Law at university: to degree or not to degree?

 

A career in the law is prestigious and carries an enviable salary once you have completed training. Legal careers can include a wide variety of roles, from paralegals to judges, to ushers and researchers.

The most popular and well-known roles in the legal world are as a solicitor or a barrister. There are two direct and widely-accepted paths into a career as a solicitor – one involves doing a three-year law degree and then a Legal Practice Course (LPC), and the other involves doing a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and then an LPC. For a career as a barrister, it’s the same process, but instead of an LPC, you’re expected to do a Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC).

Statistics published in the Law Society’s Annual Statistical Report last year showed that just under three quarters (74.9 per cent) of those taking the direct route into the roll of solicitors were law graduates. The other 25.1 per cent were non-law graduates that had passed the GDL or other form of postgraduate law diploma.

So what’s the difference between the two paths and which one is for you?

The law degree route

Aathmika Kularatnam, 22, is a Trainee Solicitor at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP. Aathmika studied a law degree at University College London and graduated last year.

“I chose to study law after secondary school because I felt that it would be an interesting and academically challenging subject. I enjoyed debating and examining issues from different perspectives and felt that studying law would help me develop my analytical ability.

I initially intended to study either economics or business prior to pursuing a law degree. However, I decided to move to London to study law immediately after secondary school because I felt that studying law would provide the most direct route towards the pursuit of a legal career, potentially freeing up time for other opportunities (such as travel and work experience) in the process. 

At UCL, I had the opportunity to study a variety of legal subjects, determine which legal areas I was interested in and begin to develop the knowledge required to practice law as a solicitor. It was also enjoyable to study with others also interested in legal issues and the legal profession and to participate in law-related activities such as negotiation and client-interviewing competitions and mooting.

Firms are interested in employing students from both law and non-law backgrounds. The big questions in all of the interviews I attended were, firstly, why I wanted to pursue a career in commercial law and, secondly, whether I had the skills required of a successful trainee (such as attention to detail, co-operation and organisational ability).

I would recommend a law degree to those who are interested in law as an academic subject because not only did I develop my knowledge of the law but also a variety of transferable skills which are useful in any profession.”

The non-law degree route

Patrick Osgood, 30, started a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) in 2003 on a part-time basis, and then did a Legal Practice Course (LPC) in 2005. His first degree was in English and American Literature at Warwick University, and he is now an oil and gas journalist based in Dubai.

“I received three excellent pieces of advice. The first was to study what interested me at university. The second, from a lawyer, was that the law degree is dull. The third, from a Legal 100 recruiter, is that most firms and chambers don't care whether you've studied law, but whether you can be a lawyer.

The benefit that I saw of doing a straight law degree as opposed to the GDL route, was being surrounded by others with the same ambition, good links to potential employers, careers advice and fairs, and the like. You can also have a moan about filling in endless applications and the iniquities of trying to hold a glass and a vol-au-vent while shaking a partner's hand and being confident, without losing friends.

The downside is you'll be studying law. Law degrees are factory courses with large groups and little time to stop and think. Studying law is not practising it.”

Changing career

Even if you decide law isn’t for you, as Patrick did, studying any law qualification places you in a great position, whichever career you decide to go into. Patrick says his law training was a great start in a different career: “A legal background probably made the difference between needing to go to journalism school or not. The most valuable part of my training was working with some fantastic professional role models. I also learned important skills - organisation, analysis, cogent expression - that will always be useful.”

Advice for prospective law students

Having studied law to different extents, they both offer up some advice for potential law students. Patrick says:

  • Read the financial press every day, starting now.
  • Appreciate that being a solicitor is a service job and a desk job.
  • Have fun and pursue your interests, because that's what partners, recruiters and clients will ask you about.
  • Doing postgraduate courses before you have a training contract is money wasted.

Aathmika says:

  • Participate in as many presentations and law fairs as possible in order to meet different employers and determine whether a career in law is a good fit for you.
  • Make the most of your university experience and participate in extra-curricular activities because employers are always interested in your personality.
  • Try to gain legal and commercial work experience (for example, by applying to mini-pupillages and/or vacation schemes). Though the application process can seem daunting, making applications and attending interviews will allow you to learn more about the profession and different employment opportunities.
  • Getting good marks doesn’t hurt either!
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Developer - HTML, CSS, Javascript

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Application Developer - ...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Software Developer - Norfolk - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Software Developer - Norf...

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?