Studying Law at Cambridge is tough, no matter which college you go to, and Peterhouse is no different. However, that's not to say it's dull. If you're applying to Cambridge, you've obviously got a bright mind and are interested in Law, so will welcome the challenge that a course like Cambridge's will give you. The Law course is very much academic-based, which is stressed by the Faculty, unlike many other universities which are more practical. This approach allows you to study a subject in depth and acquire so many skills which will be applicable in your later career, whether it be in a Law firm, at the Bar or anywhere else you may go, as a Law degree from Cambridge will take you a long way. It should be noted that the following is just a rough outline of the course and in no way should be taken as the only way to approach the subject: there is no one way of studying Law.
Contents of the course
The Law Tripos is spread over 3 years and split into three parts: Part IA (First Year), Part IB (Second Year), and Part II (Final Year). In the first year, four papers are compulsory: Tort, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law and Civil Law I (Roman Law). The second and third years offer more flexibility as different options are available. However, if you are aiming to get a qualifying Law degree (which will exempt you from a conversion course if you want to become a practising Lawyer), you do have to take four further compulsory papers: Land Law (IB), Contract Law (IB), Equity (II), and EU Law (II). However, beyond these, there are a wide range of papers that can be taken to suit almost anyone's interests (for more information, see the Faculty website).
During the second year, you can apply to take part in the Erasmus scheme where a few students go abroad for a year, and come back to Cambridge to do the Part II papers in what will be the fourth year of their course. However, I wouldn't worry about this choice yet- it's just an option to be considered once you get here.
Law is, obviously, a book-based subject so a lot of your time will be spent reading. The material generally consists of text books, cases and articles. These will become more familiar to you as you progress through the course.
Teaching is done through lectures generally (11 hours a week in First year), supplemented greatly by your reading. Reading lists are given on the Faculty website for each subject and your supervisors will give you more targeted ones on a fortnightly basis (in line with your supervisions which I will return to in a moment). Lectures are not compulsory but are useful to go to. They clarify points you may not have understood during your reading or help you go through the reading quicker by giving you a general understanding of the topic in hand.
Supervisions are the part of Cambridge teaching that makes it so individual. In these sessions (which are fortnightly, as mentioned above) you meet in groups of two or three with your supervisor and discuss one topic of your course. For each subject you study, you have a supervisor. This is a great chance to pinpoint any issues you have and resolve them or, if you have understood the basic material, to further your understanding by discussing it with one another. Each term, you will be set two essays from each supervisor, so in First Year, you will be set eight essays a term. Supervisions also give you a chance to see other colleges as, in First Year, you will generally only be taught in Peterhouse for one of your topics (Tort), so you have to go further afield for other subjects. Generally, it won't be too far away- the furthest away I went last year was to Robinson (a 15 minute walk or a short cycle-ride); although this does vary from year to year. It's generally less stressful if you spread supervisions relatively evenly over the fortnightly cycle, so if a supervisor tries to put their supervision in the same week as two or three other subjects, do let them know. They are generally as accommodating as their timetable provides.
Since Law is a reading-based subject, you will find that a lot of time may be spent in the library. You can go to the Ward Library (the Peterhouse library) or the Squire Law Library (in the Faculty which you will be shown around in your first week). The Ward has a good stock and variety of Law books but often only one copy of each so sharing books is common. It has a good setting and is close to Hall (very important if you're studying near mealtimes!). The Squire is very bright as one entire wall is a window so is good for studying. This is a non-borrowing library but the stocks are good as it contains several copies of most texts and has a huge range of articles, which are an important part of your reading. They aid your understanding on topics and help you form opinions on them by reading and considering those of others. The one thing to watch out for in the Squire is the chairs which are extraordinarily low and often you may find yourself sliding off- the key is to fight for the higher chairs! Although, if you prefer working in your room, you can often find most, if not all, the materials online.
As for essays, there are two types: problem questions and essays. Problem questions are given in the format of a situation involving various legal issues and you have to explain the problems, how they are addressed by existing Law and what remedies are available to a potential claimant. Essays are more general questions about the subject and can extend to what changes should be made to existing Law. In the exams you have to answer four questions (problem and/or essay questions) in 3 hours. Since you only have 45 minutes for each question, when writing essays in term-time, you are generally asked to limit them to about 1500 words.
Although there is no one way to study Law, the beginning of the year is overwhelming for anyone, so I just thought I'd give a few tips I found helpful at the beginning:
- Go to the introductory lectures they hold in the Faculty on the first three mornings of term- some of them seem tediously boring but others are very useful for your later study of the subject.
- Keep on top of the subject and keep organised notes, otherwise, come Exam Term, your life will become a bit of a nightmare.
- Do extra-curricular things you enjoy- not only does it add to the CV but it gives you a break from only studying.
- It will be helpful to have some of your own textbooks but don't buy any before coming to Cambridge- the Second Years are generally eager to sell on their books to you second-hand, many of which are almost as good as new, for a reduced price- new Law books are very expensive and the ones you get second hand are normally cheaper.
- Join the Cambridge University Law Society- as well as interesting lectures and moots, they also organise great events.
For those of you reading this prior to any application to Peterhouse, I hope I haven't put any of you off applying. It may seem daunting at this point, but soon it all becomes natural to you.
All I can really say about applying for Law at Peterhouse is that you really need no prior knowledge of the Law at the application stage. If you've done Law A level or GCSE, then you are expected to know a little but for those who have not, you are not. You are expected to be an enthusiastic student with an awareness of the Law in the surrounding world and in what way it may apply; this can be done simply by keeping up to date with current affairs.
Being the smallest college, you get to know lots of people in different years which is helpful for you to settle in, understand strange Cambridge traditions (there aren't that many...just a few) and soothe any qualms you may have regarding your work. You get to know more or less every other lawyer across the three years, and as a result help is never very far away! The library is well-equipped (and very generous when it comes to new book acquisitions) and the general college facilities quite good. The college is a 10 minute walk away from the faculty (much less if you’re cycling) and the Director of Studies and supervisors within the college are amongst the most respected in the faculty. Finally, the Peterhouse Law Society is very active and regularly hosts events sponsored by law firms, ranging from negotiation exercises to being wined and dined. In short, Peterhouse is a great place to study law!
Good luck with whichever is your next step towards university!