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What’s the point in a law degree?

18 September 2018

Any law undergraduates and graduates past and present will corroborate that when the subject of their degree is revealed, to those who were previously unaware, they often receive the same response.

The facial expression of those who have asked suddenly become pained, like they are the ones going through the trauma of getting the degree. This is followed by an acknowledgement of how difficult it is through a combination of words, sounds, and head nodding.

Despite this universal acknowledgement of strenuousness, there is sadly merit in the view that these efforts might arguably be better spent in another less populated subject area. In 2007 the number of law degree applications in the UK totalled 92,000. In 2014 this had increased to 103,000.

In the 2016-2017 intake 22,765 students from the UK and overseas were accepted onto undergraduate law courses undoubtably meaning there are more law graduates than law jobs available. This is evident in both the traditional legal professions of solicitor and barrister where competition for mere work experience is tough, let alone a full-time role.

It is fair to say that largely due to government reforms, university is perceived to be much more of an investment to present and future generations than it was to young people twenty years ago. Not unlike investments, course choices are frequently made based on potential return. This is understandable given those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds undertaking a three-year course will be leaving with over £50,000 worth of debts.

Save the Student averages graduate starting salaries per degree subject and law is a respectable £24,492. Surprisingly, this falls within the middle ground of the listed earnings with the top four being dentistry, veterinary medicine, economics and general engineering in that order. Consequently, if you’re in it for the money it is clear a law degree is not the most lucrative of honors.

Additional qualifications required to actually practise

Furthermore, getting a law degree of any kind shockingly does not allow you to go straight ahead and practise law. Whether it’s the traditional LLB, the relatively new BA in Law or a joint honors such as Law with Philosophy you will still have to undertake an additional qualification. They are the LPC for aspiring solicitors and the BPTC for budding barristers.

So, you do not need to actually have a law degree to become either a barrister or a solicitor. You could take any degree and then all that is required if one gets the sudden uncontrollable urge to become a lawyer is to complete the law conversion course (known as the GDL) and then to choose between the BPTC and the LPC.

The striking futility of not being able to practise law with a law degree was debated at Cambridge in 2013 with the Lord Sumption vs Professor Virgo debate: Should prospective lawyers study law at university?

Yet it is not all doom and gloom and although I cannot speak for eternity, it is pretty definite that for the foreseeable future we need lawyers.

There are many fantastic other non-traditional careers you can pursue with a legal background if law is not your cup of tea such as the civil service, quantity surveying, publishing, investment banking or politics to name a few.

Any type of law degree will undoubtably provide you with a wide-ranging skill set, likely to be attractive to employers from all industries. The ability to solve problems, analyse complex information, and write quickly and concisely can never be a bad thing!

We haven’t even mentioned the serious bragging rights that come with the degree or the fact that it is the one thing the Obamas, Gandhi, Mandela, Castro, Matisse, Andrea Bocelli, Gerard Butler and Rebel Wilson all have in common and they're not doing too badly!


Views expressed in our blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Law Society.

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