What should a law student take with them when they move to university?
I’ve seen a few of these around and I have my own take. Mine will be a bit quirky, as 18 was a long time ago for me, and I didn’t live away from home for my first degree. I’m afraid with some of these, I’m going to come across more like your mum than your peer (yes, I know I’m old. I’m not quite that old!), so, while I think my advice is solid, this blog is emphatically not written by one of the cool kids. These are just things that have made my life easier at university (not just for law). I will not be recommending specific products, because I don’t want anyone to think that I’m being paid/ my judgment is anything other than my own, etc.
I notice the word count on this rapidly climbing, so I’m going to split this up into two posts. This post: in halls/ at home. See also: out and about.
Don’t skimp on the bedding. No matter what kind of student you are, sleep is important. And let’s be real: mattresses in halls of residence are appalling. I remember lying in bed in halls one night thinking “this would be comfortable if I didn’t have bones”. Alas, I have bones. After about a month I gave in and bought a mattress topper. For me it was memory foam: your preference and budget may vary. I noticed an absence after a night or two on the topper. I was no longer in pain from the neck down. Same goes for your pillow(s): if you’re not bringing one from home (I did not, I arrived to halls by plane and had to buy pretty much everything new), get the most supportive one you can afford. Hunching over books or a computer screen all day causes neck strain, which causes headaches. And while you don’t have to have really fancy sheets, the really cheap ones are scratchy (my policy on a lot of things is, if I can afford it, try the one above the cheapest). I don’t know about anyone else, but when I get stressed, overwhelmed, and need to recover, I retire to bed. Bed is my sanctuary. On that note, if you can sleep with them (and depending on lighting/ curtains/ sharing arrangements in your accommodation), consider ear plugs and/ or an eye mask. At a minimum, the odds are that the walls between you and your neighbours will be thin, and not every flatmate is considerate.
On a similar note, for similar reasons, depending on your chair in your room, maybe consider some sort of lumbar or back support. When I was in halls I had a lumbar support that attached to the back of my chair with a large elastic (or similar) band. Not as good as a proper supportive office chair, but a fair bit cheaper. (There are some salons around here that offer student discounts on massages. While these are lovely, and I have been known to use them if my shoulders get too tense and I can’t relax them, spending a bit on back support in the first place is cheaper in the long run).
Yes, I know you don’t have to print everything (I don’t), and I know a printer is an additional expense (and some universities give some printing credit). But I find (as do many people I know) that reading from the screen all the time is irritating, to say the least. My concentration definitely isn’t as good from a screen as from paper. You definitely need all the concentration you can get for some reading (and there’s something to be said for proofreading being better in hard copy). My university also has a no electronics in seminars policy, so notes must be in hard copy. Things to consider: size of the printer, price of the printer, price of replacement cartridges (sticker shock!), printer capability. When I bought my printer, it was a considerable jump to get automatic duplex printing, so I opted not to (mine does manual duplex, but it’s fiddly). What I do instead is print single sided, but with two pages per page. The writing is very small, and it may not work for everyone, but it’s what works for me. You can (and possibly should) also buy printer paper in bulk: it can be cheaper (if you can store it), and you don’t want to run out of paper in the lead up to an assignment or in the middle of printing a particularly long case. (Lever arch binders and a hole punch, as well: keep your printed material together, rather than lose them in an avalanche of paper before exams.)
If you’re doing a humanities course of any description (including law), a thesaurus and a dictionary are good to have. Dictionaries are probably less necessary because online definitions are pretty good: synonym tools I find are less helpful. If you’re unsure of your academic writing style, a style guide is a good idea (beware of international ones: some of the best and best known are American, which is fine, and indeed the one I recommend is American. But Americans don’t have the same stylistic requirements as the UK. Proceed with caution, check with your own institution for style requirements). I would very strongly recommend law students in particular invest in a legal dictionary: online definitions may be inaccurate, or at least inaccurate/ misleading in this jurisdiction. As an aside, post-it notes are helpful with reference materials and textbooks (particularly if you’re allowed to take in marked up texts into an open book exam: check your own exam rules before doing so).
Finally, some quick ones that don’t need a lot of explanation. A bucket or similar for hand washing delicate clothes, a large durable bag for carrying washing to the laundrette, laundry liquid or gel is less annoying/ heavy/ messy to use than powder (if you can justify the additional expense), a fold up airer for clothes will save you a lot of money on the dryer. If the heating is bad where you live, consider a blanket and/ or fingerless gloves for when you’re studying in winter. (See also my point about headphones in my next post)
As always, please do comment. What are/ were your must haves for in halls, particularly as a law student?