Law at University FAQWatch
Questions about an essay you've done, or for things related to A Level Law, should go into Law Study Help
The same questions pop-up again and again, and a lot of people get quite confused, so here is an attempt at a law admissions FAQ.
Guide to answering law university exam questions at the bottom
Obviously some of this involves my opinion: I have tried to be as neutral as possible, but I'm not an uncontroversial character and you should use a variety of sources to research
1) Should I apply to do law or something else?
No-one can tell you this for sure. If you are unsure whether you are interested in law, have a look at some of the books suggested below.
Its probably a good idea to follow your gut feeling. If you have a burning desire to do history or economics or whatever, then you are very likely to do well in a history or economics degree. If you are unsure about what subject to do, law is definitely worth a look, but ultimately you should study what interests you the most and what you think you will be best at. You are unlikely to gain any particular advantage from having done one particular subject over another (excluding fields like medicine and biochemical research, obviously).
2) Can I do a non-law degree but still become a solicitor or barrister?
Yes. All it means is a one year conversion course. Law firms tend to be very vocal in saying that they have no bias for or against law candidates, and it is not unusual for 50% of a law firm's intake to be people who did not do law at university.
However, if you wish to be a barrister, you should be aware that this is a very academic profession firmly rooted in legal argument, and so a law degree may be an advantage. Doing another degree does not stop you becoming a barrister, and many people have done it, but whether a law degree might be better for potential barristers is a point worth considering.
3) Will I still have a social life?
Yes. A law degree is hard work, and requires you to have the motivation to work by yourself: it is very much a subject that you can't learn just by going to lectures.
That said, like most things, it is very much a question of time management. There is no reason why you can't follow a work-hard play-hard philosophy. You may well find that you are doing more work than colleagues doing other subjects, but you will probably also find plenty of scientists who do more work than you: the time spent doing work is very subjective.
4) But isn't a law degree boring?
Obviously, this is subjective.
However, you should be aware that law is a very varied subject: you can study everything from highly technical areas like intellectual property, to political areas like constitutional law, to legal history. You will probably find some subjects that interest you, and some that don't.
But, a certain amount of hard-graft is required, see 3). If you have a problem with actually doing some work, then you will find the subject boring and tough.
You also have to be O.K. with how people write about law: it is an analytical subject. A good way to check this is to read and digest the broadsheet newspapers and check out one of the books mentioned below. Have a think about some of the issues raised: this is the kind of thing you will do in a law degree.
5) Grade requirements and the LNAT
Law tends to have slightly higher required grades at most universities than most other subjects, and so a strong performance at A-level is needed, though this is not necessarily anymore true for law than it is for other popular subjects such as English and History.
A handful of universities will require you to take the LNAT. The weight this carries is highly debatable. It may be a valuable tool to distinguish between similar candidates, but the test is still very much in its infancy and many admissions tutors doubt its value.
For specific advice on the LNAT, check the sticky. It is worth doing at least a bit of preperation for it, though it isn't the end of the world if you mess the LNAT up.
6) What A-level choices should I make?
University prospectuses generally advise you that any subjects are fine, though obviously law is an academic subject and so subjects like media studies are not well regarded: if you choose more than one 'soft' subject, you should think carefully about your chances of getting an offer.
Sciences and Maths are generally just as well regarded as essay subjects: there are many lawyers who took mostly science subjects in sixth form, its not a problem.
However, law is ultimately an essay subject, so if you plan to apply for law and prefer sciences at A-level you should seriously consider doing at least one essay subject in order to keep your writing skills up to scratch. If you choose to do only sciences and maths at A-level, it would be worth doing something else e.g. editing a school magazine to demonstrate to admissions tutors that your writing skills are still up to scratch. English lit and History are good choices as they are both analytical and involve using similar skills and writing similar essays to those encountered in law.
Unis tend to care more about good grades in academic subjects than the choice of subjects: you should choose what you most enjoy and what you think you will get the best grade in; do not try and tailor your subjects to a law degree: get the best grades you can, academic subjects are regarded equally.
7) Should I take law at A-level?
As for whether you need to take it, definitely not. A large proportion of students on the uni courses haven't taken it, and no prior knowledge is assumed. Some people report that doing A-level law meant that they knew some of the technical terms when they started their degree, helping in the first week or so when you are just getting to grips with the textbooks and law reports, but its nothing more than that: your degree result will not benefit from having done A-level law, law at uni is much more in depth and is very different from law at A-level.
As to whether you should take it, the status of 'law' A-level is very controversial. It used to be the case that it was regarded as a 'soft option', and that unis preferred for students not to take it so they could have a 'clean-slate'. Nowadays, law at A-level has toughened up and is definitely not an easy option. However, old habits die hard: law is still on the LSE 'blacklist' of subjects that LSE doesn't like, and there have been reports on these forums of law being seen as a 'soft option' by the tutors who interviewed them. The extent to which admissions tutors generally see Law A-level as a 'soft option' is unclear: some on these forums say not at all, others will say that some tutors just might. However, if you want to take law A-level you should take it: great UMS marks will be respected in any subject. But, the possibility that some very old-fashioned admissions tutors might see law less favourably than a subject like history or english may be a factor if you are undecided between Law and another A-level subject: but only if you are otherwise undecided.
8) What can I do to make my uni application stand out?
i)Good grades at GCSE and A-level.
ii)A well written personal statement. You need a clear structure that explains why you want to study law and what you will bring to the university, not just a list of your extra-curricular achievements: check the PS forum. No spelling mistake or grammatical errors allowed.
iii)Some relevant work experience is a plus. Try contacting high street solicitors firms or chambers near you to see if they would take you on for a week of work experience. However, law degrees are academic, don't worry too much if you can't get any work exp at this stage, but it is worth a go.
iv)You can take a couple of visits to court. Courts are open to the public, and it is well worth a visit to your local county or high court, or even just the magistrates' court, just to see how it all works in practice. Find courts near you and opening times at http://www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk/
v)Its also a very good idea to wise-up on recent issues involving the law (i.e. read the broadsheets- telegraph, Guardian or Times). Obviously the 42-day detention issue and anti-terrorist legislation are very relevant at the moment, but there is plenty of other legally-related stuff going on as well. Mentioning that you are interested in how the law relates to topical issues, and giving a specific example of something you are interested in, is a great addition to a PS and also offers a great opportunity for some informed discussion at interview.
9) What books can I read to give me a flavour of the law and something to talk about at interview?
Some examples include:
'Understanding Law' by Adams and Brownsword
'Letters to a Law Student' by McBride
'Learning the Law' by Williams
'Learning Legal Rules' by Holland
'The Law Machine' by Berlins and Dyer
'What About Law?' by Barnard, O'Sullivan and Virgo
'The Politics of the Judiciary' by Griffith
There are other examples going round these forums, just do a search.
You should be aware of the different types of introductory law books. There are basically two types of introductory law book: those that give you an introduction to some substantive legal issues and legal ways of thinking, and those that give you an overview of the procedure followed by the courts and the legal professions. You need the books that give you an overview of legal substance as this is what law degrees are about, not books on procedure which are useful in practice but not in a degree. Interviewers will be less impressed by you going in and telling them the relation between the high court and the county court than by an informed discussion of whether people who kill indirectly should be guilty of murder, because it is issues like that which are studied in a law degree: procedure is not.
As for my personal opinions, I highly recommend 'Understanding Law' as a book to base your reading around and 'The Law Machine' to supplement, but I don't recommend 'Learning Legal Rules' because it is mainly a dry book on how stuff works, what the abbreviations on law reports stand for and so on, this is not what you need. I'm sure there are other good ones, and obviously it is subjective. You can search the forums for what other people have said about these books.
10) How so I answer an essay question?
The key point to make is that you need to answer the question. Essay questions are not an invitation to write all you know about a particular topic. Be completely focused on the question. Trying to pre-prepare exactly what essay you are going to write in the exam is a really awful idea: the questions you get asked will vary in important respects each year: you need to be able to adopt an appropriate structure for the particular question. Uni exam questions generally look at something which is controversial. You need to have an awareness of what the controversy is, and for this it is often very helpful to have an idea of what different academics think. This means reading journal articles in addition to your textbook.
There are two main approaches I recommend for writing essays. You can also use a hybrid.
1) Extended list format.
If the question asks "Why", you run through the different reasons. If the question asks "Explain", you run through the different explanations. If the question says "What theories have been put forward to explain X", run through the different theories put forward to explain X.
You need to try and do three things. 1) Run through a reasonably wide variety of relevant reasons/theories/explanations, one to a paragraph; 2) evaluate how convincing the reason/theory/explanation is and point out any particular problems with that reason/theory/explanation; 3) In your conclusion compare the different reasons/theories/explanations and decide which one is the strongest. You may well find that they all have some merit but none of them are quite adequate.
You need to express and justify an opinion, preferably by reference to the academic literature. If the question asks "Why", consider which of the reasons are most important. If the question asks "Explain", consider which explanation is the most convincing. And so on.
2) Comparitive structure / split two-sided structure
This is often appropriate where the question gives you a controversial statement and says "discuss". It basically goes:
- Section saying yes, the statement is right
- Section saying no, the statement is wrong
In essence, you play devil's advocate. It is appropriate where there are two diamterically opposed viewpoints - for instance, one viewpoint might say that the decision in case X is good, one viewpoint says that the decision in case X is bad. You spend half the essay arguing that case X is good, and spend the other half arguing that case X is bad, and run through the different points that people might raise in support of each position. In your conclusion you compare the arguments and decide which side is more convincing.
3) Hybrid structure
At degree level, its probably best to use a mix of 1) and 2) for these controversial "Discuss" questions. This structure is particularly appropriate where the essay asks something that is very wide ranging and that involves a number of different themes. It is not appropriate if the essay is focused on a particular issue. So what you do is have a split structure in each paragraph, but organise the essay thematically. For example:
- Section on legal certainty containing two short paragraphs. One says that the decision/theory/whatever is uncertain and that this is a problem, the other says that certainty isn't too much of a problem
- A section on whether the statement is desirable as a matter of principle. One paragraph saying yes, one saying no.
- A section on whether the statement is consistent with Human Rights. One paragraph saying yes, one saying no.
What you are trying to do is split the essay into different themes or different areas of controversy, and are then playing devil's advocate within each theme or within each controversy. Your conclusion should draw these threads together and try to reach some sort of general conclusion. For instance, in the above example, you might conclude that legal certainty isn't too much of a problem, but that issues of principle and that issues of Human Rights are.
The important thing is that you should be able to note down a little plan like that BEFORE YOU START WRITING THE ESSAY. Before you start writing the question, just scribble down your structure before you start writing, and have some idea of the time you want to spend on each section.
11) How do I answer a problem question?
It does depend on the subject. Your overall goal is to work through the issues systematically.
A good approach for contract offer and acceptance questions is simply to run through the legal effect of everything that happens in chronological order. Take each statement/event one by one and work out what the consequences are.
Another good approach is a "cause of action" approach. You 1) work out who the potential claimants are, 2) consider each person they might want to sue, and 3) consider each cause of action they might be able to use. What you want to do is run through each possible cause of action one at a time and decide how likely it is that the claimant would be successful.
Common pit falls are:
1) Ignoring bits of the question. This is very common, judging by examiner's reports.
2) Trying to work out at the beginning what you think the question must be about, and then answering that question. Its common to see people saying things like "the examiner wants me to discuss damages, so I must find intent to create legal relations". This is very common when people post threads on TSR: don't do it. Take the problem step-by-step, don't try and guess what the issues must be before you start. The dangers are that you won't answer the question, and you'll miss things out.
3) False certainty. This is another one that is common on TSR. People often think that they must reach a definite conclusion. The facts you will be presented in problem questions will usually concentrate on issues where the law is are uncertain. If you can't say for sure what the answer is, say so; and say what the consequences of each different possibility is. It will often be the case in a contract question that a particular statement might be an offer, or it might be an invitation to treat. You often can't say for sure, so don't try to - Just say "It could be an offer, it could be an ITT, these are the consequences of each possibility. I think a ITT is more likely for reason X, but I can't say for sure"
4) Failing to apply the law to the facts. It isn't enough to say "the law is this, so the result is this" because you have missed out the stage of application. You need to argue it on the facts. Try and think like a judge: consider what the barrister for each side would say, and mention in your answer what their arguments would be. Then come to a conclusion as to which argument is stronger. If the legal test is that "the defendant must have acted in bad faith", and you think its obvious he has acted in bad faith, you still need to apply the test and show why he has acted in bad faith.
12) How do I get a first?
More law resources on TSR
There is no reason why you wouldn't technically be able to do it. I've never heard of anyone who has done a masters straight after the LPC though.
I'm not sure if it is sensible though- the LPC is fairly practical, and is VERY VERY different from uni or the GDL- it doesn't really make sense to do this, and then go back to academia with a masters.
There would also be serious money issues. You need to pay the fees for the LPC and for accomodation etc; it is more expensive than uni.
Most people try to secure a training contract before doing the LPC, when you secure a training contract with a firm, the firm generally pays your fees and gives you a couple of grand maintenance. If you then went off and did a masters without doing the TC, you would have to pay that money back. A lot of people also apply for jobs during the LPC, again, you often get the fees paid if you are successful in doing this, but won't be able to do this if you go and do a masters straight after. So you are in a much better position financially if you go and do a masters and then do the LPC.
Question: What if someone was doing the LPC and then wanted to do a Masters? How (un)common is it for people to do the LPC, followed by a Masters?
I believe the College of Law allows you to convert your LPC into a masters with a few extra modules...
Perhaps it's worth mentioning the Denning series of books, particularly 'The Discipline of Law'. I found it very informative and enjoyable.