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Day 47

Dear readers, several weeks ago, I embarked on my journey through my LL.M…

You know how in high school, our teachers and academic advisors go to great lengths to tell us and try to prepare us (arguably to freak us out) about ‘the jump from high school to university’ …and you know how despite all their efforts to humanize the experience, we still feel like we entered a whole new world when we started our post-secondary education?

Well, if I had forgotten what it felt like, I was surely reminded of it in the past few weeks. Academic writing at a Masters level, is … I don’t even have the words. Overwhelming, perhaps? The level of articulation and editing required and the length, oh boy, the length of these papers!

Mark Twain once said:

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

Truer words were never spoken. An essay about the effectiveness of Australian copyright laws in 5000 words; a discussion about ‘big data’ and surveillance in 3500 words, comparing legal methodologies in 2000 words! All of which would be fine if they were undergraduate/JD level papers that require well-structured sentences that identify the issues. Such is not the case in Masters level papers, oh no my friends, oh no! At Masters level, we must show insight, brilliant insight and back that insight with reasoning- bulletproof reasoning. Again, it makes sense that a higher level of education demands a higher level of thinking, analysis, etc. but to filter all of that thinking and reasoning.. that’s the tough part.

I took in one of the assignments I had submitted as a JD, to my current (and amazing!) instructor for one of my LL.M-specific courses. “Brilliant point, but not enough depth…” … “not necessary…” … “I like what you said here, but you’d need to go into more detail..” … “Why?” … “Where is the support for this statement?” …”Too long” …”overwritten” … “underwritten” ..

I’ve noticed, that the higher the level of education, another ‘tier’ of marks is dropped. Alternately, one could say, the higher the level of education, the criteria for certain grades increases. For example, in high school we are told: “if you’re used to getting A’s and B’s, you’ll have to work a lot harder to get them in university!” A similar rhetoric was given during orientation day of law school. Our former best will not be enough at this level, we have to be more. We have to do more.

I looked on in awe as a high distinction paper I wrote less than 6 months ago was marked up in red ink and assessed at the cusp of a credit, maybe a distinction. Damn. 

Most of the critique could be summarized into two takeaways:

1) Shorter sentences

2) More depth

While the task at hand is daunting, it’s a welcomed challenge. Not because being in school so long has skewered my sense of enjoyment, but because I can recognize this as an opportunity to be better. I’m being challenged to rise to the occasion. Sure, I could output the same level of work that I did 6 months ago and get away with a credit, but for those who know me, I couldn’t live with that level of complacency, not when I know I can be more than I am. I can be better than I am. Always. We all can, it’s just a matter of whether we choose to or not.

Now, the lawyer in me feels obliged to caveat this and say, our better will not necessarily be the best, sometimes it will, but other times it won’t. But can you honestly tell me that you’d be okay getting less out of life when you knew you had more to give?

So as I sign off for the day and venture back into the books, I do so with one goal in mind, and I challenge for you to do the same: Say more with less.