For students studying law – or even thinking about it – one of the highly worthwhile exercises is to actually go to Court to see how the system works and to obtain a better idea than the text books may provide as to how the law actually works and – perhaps as importantly – whether it’s truly for you.
The Guardian recently wrote on the topic in their careers section, explaining what’s useful about going to court.
If you’re interested in a legal career but aren’t sure of the exact path you wish to take, time spend in court can help. “It can be informative when deciding whether to practice in a contentious or non-contentious area of law, and whether to pursue a career in criminal or civil litigation,” says Linda Jacobs, a barrister at Cloisters.
But it’s not just useful for narrowing down your career options. Watching real cases unfold can shed light on why the law is the way it is, improving your approach to academic work.
Richard Williams, access officer for the University of Cambridge’s law faculty, says: “An understanding of the way the courts work is important to the study of law and to all aspects of legal practice. “Combined with more detailed study of the legal system, court visits can help inform this understanding.”
Catherine Dance, a law student at the University of Oxford, has attended two court cases in the Midlands – one on historical sex abuse and another on conspiracy to import and supply drugs and taking a vehicle without consent. “It made me think a bit more about practical applications of the things we were studying, rather than just the theory,” she says, adding that it has enabled her to make more well-rounded critical arguments about statutes and precedents.
Holly Anderson, who also studies law at Oxford, agrees that going to court has improved the quality of her legal arguments – both orally and in written work. During a marshalling placement last summer, she watched a complicated sexual offences trial play out at Oxford Crown Court. “Not only do you get to experience the practical side of law, which can sometimes be lost when studying the subject as an academic discipline, you also get to observe barristers presenting legal argument,” she says.
It can also be valuable to see the emotional impact of the law for yourself, says Sharzad Shini, an LPC student at Kaplan Law School. She sat in on a case at Cambridge Magistrates’ Court in which a man with previous convictions was being sentenced for a driving-related offence.
“While I was listening to the judges deliver their verdict, I was also observing the accused and how upset and anxious he was. The magistrates had to reassure him and tell him to sit down,” says Shini. “It’s this personal interaction and the impact on the accused that you can’t really appreciate inside a classroom.”
Going to court isn’t only useful for prospective barristers. Herbert Smith Freehills, for example, takes all its trainees – even those on vacation schemes – to the High Court to help them understand how their work impacts what happens in court.
There’s a lot to observe, says Rupert Lewis, a disputes partner at the firm, including how solicitors interact with counsel, gather evidence, brief experts, proof witnesses, identify winning points and present winning arguments.