Law degrees have always been one of the most sought-after and widely respected courses to study at university. Our guide has everything you need to know before you apply for entry to this competitive field.
For many, an undergraduate law degree will be the first step along the path to a career in the legal sector, followed by the further study and training needed to become a practicing solicitor or barrister.
However, this is certainly not the only reason to study law at university. For many, the attraction lies in the combination of human interest and intellectual stimulation a law degree will provide.
What is legal studies?
Legal studies comes into contact with almost every area of human life, touching upon issues relating to business, economics, the environment, human rights, international relations, politics and trade.
As you get further along your course, you should have more opportunities to select your own areas of interest. For example, you could specialize in criminal law, property law or maritime law.
The study of law also provides a framework through which to examine and understand different societies and cultures. For instance, you may be able to focus on Islamic law, or on the laws of the European Union.
As a law student, you should also be prepared to come up against some of the most problematic – indeed often seemingly irresolvable – conflicts and issues in modern society and morality. An interest in philosophy could be helpful here!
As you get further along your law degree, you should have opportunities to select your own areas of interest. Possible law specializations include:
You may also have the option to specialize in legal studies within particular cultures or regions. So, for example, you might focus on Islamic law, the laws of the European Union, or international law.
Types of law degrees
There are lots of different types of law degrees, varying depending on which country you’re studying in. In the UK, undergraduate law degrees are usually referred to either as an LLB or a BA Law. In some cases, these alternatives are used interchangeably. However, some universities differentiate between LLB and BA Law programs, with the former focusing exclusively on law and the latter allowing student to take some course modules in other subjects.
In some countries, notably the US, it’s rare for students to take an entire undergraduate degree in law. Instead, legal studies are focused at grad school level, with the most common types of law degrees being LLM (Master of Law) programs and JD (Juris Doctor) programs. The first of these will typically take a year to complete, the second three years.
While most LLM and JD programs are primarily aimed at preparing students for legal careers, it’s also possible to take graduate-level law degrees with a greater focus on academic research. These may be referred to either as a PhD in law, Doctor of Laws, or Doctor of Juridical Science (JSD).
As you’d expect, many law graduates go on to pursue careers in the legal sector. Legal careers usually require further study and training, which varies in different countries. Popular roles for law graduates include:
As with medicine, the path to becoming a legal professional varies in different parts of the world, and qualifications are not always immediately transferable between different countries.
In England and Wales, those who wish to become solicitors must take the one-year Legal Practice Course (LPC), and then complete a two-year placement as a trainee solicitor.
In the US, law is – like medicine – taught mainly as a postgraduate subject. This means it’s necessary to complete a four-year undergraduate degree first – not necessarily majoring in law – and then apply for a place at a graduate law school. This usually means taking the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).
Alternative careers for law graduates
You certainly don’t have to become a lawyer after studying law at university. Like other social science subjects, law degrees can be good preparation for a range of different career paths.
This could include roles in business and management, journalism, think tanks, politics and the civil service.
It can be helpful, when choosing a degree, to have an idea of the kind of career sector you’re interested in – but don’t worry if you’re still not sure.
If you’re considering studying law, it’s most important to ensure you have a genuine interest in the subject, and that you’re prepared for the academic challenges ahead.
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