FROM A FORMER LAW LECTURER
To Help You Survive Law School
If you're anything like most law students in the UK, you will find the idea of formatting your footnotes and bibliography according to the OSCOLA referencing style just dreadful. This particular aspect of law essay writing tends to be very tedious and time-consuming. Unfortunately, it's absolutely necessary that you know how to reference law essays properly in order to get a first. If you're confused about what the OSCOLA referencing style is and how to reference your essays using it, this article will help clarify a few things.
What is the OSCOLA referencing style?
The OSCOLA referencing style is essentially a guidebook for how you should be formatting the footnotes and bibliography in your law essays. This particular referencing style is applied by all UK academics who write about law. You will find it in all UK journal articles on legal subjects, law textbooks, Masters theses and PhDs. Your LLB papers are little training exercises that help you develop the skills necessary to write a Masters or a PhD thesis, and potentially also a few legal journal articles. Because of that, your lecturers will expect to see OSCOLA-compliant references in them, especially if you are aiming for a 1st.
Just so you know, apart from OSCOLA there are also other types of referencing styles. For example, there is the Harvard referencing style, the APA referencing style and the Chicago referencing style, which are used by academics in different geographical locations and writing about different topics. When looking for the right referencing guide to follow, don’t just google “referencing style” and start following any sort of a referencing guide that you will manage to find. As a law student in the UK you should always only follow the OSCOLA referencing guide.
How to reference law essays?
Now, I know that it can sometimes be quite confusing as to whether you should be following this style in your essays. You might have spotted some references in your lecture slides or in different parts of your law school's online platform which were not formatted by using OSCOLA. Lecturers are busy people and they don't always have the time to properly format the references in all of your study materials. But that doesn't mean that you can forget to use the OSCOLA style in your essays. If you're aiming for a first, then that's what you have to do.
In order to learn how to reference law essays properly by following OSCOLA, you can have a look at the full version of the OSCOLA Referencing Guide or the OSCOLA Quick Reference Guide which is the short, abbreviated version of it that contains only the most important pieces of information. The quick version is a good start to help you get some basic information about OSCOLA quickly, without having to go through a tone of information. But at some point you will have to go through the extended version of the guide to learn a few more advanced referencing rules that can really help to boost your grade. Still, you will only use around 20-30% of the rules in the guide during your LLB degree. The trick is in figuring out which 20-30% are applicable. If you need help with deciphering the OSCOLA style, I have included quick, to the point tutorial on the most relevant rules in my First Class Law Essay Writing Course.
Why you should use OSCOLA in your law essays?
Now, lets talk about why it is so important for you to follow the OSCOLA referencing style. There are three key reasons and each of them relates to a different part of the grading rubric that your lecturers are likely following when grading your essays. The first part of the rubric that you will score much higher in if your footnotes and bibliography are properly referenced is a part called ‘research’ or ‘resources’. This generally relates to how well you have carried out your research and whether you have provided enough journal articles in your essay. Following OSCOLA will help you score higher in this part of the rubric, because your lecturer will be able to easily figure out whether the resources you used in your research for the essay were authoritative.
If your footnotes and bibliography are formatted properly, the second part of the rubric that you’ll score much higher in is "presentation" (aka "style" or "formatting"). The reason why you’ll score higher in this part of the rubric if your footnotes are formatted properly is because formatting of the footnotes and bibliography is a key part of the overall formatting of your essay. The third part of the rubric which is really important for the overall part of your essay grade is "legal analysis" or "legal evaluation". This relates to how well you have carried out your argument, compared and contrasted different cases etc. It might actually seem like referencing is not that important for good legal analysis. But if you can use the OSCOLA referencing style properly you will be able to apply a variety of referencing 'tricks' that will strengthen your argument.
For example, one such trick involves including additional cases in the footnotes than those you mentioned in the text of your essay to illustrate a certain point. If you are interested in learning more of those tricks and getting a first in your law essays, check out the First Class Law Essay Writing Course for more guidance.