Expert view: what you should know about studying law

Do you have what it takes to study law at university? If you're considering a law degree, it's a question you've probably already asked yourself many times. 

alistair alcock

The Student Room caught up with Professor Alistair Alcock, dean of law and deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Buckingham, for some expert advice on what prospective law students need to know.

What are employment prospects like for law graduates?
Employment prospects are a key issue for any student considering investing time and money in going to university. At first sight a law degree might look a little worrying. Each year, English and Welsh universities produce at least five times as many law graduates as the professions of barristers and solicitors can take on. 

However, those who have studied law can look forward to one of the better graduate employment rates, though the rate varies a bit between law schools (see the latest Guardian league table for up-to-date information). 

One reason for these better employment prospects is that there are a lot of jobs outside the profession that need legal skills: in central and local government, in the rapidly growing world of regulators and within companies, both as legal advisers and as compliance officers.

Those with law degrees can also enter a wide variety of non-law based employment: the civil service, banking, insurance, even in a few cases becoming prime ministers.

Why are law degrees so widely recognised and valued? 
I suspect this is because:

  • Like other professionally accredited degrees (such as medicine and engineering) they are known for having a heavy workload and rigorous standards.
  • The skills of absorbing and analysing complex material and then presenting it in written or oral form, which are specific to law degrees, are skills required in almost all professional and managerial employment.

What should people look out for when choosing a law course?
The professions impose a compulsory core of subjects on law schools, so graduates are suitably qualified to enter those professions. That means many university LLB programmes look similar, but there are some important differences. Three questions you might consider are:

  • Does the programme have lots of courses, or does it concentrate on fewer subjects in greater depth? Most of the older law schools (such as Oxford and Cambridge) teach fewer subjects in greater depth, as does Buckingham Law School.
  • How many contact hours does the student have, and are any of them where the student is taught in small groups? The principal example of small group teaching is the Oxford or Cambridge tutorial. This is a style of tutorial that is also used at Buckingham Law School.
  • Does the programme include practical skills like mooting (debating a legal point), negotiating and other forms of presenting that are important skills both inside and outside the profession? Again, this is something that forms part of the programme at Buckingham Law School
studying law at uni

What else makes Buckingham’s law course stand out?
At Buckingham, the degree is generally taken in two, rather than three, years. That’s something that can not only save on costs, but also impresses employers looking for dedicated hardworking employees. There is the alternative of a four-year part-time programme for those already in employment.

How can a prospective law student make their application stand out?
Check your grammar and spelling - law admissions tutors can be pedants. Despite lawyers’ reputation for complexity and long-windedness, you should use clear and simple expressions. Some non-law/politics interests could mark you out but remember if you are called for interview, you will be asked about them, so do not make them up!

What are the typical traits of successful law students?
As you would expect, an interest in current affairs, a logical mind and a good memory. The latter may seem harsh, but no future client is going to be impressed by a lawyer saying: "Yes, I remember something about this from when I was at university, but I will have to look it up". Here you can download a jokey multiple choice questionnaire. A predominance of answers 'a' shows a potential lawyer, of 'b' shows a sane person and of 'c' someone who should shun law like the plague. 

What A-levels should prospective law students take?
Traditional academic subjects are generally favoured over less academic ones. Some universities do not like students to have taken A-level law. There is some evidence that, at least in the first year at law school, such students tend to underperform. That might be down to over-confidence or not fully grasping that what is being looked for at university is rather different than what was required at school.

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