Studying Law: Points To Note

26 October 2014

1. You don't need to study law at university to become a 'lawyer'.

This is the one thing I really wish someone had told me before I undertook my LLB course. Now I can't comment as to which is the best route to take, what I can tell you though is that personally, had I known that I could have studied my beloved English Lit instead of spending three years tackling public law and promissory estoppel then I would undoubtedly have done so. 
Once you complete your chosen undergraduate degree, you will then be required to undertake the GDL (Graduate Diploma in Law), which by all accounts is an extremely intense year spent covering what is essentially the entire syllabus studied on the three year LLB.
Some people say that by studying a separate subject first, you are opening yourself up to gaining a separate set of skills that may well come in useful in the future, for instance, if you chose to study a business based course, this would certainly stand you in good stead when it comes to commercial awareness.
At the end of the day though, it's a matter of personal preference. I would say study whatever makes you happy and what you feel you will do best in, not what you feel might look more impressive when it comes to job applications - ultimately it will show in the results you manage to achieve.

2. Long hours/Little recompense.

Unless you are one of the lucky few that a) decides law was the right route to take and b) lands a training contract/pupillage with a city firm, then prepare to be disappointed. Even the bigger firms when based outside of London don't tend to pay big bucks during your training and first few years of work. In fact, of all the recent graduates I know, those who have gone on to pursue the 'traditional' training route are probably the least well off at this point in time. That will undoubtedly change as time goes on, however, from a personal perspective the huge workload faced and incredibly long hours required, for me, just wouldn't be worth the eventual rewards reaped. 

3. Get some experience.

Bit of an obvious one, but whether you're 15, about to do your GCSE's and are thinking that law may be something you want to pursue, or indeed if you have recently or are about to graduate - a good grounding in the way firms operate is essential. You won't get anywhere without it.
Bigger law firms in particular can be a little intimidating when you first set foot inside, and so it's nice to be able to feel when you go for your first interview, that you've been there (or at least somewhere not that dissimilar) before and know the basics.
There may be a lot of 'who you know' involved, especially when it comes to gaining experience when you are younger, but stick with it. A few stints here and there with smaller firms, volunteering at your local Citizen's Advice Bureau and even just the odd visit to your local courtrooms to witness proceedings will all stand you in good stead.

4. Steer away from the 'sexy' sounding topics.

Think sensibly when you're choosing which options to take/specialise in. Of course it's important that you feel you are going to be able to enjoy these subjects, but I can't really say that my 'Sex, Crime and Society' module has ever come in terribly useful and I doubt it ever will truth be told. Don't be pulled in by the fancy headlines and instead try to look at what you will benefit most from going forward.

5. Have a backup plan/Be realistic.

So many people study law because they like the way it sounds - and I will freely admit to having been one of those people. The reality is far different to the stereotypical picture painted though. If it's murder trials and courtroom dramas that you're after then think again. 
This isn't to say that the law isn't an incredibly interesting (not to mention varied) subject around which to focus your research, I just think it's wise to open yourself up to other possibilities at the end of it all.
Some of the brightest people I know who gained first class honours degrees and have a wealth of experience under their belts still haven't either wanted to or indeed been able to break into the sector.
My own current role is legal based. I work in-house as Head of Compliance for a large brokerage firm. And, despite being offered the chance to train with a small local firm last year, I felt that sticking with this role would allow me to develop further. There were the obvious financial advantages, but also the fact that I now get to work from home without the added stresses of late nights at the office and a long commute home - you need to take everything into account.
What I'm saying is - do what is best for you, not what tradition dictates.

I just wanted to end this by saying that in no way do I think that studying law is something that anyone should avoid. For those with a great passion for it and who find themselves suited, it can without be a highly rewarding career-path to follow. The reason I'm writing this is just to let people know about a few of things I wish I had been aware of before deciding to study it at undergraduate level.

If anyone has any further questions I will do my best to answer them as well as I can, but I'm no expert! I'd be really interested to know what other people's experiences are too so please feel free to share them in the comments below :)

1 comment

  1. The GDL is a fantastic course for those who's degree wasn't law in the first place. It is fast paced however, hopefully it will all be worth it. The experience is where I'm lacking at the moment, I'm trying to sort some out :)
    Amy | A Little Boat Sailing