Should You Study Law At Undergraduate Level?

You can become a lawyer without having studied a Law degree, with that in mind what are the benefits of studying Law as an undergraduate?

Author: Chloe Hewitt

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There is a big debate surrounding whether to study Law at undergraduate level or to read another subject and then do a Law conversion to practice as a lawyer.

Whether you are aspiring to be a solicitor or a barrister, the most obvious first step would be to apply for an undergraduate Law degree. 

But with the option to study any degree of your choice and take a conversion course later on, why should you study Law at undergraduate level?

Why Study Law?

Studying Law offers the opportunity to develop a range of skills and explore many aspects of human life. It gives you the chance to sharpen your mind, strengthen your understanding and deepen your experience across the full range of humanities and social sciences. 

Law, appeals to those who want to develop both abstract thinking and practical problem-solving. A Law degree can give you the skills to be a successful lawyer but also a successful producer, politician, manager, journalist, diplomat or police officer. A Law degree equips you for almost any profession that requires intellectual strength combined with a practical approach to the world. 

So why bother doing a demanding three-year Law degree when you could do any other degree you so wish to and then do a one-year Law conversion course?

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What Is a Law Conversion Course?

If you have a degree in another subject you can study an accelerated course that will give you the legal knowledge needed to get to the same level as someone with an undergraduate Law degree. 

Full conversion courses are intensive since they bring non-Law graduates up to speed with Law graduates in one year. 

Successful completion of the course qualifies graduates for entry onto the Bar course and prepares candidates with the legal knowledge they will need for the Solicitors Qualifying Examination

Non-Law graduates are in demand as they bring a fresh perspective on legal problems. 

Whether your background is in languages (particularly useful for organisations handling international work), the arts, Science (useful for organisations handling patents and intellectual property work), or Engineering, you are welcomed. 

You Learn More About Law As An Undergraduate

Students reading Law typically cover 14 subjects in their degree, whereas students who take a Law conversion course normally only study seven core subjects.

By studying Law at undergraduate, students can pursue specialised areas of particular interest beyond the core and appreciate the bigger picture;  how the Law fits together and how the Law relates to other subjects, such as Politics, Economics, History, Criminology and Philosophy.

Creative arguments are derived from thinking laterally around a problem, and the ability to do that is often related to breadth of legal knowledge. A particular line of reasoning in a case might be inspired by something you learnt in a Law seminar.

Law Students Acquire Skills, Not Knowledge

Whilst Law in practice is very different to studying Law, many of the skills you acquire are very useful for working life. For example, both require you to identify issues in practical problems, apply both case law and statute to those issues, and reach a conclusion as to what the likely verdict might be. 

Furthermore, you have the opportunity to develop these skills under the supervision of professors and lecturers who are experts in their fields. 

Law students will develop skills of oral advocacy or pro bono societies where they can give legal advice and support to real people with real problems. Such skills prepare students not only for careers as lawyers but also for diverse careers in policy-related fields such as government, international organisations, the voluntary sector, and business. 

Developing these critical skills and this contextual understanding takes time, which realistically is challenging to achieve in a one-year conversion course. 

Benefit Of A Different Perspective

What is an overwhelming benefit of the conversion course route is that you are given the space to pursue an undergraduate degree which is free from the particulars of your future career. 

Some magic circle firms claim that around half their trainees do not have Law degrees. Slaughter and May claim to employ solicitors who studied 126 different degree courses, including History, Biology, Languages, Psychology and Chemistry. 

Chief executive and Dean of BBP Law School Peter Crisp believes that non-law graduates bring a different perspective to Law. Crisp follows on from this to state that a science background has proven helpful in intellectual property and patent work due to its complexity.

Another example would be someone who has an English background. Where Law graduates would be able to bring a deep and exacting insight into the Law, an English graduate would bring a way with words and an appetite for narrative analysis. 

Law firms do not want to hire people who have had the same experiences in life, and this diversity stems from the subjects applicants have studied and their interests. 

Cost and Time

Three years studying Law followed by one year of vocational training is cheaper, and leads you into the profession more quickly than studying another subject for three years, then taking a one-year conversion course and then the further year’s vocational training. 

Solicitors Qualifying Exam

The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) has overhauled the route to qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales. The SQE introduced in September 2021, will eventually replace the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and the Legal Practice Course (LPC).

Under the new system trainee lawyers must: 

  • Hold a degree or equivalent qualification (such as a degree apprenticeship) in any subject
  • Pass stages 1 and 2 of the SQE
  • Complete two years qualifying work experience
  • Meet the SRA’s character and suitability requirements

Following the SQE route, Law graduates will qualify as in five to six years, while it will take apprentices and non-law graduates five to seven years. 

For Law graduates, qualifying under the new system may look something like this: 

For non-law graduates, qualifying under the new system may look something like this:

According to the SRA, the total candidate fee for the SQE will be £3,980. SQE1 will cost £1,558, and SQE2 will cost £2,422. These figures do not include training costs such as SQE preparation courses. 

Conclusion

There are overwhelming positives and negatives to both sides of the argument. By reading Law at undergraduate, you gain valuable insight and spend less time studying in the long run. However, you will not be able to develop the transferable skills you gain from other degrees. 

On the other hand, the option to study any degree of your choice and make the decision later on to pursue Law is a significant advantage. The main issue with this option is that you will not have as much time to get to grips with legal jargon, and you will not have the flexibility to pursue academic topics which interest you. 

Ultimately, the decision is whatever feels right for you. You are not disadvantaged by whichever path you take into Law. It all comes down to preference. 

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