Does Reflection Have a Place on a Law Degree?

You’re probably wondering, what is reflection and is it something that’s important to my law degree? Emma Jones, senior lecturer in law and member of the Open Justice team at the Open University, has the answers.

As you progress through your legal studies, you need to develop your reflective skills to enable you to understand your learning style, learn from your mistakes and work out how to improve in future. If you go on to life in the legal profession, you will also be expected to be a reflective practitioner. In fact, for solicitors and barristers in England and Wales that’s what their Continuing Professional Development requirements are based on! This article explains what reflection is and how you can use it in your legal studies

What is reflection?

Some people (such as Donald Schön) divide reflection into two types – reflection in action and reflection on action. Reflection-in-action is something that happens while you are engaged in a task. For example, if you are taking part in a seminar, realise you aren’t properly prepared, and decide to make a note of the articles other students are referring to for reading later. Reflection-on-action is something that takes place after the event. For example, when you get home after the seminar you might start to think about why you weren’t properly prepared and decide to start to plan your time to fit in a trip to the library before the next session. You might find you do reflection in action automatically, as issues arise, but reflection on action can be harder to master.

Why does reflection matter in legal studies?

If you just jump from one task to the next without pausing to think, the likelihood is you will keep making the same mistakes. You might be able to think on your feet and get through problems as they arise, but you won’t really have learnt from the situation. Reflection on action is the step you need to take to make sure you can change your behaviour in future and achieve better results. In the seminar example above, changing your study plans to build in more library time could help you to establish a more effective way of study that helps you to do your work more effectively and contribute better in sessions. It could even help you to understand that you are the sort of person who tends to leave things to the last minute (a very common trait) and to think of ways to combat that.

How do I make sure I am being a reflective student?

Build time into your daily routine to pause and think about how things have gone. For example, you could take 5 minutes before you go to bed each night, or perhaps plan in 30 minutes each Friday afternoon to think back over the week. Some people find it really helpful to keep a reflective journal, writing down their thoughts on different experiences and issues that have arisen. Even if you don’t fancy writing a lot, noting down a few bullet points and lists can be a really useful reminder to look back on in future. You can ask yourself questions such as:

  • What went well and why?
  • What didn’t go well and why?
  • How did my response influence what happened?
  • How can I change things in future?

It can also be really helpful to speak to people around you – maybe a friend, family member or even a tutor, and get their thoughts on the situation. They can help you look at things from a different perspective, or simply get your own thoughts in order.

Everyone has the ability to reflect, but in reality it can be hard to keep it up. This is particularly the case when things get very busy, deadlines are looming and time is short. In fact, these are the times when you need reflection more than ever, to help you think about how you are dealing with the challenges you are facing. Get into a good routine and keep persevering and it will provide you with valuable insights into your study journey.

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