1 February 2013
14 March 2007
22 February 2011
L2B Guide to a Career in Law 2009-2010
20 December 2007
10 September 2009
Law is one of the most demanding degrees you can study. Here, we take you through the process of applying for the course and give you some useful tips on how to survive it
If you have decided that a legal career is for you, you should be aiming to kick off the academic stage of your training by reading law at university. That said, you do not necessarily have to study for a law degree to qualify as a solicitor or barrister.
Good written presentation, motivation, logical thinking and an interest in law are essential, but realistically you will also need stellar A-level results. Because of the fierce competition for places on law degrees, many of the top universities require applicants to gain a minimum of three A grades (360 Ucas points).
Traditional universities prefer applicants who have studied academic A-levels. Studying Drama, Media Studies or Art by no means excludes you, but some law schools prefer candidates to have A-levels in traditional subjects such as English Literature, Economics or History. Contrary to popular belief, studying law at A-level is not a prerequisite for enrolling on a law degree and will not necessarily give you a head start when completing your Ucas form.
There has been extensive debate in recent times about whether A-levels have become easier, but whatever the reason more students than ever are attaining top grades, causing headaches for university admissions departments up and down the country.
To help differentiate between the large numbers of high-achieving students, those applying to Birmingham, Bristol, Durham, Glasgow, Manchester, Nottingham and Oxford universities, as well as King’s College London, National University of Ireland, Maynooth (mature students only) and University College London will be required to sit the National Admissions Test for Law (LNAT).
The LNAT, which costs £50 to sit in the UK or European Union, is taken on a computer terminal and comprises two sections. The first section (95 minutes) uses 42 multiple-choice questions to assess your ability to read, understand, analyse and make logical deductions from passages of text in formal English. The second section (40 minutes) requires you to write a reasoned essay in English (500-600 words) on a topic chosen from a list. The essay should be written in full sentences, not notes or bullet points. Your ability to set out an argument in plain English is one of the things that is being tested. To find out more, go to www.lnat.ac.uk.
Choosing a university
The content of law courses varies considerably. Some are highly theoretical while others are much more practical, so it is worth finding out more about the course before you make a choice. An increasing number of law faculties are holding open days and attending these can be helpful.
Also, make sure the degree you are applying for is a qualifying LLB (Bachelor of Law) degree. Some universities offer BAs (Bachelor of Arts) in law, but unlike the LLB some of these courses may not be counted as one of the steps towards qualifying as a lawyer as they do not cover all seven foundations of legal knowledge. Check the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) website (www.sra.org.uk) for a list of qualifying law degrees, as well as individual university prospectuses for more details. For instance, although the University of Cambridge’s law degree is a BA, it is a qualifying law degree.
If you are sure you want to become a solicitor at the end of your degree, find out more about the four-year exempting law degrees offered by the universities of Huddersfield, Northumbria and Westminster. These courses combine a law degree with the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and should work out cheaper than doing the two courses separately.
Northumbria also runs a unique course combining the three stages of qualifying as a solicitor: educational (LLB), vocational (LPC) and training contract, which enables students to enter practice as fully-fledged solicitors. Meanwhile, Nottingham Trent University runs a course that combines the LPC with a four-year sandwich degree.
A further alternative is offered by the College of Law’s two-year intensive vocational LLB degree followed by the LPC or BPTC, which is, in effect, a three-year intensive programme.
Although commercial law firms make a big deal of their willingness to recruit students from any university, the fact remains that, at least for the time being, the majority of trainees still hail from traditional red-brick universities so this is worth taking into account when you apply.
Law degrees are applied for through Ucas in the same way as any other undergraduate course, and you can start applying from the beginning of the second year of your A-levels. Note that if you need to complete the LNAT you will still have to apply for your university place through Ucas.
The Ucas application process typically begins in early September for entry to university in the following academic year. Although the application process stays open for several months, it is advisable to get your forms in as early as possible. Also, note that the deadline for applying to Oxford and Cambridge universities is normally mid-October.
For more information on university admissions, it is worth taking a look at the Ucas website (www.ucas.ac.uk).
Breaking the bank
There is no denying that going to university is expensive. The lifting of the cap on annual tuition fees means that many universities have started to charge up to £9,000 per year.
So, assuming you can get fantastic A-levels, make mincemeat of the LNAT, dazzle law school heads with your knowledge and enthusiasm and win a coveted place at the university of your dreams, what should you expect once you actually get there?
Hard work, hard work and a bit more hard work. Do not be shocked if you are given a reading list as long as your arm. Although you will spend less time attending lectures and seminars than some of your peers, you will be expected to put in many more hours of independent study.
Emphasis and content will vary, but all qualifying law degree courses must teach the seven foundations of legal knowledge as described in the Converting to Law section on page 9. In addition, students are expected to become skilled in legal research and you will be assessed through a combination of coursework and exams.
A distinct lack of spoon-feeding is a notable characteristic of all law degrees, and this can be a culture shock after life in the sixth form.
For qualifying purposes, the required pass mark is 40 per cent, regardless of the pass mark set by the university itself. And do not forget that the degree will only remain valid for seven years, after which it cannot be counted towards the qualification process.
Commercial law firms usually ask for a minimum degree class of 2:1. If you have anything less ysou will need to have some pretty good extenuating circumstances to gain an interview. Have fun and make friends in your first year, but remember that your first-year results are what law firms use to decide whether to offer you a summer work placement. So make life easier for yourself and get the grades.
Taking part in extracurricular activities is not only good fun, but it also develops your skills and enhances your CV. Most universities have law societies run by students and law firms target societies at some universities, offering anything from sponsorship of the law society ball to organising visits to the firms’ offices.
You may also get the chance to take part in pro bono work (free legal advice for charities or other deserving clients), although this is still relatively limited at undergraduate level. And for those looking to practice their courtroom skills, most universities organise mooting competitions that allow students to present arguments in mock cases.
It goes without saying that any work experience you can get that demonstrates your interest in the law is valuable. That said, non-law-related work experience, including summer jobs, will also go a long way to giving your training contract application the edge.
If you are serious about carving out a career as a commercial lawyer, you should also be crafting your commercial awareness. This means understanding the business context in which law firms operate.
So get into the habit of reading the business pages of the national newspapers and the legal press, such as Lawyer 2B and its sister title The Lawyer: both are available in print and online.
The best way to show you have what it takes to cut it as a commercial lawyer is to start thinking like one as early as possible.
Top tips on surviving your first year
The key to getting the most out of your first year at university is to strike a healthybalance between work and play. Additionally, if you haven’t already done so, it’s also important to start thinking about your CV
- First year marks may not count towards your final degree, but don’t take this as an opportunity to slack off. Firms will ask for these grades when you apply for vacation schemes.
- You will be expected to spend more time studying on your own, so be sure to get organised from the start. This will help you keep on top of your work throughout the year and will prove invaluable when it comes to revision.
- Try to attend all lectures. They present an overview of the topic that will make your independent reading much easier. Lecturers are often at the top in their field, so make a note of their comments.
- Don’t be overwhelmed by the reading list: not everything is useful and you’ll soon be whizzing through it.
- Don’t be put off by the jargon: law is full of it, but you’ll soon get used to it.
- If you’re strapped for cash, visit the second-hand bookshop to purchase relevant textbooks.
- This is the fun bit. Freshers’ Week is great, so make the most of it as this is the only chance to go out and enjoy yourself without having work to do or lectures to attend.
- Fully immerse yourself in the university experience, make an effort to socialise and explore your environment. Many people make lifelong friends at university.
- Go to your Freshers’ Fair and join all the societies that interest you, especially the Law Society. They’re not expensive to join and many have free taster sessions, so don’t let anything hold you back. And don’t forget, sports societies are just as important as academic ones.
- Society involvement is a great opportunity to gain some of the vital skills employers are looking for. If no society interests you, then why not set one up?
- Don’t worry too much about your CV in your first term; concentrate on getting involved in university life and adjusting to the new environment (but, of course, keep on top of your work).
- If you’re sure you want a career in law, get involved in activities such as debating and mooting. Also, attend employer presentations and careers’ fairs to start familiarising yourself with the legal sector. This will put you in a stronger position when applying for formal work placements.
- Start working on your CV over the Christmas holidays, as there are a number of work experience opportunities at
- City law firms for first-year students. Places on these schemes are competitive, so don’t be disheartened if you don’t get a place. Apply for an open day instead.
- Firms want you to be well-rounded, so don’t dismiss a summer job as irrelevant. Working in a shop, for example, involves solving customer problems and it can show off many of the skills that employers are looking for.
- Use your legal knowledge to help the community. Get involved with the Pro Bono (charitable law work) Society, for example.
Converting to law
A common misunderstanding is that you have to read law at university if you want to qualify as a solicitor or barrister. The good news is that this is simply not the case. You will, however, need to do an extra year’s postgraduate study.
If you have a strong academic record, your lack of a law degree will not be a disadvantage. Indeed, some firms have around a 60:40 split of law and non-law graduates. Traditional subjects such as economics and history are viewed favourably, as well as sciences and modern languages.
The Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and the Common Professional Exam (CPE) are the qualifications that transform non-law graduates into potential lawyers. The Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Bar Council recognise both qualifications.
Once the year-long GDL is completed, you will be on the same footing as a law graduate and able to embark on the Legal Practice Course (LPC) or Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). Given that the GDL is a three-year course squeezed into a year, it is not for the faint-hearted. You will cover the seven foundations of legal knowledge - criminal law, equity and trusts, EU law, contract law, tort, property law and public law.
Applications for the course are made through the Central Applications Board. Application forms are normally available from November, with a closing date around February. There is tough competition for places and most applicants will have at least a 2:1 degree. You should be prepared to pay more than £9,000 at some colleges, especially the London-based ones. What’s more, securing funding for the GDL has become more difficult as it is no longer possible to use Career Development Loans towards the cost.
However, as is the case with the LPC, students who secure training contracts may receive sponsorship from future employers. Also, many law schools offer part-time courses, so you can combine it with paid employment.
Key LNAT dates for 2012-13
Start dates (do not sit the LNAT before the summer holiday as your result will not be carried forward):
- LNAT registration begins 1 August 2012
- Ucas applications can be submitted from mid-September 2012
- LNAT test sittings from 1 September 2012
Deadlines if you are applying to Oxford:
- Register and book an LNAT test slot by 5 October 2012
- Submit Ucas form by 15 October 2012
- Sit the LNAT by 20 October 2012 at the very latest
Deadlines for applications to other LNAT universities:
- Register and book an LNAT test slot by 15 January 2013
- Submit Ucas form by 15 January 2013
- Sit the LNAT by 20 January 2013 (the deadline for King’s College London is 15 January 2013)
Factors to consider when choosing a university
- Reputation of the university and course
- Entrance criteria
- Course length and content
- Fees (remember not all universities will charge £9,000)
- Location: city or campus?
- Facilities available
- Number of contact hours with tutors
- Quality of careers service
- Student satisfaction
- Employability statistics
- Social life
- Is there guaranteed first-year accommodation?
- Cost of living, including rent
- Availability of financial assistance