As a senior six student choosing to do a law degree, I wish I’d have been better informed about what it’s really like to be a law student. I was young, naive and full of false expectations like being extra intelligent, respected to the extent of being given a Right of Way by other students pursuing different courses and finishing my course easily without missed calls (read retakes). Little did i know that i was cat walking my way to a law school somewhere in the dusty and seasonally muddy hills of Mukono which was going to treat me to a heavy cocktail of disaster(s) for a period of Four uninterrupted years.
In brief, allow me to carpet roll for you what Law School is about in real life and not what the flamboyant Harvey Spector or Mike Ross lie to you in Suits Or Alesha Florrick and Will Gardner in The Good Wife. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to my reflections at Uganda Christian University (UCU) Law School.
1. Career prospects
Law is a well respected degree (or rather was) but its graduate prospects are not as good as universities like to make out. Law firms and chambers in Uganda, have been reducing the number of training contracts and pupillages, with some firms cancelling their next trainee intake. Many of my colleagues who graduated recently testify to me that finding a respectable law firm to work in these days, is as impossible as waking up to a resignation letter of President Yoweri Museveni from State House. Even when you land into one, you’re treated with no much care and respect. After all what does a ‘junior counsel’ have to offer?
Furthermore, a law degree does not guarantee riches. There is a stark contrast between the high earnings people think lawyers are paid and what they are actually paid. I’m sure that lawyers in the Attorney General’s office or those who majored in Criminal Law, can verify this.
2. There’s so much reading
I had some idea that there would be a lot of reading, but I had no idea that horror stories of law students spending all day and all night in the library and hostels reading, were actually true. There is a LOT of reading. In fact, A WALKING DEAD, SEASON FIVE OF READING! I once spent so much time in the Hamu Mukasa Library in my first and second years that I genuinely started to feel homesick. For those planning to join Law School after reading this, be prepared to study long and hard hours as a law student.
3. Work hard, work smart, be organised
This, on a serious note, the workload becomes easier if you are well organised and focus on working efficiently. Planning ahead early and prioritising work over play avoids dreaded all-nighters. When reading, one should focus on the end goal: learning the law in order to apply it correctly in an exam. Shortcuts in reading may be made too: having an idea of a case’s facts and legal principle mean that the case report may be read much more quickly with more focus on the key points. This is not something which is taught; rather I have had to learn this myself all the time i have been in law school.
4. Everyone will try to get free legal advice from you
If I had a dollar for every time a friend, relative or a village mate deep in Busoga has asked me a legal question, i would be the richest student at campus coming to class in a new suit everyday, holding the latest iPhone 6 plus and perhaps having a ride but alas!
For some reason, people at campus and in the village, think that being a law student, you are overflowing fountains of legal knowledge to be tested at will. This is simply not the case. No, I do not know about the legal intricacies of internet libel law. No, I can’t help you get out of trouble if you bet your tuition and that mean looking Indian takes it. No, i can’t help you to draft ‘divorce/settlement papers with your girlfriend after she gets you cheating with another babe while wiggle wiggle dancing at The Hive or Casablanca. No, i can’t help you to solve land disputes when your neighbour in the village sets up illegal boundaries in your territory. No, I can’t help you if you’re nudes after a drink up get leaked! And even if you do get my advice, be sure that i will add disclaimers and strings attached. Am not studying law to become a member of the Church Missionary Society.
5. Life revolves around your next tutorial or lecture
To start with, We have lectures. Then we are assigned reading to do, and answers to prepare for tutorials and lectures. Sometimes there are those tutors who use tutorials as interrogation sessions to highlight your deficiencies in knowledge and understanding of the law. My motivation for those tutorials was/is to avoid the wrath of the tutor by dodging them while giving them buffets of excuses of how am always busy fighting for my future as a Ugandan not at all related to Henry Muwanga Barlow’s poem ‘Building the Nation‘ (Please don’t try this in Law School- at least not in UCU).
In hindsight, this method of teaching clearly doesn’t work for me. Smaller group discussion sessions with my group called Delicious Discussion Group (Don’t ask me why that name), are key opportunities which test my understanding and giving structure to my learning and understanding of the law. The trick is, the more effort you put into them, the more you will learn.
6. Law school is intense
Whether you take it or not, In law school, you are always competing against your fellow students for the best grades. Some law schools mark using a bell curve, so that your grades directly depend on how the rest of the year performs. Some students become extremely defensive and do everything they can purely for personal gain at the expense of others for example giving you a free CD of FIFA 15 software when it is a week to exams so that you don’t concentrate for exams. This is rare, but law school can be a bit like being on “The Apprentice” competing against others in a high pressure environment with backstabbing and drama! The general rule in law school is, “Everyone on his/her own, God for us all” despite a few exceptions where for example gate crushing that discussion.
7. Law books and materials cost a fortune
I remember in my first year orientation, our then Dean, put it right into our faces! she said “Law school is not for the poor, if you can’t afford buying reading materials however expensive they are, try your talents elsewhere!“. I have spent a lot of good ugandan shillings buying law materials which money could have helped me in fundraising for my girlfriend’s bride price or starting up a business in my humble home district of Bugiri. To this day, the expense of law statutes and pamphlets still hurts.
To my young sister planning to study law, you must buy my books and pay a fee for any legal consultation from me since i will be an advocate then and we are entitled to being paid before giving any legal advice to anyone.
8. Am i pursuing the right course?
At some point during my degree, when motivation levels are low, and the mountain of cases to read is high, l question my choice of profession. A law degree will stretch you to your limits and test your commitment. I know of a class mate while in our first year, tried to drop out of law school unable to cope with the intensity but fortunately or unfortunately after a series of interventions from her clan members in kisoro ( i predict some free kibokos trick played a miracle on her), she came back. Don’t make the decision over the choice of degree lightly. A law degree is a very expensive investment. In fact, some may be better off choosing a degree they enjoy at university in which they can gain better honours and then decide whether to commit to law and do the bar course later.
9. The jump from A-Levels to law school
I thought I’d cope well with a law degree, having performed well at school. There’s a good reason why the entry levels are so high at the top university law faculties in Uganda (mainly Makerere University, Uganda Christian University and St. Augustine University). During my law degree, I felt very stupid about 90% of the time during my readings, and would become disheartened by how much I didn’t understand. Initially I was very upset at struggling to achieve only 60% (a 2:1) in my work, as opposed to over 90% at A-Level. This is relatively normal. The process of learning and understanding is different and takes some getting used to.
10. The avalanche of Social stereotypes of law students
A series of phrases i have gotten used to hearing. Am still thinking of good responses.
“Oh, you’re studying law? Maybe you can help me out someday if I get into trouble.”
“Well, I see you’ve sold your soul to the devil for riches.”
“You lawyers only care about your stomachs and getting rich”
“Lawyers are professional liars”
“Law students are arrogant, they don’t like associating with students from other courses”
“How can you defend someone you know to be guilty? You lawyers are heartless and cold-blooded.” Said a SWASA student one day.
11. The ghost of HELL-DC Pre entry exams.
Finally, going to Law Development Centre (LDC), is every law student’s dream but the process of getting a gate pass to LDC and going through it, is every law student’s nightmare. For some reason, all lecturers come to class and begin threatening you with arsenals and volleys of stories telling you how LDC is a home of horror adventures and Halloween branch for lawyers. I don’t know if it is a trick for them to use on us to stop us from being qualified to take over their jobs or it is a ‘relevant fact’. in fact, if it is a trick, it is working on me!
Whether genuine or not, LDC from the testimonies i hear from colleagues who have been there, it is not for the faint hearted. From the daily long assignments, the oral torture exams and being in an environment where everyone is buried in books, just sucks!
Despite all the hurdles in law school, my fate was sealed. Am gonna be a lawyer kama mbaya mbaya! because it was my dream to be one someday. I will fight until the end even if pressure squeezes me up to the wall. Even if you brand me as a professional lier, devil’s advocate, keep calm and stop hating on me. I will keep calm, i will survive law school and be nice, i could be your lawyer someday!
To all law students out there, be strong and smoothly go through law school without missed calls. Have the right attitude because it will determine how tall your altitude to success will be. Everyone you’re called a professional liar, don’t fight back, ignore and wait for the day they will come looking for you seeking legal advice when they’re in trouble. That is when they will understand your importance. How many times have you attended a public meeting and they ask for an opinion of an agriculturalist? but am sure you’ve been to ones where they keep quiet and listen when a lawyer is speaking. Right?
Never consider yourself a failure. Be confident you will make it and be one of the best legal brains Uganda will have seen. It begins with considering yourself a winner and opportunities will come chasing you.