This past summer, as part of my STEP Signature Project, I spent roughly five weeks studying pre-law at the University of Oxford. During this time, I was exposed –via classroom learning and real-world experiences– to various aspects of legal history and its impact upon society. The classroom aspect of the program entailed two courses: Law & Society, and Introduction to the Anglo-American Legal System. The former was taught primarily by Dr. Christopher Whelan, an Oxford University law professor– although there were other Oxford professors and speakers that would address the class as well. The latter was taught by Professor Terri Enns of the Ohio State Moritz College of Law. Together, these two classes allowed for discussion-based learning, which encouraged each student to think critically about the impacts and aspects of various statutes and case law.
When not in a classroom setting, my peers and I were exposed to a plethora of different aspects of legal history through various field trips and excursions to legal point of interests, such as the Old Bailey Crown Court and Oxford’s own branch of the Crown Court. While visiting the Old Bailey, I was able to observe a real-life murder trial for a murder that had occurred 19 years prior. The judge and barristers were each wearing traditional black robes and wigs, which is a very unique and interesting aspect of the British legal system. Moreover, when my peers and I visited the Oxford Crown Court we were excited to be given the opportunity to speak briefly with a local judge and ask him questions about the British system of law. After our brief discussion, the students were allowed to observe the case that the judge was presiding over. Other points of interest that were significantly relevant to our studies included the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom and the House of Parliament. True to form, the judges of the Supreme Court were also each wearing the traditional black robe and wig.
Throughout my time abroad, I learned that a few of my assumptions regarding the system of law were, for the most part, accurate. However, by the conclusion of the trip, I was truly amazed by how much I was able to learn about the history and development of law– especially given the short time that my peers and I were abroad. For example, upon my arrival in Oxford, I had known that I was interested in Government, Politics, Public Policy, and Law. However, I was also aware that my knowledge and exposure to the study of law was quite limited and not far-stretching. I knew that a well-functioning system of law creates a sturdy and foundational framework for a society, but I had little understanding of how this impact was achieved, and from where such a system originated. Moreover, by participating in the various activities that made up most of our designated class time — activities such as briefing cases, examining and creating legal analyzes, and group discussions centered around the conflict between moral duties of a human and the professional duties of a lawyer– I was able to develop a greater appreciation for the services that a system of law contributes to a society.
On a more personal note, I learned a few things about myself as person while I was abroad as well. For example, in high school, I knew that I was remotely interested in a possible position in the legal profession one day– an interest that has seemingly become more focused and passionate as I have progressed through college. However, after my experiences studying law this past summer, I can now say with firm conviction that my desire to enter the legal profession has now become a definitive goal for my future. Furthermore, as a result of my studies I have come to understand the importance of justice being properly implemented and achieved in a society, and have moreover grown to better appreciate that order that a system of law creates. Likewise, I have found that as a result of these transformative experiences, I now possess a strong passion and desire in seeing that justice and human rights of individuals are efficiently, and more importantly, effectively achieved.
Moreover, by being able to observe the history and evolution of the system of law through not only the course that I was enrolled in, but also though the visits to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom and the Old Bailey Criminal Court, I was able to garner a more direct and first-hand understanding of the evolution of law. Walking through the underground exhibit highlighting the history of the Supreme Court, I was able to generate a more well-rounded appreciation for the evolution of the country’s legal system. Furthermore, it was also through these visits that I became more aware of the influence that the British system of law has had upon what we understand to be the American legal system. In addition to the group excursions and field trips, the professional relationships I developed with my peers and professors also proved to be invaluable aspects of the program with each allowing for a richer understanding of our lessons through collaborative discussions.
While there were many different events that I feel contributed enormously to my transformational experience abroad, I believe that the activities of briefing cases and writing legal analyzes provided perhaps the most important impact to my academic habits. Prior to approaching case briefs, I always found myself needing to thoroughly read every bit of an argument or paper in order to understand the main point of the discussion. However, after being exposed to the practice of briefing cases, I have since been able to teach myself to search for the gist of the argument without needing to understand every little detail. In addition, while I understand that details are a hugely important aspect of case law, I am also aware that the skill of skimming is a skill of great importance for anyone in law school.
Likewise, the weekly lectures provided by various Oxford professors also served as another aspect of the Oxford Pre-Law program that helped to transform my cultural understanding of the world. Through these lectures– which covered topics such as the “Royal British Monarchy”, the “Rise and Fall of David Cameron”, and the “History of the National Health Service”– I developed a deeper awareness of the close relationship that binds the United Kingdom with the United States. In addition to providing students with a greater appreciation for the cultural traditions and systems of the United Kingdom, these discussion also served as great source of educational evening entertainment.
Ultimately, the experiences I had while abroad were vitally important to my development as not only a student, but also as a human being as well. Over the course of my five weeks in the United Kingdom, I developed countless study skills and habits that will hopefully prove to be useful as I proceed along the path to a career in the field of law. Likewise, I additionally learned that I definitely want to pursue a Juris Doctorate degree and would furthermore like to obtain a job in the legal industry.
From a more personal perspective, I discovered that I am deeply interested and passionate about learning about the nuances and idiosyncrasies of the numerous cultures around the world. Moreover, I learned that the each system of law and government found within various countries all have their own unique structure and organization. Thus, I feel that I am now better able to understand the relationship and role that the United States system of law and government has on the world stage. Perhaps most importantly though, I learned that a system of law is a crucial aspect of any society, and it creates an absolutely crucial degree of stability and order for any civilization.