Monday, May 31, 2010

One small step for man... giant leap for me. Today I received the official acceptance and enrollment papers from the university. I have to admit that while I was thrilled to see the package on my desk when I came back from lunch, I was slightly disappointed when I opened it. The actual acceptance letter is a photocopy of a photocopy and along the lines of “to whom it may concern”. Those documents which are actually personalized are “insert name here” types. Oh well, at least it is here. I am pleased as I’ve been eagerly awaiting it as you know. I look forward to reading through the booklet they sent about studying English law at the university. I’ve ready read through the first four chapters on their website but it will be nice to dig into the hard copy. I’ve filled in my enrollment form and fee slip and will shoot them back to the university tomorrow.

Over the weekend I read more in Turpin and Tomkins, finishing the chapter on liberty and then swinging back to start at the beginning. So far so good with the chapters I’ve read. I have also managed to get my hands on a copy of Slapper and Kelly’s English Legal System. I’m rather happy as it is the fresh 10th edition for 2009/2010. Gary Slapper is a professor at the Open University and flipping through the book I can see a lot of similarities with the free law courses that they have online which I did. All in all, I think it’s been a rather successful month for my studies and the blog.

Friday, May 28, 2010


I’ve thrown another book into the mix, British Government and the Constitution by Turpin and Tomkins. I have to say that I’ve done something that I normally don’t do – I’ve started not at the beginning but at the very end with a chapter on liberty. I admit that there are some things that I am missing out on which were referred to in earlier chapters but I could not resist. In part it is because I am working on a paper which focuses on the European Convention on Human Rights but also because I find it a really exciting area of the law. I strongly believe the rights of the individual need to be safeguarded from encroachments by the state. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a fundamentalist in this area but sadly it seems to be that individuals and their liberty are increasingly under threat. It’s interesting to learn more about notions of positive and negative liberty, absolute and qualified rights, etc. I touched on a number of these topics in my undergraduate in political science but obviously that was years ago. One of the items which I had suspected seems to be borne out by the readings - the deference of the courts to the executive particularly at the expense of individual liberties. Obviously the LLB focuses on common law in the UK and as an American I have a bit of a different perspective than most who study for this degree, but it does seem to be that having the executive based within the legislature limits the notional and practical aspects of the separation of powers. In addition, as an American we are used to speak of our ‘constitutional rights’ yet this term seems to be treated with a degree of suspicion bordering on scorn by some of the UK’s highest courts. Much is made of the fact that the UK’s unwritten or rather uncodified constitution is as robust as other countries' written constitutions however there seem to be precious few instances where the court errs on the assumed residual rights of the individual. Nowhere does this seem to be more evident than when the government puts forward a claim of national security. While there are noted dissents by Lord Denning and others who cry out for a greater respect for the rights of the individual, they remain dissenting opinions against a strong majority which hold for the government. Interesting reading indeed.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Reading criminal law

I’ve started with Principles of Criminal Law by Andrew Ashworth. I have to say that I really enjoy it. It starts a bit quickly for me, perhaps because I do not have much of a grounding in the subject, but after about fifty pages it really brings everything together. I think it approaches the material in a good manner based on a reasonable set of principles. I have to say that I am very much in agreement with Ashworth’s views on the need to limit the state's power via criminal law. He gives a number of arguments on how certain measure seem to undermine the autonomy of the individual. I will keep moving forward with it for a few more chapters. I had to put Zander aside for a few days as it was starting to weigh on me.

With luck I should get a letter this week from the university with my acceptance. Apparently then I need to write back and confirm as well as pay my initial fees. Once I do that I will get the infamous 'box'. Supposedly a back-breaking package containing a number of books, study guides, CD's, passwords, etc. that we form the basis of my studies. I have a feeling that I will need to get cracking to reinforce those shelves on my bookcase soon.

Monday, May 24, 2010


No, not the website but my reaction today to one email which I've received informing me that my previous studies are recognised by the university and an Offer for the Graduate Entry route will be issued to me in due course. Yippee!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

More and more

I've been exploring various forms of legal associations for students. While I remain surprised that my university does not seem to have one, I have been able to find a number of international student associations that I could join. Its a bit difficult to get a clear picture of which ones have value and which are more designed to merely enhance a resume but at least by having a look at them I become a bit more acquainted with the various associations and I can see what is out there. I am quite keen to join at least one student law association as I believe there are a lot of benefits. I will let you know what I find.

Also I've found a couple competitions which are open to law students sponsored by various firms and institutions. While mooting competitions seem to be the most numerous, there are a number of competitions which are focused instead on essay submissions. I am definitely keen to try these as I think it would help to hone my writing skills for law school. So far the ones I have found have submission dates in about a month's time which is perfect. It will give me enough time to put an essay together and also get properly enrolled with the university as a law student.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

You are not alone

I’m pleased to report another development in my LLB quest – the first faint signs of camaraderie. Through one of the ‘social networking’ sites on the internet, I’ve managed to find a fledgling group of students who are studying in the same manner and at the same school. I’ve read various things about study groups to be honest, most of which seem to say that it is best when they are a small group of committed individuals. While I am sure they do have value, I guess the trick is to have them move beyond friendship to be of assistance in your studies. For sure I look forward to meeting others and knowing that I am not “alone” but it will be great to learn about various study aids, have others to exchange ideas with and also to review and critique essays. Hopefully it will go well and stand the test of time. In any event, I am quite excited about it and look forward to contributing and getting out of it as much as I can!

In other news, I’ve moved on in Zander’s Law Making Process. Now I am reading about various methods of statutory interpretation. I’ll be honest and say I like this section a bit more than those about the formulation of laws in Whitehall and Parliament. It is enjoyable to read some of the cases and see how they are interpreted by judges. I confess that when I first heard about the literal approach to interpretation it struck me as a bit far-fetched but after reading through some of the chapter, I can see the arguments in its favor. For example, it’s interesting to read the response from the House of Lords on Lord Denning’s proposition that the judiciary must “fill in the gaps” left by Parliament. Hopefully the book will continue more along these lines in the coming chapters.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The first clicks

The first learning ‘clicks’ are starting to appear! I was reading a blog this weekend which referred to the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company and I was actually able to remember the outlines of the case. Needless to say I was thrilled, surprised and very happy all at the same time. I believe it will happen more and more as I go forward and progress in my studies. Also I am pleased about the degree to which the three courses which I am studying for (criminal, common and public law) all seem to overlap. To be sure, criminal law less so than the other two but still everything seems to be blending together well.

In other news, I am reading a book called Law-Making Process by Michael Zander right now. I’ve managed to get through the first two chapters so far. I am surprised about one item - it is billed as an introductory law text for students. While it is definitely educational and moves through the law making process logically and in detail, it does not seem to present material in a manner that supports the learning. There is a structure to each chapter yet the topics which are covered are rarely touched on by the author. Instead they are developed via first hand extracts from others. This does present key insights for one to learn but it lacks a smooth and easy presentation. Certainly good material however and I look forward to starting chapter 3 tonight…

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The good, the bad, and this...

Well it is not quite the ugly that you might be expecting but there are two recent developments in my quest which seem worth sharing with you. I’ll start with the negative…

It turns out that we are indeed two nations divided by a common language. A recent note from the university informs me that I did not submit my ‘university/degree certificate’ and I should do so in order to proceed with my application. After a bit of back and forth it turns out that this document is what many Americans would call a ‘diploma’. I have to say that it is a bit odd that they want to see that piece of paper considering (a) I’ve already sent transcripts and (b) I would imagine such a document would be rather easy to fake. Nevertheless, I am willing to comply and so off it goes today. Hopefully I will see it again.

Fortunately the other development is positive. Last night I picked up from my friend who is back from London two of the recommended legal books. Hurrah. So now I am the proud owner of two very heavy tomes to begin my legal library (I think I am going to need to reinforce my shelves actually if this keeps up). The book I am rather excited about is on criminal law written by Andrew Ashworth of Oxford. From my small scratches on the surface of criminal law, he seems extremely well-recognized in the field. In addition, from what I can tell, his views mesh with mine on some of the issues within the legal system which concern me (such as anti-social behavioral orders). I am looking forward to reading this one. The other book is about constitutional law and is twice the size of the already large criminal law book. The good feature of the constitutional law book is that it contains numerous extracts from first hand sources so I am glad I will be able to examine the subject matter directly.

Monday, May 10, 2010

and for my next trick...

I am still waiting for my formal acceptance to the LLB program but you will be pleased to hear that I managed to finish off the introductory chapters of the study guides. Yippee! I fully expect that I will be rereading them a number of times, and despite the fact that I have not tried to complete any of the questions nor more than one or two of the readings, I feel a bit of accomplishment none the less. Also another small piece of good news is that a mate of mine returns from London tomorrow having purchased two of the recommended textbooks for the courses so I am looking forward to digging into those later in the week.

One bit of bad news however is that the school does not have a law journal. I was hoping to write for the law journal and also perhaps to get involved in it more deeply but it seems that law journals are not so common in Europe as they are at American universities. Even worse, it seems that a few years ago a law review was created at my university but shortly thereafter collapsed. Hmmm. Not a good thing and I would imagine that administrators at the school would not be too keen for having a go at supporting another. We shall see but that is definitely a minor issue for now.

One thing which I realized belatedly might be a point of concern is getting a reference out of the school. If I were to look for a vacation scheme (law work during vacation) or indeed apply to a traineeship (i.e. a mandatory two year training period), I believe that a recommendation from university would be important. But how does one get a recommendation if one never sees the professors? A question which will need to be posed...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Not quite waiting…

“I am writing to confirm that we have received some documentation in support of your application. We will be in touch in due course regarding the status of your application. Please do not reply to this e-mail.” Not exactly the ‘congratulations and welcome to the LLB programme’ that I was waiting for but at least an acknowledgement for which I suppose I should be grateful...

However you will be pleased to learn that I am taking control of my life, becoming the master of my ship, the captain of my fate, the lord of my destiny and pushing forward with my studies despite not even being accepted yet! How can you do such a radical thing you ask? The university is clever enough to put tons of information on their website to let perspective students take a few tentative steps towards learning before they actually enroll. There are the first few chapters to the study guides, reading lists for a number of classes, etc. Very cool. So I’ve downloaded most of these items and started to dig into them.

I am surprised that I was able to find not only the materials on the university’s website but also on the internet some of the books and articles which the study guide recommends. Not all of them of course, and not easily accessible, but for sure it is a good start especially when you consider that it does not cost anything. On top of this there was a brilliant article in the paper the other day about free university courses available on the internet. To be sure they are a mixed lot in terms of quality and cover a variety of subjects but I was able to find one university that has several good law modules. I’ve ploughed by way through a couple and I am surprised to see how similar it is to what I will be studying. Perhaps it is just that the starting ground is the same for the study of the law but I find it quite helpful. It is also useful for me because as an American I have a less intrinsic feel for the structure of English law than a native might.

In regards to the programme, I’ve decided to study over a period of three years (of course assuming they let me in). The university offers the possibility for those with a degree already (such as myself) to study either in two years or in three. However, given that nine courses are required for the degree (in addition to an extra piece of work to make it a qualifying law degree (QLD)) it seemed a bit too much to squeeze into two years. It’s more expensive studying 3 years compared to 2 but seeing as I am working full-time and there were various warnings about not trying to take on too much at the start, I’ve decided to be safe rather than sorry.

For the first year I plan to study common law, public law and criminal law. I am looking forward to it much more than the second year which holds contract, torts and trust law. The final year requires land law, EU law to satisfy the QLD requirement, and one elective. While I suppose it is already far too early to imagine which elective to choose, I am torn between company law and human rights law. While both are of interest, company law seems to be the more ‘logical’ choice for my background, while human rights law is definitely more from the ‘heart’. I will keep an eye on both and let you know what I decide when I get closer...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

First Post

Welcome to LLB Blogging! With any luck, what you will find in this blog should cover several years of law school education. I've decided to begin this blog as I begin my studies. While the main benefit should be to help me retain my sanity and improve my writing skills, with any luck it will hopefully provide others with a small glimpse of one student's experiences and a bit of amusement along the way.

I would imagine, this being the first post, that an introduction should be the first order of business. After several years of slaving away, I've decided to 'go back' to school and get an LLB degree. Sadly, I believe I am what is termed a "mature student" although I will leave you to be the judge of that. I've been living and working in Europe for many years. I have a BA in Political Science that took me ages to get as well as an MBA in International Management. I also work full time in finance.

While I would imagine that if you are reading this you already know, but for those of you who are unaware (as was I until a couple of months ago) an LLB or rather a Bachelor of Laws, or perhaps even more correctly a Legum Baccalaureus to use the original Latin, is the standard undergraduate degree to pursue a career in law in the UK as well as in a number of other common law countries. This type of degree is new to me not so much due to a lack of interest in the law but rather because I am American and more familiar with the JD graduate qualification for the law.

So why would an American what to study for such a degree? Well my reasons are thus:
1) In a cliche to beat all cliches "I have always been interested in the law" but actually it is true, it seems that legal issues are so pervasive in our society you find yourself embroiled in them whether you wish it or not. However, for me it is more than that. Without trying to wax poetic, I've always thought that there was something pure, clean or right about that the law. I know that many of you are probably laughing at that and imagining all sorts of abuses, I will admit there are, but my feeling is more based upon the logic and arguments put forth during cases, the ideals of blind justice and equality of the law. Also from what I have read so far (very little) I have to say that there is a certain elegance to the law and a sense that the law is a civilising element to our society.
2) I've found a programme that allows me study on my own outside of the classroom. Sadly, I am not well-off enough to take time off from work and devote myself to study. However, after a bit of scouring the internet I came a cross a respectable school that offers a distance learning programme at an affordable price. Brilliant!
3) I feel that I need a bit of extra intellectual stimulation. I seem to find that my mind is racing these days down strange pathway in a frantic attempt to find something to wrestle with... so I've decided to throw it against an LLB and see who comes out the winner...
4) Finally there is a vague notion somewhere in the back of my head that I might want to work in the law someday and perhaps change my career a bit, I thought that an LLB might be a good way to see if it the right thing for me...

So here we post coming soon so be sure to tune in...