Recent graduate, Morgane Conaty BL, shares some top tips on how to succeed on the degree of Barrister–at–Law course
Dr Eimear Brown, Dean of King’s Inns, asked Morgane Conaty BL, a recent graduate of the degree of Barrister–at–Law course, to share some top tips with new students at induction day in September 2022 on how to succeed during their training and how to get the best experience from studying at King’s Inns.
Morgane Conaty studied at King’s Inns from 2020–2022, winning the James Murnaghan Memorial Prize in July 2022 for the third highest overall grade leading to her admission to the degree of Barrister–at–Law. She was called to the Bar in July 2022.
Morgane previously completed a BCL (Law and French) at UCC and received an LL.M from UCL. Before going to the Bar, she worked as a Judicial Assistant and a Legal Researcher in the CSSO.
Here is what Morgane says in her own words.
How to succeed in the BL degree or what I wish I’d known before starting
I wanted to call this ‘How to succeed in the BL without really trying,’ but I would have had to subtitle it, but ‘actually you really do have to try’, which kind of defeats the point. But I’m not writing this piece with the purpose of scaring you or stressing you out. This is not a warning accompanied by flashing hazard lights that if you don’t do exactly as I say, you will fail.
Everyone’s experience will be different, and there are many different ways to learn. I did the modular degree of Barrister–at–Law course from 2020–2022 and was called to the Bar in July. Through trial and error over my two years in the Inns, I figured out (often a little late) how to make the most of the experience, how to avoid extreme stress come exam time and how to do well.
I have gathered some tips that I found helpful and wish I’d been told before starting.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint
The most important advice for the students on the degree of Barrister–at–Law course is to work steadily and consistently throughout the degree and not to leave everything to the month before the exams. With so much new information to absorb and many different skills to practise, cramming will not work.
The exams are quite unlike college or the King’s Inns entrance exams and do not (for the most part) require rote learning. The skills–based exams require time and practice; you cannot perfect a consultation or advocacy overnight. However, there is some comfort in this as the work you put in throughout the degree will reap its rewards, and with good preparation, you will avoid the night–before stresses. The best way to prepare for the exams is to do the class work in advance and go back over it after receiving feedback and corrections.
Be prepared for every class because there will not be enough class time to read the materials fully, understand the task and then complete it. Good preparation will enable you to participate fully and allow you to get useful feedback on how to improve. You will also have more confidence in showing your work and putting yourself forward to do advocacy exercises. Furthermore, the work that you have prepared, along with changes and comments from feedback, will be invaluable when you are studying for your exams. You will not have time to create precedents and notes from scratch when the exams start.
There is a lot of preparation work, and it can seem daunting, especially for modular students, to balance the BL, working full–time and time for oneself/family. Do not expect to have time to cover everything in minute detail or to have perfect drafts in advance. But ensure that you are using your preparation time effectively. Always complete the reading so that you know and understand the topic for that session. Always attempt the exercises but prioritise the ones that require drafting or preparation for advocacy – you will benefit more from these exercises if you are not starting from a blank slate.
Establishing a good filing system will save time and make your life easier. Whatever system you use, make sure to save all your materials so you can find them easily and do this as you go along to avoid trawling back through heaps of documents to find what you need. Have a master document for each subject, and anytime you come across a useful note or a point to remember, add it. Make a note of all feedback and comments, even those not directed to you. Write down particular phrases that you like. You will thank yourself later on.
The more prepared you are, the better engaged you will be. Regardless, do not be shy about showing your work and getting feedback. No one gets drafting right on the first go, and feedback is the only way you will improve. Volunteer as much as possible for advocacy exercises because you will only get better with practice. When doing group work, don’t stay silent. Contribute to the task and work with your classmates. Undoubtedly someone will have thought of something you will have missed.
Another important way to improve advocacy and consultation is to rewatch your recordings of these exercises in class. It is extremely cringing but get over it, and you will quickly identify ways to improve. Once you spot an odd mannerism, it is very easy to fix it.
Find yourself a study buddy
This is especially helpful for skills–based exams. Practising running a motion before another person is easier – you are less likely to stop, correct yourself and restart. They will also be able to give you feedback and point out things you may not notice, e.g. fidgeting or eye contact. Save all the materials you were given for advocacy and consultation, and re–use the exercises under exam conditions. Practising like this the month before the exams were one of the best things I did to prepare. It gave me confidence and allowed me to work on certain ticks and perfect my pacing, tone and structure. I cannot overemphasise that the only way to improve with advocacy is to keep doing it. Especially for modular students, there is a longer gap between working on some of the skills–based subjects and sitting the exam, so you will get rusty.
Moot, moot and more moot
An excellent way to get free practice and feedback for advocacy is by mooting, and there are so many opportunities to moot in the Inns. I know that mooting is not everyone’s cup of tea and the thought of doing it is like those nightmares where you are standing completely naked in a hall full of people. But remember that you have three advocacy exams, and you will need all the practice you can get, so you may as well get comfortable with the skill in an environment where you have nothing to lose. The mooting coaches and judges are all excellent, very friendly and want to see people improve. You will get good feedback from it and will learn from watching other students’ moot.
Go to court
As often as you can, go down to the courts. You will see how the court works in practice; you will become familiar with legal phrases, and you will see and learn from different styles of advocacy. As much as the Inns will prepare you for life at the Bar, there is nothing like sitting in court and seeing it happen in front of you.
Even if you do not intend to practise, going to court will help improve your advocacy, and you will learn the content from osmosis – every time you hear ‘this is my application for X pursuant to Order Y’, you will retain it that bit better. I know that this is difficult for those doing the modular degree, but a similar benefit will be gained by reading media reports of cases. The more times you read that a person has been detained under section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act 1984 and can be held for up to 24 hours, for example, the better it sinks in.
The MCTs are your friends
While you should not underestimate the MCTs (you do need to know your civil and criminal procedure manuals very well), they are the only exams where you could potentially get 100%, and they are worth 30% of the degree of Barrister–at–Law course. It takes hard work but doing well in the MCTs will pay off. Since they are the final exams, ensure that you have enough energy reserved to do the intensive study and push through them.
Passing the exams is not the be–all and end–all. If you go down to the Bar, your classmates will become your colleagues and will be invaluable help and support when you start. This will not be the first time you hear about the importance of collegiality. But even if you don’t intend to practise, having a support network within the BL is important – the degree is intense, so it is good to have people who know exactly what it’s like and who can help if you’re struggling or having a bad week/weekend. You will also learn from discussing the materials and sharing work. Everyone has a different style of writing and advocating, and you will pick up ways to improve.
Hopefully, you might find some of these tips helpful, and the last piece of advice I’d like to share is not to leave things too late. I know that you have just come out of a summer of studying for the entrance exams (at least the Leaving Cert gives two months off afterwards), so you may feel like taking it easy for the first few weeks/weekends. But the BL passes much quicker than you’d expect, and it is very difficult to play catch–up, so get into a good routine now. The year(s) are challenging work but the feeling when you finish the exams, get your results, graduate and get called to the Bar makes it all worthwhile.
The very best of luck!