On being a mature (geriatric?) UG Laws student

This post has been contributed by Mr Colin Curtis, an Undergraduate Laws student starting his second year. Please note views expressed on the following blog are those of the author and publication on the Undergraduate Laws blog does not constitute an endorsement.


In a recent Facebook post a student expressed concern that they were too old to begin a UG Laws course. Several older people joined in to say that age was not a barrier but I don’t think any of them was quite as old as me, because I started the graduate-entry LLB in 2020 at the age of 70.

No, that isn’t a misprint! My first experience of higher education was studying English at the University of Sussex, from which I graduated almost 50 years ago. I went on to teach English for a couple of years after which I spent nearly 40 years as a civil servant before retiring in 2015.

So why am I now studying for a law degree? My interest in law actually developed during my time in the civil service, particularly during years I spent working with ministers and lawyers on preparing legislation then putting it through Parliament. Looking for something to do in retirement that would absorb me and keep my brain active, it seemed like a good idea to study law properly.

Being an independent ‘distance-learning’ student in the 2020’s is rather different from my campus-based experiences in the 1970s, when I had tutorials, seminars, lectures and lots of social contact with fellow students. I suppose it’s an advantage of being older that I feel quite confident about now studying independently; and I don’t need the social side of the university experience again because I did all that when I was young. Despite the fact that nothing (apart from my pride) really depends on me succeeding with the LLB  – I can’t imagine I’m going to practise law professionally at my time of life –  I seem to be working harder now than when I was doing my first undergraduate degree!

Potential older students may worry that their brain may not be able to cope with all the new material. My memory for names was never wonderful and is pretty poor now, so I feared that I wouldn’t be able to retain all the authorities that need to be cited in exams. I was also concerned about having to write answers by hand, given that I stopped writing anything of length that way decades ago. I’d been busy preparing flash cards, and had started practising writing by hand for gradually increasing periods of time; but then, of course, the move to online open book exams this summer meant that those challenges didn’t actually arise. Like everybody, I want to see life get back to normal after COVID as soon as possible; but I’m aware that means my concerns may only have been postponed. I’m confident, though, that, with plenty of practice, I’ll be able to remember enough, and write it legibly enough, to pass my second year exams.

As well as challenges resulting from being a student again after a long break, there are advantages from the life experience that older students will have acquired. That can bring dangers too: for example, I embarked on Public law thinking that my many years of working in and around Parliament meant that I knew a lot of that stuff already and didn’t need to worry about studying it in great depth now. In fact, of course, Parliament and its procedures have not stayed the same over the last 30 years, so I had to be careful not to assume that things I used to know so well were still accurate.

Overall, my experience of University of London, UG Laws has been very positive. My advice to anyone interested would be that they aren’t too old and they should give it a try. Although the exams were a bit scary, I’m enjoying it all enormously!

28 comments

  1. Never too late to study LLB. I am 61 years old and just graduated recently. The advancement of technology and Covid19 makes my study easier instead of more difficult. I too will not be practising professionally but look forward to pay back to the society meaningfully.

  2. Hello Colin: Congratualtions on your studies in English Law. You pip me a tenner, [in years that is]. I started my LLM ar aged 59. I did my law degrees backwards. LLM first , LLB second….

    I graduated this year from the University of London LLB with a reasonable degree. I am so glad you ran the flag up for us geriatrics! I see all too often how people our age are margibalized even though we have substantial life experiences.

    For my part, I really enjoyed the EU Law, Public Law, Tort and oddly enough Land Law and Trusts. I never thought I would enjoy the latter two, but I truly enjoyed Martin Dixon, and Alastair Horton, -the Swadling-Chambers debate…. I must be a nerd!

    I hope to complete further studies in EU law, Banking Regulation – Judicial Review, and who knows even the Bar. What I love most about these studies is that they allowed me to develop the confidence to be an effective researcher in law, and in particular the sources of our rights.

    Thank you for sharing your experience.

    Philip Corsani-Leopizzi

    1. Thanks, Philip.I’ve often done things in my life in a funny order but LLM then LLB is a very interesting sequence!

  3. Hi Colin,

    This is really a very motivational post for many mature students (including me). So long as one has the interest in a field of study, that is all that is required. The study of law is a wonderful undertaking for anyone to pursue. The passion itself will give one the energy and determination to achieve what he or she wishes to accomplish!

    Thank you, and best of wishes!

    Anba

  4. Dear Mr Colin Curtis,

    You may be more fortunate than me in having able to continue at your age.

    I agree with you that at our going age, I am now 67 years old and still want to pit myself against time to try study law and to come out of it to be knowledgeable and be able to apply it as and when given a chance to do so. However, like you say, sometimes our memory is not as good as we were younger and with Covid-19 virus pandemic traveling round the world, all the more so when staying most of the time in home environment does not necessarily mean that we are in a better position to think and type, mind you, type, and not write.

    At our age, my typing is a finger typing as do not use to it when only Covid-19 pandemic periodtime that I used it more often than not. I struggle to find the keys I want and it takes time while also at the same time trying to form sentences in my mind as to answer the question at hand.

    This simultaneous hands over mind in answering the question is frustrating and there are al ot misses when the answers supposedly to be form whiff away while trying to find the right keys to type, just image the time taken.

    I failed miserbly on that and now faced with not able to continue studying with UOL.

    Just hope that the dean can look into my predicament and see how I can move forward.

    I called the University telephone line but there is no one there to pick up.

    Wrote to enquiry and the I am given a straight answer without any human thought strictly speaking.

    I can only hope the dean can communicate after seeing this message.

    Thank you.

    Best Regards

    Michael Lam

    1. Thanks, Michael. I was sorry to hear of your difficulties and hope you are able to continue with your studies.

      I’m not a brilliant typist (although I’m better at typing than writing with a pen!). There used to be a number of free online courses teaching typing, for complete beginners – ones for children are good – so maybe worth trying one of those?

      Best of luck.

      Colin

  5. Thank you for sharing your experience. As mature student (early 40’s) transitioning out of a professional career to embark on full time legal studies, it is motivating to hear from a fellow students like yourself who would not allow age to be the antagonist. Instead you share much of the positive aspects of returning to academia after decades of work and life experiences.

  6. What a great post Colin. I am 62 and a fellow Canadian. I can honestly say my experience is very similar to yours but I have been in business for 35 years so our career paths are obviously different. I laughed when I read your comments about Public Law as I thought I would ACE contracts as I’ve read, written, reviewed and authorized literally hundreds in my career. Not so – made it in the exam but certainly found the skill set required vastly different. Thanks for the post and to anybody thinking about it, I would say it is worth the effort. People don’t realize until they are older how wonderful the opportunity is too learn and while the system of online learning is different from class attendance it has benefits and disadvantages just like anything. You adjust. Learning seems even better at our age as a lot of the intense pressure is not there as our careers have already been firmly established and often have run their course. Best of luck to everyone in our class – old and young alike as we move into year 2.

    1. Thanks, Brian.

      I got my lowest mark – still a pass, fortunately – in Contract Law, and have decided the marking was particularly strict on that exam. That’s how I comfort myself, anyway!

      I agree with all your comments (except me being a “fellow Canadian”, because I’m British!) and wish you all the best for year two as well.

      Colin

  7. Dear Collin, glad to read your post. I share all your concerns and also face challenges you mentioned. But I am encouraged to know that there are seemingly “crazy old men ” like me, who instead of retiring happily and enjoying the fruits of our earlier labour, took the most unexpected step of studying for an LLB. I found out that it was the most challenging task I have engaged in. For your information I am 74 this month and I am only in my first year, taking my exam in October.
    Yes, memory power is not like before and there are so many things to remember, to understand, but besides those things, my greatest challenge is to be able to type on a lap top and not mess it up, like deleting an answer unexpectedly or not being able to find what I have saved. But my children, who have been most encouraging, have been helping me in this area.
    Despite all the challenges I am very happy I have taken this programme. I find that I have never read so much in my whole life, have never learned so much and I really find the course extremely interesting.
    I have been a teacher and headmaster. I must say I am humbled by taking this course.

    1. I had a birthday in September too, so am now even older at 71 – but I can’t compete with your 74!

      Good luck with the exams. (From one ‘crazy old man’ to another.)

      Colin

  8. Thank you so much for your blog. I was very struggle to make the decision of learning UG laws at my age of 47! You did a good job and did encourage me to face all the new terms and precedents. Thank you so much! Very inspiring:)

  9. As a slightly less geiatratric (63) UoL Laws LLB student just entering my third year, I must agree with and underscore your comments. I found the first set of exams very scary, but now that I have had another go around I am more comfortable with the format and skills, and am enjoying the learning experience more. I still have a lot to learn about the UK legal system and practices since I live in US, but I have found the fresh (to me) perspective enlightening and especially helpful in these days of extreme disagreement amongst the US parties and opinions.

    Overall, if there are any of you out there in a similar situation considering embarking on this journey, you are not alone! And yes it is worth it!

  10. Hello Mr Collin…interesting blog you have here. I am really encouraged :). How can i get into contact with you? I am from Malawi, and i would love to have a mentor on this course. i have left my email in case you may want to reach out.

    1. Hi, Chisomo.

      I’m glad you found what I wrote encouraging. I do try to join in on the UG Laws Discussion Forum when I think I’ve got something useful to say, as well as on the Facebook groups. I think I’d prefer to do that than get into one-to-one conversations – and I don’t really see myself as anyone’s mentor. I hope that’s okay.

      Best of luck with your studies.

      Colin

  11. Loved your story. It was inspirational. Life is such, we should all be learning, at every age and stage. Bravo Sir. Wishing you well on all your endeavors.

  12. I’m very grateful to the UG Laws team for bringing all these comments on my blog post to my attention. I had noticed that 2 bloggers had liked my post but had somehow missed all the comments. So many thanks to all of you for taking the trouble to post replies, which I’m now reading with great interest!

  13. Absolutely amazing!! I’m a mature student in my 50’s asking myself if I’m too old and you’ve batted that out of the park!!

  14. Hi Colin,

    You truly are an inspiration to people of any age. At 38 I thought I was too old to be doing uni again after some 15 odd years but clearly not.

    Your blog is a testament to the fact that what the human mind perceives it can achieve.

  15. Blimey you guys seem to leave me in the shade!

    Being fortunate to retire in my late 40’s I returned to my local college to gain my GCSE’s in English and Maths before doing a foundation year at my local uni. Moved on to the LLB (where Professor Halson of this neighbourhood was one of my lecturers) in my 50’s followed by completing the LPC.

    I am now in my first year of my training contract with a large commercial law law firm. I was fairly confident that I was the oldest Trainee Solicitor in the country, but after reading the posts on here I am no longer so sure.

    Good to read the experience of others which generally mirror mine – its good to show the youngsters that there is life in the old dogs yet!

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