One of the biggest choices that students face during their school years, is deciding which degree to study at university. Many people may be surprised to hear that to become a lawyer in the UK, you don’t actually need to study law as your undergraduate degree. This post will discuss the two different paths and why you might want to choose one route or the other.
The traditional route
The most straightforward route to becoming a solicitor is to take a three-year undergraduate law degree. Upon completion, you will need to complete the legal practice course (LPC) and then undertake a training contract (2 years) with a law firm. On completion of this process, you will successfully qualify as a solicitor. Whilst this is technically the fastest route to qualifying as a solicitor, it may not be the route for everybody.
The alternative route
The alternative route is to study a non-law degree at university and then go on to complete a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). After the GDL, the LPC and training contract stages are exactly the same as those who come from a law degree. So overall, not studying law will mean that you qualify a year later than your law graduate counterparts. However, that is not the whole story. There are several benefits and drawbacks to each path, some of which I’ll allude to below. Just remember, that neither path is necessarily ‘better’ than the other, merely that they provide you with slightly different experiences and what may suit one person might not suit another.
Law vs non-law
One of the advantages of studying law at university is that you will be able to explore the law at a much deeper level and also in a wider range of areas. During an undergraduate law degree, you will have plenty of time over the three years to read papers, cases and delve into the detail of the subject. When you compare this to the one-year GDL, it is clear that an undergraduate degree in law is inevitably going to allow you to learn more about law. Not only that, but during your three years, you will be developing many of the key skills of reasoning and logic which will prove invaluable as a lawyer. You will understand how to pick out the key issues, research the law, and then apply the law as you would need to as a solicitor.
The format of the GDL means that much less time can be spent reading extensively into the core topic areas and are instead confined to the basic concepts. Granted, the independent research essay on the GDL gives students an opportunity to read into a more niche area of law, but it is hardly extensive if you compare it to a law degree. Together, this would suggest that if you are the type of person who is already very interested in understanding the intricacies of law and want to dive deep into the academic study of it, then choosing to study law at university may be for you.
However, I have heard of a great deal of people who, during their undergraduate law degree, have fallen out of love with the subject. Some people find that studying law can be very dry which in turn causes them to lose interest. Therefore, one of the biggest advantages to choosing a non-law degree at university and then doing the GDL is that you will have a wider perspective of the world when you move into law afterwards. University is a great opportunity for you to discover more abut your interests or passions and it doesn’t matter if that isn’t law. You’ll be able to gain an appreciation for another academic area and study alongside others who might not be into law.
On top of that, studying a non-law subject at university can also give you a greater range of topics to discuss when applying for training contracts and vacation schemes. Remember that law firms don’t need you to ‘know’ the law when you interview, but are look for individuals who have potential to grasp complex concepts as well as being well-rounded. By showing your knowledge of other academic areas, you can show potential employers that you have the skills to become a lawyer, but also that you can bring your own character to the role as well. I would highly recommend that those of you who are interested in practising law but don’t want to commit three years of your life to studying law should definitely consider going via the non-law route
At the end of the day, the split between law and non-law graduates who go on to training contracts is often approximately 50:50. This shows that whichever path you decide to go down, it shouldn’t matter too much down the line when you do come to applying for training contracts. What it really comes down to then, is whether you would be interested in studying law in-depth and have the drive to study it in an academic setting.
Food for thought…
Check out this recording of a debate at Cambridge University involving Lord Sumption of the Supreme Court and Professor Graham Virgo. They outline several interesting points both for and against studying law at university which might influence your decision on whether or not to study law.
One final point to note: From 2021, the new Solicitors Qualifying Exam will take the place of the GDL and LPC stages and may have an impact on how different firms’ training contracts will be organised. (More info here). Watch this space for more information on what to expect…