If You Can’t Go To The Best Uni In Town, Should You Find a Smaller Town?

Following last week’s Queen Mary v Durham debate, I received this email from another student.

Would the same dilemma arise if the offer was from UCL rather than Queen Mary? Read my response below.

Respected Mr X,

Thank you for your warm praise on the Queen Mary v Durham article.

It sounds like you’ve already made your mind up: you really like QM and London, so what’s the problem?

Exeter is a decent uni, albeit one that’s tainted by the Oxbridge reject tag, but the town is hardly one of the world’s centres – and so may not be up your street.

As for what the magic circle law firms would prefer, my experience is that they’re as likely to recruit from QM as Exeter. It’s the mid-tier City firms and big regional outfits that tend to have more prejudice in favour of “traditional” unis.

Although neither you nor the student whose email I responded to last week mention it, one of the issues in the QM v regional university debate seems to be a concern that QM is inferior to the other London unis – UCL, LSE and King’s College.

Based on the Guardian’s rankings, QM outranks all but UCL for law, but as rising star barrister Adam Wagner commented last week:

“I wonder how many Chambers/law firms keep a copy of the Times [or Guardian] rankings by job application sifters’ sides. I expect most of them just apply their own prejudices.”

And the reality is that UCL and LSE, at least, have a more prestigious reputation than QM.

That isn’t to say that QM isn’t well-regarded. It is, but you’ll have to live with the fact that mention of it won’t elicit as many admiring looks as the other top London uni law schools. How important is that to you?

In a one-university town like Exeter, you’d have no such concerns.


Want some advice on legal education or training contract/pupillage applications? Email alex@legalcheek.com.

Last week, a student asked QM v Durham? Below is what she decided.



As with the student who wriote in last week I would advise on the more traditional choice. It is playing it safe but that is the reality with law I am afraid. Also, Exeter is a lovely town with plenty of “buzz” and London can be a lonely place


Personally, in this context I don’t buy the argument that London is a lonely place. It might be lonely if you’re upping sticks to start a new job in the city, but when you’re surrounded by thousands of your peers (sharing a campus with them in QMUL’s case), it’s anything but.

I’d also have thought that the myriad benefits to an aspiring lawyer of living in London vastly outweigh any of the perceived differences in academic prestige. It’s a little while since I did my own research into law schools, but despite casting a pretty wide net, I can’t say Exeter even appeared on my radar.

I’d choose QMUL hands down.


As a person who has grown up in London and experienced life as a student in the capital, it is a lonely place to be. It’s expensive, the libraries of the law schools are often quite a distance away, making revision or just going to get that one book a mission. QM, though, is a campus university, and if given the choice, QM would be my most favoured London law school. But we can’t look past QM’s reputation as a rising star, it’s not quite solidified in its place in the rankings.

In this situation, I would take Exeter.

James G

To the aspiring lawyer:

If you are concerned about improving your chances of getting into the MC, Exeter is the better choice than QMUL. Yes, we have all seen QM’s rise up the league tables for law, but the fact remains that it is not terribly well respected in other areas, and you can be assured that the HR gremlins at the Magic Circle and other (read: nearly all) City firms are going to have their list of Universities that they will tag. Exeter is increasingly amongst these, QMUL is not.

In any case, the most important factor in any decision and the utility of your education (notwithstanding whatever ‘prestige’ your University’s name has) is the ability and achievement of the student. I would however suggest that QMUL still does get looked down upon in the legal profession. I don’t think it is terribly fair, but the truth is that lawyers tend to be very old-fashioned sorts of people and are not tremendously receptive to change. Especially in the City, where you will forever be cast down amongst the sodomites and the heathens for having not been an Oxbridge student, you might prefer to go a University that is becoming an increasingly popular choice for HR.

If, however, you are more concerned about the actual quality of education, I would submit that QMUL is the better institution. Their law school seems vastly more independent of the University itself (unlike at Exeter, where the school of law has been merged into the School of Social Sciences or something like that, losing its autonomy in the process) and you will also have access to the substantial resources of the University of London Federation. They might be a jog to get to you, but I can pretty much guarantee that you will never, ever find that there is an article, textbook, or case report that you cannot find in the UoL system, simply as a result of there being so many well-stocked libaries available to you.

With that being said however, do keep in mind that one of the star lecturers at QMUL law school (Alisdair Hudson) is purportedly moving to take up a spot at Exeter – and I assure you, he is a truly great trusts lecturer.

Make your choice wisely however, but keep in mind that you want to have fun at Uni and not bleed money the entire time. For a small, regional town, cost of living is not terribly cheap in Exeter, but it is far better than you would get in London.

Yours faithfully,

J (former Exeter (law) student and UoL postgraduate)


@James How come Alastair Hudson is leaving? Would you mind sharing your source? When will this happen?


As a final year at QM, there are a couple of insights I can offer.

Firstly, London can be a lonely place…or it can be the exact opposite. It is what you make of it, and that will be the same for Exeter too. However, it is undeniable that London is a very expensive city to live in. Many students do find it necessary to get a job to support themselves, and balancing that against your studies can be difficult.

Both universities are ranked highly and can no doubt boast some leading academics, prestigious alumni etc. However, these facts will not get you a job alone. I’m not sure what Exeter offers in the way of pro-bono and general CV enhancing activities, but this should be something you take into account. What matters in the job market these days is a good grade (2:1 minimum) and something else that makes you “stand out”. Thus, whatever opportunities you are offered, make sure you take advantage of them. This includes sport as well as legal activities – a variety will allow you to add character to your CV and is less likely to bore potential interviewers.

As I said, I’m coming to the end of my degree. Luckily for me I have a training contract at one of the city firms. I can’t offer you much insight on the situation if you want to go to the bar, but from what I know of other people in my year group and the year below who have just gone through the vac scheme application phase, I wouldn’t say QM students have much difficulty getting interviews.

On the Alastair Hudson point – he is a great equity lecturer, but podcasts of his lectures are available on youtube and his website (I know this having watched/listened to them extensively this time last year) so whichever institution you choose, you’ll still be able to learn from him!


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