Law School - It is not about learning a bunch of laws!

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Raveena Mital's picture

Greetings from Admiralty, Hong Kong; the campus of my JD studies at CUHK! After a long and anxious journey, my wait is finally over and I have officially commenced my studies at law school! Challenges awaited me the very first moment I stepped in since I had no idea of where to go for classes, how to access the library and how to complete all the formalities. I was not a freshly admitted undergraduate student anymore, who could make the excuse of being used to school in order to get immediate help. Postgraduate students are expected much more than that. But at the same time I knew that I was not alone and had all the first year JD students in the same boat as well. Thanks to the amazing faculty, we were all able to get timely support and settle well in the environment!

My fist term courses include Principles of Constitutional Law, Principles of Criminal Law, The Legal System, and Ethics & Professional Virtues. With that I am also required, like all other JD students, to write an independent dissertation of 10,000 words. Certainly the admissions committee was not wrong when it said that law is a very language extensive area! I have realized the load of reading hundreds of pages a day from numerous publications, instead of simply relying on a particular textbook like in undergrad.

However, I have certainly changed perceptions in one area of law school- that is, it is surely not a place where students are asked to learn a bunch of statutes and ordinances. In fact, I have not been told to memorize any specific laws at all and I am already two weeks into my studies! Apparently professors at Yale Law School had also published the same thing- that learning just laws is a big misconception of new law students. However, I had not believed this at the time. After all, where else would you learn laws if not at law school? But like most others, I had wrongly narrowed down the scope of this field into a bunch of thick law books.

On the contrary, there is much more to law and being good lawyers than simply reiterating the rules of society. This is because laws constantly change and hence simple word-to-word memorization of today’s statutes will not get people anywhere. Instead, law students are taught how to interpret the laws and argue about their validity and existence. It is this ability that helps people become good lawyers and be able to understand the rules from any jurisdiction after they graduate from law school.

One other key thing in learning the law is being able to define what law is in the first place. This is because being able to completely comprehend the law and the legal system can be a complex issue since many types of rules exist in our society. For example, there are laws in science (such as the quantum law of physics), laws in religious practices, moral laws, as well as our typical laws in civil and criminal cases. Then what factors distinguish the rules and regulations in our legal system from the rules in science and religion? Moreover, why do people normally regard these legal always as being more superior to other laws? These are very controversial questions, as many answers exist for each one.

In my view and according to the teachings of my law professors so far, the laws from different fields differ in their nature to begin with. For example, laws under physics or other sciences are rather descriptive- they describe what a certain theory is and what phenomenon should occur according to this rule. On the other hand, laws under religious practices are prescriptive- they prescribe people on how to live life in the purest form and follow God’s ideals. But laws in the legal system contain elements of both. While cases in common law jurisdictions describe what conflicts have happened before, the statutes themselves prescribe people how to live. This prescription is needed in order to ensure safety and keep order in the society. People can choose to adhere to the laws of science and religion, but they cannot choose to ignore legal laws of their society. Perhaps this is the reason that legal laws hold supremacy over laws passed by other disciplines. Nevertheless this remains a debatable topic that is open to views from both sides.

Enough said about how law is defined! The real challenge that lies ahead in front of me and other JD students is to understand, interpret and analyze laws well so that we can make the most out of law school! I hope to be learning the legal business procedure soon as well so that I can also incorporate my knowledge from accounting and finance. After all, this will be the road towards international arbitration!




"People can choose to adhere to the laws of science and religion, but they cannot choose to ignore legal laws of their society. Perhaps this is the reason that legal laws hold supremacy over laws passed by other disciplines."

Not true. Physical laws hold supremacy over civil laws. You and I cannot change the laws of physics... It makes more sense to bundle religion and laws of society into the prescriptive bucket.