Trying not to be their Dad: advice for a mature law student

This post was written by Ken McKay B.Sc. (hons) LL.B. for Having just completed his Accelerated LL.B. Ken Shares in his experience as a mature law student. 


By any stretch of the imagination, I am a mature student. I was almost a mature student when I started my first undergraduate degree in 1989, so when I decided on a complete change of career in 2014, I was considerably older than all of the other first years studying law.


So what gems of wisdom can I pass on?

It depends, which if you study law is the right answer to almost any legal problem. Take what you want from the following 5 points.


1. Do not be intimidated by your younger classmates

What you have to remember is that shared adversity brings people together, you and they both have skill sets that in all probability the other does not possess and in all likelihood can be used to learn from and complement each other. Be under no illusions, getting an LL.B. involves real hard work and you cannot do it alone.

As a mature student, what you will probably have in your favour is that you have real life experience.

  • This may not be the first time you have had to work to real targets or deadlines: you know how to plan & organise.
  • You may have already learned what skills make you an effective communicator: that it’s not just your message but your ability to listen and comprehend
  • You will probably not need to find your feet in coping with the niceties of interpersonal relationships and have developed strategies to counter the sort of personality types that are a drain on both time and emotions.
  • You may have experienced failure or at least averted some work place or home life near-disaster and developed personal resilience through tough lessons that the younger students have yet to encounter.
  • You, like me, may have already got a degree and have some insight into university life.

It is skills like these that will help you, especially in first and second year, as most of your colleagues will be coming to terms with these life skills as still being novel experiences.

However, your fellow students have their own distinct advantages too.

  • They will demonstrate an almost unending reserve of stamina, having joined every society going, hold down a part time job, delight in weeknight drinking and 48hr weekend parties yet still make it in to most lectures and pass the modules. This also helps them with the all-nighters often undertaken to get assessments in on time.
  • They will usually be technologically adept and if there is an easy way to find the information for an essay they will find it.
  • They are also seemingly unafraid to voice an opinion, occasionally ill considered, when it comes to the class work. This is good for getting discussion going which helps understanding of a topic.


2. Be generous but don’t do the work for them

It maybe a wee boost to the ego or make you feel part of the crowd but no one will learn if you do it all for them. It maybe that you are comfortable with citation in essays, through previous uni work, there is nothing wrong with pointing them in the right direction, which will probably be Finch & Fafinski’s Legal Skills, Oxford University Press, but they wont get good marks if they don’t work it out for themselves.

In terms of subject matter, by all means offer to share sources for an essay on a quid pro quo basis but you cannot write it for them, plus every law school is rightfully uptight about plagiarism and collusion, probably because it is not just a case of people handing in the same essay, but the wider matter of personal integrity too, a key attribute of a solicitor.


3. Be your own person

I was 45 when I started my law degree. I took the deliberate view of not trying to become 19 again, as I was potentially the same age as some of my colleagues’ parents. It would have looked as odd to them as much as it screamed, “trying too hard” to everyone else. As such, for me, this meant I didn’t get too involved in social aspect of uni life but that was a personal choice. Do whatever you are comfortable doing but be true to yourself, the life you have already made outside of university, and to your goals.


4. But don’t be their Dad*

This was difficult for me. I have two children of the same age group as the rest of the students. I also managed many younger people as staff. I found it hard not to offer feedback, criticise, or pontificate about attendance, or the lack thereof. It was a real struggle not to appear self-righteous and tell people their attitude to studying was shocking, and they needed to have a real think about their behaviour or work ethic, or lack of personal responsibility for their own mistakes.

I could see people get ever decreasing grades and all I could do was shut up and figuratively walk away and not point out “if you are not doing the reading, what did you expect?” or “do you understand the opportunity you are throwing away by not doing the revision?” This is the other lesson university teaches, that it is all down to you to drive and motivate yourself and if you cannot see that, expect to fail. It was not down to me to hand out that lesson.

Nor could I take it the other way and be overly benevolent, and make sure they got all the notes when they had decided a 10am lecture was too early, or be their PA and have memorised their lecture and tutorial timetable to then text to them on demand. Again, if you are doing it for them, they will never learn to do it for themselves.

(* = Insert the parental or authority figure you most identify with)


5. Finally, enjoy the course

It flies by all too fast. Do all the exciting stuff you feel you can but work hard and keep your focus on the degree and the benefits will be there to grasp.


– Ken McKay B.Sc. (hons) LL.B.

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