By Faye Phillips, StretLaw Associate (South Wales)
As most of us know, studying law at University is no longer a vital prerequisite for a successful career as a solicitor or barrister but is the GDL the best route to take, or does a law degree show more commitment to the profession?
Lord Sumption said last year that the best lawyers do not read law as undergraduates. His comments were reported in The Telegraph. He claims that non-law graduates generally have a more rounded education and are able to offer more than law graduates. He suggests students wanting to practice law study history or mathematics, subjects that require strong analytical skills. He says
‘the study of something involving the analysis of evidence, like history or classics, or the study of a subject which comes close to pure logic, like mathematics, is at least as valuable a preparation for legal practice as the study of law.’
Perhaps I am bias as I too studied a non-law degree before turning my hand to law however I can see some truth in his argument. Lawyers need to be able to analyse a lot of information, decipher complex legal documents and explain it in plain English to their clients. Having a logical mind is bound to be advantageous. For this reason scientists and mathematicians profess the right skills to be good lawyers. A science background is useful too in intellectual property for example where an understanding of technical language behind new inventions is needed.
Also with the growth of ABS and those specialising in science, having a degree in the subject together with the GDL is often a requisite and a law degree alone is not enough. I realised this when I heard about a training contract vacancy at Greenway Scott. I unfortunately hadn’t studied science or maths (I opted for modern foreign languages and politics) but I told a friend of mine from the GDL who had a biosciences degree to apply for it.
Likewise, those with a mathematics degree could have an edge in employment, tax or banking law where transactions involve complicated calculations. In hindsight maybe I should have studied science as it seems to be a sought after qualification and one that highlights many skills. I’ll just have to make the most of my languages. Lord Sumption says, ‘It is very unfortunate, for example, that many of them [law students] cannot speak or read a single language other than their own’. Fortunately for me I speak and read five languages although I don’t know how useful they will be unless I manage to find a job in an international firm.
It goes without saying that recruiters will want to see evidence of a strong commitment to law. Law graduates can show their early enthusiasm by having chosen to study it at university. But is a law graduate who wanted to be a lawyer since they were six, and studied it at A Level and at University dynamic enough?
Or is it narrow-minded to assume they had no other interests and were locked away in the library studying law all of the time and not participating in any extra-curricular activities or learning languages or showing an interest in science? Non-law graduates may find it harder to show the same commitment and passion from an early age but hopefully they will bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience that single honours law graduates don’t have.
Of course, the importance of legal work experience for both law graduates and non-law graduates cannot be underestimated. Anyone committed to a career in the legal profession will not be taken seriously if they have not made an effort to see if this is the right path for them.
Professor Graham Virgo from Cambridge University argues in this video that prospective lawyers should study Law. One of the reasons he gives is the breadth and depth of knowledge that is gained by studying the foundational subjects in depth over three years rather than crammed into one year on a Law Conversion course and the ability to study a wide variety of other modules not available to GDL students.
Agree/Disagree? Comment below and I’ll get back to you…
© Faye Phillips, 2013
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