The pointlessness of a law degree

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  • It is quite interesting...

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  • The best reason for doing a law degree in the current economic climate is that it cuts out an expensive year of having to do the conversion General Diploma in Law.I agree, it's also - speaking from experience - a hard-core cram of 2/3rd of a law degree in a year.
    Although it's actually known as the "Graduate Diploma in Law".

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  • I suspect your general point about the fitness of the law degree is valid. You've stretched your point a little far though. I very much doubt that my history degree (I took the GDL route) is of more use than a law degree would have been. And of course, as you say, the law degree would have been quicker and cheaper.

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  • Spot on.
    Can someone also please let the students whose parents aren't equity partners already know quite how excessive the hot housing and cramming has become before during and after the terms - there is no level playing field here either.
    There are more law graduates now outside the profession than inside it - and guess what - they're busy having even more fun...

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  • I was for years a court practitioner and a part-time judge (as well as being a law professor). I found what I learned in my law degree very useful in practice (and I found myself reading law reports and learned articles in the course of that practice virtually daily). But that may be because I'm qualified in the Scottish system rather than the English, and am an advocate rather than a solicitor.

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  • I agree with many of your points here, but I'll take one piece of bait...
    Surely, learning how to read a case carefully and extract the various principles and arguments is a valuable skill for solicitors and barristers, and one not readily obtained by, as you suggest, doing a history degree.
    I realise that that skill isn't going to be used daily by most lawyers, most obviously non-contentious lawyers, but trainees are often required to research case law, and I can't imagine budding barristers will get very far without it.

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  • I'm in the final year of my Law degree and have long suspected the pointlessness of it in relation to a career in law. This is especially so since I did a few vacation schemes - there, the students on non-law degrees were just as capable of doing the work given to us as those of us on law degrees.
    In the same way that A-Levels are little more than a stepping stone to university, a law degree is only a stepping stone to a career in law and certainly not a foundation for it.

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  • I also can appreciate the underlying point here, although it does depend upon the area of law that you are working in.

    As someone that does a lot of commercial contracts, it is often surprising/alarming to see how few lawyers actually have a solid grounding in fundamental contract law principles, which can leave their client very exposed in a negotiation.

    The prime offenders are often non-law graduates who have missed some of the basics in the deluge of information in the one year crammer...

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  • This guy totally misses the point. Sure I could have studied any degree, topped it up with a GDL and still bagged a training contract.. but I didn't, because -believe it or not- I'm actually interested in law as a subject.

    Law degrees aren't pointless, they just rank equally with any other degree. Firms don't care what degree you have as long as it shows the skills they're after. Take whatever you enjoy. Hell you're spending enough money on it.

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  • Law degrees are not solely intended to teach students how to be lawyers. Unlike the GDL or other comparable courses, a law degree should seek to place the law in its political, social, historical, and economic context, so naturally it imparts information that is not directly relevant to practice as a lawyer. Many would consider that to be a good thing (especially given how early a student can begin to specialise in the English education system). Sometimes, the extra breadth and depth of knowledge provided by a law degree equips a lawyer with a greater degree of versatility in his/her dealings with the law, but that's a point on which it will be almost impossible to find a consensus. The article raises some interesting wider questions: Should university-level degrees be more vocational? Should they exist at all? And are universities here to provide education, or training?

    Unfortunately, as usual, DAG overstates his case in an attempt to be controversial. I don't think of my law degree as "worse than useless" and, I suspect, DAG is not similarly dismissive of his own.

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  • Why does a degree have to be subject to post-hoc rationalisation and justification as to what relevance and use it bears to a career? I hope most people at the age of 18 aren't doing a degree because they feel it will benefit their career.

    Obviously the increasing commercialisation of higher education has increased the chances of this, but as a general rule, 18 is a young age to be making decisions about your career (or maybe I'm just extremely immature and incapable of long-term planning...).

    I studied law because I thought it would be an interesting subject, and wanted to learn more about the rules and regulations that impact upon so many different areas of life, particularly because of the broader range of subjects I studied on the LLB as opposed to the GDL.

    On a side note, can anyone explain why the College of Law is able to issue LLBs to students who have done the GDL and the LPC with them? I realise that in reality no sensible person would pay any heed to an LLB from the institution but it still strikes me as a little odd.

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  • Agree with 99% of this and if only this sort of article was around when we were students.  Only comments are: 1. For the bar as opposed to solicitor I would say still worth doing law degree; 2. the money point is a good one, i.e. conversion year must be v.expensive now; and 3. Amazed that all the typos and factual inaccuracies evaded the Lawyer's editors!  Perhaps pedantry is one good thing the LLB Hons taught me.

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  • Another contribution to an ongoing debate about the validity of university education as a whole....can I make the bold suggestion that one learns a lot more about the practice of law by ACTUALLY practising law under an engaged and interested mentor. Yes, I am suggesting an "apprenticeship", not training contract or pupillage. [Prepares for flames in comments]

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  • I too am in the final year of a law degree and, yes, certain aspects of it seem a bit far fetched to be of any practical use in the world of traditional practice (barrister or solicitor). However, H&S and HR officers, in addition to those who take a law degree as a method by which to learn to research in-depth, might well disagree.

    Suggesting a law degree is pointless (or not fit for the legal profession) is missing the point entirely - the LPC / BPTC are what equip you for the practice of the law, at least in part. The LLB has, in my view, two purposes: (1) to demonstrate how to undertake detailed research, whether it be legal or otherwise and (2) to sort the wheat from the chaff at an early stage. Of the 160 (or so) students who started their law degrees at the same time as me, only 80 remain on my course... and it wouldn't surprise me if this story was repeated up and down the country.

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  • This is purely an opinion piece and contains no evidence to back up it's contentious and spurious claims. The only thing it proves is that DAG has poor research skills.

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  • I have no experience of degrees, law or otherwise but take a little issue with your point that most lawyers have no need to look up law reports. As a criminal lawyer I frequently update myself in relation to sentencing appeals. For example, it's important to know what judges find to be mitigating and aggravating factors in the commission of crimes. I relate that directly to my advice in the police station to clients. Read any appeal against sentence and you will find it packed with reference to case law. But maybe I'm missing your point...

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  • It's nothing but hurdle jumping of the highest order, put in place by a protectionist profession.

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  • As a Scottish litigation solicitor who has spent the best part of the last three days reading cases in preparation for a hearing, those days being forced to read Donaghue v Stevenson or Smith v BOS were definitely worth it....

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  • Good article. Worth noting that careers advisors and teachers have wides up to this and now positively encourage studying a non-law degree (that was the case for me 8 or so years ago). They emphasise how potential employers value expertise in other areas.

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  • I completely disagree with the majority of this article.

    Firstly, this article seems to be almost entirely focused on solicitors in England, rather than those engaged as barristers, or perhaps as solicitors in Scotland who do a reasonable amount of advocacy. Most barristers that I have worked with spend a great deal of time tackling legislation and reading cases, even if just to make sure their knowledge is up-to-date. Whether it is writing an opinion, arguing in Court (especially beyond first instance) or doing research - barristers engage with the law every day. A law degree gives a good level of background knowledge and provides the requisite skills to use the law in a practical way.

    Secondly, it is important to study something at University that you enjoy. I enjoyed studying law and my impression is that if you didn't enjoy it, you're not going to practise in it or you won't be very good at doing so. Therefore if you enjoy studying law - it is as useful a degree as any other.

    Finally, studying law and reading widely on the subject tends to provide an enthusiasm and passion for the law that it is difficult to obtain from cramming the basics into a year long GDL. Reading high profile cases that make a huge difference to people's lives and wrestling with the philosophy behind the law is invaluable in this regard.

    N.B the above is inapplicable to the study of Roman Law. Knowing about the 'animus revitendi' of a pigeon is indeed, useless.

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  • As David is not a LLB graduate or lecturer himself, it's interesting, but perhaps not surprising, that he feels free to weigh in regardless.

    Please can we have David explain how to be an astronaut next.

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  • Another pile of diarrhoea from David Allen Green. Only a non-LLB graduate would come out with such tripe.

    What next? Studying medicine is a waste of time if you want to become a doctor?

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  • @Lord Denning.

    Diarrhoea is an illness. You can't thereby have a "pile" of it. What you mean is that it is a "pile of shit".

    The meanings of words matter, even for LLB graduates ;-)

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  • I also disagree with the reductionist approach taken by the author. Studying law for a degree is not the same as doing a course on car mechanics at the local tech.

    It isn't designed to train you to draft sales agreements or negotiate personal injury claims. The purpose of studying law at university is to train the mind to deal with abstract concepts and principles, to express these coherently and to apply logic to situations.

    Unfortunately, it would seem that the concept of studying a subject purely for the sake of it is alien to the author.

    He also displays a depressing level of ignorance about the practice of law if he thinks that practising lawyers never look at law reports or articles in `learned journals'. Every competent lawyer, whether engaged in contentious or non-contentious work, needs to keep up to date. In any case, many - I would hope most - lawyers are actually interested in the law and legal developments even if they don't directly impact on their own field of practice.

    This attitude that all academic study must be justifiable by reference to a practical skill attained at the end of it is frankly crass, and exhibits a sad lack of understanding about the basic purpose of education.

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  • Completely agree. Pointless

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  • A few sensitive souls who clutch their LLB protectively have been offended by David Allen Green I see! I think Green has an both an LLB and a non-law degree so perhaps he is in a position to comment.

    Obviously this is intended to be an amusing article but it also raises good points, and not just many non-law degrees can equip one for a career in law just as well as a law degree. Most law degrees seem to have no regard whatsoever to the reality of legal work, except to an extent the reality of legal work as a barrister in independent practice. Since hardly any law graduates in England become practising barristers (check the statistics) it doesn't make sense for LLBs to be seen as gold standard in education for aspirant lawyers. Nothing wrong with academic study as an end unto itself but LLB providers love to market their courses as the gateway to a lucrative career in love to prospective students - and as Green says, the only advantage in this respect that an LLB provides is by saving a year of time and expense. And the LLB in its current form is the excuse for why we all had to sit LPCs or BVCs which are pretty badly designed courses which leech money from us.

    Of course many lawyers, somewhat vainly, regard law as the ultimate intellectual challenge and believe an LLB reveals intellectual ability and that is why they think LLBs have value...

    Do LLBs have value? Unless you plan to be a barrister, about as much as other academic degress. No more.

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  • I don't agree. I have found my LLB quite useful in practice. I feel that my legal knowledge is ahead of other junior associates and trainees who converted. As a trainee it took me a lot less time to get my head around the company law involved with corporate and finance practice and my work in litigation was rated extremely well. I definitely give some credit to my LLB.

    Doing an LLB gives you legal reasoning ability that other degrees don't. You learn to draw fine distinctions, you learn about how cases are decided and you learn about how and why things go wrong. You simply don't and can't get this on a course as short as the GDL.

    It does depend what field you are doing. If you are doing residential conveyancing or asset finance, an LLB isn't very useful. If you want to become a litigator then an LLB is extremely useful, because you need a good knowledge of complicated legal concepts, you need legal reasoning skills and you need the "lawyer's instinct" for how cases get decided in this jurisdiction. You also have a much better understanding of how the various parts of law fit together; someone who did the GDL is not going to understand the importance and operation of Agency law and Partnership law when drafting a Partnership Agreement because they only studied contract, without experience this will lead to more mistakes. There is no reason why GDLers can't develop this knowledge, but LLB students are definitely ahead both in their knowledge of different areas of law and legal reasoning skills.

    Its worth noting that LLBs are more recognised in other jurisdictions. The UK is one of the only jurisdictions that allows people to convert, most places in Europe/US/Canada/Asia require law degrees to train in that country.

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  • @ Rural Bliss - I agree with your sentiments.

    It is breathtaking how little "raw" legal knowledge is embedded in young lawyers by the time they are qualified. A degree in History, English or Modern Languages plus a 9months cram course (GDL) should not be an acceptable pre-requisite for entry onto a t/c.

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  • Students go to university to study academic degrees shock!
    Seriously - you might as well opine on how unprepared politics graduates are for running their local council.

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  • Criminal lawyers do tend to read learned journals and cases due to the abundance of law and new law in this area. Otherwise I agree.

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  • Well done to the C of L for trying to make the law degree more relevant, more focused, and shorter!

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  • This is actually pretty offensive to people who have done a law degree and have gained a great deal from it, and it is a shame to put future students off. In my view there is no other degree which trains your mind to think about things in a legal way and from my experience people who have done certain other degrees or the GDL simply have not acquired those skills. The discussion of the postal acceptance rule etc. is just a means by which those skills are acquired. The law degree is not about learning law. I gained a huge amount from my LLB and whilst I would also love to do degrees in Economics, History, Spanish, English Literature and Politics, there isn't time. I can pick these up as hobbies and I wouldn't change what I have done.

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  • A half-arguable point stretched to destruction, in my view; and if "It would be odd that anyone actually paid to provide legal advice would ever read a learned journal article" is a genuinely-held belief I wouldn't like to be one of this guy's clients. There are often commercially practical nuggets in those sorts of pieces even if they can sometimes be a little academic.

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  • Some of my (trainee) colleagues genuinel believe an extrapolation of this article: that their GDL+LPC= LLB. I can only believe that this is because it has been so well marketed to them.
    The debate over law v non- law will rage as long as it is an option (and it should remain an option: some of the brightest lawyers I know are non-law graduates, equally, some are law graduates). If someone has the requisite skills to be a good lawyer it doesn't matter what degree they do. However, to allow a 3 year specialist degree to be devalued (law is harder than most BA degrees) so that institutions like CoL and BPP can handle out additional qualifications is insulting to those who slaved away for 3 years to get an LLB.

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  • Law is not a pointless Degree.
    If you must know, nearly 1/3rd of the world's legal system is based on the English Legal System.
    A Law degree is a must if you want to practice law in most places except UK.

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  • Trainee at a US firm
    "In my view there is no other degree which trains your mind to think about things in a legal way and from my experience people who have done certain other degrees or the GDL simply have not acquired those skills."
    You're right. Jonathan Sumption seems to be lacking the skills you set out. Perhaps a trainee at a US firm could give him some pointers.

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  • DAG is just trolling - he only wants your attention and some confirmation that someone has read his piece.

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  • I fully concur with this article, and it represents what I have thought for a long time.
    I studied both LLB and computer programming, and can confirm that preparing a contract is pretty much like preparing computer code (Code: Definitions, variables, procedures, logic gates, data. Contracts: Definitions, clauses, conditions, schedules).
    The LLB gave me a solid grounding in common law, which is useful in my line of law (Projects), though not essential. I am 10-years qualified and cannot recall the last time I read a case or undertook thorough legal research. One of the areas we studied during the first year of LL.B was the historical property rights of North American native Indians. I have no idea how that could be applied in business.
    I concur that law degrees, as with other "art" degrees, are very academic and theoretical in nature with limited application in modern business, though great if you want to be an academic. Science and economics degrees do however have practical application if you pursue a career in these fields.
    Having said all of this, I would say that law degree would be of more use to a barrister than to a solicitor.
    if I could turn back time, I would have studied for a language or a science.

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  • But does it do any good to have lots of musicians who can't read music?

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  • I agree with some of this article but don't think you could say that completing an LLB can be worse than useless.
    A lot of modern contract law is based on centuries of case law and it is often important to know the historical basis in order to know why certain clauses are drafted like they are. I often see GDL lawyers modify contractual clauses without realising that they are worded that way for a very specific reason - trust or partnership law is a big one for this.

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  • Any degree is a good degree if you do it till yer bum hurts...Going to court for six weeks last summer brought it to life for me. Now I see the connections, the relevance, the application, the fault lines, the good advocate vs the incompetent one.
    It's like most things in life you only get out of it what you put into it. Go LLBers... (2nd Yr LLB)
    Yerravvinnerlarrff DAG - whats yer real motive for writing this banal insulting drivel?

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  • I think what your column is actually saying is that there is not much law in the commercial practice of a law firm. Having practiced as a barrister and in an public sector role the meaningful understanding of how law is made, developed and interpreted, the relationship between different disciplines and their common themes that you (should) get from a law degree and in my experiance is not as evident from the GDL is vital to an advisory practice and would have quite neatly informed some of the commercial contracts that I have had to deal with in the past. I will note that one of the best lawyers I know was a GDL graduate but he also has a real appetite for the law and freely admits that he made up for gaps in his foundation through the most comprehensive and well maintained development of his skills through those law reports and journals that you suggest are meaningless.

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  • This article doesn't reflect my experience of practice. I have and continue to have quite regular recouse to legal research in my work.
    The problem with this article is it treats all areas of law as the same. Sure, if you're working in particular transactional areas where you are doing the same thing over and over again you probably don't need great research skills. But if you work in (as I do) construction disputes, you quite regularly find yourself having to research answers to complex areas of fact and law. I'm sure that applies to a lot of other contentious areas of practice as well.

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  • heaven forbid studying a subject where you have to think and question why we abide the rules we live by, why we punish people the way we do, why our legal system is structured the way it is, why you will be liable for causing others harm or losing them money and in which circumstances.
    The saddest thing about a law degree is personified in this article - all it is now perceived as is a rung in the ladder to city slicker success.

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  • A Law Degree would be even better if all the lecturers could speak and understand English. Time to investigate just what nonsense is being taught in some of the universities who should know better. why don't the inspectors sit in on some of the lectures.

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  • “If one really wants to draft complex contractual documents then learn to write computer code, which is a very similar activity” – this is where the pointlessness of his article had me. Is he talking about programming? That drafting a complex contractual document is similar to the symbolic arrangement of the data & instructions in a computer program?
    The breadth of knowledge in the LLB helps to develop skills and Lawyers have the abilities to work in different sectors

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  • This may be true for non-contentious lawyers but as a litigation NQ at a City firm I very much disagree.
    I regularly look up law reports. I have read numerous articles.
    Skills gained during my law degree have been invaluable when drafting compelling legal arguments. Friends who've sat in contentious and niche departments have complained of feeling disadvantaged by having not done a law degree.
    Above all else though, my law degree was incredibly interesting and stimulating. I couldn't disagree with the author more.

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  • As a LLB student, and someone who took law at A Level, I feel get so annoyed the firms and chambers take on such a high percentage of non-law graduates.
    How can a non law graduate know that they will enjoy or excel in a career in law if they have never studied it?
    Maybe a LLB doesn't prepare you much more for a career in law than any other degree, but I think recruiters are blind if they think that the majority of non-law graduates have only applied for training contracts on the basis that they didn't really know what to do with their history degree and they saw a nice starting salary accompanied by sponsorship for postgraduate study.
    I understand the need for diversity, but why such a huge percentage of non-law grads?
    I have studied law for 6 years now (am now at the tail end of 4 year joint honors LLB) and I think I am in a much better position to start a legal career than a non-law grad. Even if only for the fact that I know it's definitely what I want to do with my life.

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  • It is especially unfair to put law degrees on the same level as other degree subjects when some degrees, such as maths, result in 30% of students getting first class degrees. For law (as far as I am aware) only around 6% of students get firsts. You cant really compare them.
    As I said, I do a joint honors LLB and I can get grades in my philosophy modules of around 80 without trying very hard at all. I can spend months on a law essay and just scrape a first. For me at least, some subjects are easier. I have no doubt that had I done a BA in philosophy I could have got a first. Whereas add law and an LLB into the mix and despite my best efforts, I will probably still come out with a 2:1.

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  • You could say that about any degree... but when you say do a history degree for this and a language degree for that... then you would be doing two degrees which would be a even bigger waste of time. Surely if you are going to argue this you should at least back it up with something like "law firms are more likely to consider someone with other degrees" which you have not. I'm sure most of the skills you learn and knowledge you gain is very useful and not pointless at all. What a very strange thing to say.

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