Choosing where to study a law degree isn’t as simple as looking at the league tables and picking the so called “top university for law”. There’s a whole trunkful of factors you need to consider. We’ve kept this article narrowly focused on law. If you’re interested in more general advice about choosing a university (e.g. on location, halls of residence, campus vs. city), then head over to the Which University? article on our sibling site, AllAboutCareers.com
The law course…
The big decision is whether you want to pursue an undergraduate law degree or do a non-law related subject and a law conversion course. It’s completely up to you. You might want to do a non-law course to keep your career options open, pick up skills and knowledge (such as a foreign language or knowledge relevant to a particular area of law) or simply because you’re really interested in an academic subject. The downside is that it’s the more expensive option.
Otherwise, many people choose to get cracking with a law degree. The blindingly obvious thing to check before you start lusting after certain universities is that they actually offer a law degree, and a qualifying law degree at that. If you want to study the LLB with French, then that is going to significantly narrow down your choices. If you just want to study the LLB by itself, then you’ll have over a hundred universities to choose from.
Look at the course content for universities that you are interested in. What optional modules can you take? How is it assessed? Does the law school have a reputation in a particular area of law? Given the nature of the LLB, there won’t be a huge variation in the course content from institution to institution, but it’s worth looking into. You can use the Unistats website to find out student satisfaction rates for individual courses and other study information such as time spent in lectures and seminars.
Combined law courses?
Do you want to do a law degree straight up or do you want to add a mixer like another subject? There are loads of different combinations out there. If you’re looking into combining your law degree with another subject, make sure it’s something that you are interested in and that it is relevant to your career aspirations.
Languages can be useful, particularly if you’re looking to work in an international law firms or a certain area of law. It’s worth looking into which languages international law firms look for. Usually languages related to emerging markets are the best bet: like Portuguese, Arabic, Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish and Russian. Command of another European language, like French and German, can be an asset.
Tied into the above is the chance to study or work abroad as part of the law course. Law is increasingly an international industry, so spending time abroad can be a really valuable experience.
Universities might have a year abroad inbuilt into their law course, like Sheffield University’s LLB Law (European and International) or University of Bristol’s LLB Law with study abroad years in continental Europe, Singapore, Hong Kong or Japan.
Most, if not all, universities are part of the Erasmus scheme, so check to see what opportunities are open to law students wishing to do Erasmus. Remember places might be limited, so choosing a university on the basis of the off-chance you might to land a place to study in a dream location for a year probably isn’t a good idea.
The law school or university might have their own partnerships with other international institutions allowing students to go on exchange programmes. These are all options worth exploring. If you can’t find any information, then ask someone during the university’s open day or get in contact with the law school’s admissions team.
There also are some degrees that allow students to train professionally in two countries:
- King’s College London offers an English Law & French Law LLB and Maitrise en droit. It’s a four year degree programme consisting of two years undertaking the LLB at KCL and two years in Paris studying the French equivalent of the LLB at Paris Sorbonne. The involvement of international law firm Reed Smith means students also get the opportunity to undertake work placements too.
- LSE has a partnership with Columbia University in New York where a few lucky undergraduates can combine two years of study on LSE’s Bachelor of Law with two years studying Columbia’s Juris Doctor (JD).
“Respected universities” for law
Given that law is such a competitive industry, the reputation and quality of your university probably will count. It’s important to consider the various factors that can have an impact on an institution and their law school’s status.
One place to start is by looking at university league tables. Released on a yearly basis by newspapers like the The Times, Guardian and The Independent, they rank universities based on a range of criteria, including: teaching excellence, graduate employment rates and student satisfaction. However, you shouldn’t take university league tables as gospel; they aren’t necessarily the most reliable of sources.
When it comes to reputation, the term “Russell Group University” often comes in tow. The Russell Group represents, in their own words, “24 leading UK universities which are committed to maintaining the very best research, an outstanding teaching and learning experience and unrivalled links with business and the public sector.” A degree from one of these universities may put you in a more advantageous position when it comes to applying for your dream job. But this is not to say that students from non-Russell Group universities won’t go on to have successful careers in law, they have and they will.
Another tip is to look into which law firms, chambers and other legal organisations attend career events and law fairs at the university and who sponsors the student law society. This will give you an idea of the type of legal employer targeting students from the university.
Pro bono work is important if you want to get into legal aid work, and many chambers and commercial law firms recognise the value of student pro bono work – particularly that which involves hands-on experience giving advice to clients. University of Kent, Hull University and Northumbria University are all well-known for their hands on pro bono opportunities, but plenty of other universities have great pro bono schemes. It’s worth checking out the LawWorks website for more information about pro bono and their awards are a great way of finding out about the top university schemes.
Your future career…
Your choice of university might be coloured by the type of law firm or chambers you wish to work for. For example, if you want to work in a high street firm, then you might look for a university with a law department with strong ties to that area. The same goes for regional firms – if you want to work in the South, then you might want to apply to a good university in the region. Often you can use recruitment brochures from legal employers to infer the type of university their trainees attended.
It’s a really good idea to ask the law school which solicitors’ firms, barristers’ chambers or other organisations their recent graduates are working for. You can also use Unistats to find out what people are doing after the course and the average starting salary for graduates. This is more effective for non-law courses as it can be a bit misleading for law given that the majority of graduates will be embarking on postgraduate study six months after university.
You should also check out the university’s careers service – a good careers service can make all the difference. For example, we have had law employers singing praises about Warwick students who have the support of an excellent careers service. Find out what links they have with legal employers, whether the law school hosts a law fair and which employers attend, and about other services they offer students.
Attend open days…
We can’t stress this enough. You wouldn’t buy a car without first taking a look at it and doing your research, the same goes for university. It’s a significant investment and you want to make sure that it is an investment that pays off. Once you’ve drawn up a shortlist of universities, you’ll need to go and have a look around them on the open days. Make sure you chat to current students, course tutors and lecturers – you might even want draw up a list of questions to ask them beforehand.
The university you go to isn’t everything, but it certainly is a significant decision. Academic achievement is hugely important in the legal profession; choosing the right university and the right course will help you strive to get good grades. Being challenged academically and having access to plenty of opportunities beyond course work will help you kick start your law career.