It can be tough getting motivated for group work. You might find that your study and assessment habits don’t gel with those of your group members; that other group members don’t pull their weight like you do; or that negotiating with other members of your group (especially strangers) is difficult. You might also think (correctly) that collaborating for a single mark is antithetical to the highly competitive law school environment.

These feelings are common, and it can be easy to become frustrated with your group or the law school for putting you through the process. There are many reasons these assessments are made compulsory in your first year, so important to understand why your group work matters so you can stay motivated and make the most out of the experience.

#1 Working in a group helps you hone your professional and interpersonal skills

The express purpose of your syndicate assessment is to develop specific legal skills like:

  • The interpretation of statutes and treaties;
  • Case analysis;
  • Clear legal writing and reasoning;
  • Oral articulation of legal argument;
  • Legal research;
  • Legal problem solving; and
  • Teamwork

Done right, you can also cultivate critical life skills including communication, planning and coordination, and leadership. These are all important to a successful legal career – but can also improve your confidence and self-worth.

These skills can be developed indirectly if you approach the task of group work reluctantly (a passive aggressive Facebook message is still “communication” … right?). However, if you embrace the opportunity to collaborate and focus on how you can make the experience positive to your own development, you’ll find that you can consciously learn ways to become a better student, team-member and future practitioner.

A good way to hone these skills is to understand that they are intrinsic to the success of the project – even though they’re not necessarily assessed. Unless you plan to do the assignment entirely by yourself, writing out a study plan, explicitly communicating your expectations and sharing and receiving feedback will likely improve your mark and make the collaboration process more rewarding and engaging.

This might all sound a bit ambitious for a 20% assessment in PPL, but studies have found students who have team building experience have ‘significantly higher levels of trust, social support, openness, and satisfaction.’[1] So embrace the opportunity!

#2 Employers value people who can work on teams

Working in a team in the professional context (like at a law firm) is certainly different from group work in law school. The incentives to work hard in the professional context (remuneration; promotions) are clearly different from receiving a grade; and a “manager” is far more likely to intervene in the workplace when Jerry starts slacking off than your lecturer is.

Nevertheless, employers are eager for students with good teamwork and communication skills and it’s something they actively seek in internship, clerkship or grad-job contexts. This means that whilst you might think being a “lone wolf” and doing everything (including everyone else’s work) will make you more likely to get a high mark (although that itself is unlikely…), it may very well undermine your employability long-term if you’re unable to work in a collaborative environment. Think of the group work as training for the workplace – and at the very least you’ll have something to write down on internship/clerkship applications that ask you about your ‘teamwork’ or ‘dispute resolution’ skills.

‘Working in a group offers highly important skills to take into the workforce as it emulates working in a real office environment. The negotiation and collaboration of ideas, the importance of good communication skills online and offline and a combined effort to meet a deadline are all aspects of the ‘real world’[2]

#3 You’re going to need to do it again

There are at least two more times where you’ll be required to do syndicate work as part of the compulsory JD curriculum. These are in Constitutional Law where you’ll produce written submissions for a moot (a mock trial) and in Criminal Law and Procedure where you’ll write a legal memo.

Embracing group work now, and developing strategies in time management, task distribution and how to facilitate communication and collaboration online, will thus ultimately pay off in the long-term – even if it can be a tough transition. Do it for second semester you!

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Further Information

Some good programs for organising group work are –

  • Facebook groups
  • Dropbox – a useful tool for storing and sharing group documents
  • Google Drive – also good for storing and editing documents as a group
  • Wiggio – allows you to share and comment on documents, as well as plan group meetings and create to do lists
  • Trello – a great, easy to use tool for organisation. Used by the engineers at Google.
  • See the Useful Links page for more

If you experience any problems with your syndicates, the following tools might be useful for resolving conflicts.

A few other articles of interest are:

[1] Melody Alexander, Team-Building Skills: Value-Added Education, in Classroom Strategies: The Methodology of Business Education, 34 National Business Education Yearbook 164 (Heidi R. Perreault ed., National Business Education Assn. 1996)

[2] http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/this-campus-life/students-hate-group-assignments/story-fnhuzyzf-1226734939499

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