The best universities to study law
The UK has a long history of educational institutions. This means our universities are world famous, but also that the landscape is pretty busy—and confusing. Here you’ll find a simple guide to the various universities on offer and the factors to look at when considering them.
Russell Group universities are considered to be the top universities in the country; they’re especially highly-regarded for the quality of public research carried out by their academic staff. A good degree (either a 2.1 or a first) from a Russell Group university will ensure that your application will be held in high regard by law firms if you’ve also nailed the other aspects of the application.
The universities in this group range from historical—such as the University of Glasgow, Durham University, and the University of Edinburgh, founded in the 1400-1500s—to more modern institutions like the University of Warwick and University of York, established in the 1960s.
Gaining a law degree from any of these universities is a great career boost: a 2016 report found that a vast majority (81.4%) of trainees interviewed had gained their degrees from Russell Group universities.
Some are better for law specifically, too, which might be worth considering when looking at this group of universities. The Complete University Guide publishes an annual list of the best UK law degrees by university. This will change each year, but looking at the Russell Group universities at the top of this list will give you a good idea of which of these institutions offer exemplary law degrees. The 2020 list, for example, features only Russell Group and Oxbridge (Oxford and Cambridge) universities in the top 10.
The Guardian also publishes an annual league table of universities that you can filter by subject. Some of these will not be Russell Group universities; for example, Solent University in Southampton was ranked fifth best for law by The Guardian in its 2020 league table. It is definitely worth looking at which universities offer the best law degrees regardless of their Russell Group status. A non-Russell Group university that offers a particularly great law degree could be a better option than an institution that’s generally held in high regard but doesn’t have a law course that stands out.
The different types of law courses explained
Undergraduate law courses
The Bachelor of Law or LLB. This is an undergraduate degree lasting three years and covering seven core modules: criminal law; contract law; constitutional or administrative law; equity and trusts; land law; tort law; and EU law—as well as other optional units or modules. The LLB is the qualifying law degree for England and Wales; if you already have a law degree from your home country, you may be exempt from the LLB and/or GDL, although this is not always the case.
Graduate law courses
Graduate LLB. The Graduate LLB is a two-year version of the LLB, only open to graduates that already have a non-law degree.
LLM. The LLM, otherwise known as a Master of Laws, is a postgraduate course only available to students that already have a degree, usually in law, or substantial professional experience. It usually lasts one year and is used to specialise in an area of law. Some courses involve coursework (essays) or exams, while others combine the two. You can do either a taught LLM or a research-based LLM.
GDL. The Graduate Diploma in Law or GDL is a law conversion course, otherwise known as the CPE. It lasts one year and is only open to non-law graduates. If don’t have a degree from a UK institution but you are a graduate, you will most likely need to obtain a certificate of academic standing from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) before you apply to the course.
LPC. The Legal Practice Course or LPC is the penultimate stage to becoming a solicitor. It is a year-long course and students learn about the practical application of the law.
BPTC. The Bar Professional Training Course or BPTC (formerly the Bar Vocational Course or BVC) is the penultimate stage to becoming a barrister, lasting one year. It’s an incredibly competitive career path, so you should only apply if you’re certain you want to become a barrister—less than a quarter of people who successfully complete it will get a job as a barrister.
QLTS. The Qualified Lawyer Transfer Scheme is a course for legal professionals from other jurisdictions outside of England and Wales that allows successful applicants to work in England and Wales as solicitors. It is also open to barristers trained in England and Wales who would like to become a solicitor. However, not every qualified lawyer will be eligible for this test. The SRA provides a list of recognised jurisdictions.
UK law schools explained
It sounds confusing, but there is a difference between UK universities—at which you can study law degrees—and UK law schools, which offer a wide range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses.
The vast majority of universities in the UK will have a law department or School of Law (which is different to what we’re referring to in this article as a “law school”). You’ll be able to find a long list of the universities that offer undergraduate and postgraduate law degrees via the UCAS website. These range from a straightforward LLB to topics such as law with European legal studies, law with Hispanic law or law with international legal studies, to LLMs (Masters degrees) in subjects such as finance law or intellectual property law.
Specialist legal training providers—or law schools—don’t form part of the UK university network, but provide a wide range of courses, from LLBs and LLMs, to the GDL (a law conversion course for those with non-law degrees), LPC (for aspiring lawyers) and BPTC (for those who wish to become a barrister in England or Wales). These are institutions such as The University of Law (formally the College of Law), BPP Law School and CILEx, which provides training for aspiring paralegals and legal executives (not those wishing to become solicitors and barristers straight away).
It’s important to ensure you only consider law schools that are certified to provide courses. Find a list of Solicitors Regulation Authority accredited GDL providers here, accredited LPC providers here and Bar Standards Board validated BPTC law schools here.
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