone I was starting first-year law at UoA, I’d get widened eyes and a wheeze in return. “Good luck…” family friends would say, as if I was about to embark on a grueling hike or even to space.

Well, I can assure you, it’s not as scary as it sounds.

What does Law at UoA look like?

Auckland has a competitive first-year programme. While other universities like Waikato admit you for the rest of your degree, Auckland makes a cut of students after the first year. The LLB programme is divided into three parts: Part I, which is the first year. Part II covers four year-long papers. It usually covers years two and three if you’re doing a conjoint, and you’re able to pick what order to take them in. Part III covers the rest of your degree, and you can do Honours for an extra semester. Then you’re set to be the next Chloe Swarbrick!

It sounds like a big challenge to adjust to take as big a step as starting university, and on top of that, starting a program you don’t even know you’ll get into. But trust me, law at UoA is an incredibly enriching course to take, and making the most of it can lead to an incredible path.

I’m going to break down my experience with law into two parts. First, I’ll tell you about the papers I took. Then, I’ll tell you about my strategies to learn as much as I could and make the most of first year (and get into second year).

Law Part I: 3 Papers

I remember walking into my first lecture in March, and my lecturer, Anna Hood, asking how many people were studying law with zero intention of becoming lawyers. Over a quarter of the class raised their hand. This might take some stress off your shoulders. There are a million things you can do with a law degree; the best thing it does is give you a deep understanding of how society works, and the rules it operates by.

In semester 1, I took one law paper: LAW 121. Introduction to Law and Society. This was one of my favorite papers all year, hands down. If you are someone who enjoys history, you will love this. The paper covers how government and the courts work, how power is divided, why it’s set up the way it is, and why we have government at all. Then we turned to look at cases where different parts of the law clashed: for instance, the courts and the government, or cases when the Treaty of Waitangi/Te Tiriti o Waitangi and tikanga clashed with state law. This is really important because it helps us understand what shaped New Zealand’s current legal system and what problems still need addressing. Then the course zooms out to look at theories of law, international law, human rights and environmental law.

In semester 2, it becomes compulsory to take 2 law papers: Law 131 and Law 141. These two papers are like the left and right sides of the brain; totally different, but each one needs the other. Law 131: Legal Method is all about getting you to think like a lawyer, and you really do start to feel like one. It’s based on case law and figuring out if someone is likely to lose or win in a case. You learn to argue from both sides and find out what questions to ask, using common sense and sound logic. Getting a strong sense of justice and learning how to approach something looking at both arguments were the main takeaways for me.

Since LAW 141: Legal Foundations is being discontinued in 2021, I won’t elaborate too much. This course was more factual, getting a general understanding of the different areas of law in New Zealand (public law and private law, tikanga, contract law, torts, property law, and how international law affects NZ). Things like ACC and how/why we have it were covered. Your sense of justice and understanding how things operate develop a lot.

The main thing about law in semester 2 isn’t what conclusion you come to, it’s how you get to it.

Photos from the LAW 121 casebook. These can be found online or bought for about $30 at the university bookshop – they carry all the readings you need for lectures and assignments.

The Key to Success?

This was the mindset that helped me keep my eye on the ball:

I think of uni as a road that will take you somewhere. UoA gives you the shoes, the walking stick, the GPS, and is constantly paving and re-paving the road to make it easier for you to get to your destination. All you have to do is WALK.

So make the most of this road. Ensure you have a good balance of socializing, exercise, and study. Law is an incredible course that will turn you into a driver, not a passenger in life.

For peace of mind and making it easier for myself around exam time, I:

  • Kept up with all my readings. I tried to do them before lectures so I came to class prepared. Readings are selected to enrich you and give you a deeper understanding of topics covered in class (written by the experts). But if you can’t, you can always do them after class.
  • Discussed what we covered and explained things in my own words. This helps you digest information and start to develop your own worldview, your own way of approaching big issues, wrapping your mind around them. It helps a lot for exam preparation, too.
  • Went to class (this goes without saying).

As long as you have a good balance of work/play and you keep your focus, you’ll do great. And if you find out law isn’t your cup of tea, it’s always easy to swap and try something else.