Back at the keyboard….

The reason for the utter silence on this blog for the last few weeks is that I am now, officially, a Law Student. I started the Graduate Diploma in Law course at the end of September. They tell you it’s 45 hours of studying a week. I wondered, is that working-people’s hours, or clock-hours? (In my experience in the workplace, one hour of working time is supposed to result in at least 90 minutes’ worth of work done. The government says that the NHS is going to move to a 7-day working week. Well, newsflash, guys. NHS staff are already on a 7-day working week; it’s just that we do all the work in 5 days.)

Well, after several weeks on the GDL course, I can say that even though one can cut a few hours off the 45 hour estimate, you can’t cut many. Hence a lack of blogging. However, now the routine has settled a bit, I shall try and get back in the saddle.

Experiences so far? Well, I have learned lots of things.

  • It might not be 45 hours, but it’s not that much less.
  • I went to the wrong universities. Oxbridge and the Russell Group rule.
  • I should have gone on a gap year to an exciting place. Did I go to Africa to build orphanages? No. I went to Scunthorpe. It’s just not the same.
  • My father does not know any QCs or any important people. At least, not that he’s letting on. He does know the location of every steam engine shed in the UK, but I don’t think that counts.
  • I need scarves. I have never seen so many young women wearing scarves in my life. I’m not talking about the kind of scarves that I wear (nice thick wool, for blocking out the lazy wind) – I’m talking about the kind that are made of silk and are there to be purely decorative, and go well with Country Tweed jackets. I don’t have a tweed jacket either.
  • I’m old. Not just a little mature. I’m really, really, really old. Ancient. About to drop dead with the weight of years. That’s not bad for someone who isn’t even forty yet. But believe me, being on a course with fellow-students who are mostly 22 years old makes me feel like Methuselah.
  • My chances of getting a job, under the weight of these manifold disadvantages (if I don’t drop dead of old age), are – I am informed – pretty low (and if I do drop dead of old age, even lower, I should think, but at that point I wouldn’t care). Law is elitist, they say. It’s not what you know, they say, it’s who you know. I am bowed under the prospect of having spent nearly as much on my legal education as I did on my first flat, but with significantly less to show for it.

    Should I get out now, before I throw even more money on the altar of a legal career in the hope that the God Who Awardeth Training Contracts (that all-important job that you need to qualify as a solicitor after doing your academic courses) will smile on me?

    On the other hand, do I carry on? Do I carry on sacrificing on the Altar of Legal Education, in the hope that I can beat the odds, or should I go and blow it all at Monte Carlo where, apparently, the odds are much better?

    There is one other factor.

    I love the law.

    I’ve never studied anything that was as interesting. Law has everything you could possibly want: excitement, history, narrative, and plot. Logic rules here, and he who can chop it with the skill of a sushi chef wins the day. It has personalities. Read enough cases, and you start to recognise the judges you cheer (Lord Denning) and the ones you love to hate (whose names I shall not mention).

    The law is fundamentally about people, and how they interact in society. How can that not be interesting? In case law, we not only have the slightly bizarre Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Company and Donaghue v Stevenson – ordinary people doing ordinary things who had an enormous effect on the law – but R v R which ended the marital rape exemption in the UK – in 1991!.

    In R v R we have the interesting spectacle of five of the Law Lords practically turning handsprings in an effort to disregard Hale’s History of Pleas of the Crown, 1736– the original authority which stated that a man could not rape his wife because she gave irrevocable consent to intercourse on marriage.

    R v R, therefore, is interesting for three reasons. Firstly because it illustrates the fact that the law remains static until someone changes it. Even if – as in R v R – the result is morally abhorrent, it’s still the law. Secondly because it illustrates the lengths to which judges will go in order to do ‘the right thing’. The easy thing would have been to agree that yes, a husband was entitled to have sex with his wife whenever he wanted, regardless of her opinion of the matter, and the law had been so since 1736. But Lords Keith of Kinkel, Brandon of Oakbrook, Griffiths, Ackner and Lowry did not take the easy way out. Thirdly, it demonstrates that – because we have a common law system – the law in the UK is not just a legal system, it’s a social history.

    I am science trained, and I’m used to working in an environment where information that is more than three years old is suspect; more than five, and it’s ancient. It’s strange and exciting to be studying a subject where information published in the eighteenth century, or even before (the oldest statute still on the books was passed in 1267 – the Statute of Marlborough) is still current. The laws passed or repealed demonstrate the social issues and conditions prevailing at the time, and so each statute (even more so for cases) is a little window into the past.

    So will I be giving up the study of law and taking a trip to Monte Carlo? No. Of course, I hope I manage to make it over the hurdles and finally qualify as a solicitor. And I will do everything I can to make sure that happens. But if the worst occurs, and I just end up with hearing damage from the sound of laughter and doors slamming in my face, will I have wasted my time and money?

    No, I don’t think so. I will have spent two years (and lots of money) studying a fascinating subject. And that is something worth doing.

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