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‘I wonder why I am spending £9,000’: A growing grievance in university law schools

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Are law degrees worth the money? Legal Cheek hears from some discontented students

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Studying the LLB, a number of law students believe, is not good value for money.

Since the £9,000-a-year tuition fee hit, and maybe even before, students have adopted a consumer mentality: ‘I’m paying money, so I should get something in return’ (contract law consideration 101).

Though it’s not all that easy to say what that ‘something’ is, at its most basic, students expect access to university resources and teaching.

But law is a teaching-lite degree. Using Which? ’s comparison tool, you’ll see law students have — on average — 11 hours and 41 minutes of contact time with lecturers and tutors a week. This figure drops down closer to eight hours at some of the more elite universities, including Oxford and Durham.

By comparison, education students boast 13 hours 19 minutes, business students 12 hours 22 minutes, creative arts and design students 13 hours 37 minutes and physical sciences students 17 hours 25 minutes. Medicine and dentistry students top the table with just over 21 contact hours — almost double that of the average aspiring lawyer.

Factor in insane book costs and falling graduate prospects, it’s unsurprising the United Kingdom has a lot of unhappy aspiring lawyers. Here is just some of the feedback we received from law students when asked if they think their degree is good value:

I do wonder why I am spending £9,000 a year.

Given that it is a relatively cheap course to run, with students purchasing their own books, few contact hours and no specialised work spaces, I think it’s fair for law students to expect better value for money.

I personally feel £9,000 is a lot of money when sometimes I only spend 12 hours of my week in timetabled sessions.

With tuition fees on the up (many universities are now charging £9,250 per year), it’s likely this dissatisfaction will persist.

This may not be just a case of moany-millennial-law-student-itis; Legal Cheek spoke to a legal education and training expert who echoed aspiring lawyers’ concerns.

Though he sympathises with law school tutors (“they have a lot of plates to spin”), he ultimately thinks they “spend too much time researching and not enough time teaching”. While there is something to be said for the value of independent reading and study, there is a fine line between problem-solving-based learning and academics who appear to put students in second place. This line may well have been crossed: one of the most common sources of complaint from undergrads is a lack of feedback from tutors.

Our legal education expert — who wishes to remain anonymous — concludes that the lack of teaching and timetabled hours means that lawyers cost less money to educate and that law degrees are, comparatively-speaking, very cheap to put on. As a result, the £9,000 paid per year ends up being passed on to non-law students through the subsidisation of course costs. Is this why LLB places have shot up in the past few years? Law schools, our expert tells us, are becoming cash cow “super faculties” just at the point when consumer-minded students are demanding better value for money.

Even the government feels there is a need to increase the accountability of tutors and the universities they teach in (though probably more because it wants to make them accountable to it rather than to students per se): the Higher Education and Research Bill — currently in the House of Commons — aims to give students the opportunity to register complaints and put pressure on staff as well as establishing an ‘Office for Students’.

At ground level, some students are feeling it too.

ass

Take just one example from the University of Bristol where there has been a strong sense of unrest among the arts, social sciences and law student community about this, culminating in a protest (pictured above) where students demanded to know “Where is half our money going if not on us?”. The protest’s organiser claimed:

Arts and social science (ASS) students don’t know exactly what their money is spent on. What they do know is that around two thirds of it isn’t spent on them. UoB must explain exactly where ASS students’ money goes. We demand total transparency.

Not all law students fall into the aggrieved camp, however, taking a quality-over-quantity line. Some undergrads believe there are tangible benefits coming from the tuition fees. One says “the fees we are paying are being channelled into resources that benefit us”; another says: “we have a law library on site with access to syndicate rooms exclusively for law students which makes me feel like my tuition fee is being spent on facilities just for law students.”

And there are more intangible benefits cited too.

Going back to our original student mentality proposition (‘I’m paying money, so I should get “something” in return’), students’ definition of ‘something’ is not necessarily ‘teaching’, and ‘value for money’ is not synonymous with ‘£9,000 divided by the number of contact hours’.

The LLB is still a well-respected, hard-currency degree, and many students are far more concerned about what a law degree can do for them in the longer run than whether — hour by hour — it’s value for money. One student sums this up when he says:

Personally, it’s not the contact hours, the lectures or the classes that makes my degree worth £9,000. It’s the doors that a law degree opens for me in the future that make it fantastic value for money.

We should leave the last word to another student who — using typical Legal Cheek lingo — points out that if you: “manage to bag a training contract by the end of your degree, the tuition fees are certainly worth it.”

62 Comments

Anonymous

imo there wouldnt be an issue with value for money amongst the elite law schools if firms explicitly ruled out poly plebs from applying – theres no point working hard at a level to go to a good university and still be lumped in the same boat as plebs .

its a simple solution really, poly plebs just want to whine about how they should be given the same chance

(19)(81)

Anonymous

Elite law school, plebs. Talent could come in any form, you insufferable unwashed imbecile.

(75)(8)

Anonymous

found the guy from the poly

(35)(23)

Anonymous

I actually go to an ‘elite’ school and will commence a TC at an ‘elite’ firm. I just try not to be an asshole.

(44)(4)

Anonymous

You “try”, yes. Your success at that is a different matter.

(4)(34)

Anonymous

Succeeding a little better than you are old chap..

(15)(4)

Anonymous

You sound like such a fun person

(1)(4)

Anonymous

You are not in the same boat when applying. Did you see the number of presentations that law firms hold at Oxbridge and other RGs? Did you ever go to a law fair there? Some even interview students for TCs on campus.
“Plebs” have to work twice as hard to get the same thing.

(46)(4)

Anonymous

This is such an important point. I’m doing a Masters at Oxford… law firms hold presentations, lunches, dinners and drinks events every week.

(13)(2)

Bumblebee

Respectfully, it is not an important point. Or, it’s not a very good point at least.

The reason law firms hold presentations at Oxbridge and RG universities is that they want applicants from those universities. They don’t hold presentations at ex-polytechnics because they don’t want applicants from those universities.

It’s easy to think that those presentations are for the students, but in reality they’re not. They’re for the recruiters.

It’s also easy to think that those presentations give some sort of advantage to those who attend them and ‘network’. But in reality, this isn’t really the case. The firms giving those presentations don’t give out any secret knowledge or insights into the application process which they don’t already share on their websites. Further, if students have any burning questions about the application process they can get them answered simply by emailing/phoning the firm in question.

The purported advantage of law fairs is that they help applicants choose BETWEEN different firms. The theory goes that by talking to people on the different stalls, candidates can get a feel for the different cultures in different firms. They can ask about career progression, and experiences and the social life etc – things which one cannot really glean from websites.

Personally, I think that even the ‘culture’ thing is pretty dubious. One or two HR representatives and a recent trainee are hardly representative of the firm as a whole and, in any event, they will inevitably be spewing the ‘party line’.

However, the fact is that the law fair won’t help you get a TC. Rather, it might help you choose where to apply and, if lucky enough to get more than one offer, which to accept.

In the rare event that a candidate does get a genuine advantage from attending a law fair (e.g. an instant interview there-and-then, which they would otherwise have to formally apply for) that’s not because the law firm held a presentation in Oxford rather than Lincoln. Rather, it’s because the firm wants candidates from the University of Oxford and doesn’t really care about candidates from the University of Lincoln. The prejudice would exist regardless of where the law fair is held.

In other words, law fairs have very little to do with anything.

(35)(2)

Anonymous

I agree with your comments about the pointlessness of law fairs wherever they’re held.

But why do firms prefer to attend Oxbridge and RG universities? Perhaps because the chances of meeting and presenting to clever and capable future trainees is higher than at other universities?

You slipped in “prejudice”. But I think you really mean “preference”. Firms are prejudiced towards better universities in the same way that clients are prejudiced towards better firms, or judges are prejudiced towards better evidence.

There are plenty of things wrong with the path to practice but firms and chambers seeking high quality applicants isn’t one of them.

(18)(2)

Capaldi

This response is so on point it almost punctured my kidneys.

(19)(0)

Anonymous

I attended an ex-poly and it was made quite clear from the attitude of the teaching staff and the careers team that bagging a TC at any firm (let alone a city firm) would be pretty difficult if not impossible to achieve for us plebs, that did not stop them pushing the LPC on to most of my cohort. From memory only one girl out of the entire year bagged a TC at a regional firm (having gained a first class degree) – pretty poor statistics, but definitely reflective of the ability of most of my fellow graduates.

I took a different route into practice and after 5 years in the construction industry, took the LPC and gained a TC at a international firm in the City. I am now a senior associate working in Sydney, Australia and can safely say, that my three years at university did not help my career in any way.

(24)(1)

Sydneysider

It’s this kind of stuff that LC should write about, not the usual semi-literate shyte Katie keeps churning out.

Hat-tip to you good sir.

(6)(0)

Anonymous

If you’re as great as you think you are, your application should surely outshine the ‘plebs’.

(5)(0)

Yesitstrue

I teach law at a long respected institution which is easily accessible to adult and other non traditional learners. Until recently, this institution “bought in” their content from a long respected post graduate provider. While the quality of that course was superb, that relationship came to a close.

Now my institution creates their own content. No doubt that costs less than buying it in.

Since the creation of its own content, students are being sold half-baked, online only goods. Some students don’t receive any face to face contact, and they’re fuming as nobody ever told them this would be the case.

Lecturer morale (and pay) is rock bottom. Yet those at board level are coining it.

I used to be proud to teach “gentlemen learners” (those taking the course out of pure interest) & helping career changers on their way. These days, I know I’m playing a part in a sub standard pile it high and sell it cheap factory.

You want to read for a LLB? Be aware there’s likely to be a clash between your dreams and your provider’s utter piss take.

(42)(0)

Anonymous

You know LC comments are anonymous right? You can freely name and shame.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Smells like University of Lol to me.

(6)(1)

Anonymous

I was a pupil at this institution and was migrated from the old LLB onto the new one and yes, it was and probably still is worse than an incoherent GCSE level shambles. I refused to put good money after bad and complained to my tutor and mentioned another tutor felt the same but was fobbed off. That institution has lost a lot of respect in my eyes and ultimately if the prospective lawyers produced are of a poor standard, the course will eventually stop running. Whoever rushed through the course MUST be held to account, they’re mis-selling a course.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Care to spill the name of this institution? Otherwise you’re not helping anyone.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Open University obviously who used to buy content from College of Law (can never call it a Uni)

(10)(1)

Anonymous

Far too many people do law degrees. Far too many people are sold on an unattainable dream pushed on people who simply are not good enough. Schools and universities should be more honest and students should be more honest with themselves.

(32)(0)

Pantman

This isn’t just a problem with law, it’s the whole education, money-making bandwagon. There are far too many people taught to degree level who end up doing relatively menial jobs and/or jobs unconnected to the subject they studied. Now you need be a graduate to be a manager at Tesco, a generation ago a couple of O-levels would have done.

(20)(0)

Anonymous

“unattainable dream”? Being a solicitor? Really?

My unattainable dreams are to race Formula 1, marry a supermodel and walk on the moon.

Being obsequious around businessmen and pretending to enjoy reading their wretched contracts, not so much.

(29)(1)

Another anonymous

Point is – even that “dream” (as poxy as you have adroitly framed it) is unattainable.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

That’s some dream right there. I dream that when I grow up I’m gonna be a partner at Jones Day.

(4)(3)

Previously Legal

While I am sympathetic to the scary levels of debt facing students, I think it is disingenuous of law students in particular to complain about the ‘return on investment’ offered. Leaving aside the uncertainties of any three-year options for investing, let’s say £50k (incl living costs, books, etc), taking this consumerist viewpoint raises the need to research before committing resources. A few minutes, let alone a day, using sources such as LC will quickly lay out the uncertainties in aiming for TCs/pupillages in general, alongside the teaching hours, employment outcomes, library spend, facilities, etc, available at specific LLB providers. Don’t start talking like an investor if you aren’t prepared to put in the effort of behaving like a real one.

(15)(1)

Female lawyer

The idea that more contact hours equals better value for money is naive and over-simplistic. The important thing is that teachers are engaged, and deliver teaching that effectively guides students through the content they need to know and gives them the tools to develop their own ideas and research. This isn’t best done by hours on end spent in a classroom or lecture-hall — at university level the most value is going to come out of a student’s own time spent getting to grips with the materials. Good teaching is vital, but excessive contact time is going to cut into a student’s ability to actually get on with learning anything, not enhance it.

(17)(3)

Anonymous

“It’s the doors that a law degree opens for me in the future that make it fantastic value for money.”

So much more is factored in besides what you studied, and where you studied. My LLB, LLM and BPTC didn’t open shit to me. But that might be because I’m an asshole.

(20)(0)

Anonymous

Alan, is that you?

(8)(0)

Look elsewhere!

As a private institution LSBM charge 6K a year for their QLD LLB which can be completed in 2yrs. They have a minimum of 12 hours contact on the 3yr LLB and 15 hours on the 2yr accelerated, with additional hours for personal tutoring and academic support (which are timetabled). they are fairly new but have an excellent QAA review (check their website). they are also CIlex accredited! So there are alternatives even in the heart of London!

(2)(7)

Anonymous

Yes, there are options, but those LSBM degrees appear to be accredited by the University of Northampton which is not particularly well ranked: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Northampton#Reputation_and_rankings

(1)(2)

A realist employer

If you believe in rankings are important in order to further your career, you are barking mad! I’ve yet to meet an employer who says, you seem like someone we want/don’t want because of where you got your degree (with perhaps the exception of Oxbridge!)

(7)(5)

Anonymous

It’s not the rankings, but it’s what they reflect. Perhaps an LLB from a poor quality uni will get you to where you want to go, but where I work it wouldn’t get you in the door.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Really I’m sure your employer would love to hear that…who are they?

(1)(0)

Big dong law dude

Skadden, brah. An employer that pays me more in a year than the value of the house you currently rent.

(3)(7)

Anonymous

US firm in the City.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Your degree might not get you in front of employers in the first place!

(2)(0)

Anonymous

I’m glad to see all that legal research didn’t go to waste at your top rated Uni, Wikipedia always the best tool to use for the aspiring laywer!

(3)(4)

Anonymous

Where Wikipedia references and sets out reputable third-party information, then pointing to it as a short-cut to that information is perfectly fine. Yes, I made an assumption that the ranking information in Wikipedia is correct, but that’s not an unreasonable assumption – and it’s only for Legal Cheek after all.

(7)(1)

Anonymous

Yep, that sure is some quality institution, this LSBM. Thanks for the marketing puff mate.

(7)(0)

Anonymous

I love the complaints about cross subsidisation of courses. Is this not an hallmark of the youth today. Spread the wealth around. Social Justice? etc. etc.

Why should law students have to pay £4,500 and have other courses cost, say, £15k, if both can costs £9-10k, if the burden is shared collectively?

Oh I forgot, they only want to share the burden when they are taking from others and not when they are doing the giving.

(9)(2)

Not Amused

Many of the universities currently offering law degrees should not be offering law degrees.

But the best way of solving the problem is either:

1) Government intervention to limit university places (this will not happen despite the desperate need for genuine Trade and Technology Colleges).
2) Nationalise university standards and unify degree grades and exams taken. This would instantly expose many institutions for what they are.

The issue appears to be political. It is not dissimilar to the Grammar Schools debate. I do not believe I am inherently right wing, but I feel I am pushed in to supporting the right by the utter dishonesty of the left (particularly on education and social mobility). We have chronic problems which we all ‘know’ yet apparently we have all decided to lie and pretend either that the problems are not problems or that there are no solutions.

There quite clearly are some incredibly simple solutions.

(17)(5)

Bumblebee

Ha! NA claiming that he or she doesn’t consider him-/herself as inherently right wing…

It’s like Bruce Forsyth stating that he doesn’t consider himself to be inherently old…

(23)(3)

Anonymous

Actually, nationalisation (intervention of government) is a ‘left-wing’ policy while decentralisation is usually a ‘right-wing’ policy. Laissez-faire utilitarianism and all that…

Agree though that there needs to be an increase in accountability in the further education sector because institutions can say & do what they want to lure in prospective students and their money and then provide sub-standard materials and guidance.

(2)(0)

Doc Litevsky

O my! A coherent thread in English, on song all the way through, with no gratuitous abuse. Well done chaps and chapettes.
There are ways and means to still obtain law degrees and post grad courses for free in the UK.
But one needs to have more smarts than are on this thread. And I ain’t gonna just tell everyone for free.

(0)(3)

Anonymous

Let’s be honest: if you can read and write, you can be a lawyer. For all the profession’s grandstanding, the actual process of being a lawyer (or at least a solicitor, which is what I am) is pretty simple. Medical schools are justified in charging a lot, in my opinion, because they teach you so many different skills, most of which involve expensive physical equipment. Law schools teach you no real skills, as the only real skill you need – to communicate with your clients – is one that presumably everyone has long before they study law.

So no, I don’t believe law colleges are justified in charging these amounts, especially considering that there are far too many people studying law, and the colleges just keep taking on more people (and their money) with no concern for their future.

(7)(6)

Rotund of Counsel

Given the extent to which self-study is expected of law students, perhaps one should be able to enter oneself for the exams upon payment of a modest fee, without availing oneself of the teaching?

(10)(0)

Anonymous

Or perhaps it’s the university experience itself which people are paying for, not just the qualification or the idea that exam results accurately capture a person’s depth of learning or interest in a subject?

(1)(4)

Anonymous

The SRA is way ahead of you. The fee for the SQE is unlikely to be modest, however.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

Definitely won’t be more than the ridiculous £14k law schools charge for LPC…

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Now that funding has become available for Masters degrees, I think we will see those prices increase a lot in the next year or two, just because students will have access to cash and the universities will push for students to gain further qualifications to better their prospects.

When I completed my GDL in 2013 the fee was around £8,000.00, which in my opinion was great considering the intensity of that course and the amount of contact hours. I can see why you would be aggrieved paying £9,000.00 per year for what is effectively half of the GDL (3/4 modules).

(1)(0)

Anonymous

If you’re studying at a top law school (read Oxbridge, Kings, LSE, UCL, Bristol, Nottingham, Durham, Warwick, Exeter and a few others) you’re paying 9k per year to basically get a stamp of validation that you are indeed intelligent, which will give you a substantial advantage in the job market. The value of the stamp is slightly higher if you’re at Oxbridge or the London unis perhaps, but if you’re at any of these universities and get a 2.1 you’ll usually be fine.

If you’re not studying at a top law school and have aspirations that extend beyond becoming a high street lawyer (nothing at all wrong with that) then I genuinely think you’re wasting your 9k per year. People will deny it, but a lot of lawyers really do sneer at the “new” universities and you will find very few graduates from them at top firms and chambers. Even if you’re able to get past the sneer factor, the reality is most firms use automatic grade filters requiring AAB at Alevel, which many students at the new universities simply cannot get through.

(12)(0)

Anonymous

Agree with all of this, but I think the ‘top’ law school catchet is too narrow. Not all law firms are as restrictive as the magic circle/silver circle/us law firms etc.

If you go to a top 30-35 university, then you still have a reasonable chance. Yes, you might not get a TC in the magic circle/us law firms, but there’s not much holding you back from a medium sized firm, if you do well.

(4)(0)

QM grad, MC trainee

Hey flog, you forgot to mention QMUL. We shit all over Exeter and Durham in the rankings.

(11)(4)

cantab law student

I skip lectures, have only 3 supervisions every fortnight because i am doing a dissertation and half paper. On average, it would be fair to say my contact time with my supervisors are 4-5 hours every week. Makes my 9k easy money for the uni actually.

(0)(1)

Anonymous

Unfortunately my University life was rather disrupted resulting in a 2.2 from London Met. Seems I burst my own bubble there…

(0)(2)

Anonymous

You never had a chance to start with, you dumb f*ck.

(3)(7)

Anonymous

Tunde Okewale?

(4)(3)

Anonymous

Leave Tunde alone you wanker…

(4)(2)

Anonymous

Hi Tundz

(3)(2)

Tyrion

Woke up this morning, hit the gym then ate some eggs. #Blessed.

(8)(1)

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