Are you thinking of studying Law?
With one lawyer per 400 people, the UK is in the top ten countries in the world by percentage of lawyers, and the popularity of law as a degree remains high.
Though it seems a strongly vocational degree, it is in fact the case that law graduates can go into a wide variety of possible professions, not just the routes of solicitor or barrister. While becoming a lawyer is highly competitive and not as well paid for the first few years as people imagine, law graduates often do very well in graduate schemes in areas such as business or finance.
What kind of things can I expect to study?
What’s included in the course of a qualifying law degree is really quite extensive; we have a whole article on it, which can be read here.In brief, it is considered desirable for a lawyer, regardless of the specialism chosen, to be acquainted with all the most significant parts of the law: obligations, public law, criminal law, property law, equity and EU law – and therefore everyone taking a qualifying law degree is required to have studied all of them. You can get a non-qualifying law degree without having taken all of them, but then you would have to take courses to cover the things you skipped if you ever wanted to practise as a lawyer.
Beyond these compulsory subjects, you do get the chance to specialise and pursue your own areas of interest. Possible non-compulsory modules might include environmental law, media law or medical law, as well as learning about the law of other countries. Some courses – for example, KCL’s English Law & German Law – will teach you systems of law from two different countries side-by-side, so that when you graduate, you are able to practise in either of the two countries.
What do I need for a Law degree?
A-level Law is not a requirement and some universities actively discourage it. This is because it teaches a simplified understanding of Law, which your law tutors would then have to correct in your first term; they prefer to start with a blank slate. A-level Law is also considered a soft subject; it would be better to study a facilitating subject instead. Essay-based subjects such as English and History are strongly encouraged for prospective Law students, as studying Law requires a great deal of reading, writing and research.
Certain universities require you to sit the National Admissions Test for Law, or LNAT, namely – at the time of writing – Birmingham, Bristol, Durham, Glasgow, King’s College London, Nottingham, Oxford and University College London. It consists of a 750-word essay and 42 multiple-choice questions, aimed at testing your ability to pick out fine details, understand arguments and consider an issue from a legal perspective. That doesn’t mean that you have to know all about the law – you are not expected to know anything about law at this stage – but that you have to take multiple viewpoints into consideration, look at an issue from the standpoint both of principles and practicalities, and think through all of the consequences of your suggestions. You can practise for the LNAT with the free online tests on the LNAT website, and you can read more about the particular requirements of Oxbridge law applications here.
What skills will I acquire?
The study of Law develops a wide variety of transferable skills. It is particularly useful for analysis, reasoning and critical judgment, as it is often important for lawyers to be able find the chinks in an argument or the loopholes in an agreement. Law graduates have strong public speaking and debating skills, and are confident about expressing their opinions. Yet Law also depends on fine detail and exhaustive research, so you will gain greater attention to detail accordingly. Finally, with a high number of essays, reports and presentations, you will also learn how to write in a clear and concise way, particularly with the ability to convey complicated or sophisticated ideas to a less well-informed audience without excessive simplification.
Will I get to travel as part of my degree?
Probably not. Unless you’re taking one of the degrees, mentioned above, that combine English Law with the law of another country (in which case you can expect to spend a year or a semester in that country), there are unlikely to be curricular opportunities for travel.
What careers are possible with a Law degree?
The traditional options for law graduates are the two career paths of barrister and solicitor. Barristers are usually self-employed, working on their own and representing clients in courts and tribunals. Lawyers seen in films are almost always barristers: their confidence, possibility for grand speeches and the drama of cross-examination make for good cinema. Solicitors work in teams, ranging over a greater variety of work within their field, and are required to have more of a head for business, but their public speaking will be in meetings rather than in court, unless they gain rights of audience, in which case they are known as Solicitor-Advocates. You can read more about choosing between the solicitor and barrister career paths here.
However, these are far from being the only careers open to Law graduates. The same options are available as for graduates with any solid humanities degree, such as the plethora of graduate schemes that require a 2.1 in any degree. The media, marketing, business and the financial sector are all popular destinations for Law graduates.
It is also worth noting that a Law degree is not a licence to print money as many people believe. Starting salaries for barristers and solicitors are very low, and although these rise significantly when you gain more experience, the punishing hours that success in these areas requires are not worth it simply for the sake of the money; other areas offer much higher salaries sooner for the same amount of work if the money is all that you care about. However, Law graduates are very much in demand in other fields, including ones where the initial pay is much higher, so it is not an unprofitable degree by any stretch.
If you’re interested in studying Law, you might also be interested in:
- History: the research skills required of Law students are also highly applicable in History
- PPE: the fields of politics, philosophy and economics have a great deal of overlap with Law, and this subject may suit those who like the idea of studying Law in principle (learning about how our society is shaped) but don’t get on as well with the nitty-gritty of cases and verdicts.
A word of advice: many people, when choosing their A-levels, are stuck between the paths of Law and Medicine. However, these are two very, very different degrees requiring very, very different skills; being unable to decide between the two is usually a sign of having done insufficient research into what would actually suit you best.
A final thought on Law
As a subject that isn’t much studied in school (excepting A-level Law, which as we’ve said above, is not advised for prospective Law students), it can be tricky to know how to prepare for a Law degree and whether or not the Law would really suit you. We have a whole archive of Law-related articles written by an Oxford Law graduate to make this difficult decision easier, as well as providing you with information and ideas that may be of use to you to discuss in an interview. Perhaps because it isn’t studied in school, Law has a certain mystique about it, but don’t be fooled; there is no magic bullet or secret password to success in Law, just hard work and perseverance that is amply rewarded.