Studing Law - What to Expect

Studying law at university is one of the most popular degree choices. It provides a gateway into various career paths and allows students to gain many transferable skills, including critical thinking and reasoning, negotiation, and attention to detail. However, this degree path has its challenges. A law degree can be overwhelming due to the number of areas of law that students must familiarise themselves with. It is intellectually challenging and requires hard work and determination but has many benefits that outweigh the difficulties. Here’s a brief overview of what to expect from your law degree and some tips on how to succeed.

What course is right for you?

Many universities will offer various law degrees for students to choose from. The qualifying undergraduate law degree offered by most UK universities is the LLB in Law. This is a popular choice for aspiring solicitors and barristers, as it provides a comprehensive foundation in legal studies, encompassing a wide range of topics required for a law career. There are seven compulsory modules that LLB students must take:

  • Tort Law
  • Constitutional / Administrative Law
  • Criminal Law
  • Contract Law
  • Equity & Trusts Law
  • EU Law
  • Land Law

The remainder of the LLB course will be taken up with elective modules, ranging from corporate and competition law to adult and family law. This allows students to focus on topics of particular interest while ensuring a comprehensive knowledge of all key topics required for this qualifying degree. Some universities will offer different pathways, for example, having the option to take specific modules that would allow students to graduate with an LLB Hons Law and Commercial Law degree. This is university-dependent, so it’s worth checking that your preferred university offers the qualification you want to complete.

While there are benefits to undertaking the LLB, a variety of other law degrees are available to students who wish to broaden their knowledge in other subject areas. For example, some universities offer a Law with Criminology degree or a Law with a Language degree - this is often a four-year degree with the option to study abroad for a year.

This can be a great option if you are looking to improve your language skills or are interested in learning about the law in other jurisdictions. It’s important to make sure that you have researched all the different law courses that your preferred university is offering in advance, to make sure you are choosing the right option for you.

How you will be assessed

Expectations for your degree course will vary from university to university, but most law courses will include various assessment types. These are likely to include:

  • Essays
  • Closed book exams
  • Open book exams
  • Coursework
  • Case Studies
  • Presentations
  • Final year dissertation

During COVID-19, universities introduced 48-hour take-home exams; many universities still use these exams as an assessment method. These are generally open-book exams and may require longer answers to questions, more research, and will usually include more complex questions. However, the benefit of this type of assessment is that you can look at your notes and research your answers and have less time pressure to complete your exam than you would in a typical closed-book exam.

It is worth researching the courses offered at your preferred university in advance to find out how your university generally assesses students. For example, some universities prefer coursework and have very few exams, so if you prefer essays over exams, you may choose to study a course with a lot of coursework-based modules instead.

Top tips to get the most out of your studies

Your first-year grades really do matter! On many degree courses (although not all), the marks you receive in the first year of your degree do not count towards your degree weighting. However, they are important! If you want to apply for a training contract after your degree, many larger firms start recruiting students in their penultimate year of study. The application window often opens in October for students in the second year of their degree. Given that the academic year only starts in September, students applying to firms may still need to complete second-year modules when they first apply. For this reason, firms only look at your first-year grades when determining whether they want to offer you a vacation scheme. It is essential to take your first year seriously: don’t fall into the trap of thinking of the first year as your ‘trial run’ because your grades don’t matter, make sure you take it seriously.

Make sure that you schedule in time for all your reading. Any law student will tell you that a law degree requires a LOT of reading. You may be required to read a chapter for a module that is 30 to 50 pages long, and you could be asked to read similar-sized chapters for all of your modules. The content is often quite complex and can take a while to read, so it is crucial to ensure you have left enough time for your reading. Many students find it helpful to break their reading up into chunks: set yourself time blocks so that it doesn’t feel too overwhelming. Make sure that you complete all the reading: while some students look at this as something that can fall to the wayside when they are busy in exam season, it really is crucial to ensure that you have a sound knowledge of the topic. It is manageable as long as you have planned out your time in advance!

Networking is SO important. The best network that you can possibly create at university comes from your classmates. Fellow students on your course will likely become future colleagues and other solicitors or barristers in the city later. So be sure to connect with other students on LinkedIn and build your professional network. Similarly, your university is likely to offer many different networking opportunities: this may be through the societies, or through the Careers department at your university. Ensure you constantly add to your professional network throughout your degree.

Get involved in societies. Your university’s law society is a great place to start when it comes to making friends, gaining new skills and networking. Law societies offer a variety of events, including talks with practising lawyers, mooting and debating competitions, and co-ordinating pro bono opportunities for students to get involved in. It is not only the law society you should get involved in; there are many societies to choose from! If you have a passion for languages or athletics or are a big advocate of climate action, there is likely to be a society relating to these. Getting involved in things outside of just your degree discipline can be a handy way to build a broader experience at university and to network with people outside of just those on your course.

Build your commercial awareness from day one at university. Commercial awareness is one of the key skills that law firms look for when interviewing candidates.

You can develop it over time, and one of the easiest ways to do this is to create a bank of knowledge while at university. Commercial awareness is an understanding of businesses as a whole: it is about understanding the environment in which both law firms and clients operate.

You will gain knowledge on these topics from a variety of resources during your university studies, including talks from practising lawyers, modules focused on banking/finance and commercial law, and events held by your law society. Whenever you come across something during your studies that can help to boost your commercial awareness, make a note of it so that when the time comes to demonstrate your commercial awareness in your first application cycle, you have a list of examples of how you have developed this awareness over the past three to four years.

Gain as much work experience as possible during your studies. This doesn’t have to be in the form of a part-time job (although it can be!), but there are many opportunities that you can get involved in while at university. For example, many universities offer a legal clinic where you can get hands-on legal experience in a pro-bono environment. This is a great way to gain experience that will later assist you with job applications. Similarly, there are many paid opportunities to connect with law firms, such as becoming a campus ambassador. Students can undertake this role in their penultimate or final year of university and may only require a couple of hours of work each week or month. This is a great opportunity, as it allows you to build a relationship with the law firm you are working for and also ensures that you have an excellent knowledge of the firm for when it comes to applying for a training contract later down the line.

Attend as many open days as possible while at university. Use your time at university to work out what career you want. As you study new modules on your degree, you are likely to become more or less interested in certain areas of law, so make sure that you are researching careers in these areas and attending open days for relevant law firms to gain an accurate picture of what a career in that area may look like. For example, if you are interested in corporate law, many law firms offer first- and second-year programs to students, and they have regular open days for students to attend. By attending these open days early on and writing notes to refer back to later down the line when it comes to applying, you will have plenty of information and resources to refer back to.