Studying law: in my words (Part 3 of 3)

This blog was contributed by Calvin Chong, a University of London Undergraduate Laws student who is based in Hong Kong, providing advice to students studying for their LLB. Please note the views expressed are those of the author and publication on the Undergraduate Laws blog does not constitute an endorsement. This is the second in a series of three blog posts.

This is the second instalment of my article giving you my experience of how to study law efficiently. In this instalment I provide a few pointers on how to score a 2:1 before giving my recommendations for how to study nine key UG Laws modules.

Identifying issues: your first priority beyond 2:2

If there is a test as to whether you are suitable to become a law student (not necessarily a good solicitor or barrister), it is probably a test in identifying legal issues in a law exam question. In a law exam, the devil is always in the details. This doesn’t only include issues that are explicitly brought up. You need to be mindful of the details of the case so you don’t miss identifying an important legal issue. For example, if a purported limited company has no ‘ltd’ or ‘plc’ in its name, it raises the question as to whether it is a charity.

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While I was still studying with my classmates, their priority was seemingly the ability to recite the requisite legal rules and authorities. The main difference between first and 2:1 essays are that first class students are able to identify even minor intricacies (legal issues) in their essays and give them their appropriate treatment in a logical manner.

My theory is that, it is counterproductive to learn law by learning legal rules and cases by rote. Instead I advocate learning enough from textbooks to identify legal issues and then learn the treatment of individual legal issues from the books as you encounter them (while making your flowchart or short notes).

How do I learn to identify legal issues?

The difficulty with this is that there seem to be no books that contain laws exam questions that are presented in this way (if a law academic sees this article and would like to do this I would be happy to help). My method was to copy and paste the question into Word and print it out double-spaced. I would then identify legal issues while cross-checking my notes (or the textbook for the matter). The same can be done with the so-called Question and Answers books.

If you have trouble identifying the legal issue (as opposed to giving a correct legal response to the legal issue), it means that you should read the textbook again. For a quick fix, try using those “concentrate” books which will give you an overview on the matter.  These books are not a replacement for an initial reading of the textbook but I consider them appropriate for this purpose.

Civil and Criminal Procedures

This is the most difficult subject to study in my opinion: the difficulty has nothing to do with the concepts in the subject matter. It is a simple application of legal rules to the facts in the problem question and a matter of reciting prepared essay plans for the essay questions. The difficulty lies in understanding the requirements of the subject.

The programme suggested two textbooks: Sprack for criminal procedure, and Sime for civil procedure. The two books are large, the prints are small and it amounts to 1200 pages in total. It may be better for students to enrol in a course taught by people who are actually spending time with clients

Company Law

I used Brenda Hannigan’s textbook mainly supplemented by Sealy and Worthington’s cases and material book. In my experience the exam was focused more on shareholder protection (that is, unfair prejudice, derivative action, enforcing the article) and corporate governance. This focus is quite different from the major textbooks. The textbook widely regarded to be the best (despite its size) was Gower & Davies’ Principles of Modern Company Law. I did buy a copy and read it but I didn’t find it as useful as I would have liked.

Contract law

As discussed in the first instalment I recommend using Treitel’s Law of Contract instead of the recommended text by Evan McKendrick. That said, there is nothing wrong with using McKendrick, it is well written.

Criminal Law

As discussed in the first instalment I recommend using either Wilson’s Criminal Law or Smith and Hogan’s Criminal Law together with Ashworth’s Principle of Criminal Law. Jonathan Herring’s Great Debates in Criminal Law is interesting but is probably less helpful in the course. Issues from William Wilson’s Central Issues in Criminal Theory often arise in the examination paper but its overlap with his textbook Criminal Law is quite significant so it may not be cost-effective to buy both books.

Equity and Trusts

I used Hanbury and Martin’s Modern Equity as my primary textbook, supplemented by Penner’s textbook (which is the prescribed textbook). In retrospect, my extensive reading was not too beneficial (I truly loved this subject and went as far as going through conference proceedings but at the end of the day the exam did not call for academic discussion of topics).

Land law

As discussed in the first instalment, I found Thompson’s Modern Land law a useful companion to the recommended textbook written by Martin Dixon.

In the land law examination, there wasn’t a question limited to a single subject.  You will be dead wrong if you omit more than one or two areas of study in land law. I used a two-tier approach: study in-depth for topics that you are aiming at doing a question in (that is, the first tier), and study the major principles and key cases for other topics (the second tier). I figured out that I can’t manage to write comprehensively for easement and freehold covenant questions in the prescribed time. So I studied easements and freehold covenants just enough to do problem questions involving a small element of them (second tier).

Legal System and Method (formerly Common Law Reasoning and Institutions)

It is notable that this is no longer a course that carries any marks in the new graduate route for LLB at the University of London. That said, I would recommend reading English Legal System in Context edited by Cownie et al and the book The Politics of the Common Law edited by Gearey et al.

Public Law

The key to getting a high mark in public law is to study enough jurisprudence and infuse it into your answers. For this purpose, the textbook Constitutional and Administrative Law by Hilaire Barnett is the one-stop-shop. It includes mostly everything you need to know about public law scholars (and philosophers alike — there is even a few paragraphs on the Marxist view of public law!). On the other hand, a thin version of public law textbook is Neil Parpworth’s Constitution and Administrative Law. This book contains only about a third of the amount of text as Barnett and you can read it in a fifth of the time.

Tort law

I don’t have much to recommend here because Tort was my second worst subject in my LLB and I used the prescribed textbook. I briefly looked at various textbooks available including Clerk and Lindsell on Tort, as well as Nick McBride’s textbook. Nick McBride had a website called mcbridesguides ( and the information available there is some of the best on the internet.



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