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What is a law degree for? What is the point of the LLB? Well, if one wants to be a law academic, it is a useful way to start.
It is also as good a degree as any other for doing a range of occupations: a pass in a law degree shows you can study, retain information, and answer exam questions.
Indeed, there are people with law degrees in all walks of life, from social workers to sex workers.
But the one thing a law degree is not particularly useful for is the practice of law. In fact, it may well be the last degree one should do if the ambition is to be a practising lawyer. There is little or nothing in a standard law degree which equips the average lawyer with the knowledge or skills of everyday legal work. Most professional lawyers have had no need to look up a law report for years. It would be odd that anyone actually paid to provide legal advice would ever read a learned journal article.
If one wants to learn how to use documentary evidence, then do a history degree. If one enjoys words then study and enjoy literature or languages.
If one really wants to draft complex contractual documents then learn to write computer code, which is a very similar activity. And if one wants to know how to construct a compelling argument then do a degree in philosophy. But do not waste three years of your life on a LLB, for there is nothing in answering the clever questions of law academics that will get you very far in in a courtroom or with a client.
A law degree can even be worse than useless. For the budding civil litigator, it provides the misleading impression that for a case to get to court and be “reported” is anything other than an anti-commercial disaster for all involved. Almost all civil litigation can and should be closed down before a judge should be bothered for his or her decisions. For the wannabe criminal lawyer, a law degree hides the fact that almost all cases will depend on the evidence and points of procedure, and not on what is said in Clarkson and Keating.
However, it is the non-contentious lawyers who suffer the most from wasting years on a LLB. For example, hardly anything a commercial solicitor does draws on their academic studies. The average contract law course for example tells one absolutely nothing about how to draft a clause or a schedule. Those weeks of studious navel-gazing about the postal acceptance rule or whether consideration means the same as an intention to create legal relations provide no assistance in putting together a sales or distribution agreement. The only thing an LLB contract course and typical contract drafting and negotiation have in common is the word “contract”.
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. One may also impress a law firm or chambers at an earlier stage so that they will offer you funding for the vocational course. But the academic study of law is like reading sheet music without an instrument: one can more or less make it out, but as with music, law only comes alive in its performance.
David Allen Green is media correspondent of The Lawyer and writer of the Jack of Kent blog