‘The Prestige Factor’: Queen Mary or Durham For Law?

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By Alex Aldridge on

Last week I received this email from a student:

“The prestige factor” is a major concern for law students. Read my response below…


I asked Jack Harris why Queen Mary is good, and this is what he told me (via text):

“Only campus university in London – higher ranked law school [than Durham] – just become Russell Group – loads of pro bono opportunities – research intensive, hard-working but friendly atmosphere – academics can teach as well as research – great social life – warmer, have heard Durham can get quite chilly.”

On the basis of Durham’s reputation, and 7th spot ranking in the Guardian’s list of top university law schools (QM came in at 4th), it’s obviously a good place to study. Certainly, the law firm recruiters I know seem to like it. The fact that Durham requires its students to sit the LNAT exam – something QM doesn’t ask for – also gives it kudos.

The downside of a traditional place like Durham which is organised around colleges is that its alumni will always be scarred by the Oxbridge reject tag. Why go to Durham if you made it into Oxford or Cambridge?

QM, on the other hand, has a reputation for being deliberately different, with a strong emphasis on clinical legal education (studying law through conducting pro bono work). It may be that in reality what you learn is pretty similar to Durham, but perceptions count in law.

The other advantage QM has is its location in London. You’re right about the importance of making connections, and from my experience students who go to uni in London do better in that respect because they’re around where most of the action is.

So in London you’ll find that lots of tutors have links to top chambers and law firms, and that work experience is that bit easier to line up as a result. Plus the range of events you get to attend will be better, and the calibre of speakers at those events generally higher.

It comes down, then, to traditional prestige versus better exposure and contacts. The top regional outfits would probably prefer the former, while the London law firms and barristers’ chambers which pride themselves on their supposed progressiveness would be more drawn the latter.

The main thing, though, is to get a top grade at uni once you get there as the real differentiating factor these days is first class degrees. And to do that it helps if you go somewhere you fit in and feel happy. QM is notoriously hipster, while Durham is infamously Sloaney. Which is more you?


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