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Scrap law degrees, urges top QC

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Courtenay Griffiths wants legal education to be postgraduate only

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A top QC has blasted the UK’s approach to legal education — calling for law degrees to be scrapped.

Courtenay Griffiths QC has spoken out against the traditional LLB-route into the profession, describing the study of law as “a waste of time”.

Speaking to the blog Legal Hackette, the criminal barrister — who represented former Liberian president Charles Taylor in the infamous blood diamonds trial, featuring model Naomi Campbell — describes his decision to turn down a place to study history at Oxford as “the biggest mistake” he has ever made.

As a first-generation university student, Griffiths didn’t know that a law degree was not a necessary component to practising law.

The 25 Bedford Row man went on to study law at LSE. He recalls hating the subject, and instead wishes that he’d studied a degree that he would’ve enjoyed, and then gone on to complete the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). He asks rhetorically:

Why bore yourself for three years when you can bore yourself for one year and be in the same position?

Griffiths goes on to explain that a student’s ability to be a good advocate doesn’t hinge on their ability to remember the legal facts taught at university. Research skills are much more important.

A law degree, he says, is “the least useful tool” in making decisions about witness handling, and suggests that criminal practitioners would benefit instead from studying psychology, psychiatry, sociology, or politics.

Griffiths — who was described as the star of the Charles Taylor case by the Evening Standard — calls for a shake-up in the way that the UK trains its lawyers, and for law to be exclusively a postgraduate course.

In doing so, he seems to be proposing a barrister equivalent of the combined law degree and Legal Practice Course (LPC) solicitor super-exam that is currently being touted by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

The super-exam would bypass the need to do an LLB, but at present is only being proposed for solicitors.

But, if and until his suggestions are taken on board, the silk’s advice to wannabe-barristers is to learn how to play the game.

Apply to good universities for courses with lower entry requirements, Griffiths says, instead of applying to study law at a low ranking university. The bar is, he states, again becoming an elitist profession. 60% of barristers are drawn from ten top university law schools, so “getting a law degree from a former polytechnic may be a complete waste of time if you want to enter the profession”.

He reckons that it is better, therefore, to edge your way in to these top universities via a course other than law, because:

You come out with the caché of an Oxbridge degree. So that if you then do the one-year GDL it’s difficult to distinguish between you and those who have done law at those institutions.

39 Comments

Not Amused

And the disproportionately negative impact this would have on the poor?

We’re not going to notice/mention that?

(25)(11)

What the ****

Aren’t we all bored yet of bleating on about “the poor”? These days you can’t raise any topic before some lefty moonbat starts whining about it all comes back to “the poor”.

(14)(39)

Not Amused

“Aren’t we all bored yet of bleating on about “the poor”? These days you can’t raise any topic before some lefty moonbat starts whining about it all comes back to “the poor”.”

Ensuring social mobility is a key value of the right and anyone who is economically literate.

Poor born young people now face a £27,000 cost for a law degree. Any move which increases that cost will inevitably put off poor born young people. Very few of our nation’s children are rich born.

Children are not born in to families based upon merit.

So any policy which hurts poor born or middle income born children will inevitably also hurt merit. Any industry which slides away from meritocracy will, in a global competitive market, inevitably fail. Law as an industry in the UK is currently successful, but it has clear international competitors. If we weaken UK law then our competitors will succeed.

Now I can understand why a criminal barrister, who is essentially a public sector worker and who is therefore not exposed to market concerns might not have thought through this proposition. I can also understand why a criminal lawyer might argue that learning the law is not very important (their job is fact handling not law). What I can’t understand is why someone opposed to the ‘left’ would be so unable to understand the importance of meritocracy and social mobility.

Every child born poor is a future tax payer. If we stifle their development. If we change systems and processes in such a way as to hurt or disadvantage poor born children then in the future there will be less tax paid.

(13)(6)

Anonymous

“What I can’t understand is why someone opposed to the ‘left’ would be so unable to understand the importance of meritocracy and social mobility.”

Well, generally the right aren’t concerned with those things. You’re an exception.

(4)(4)

Not Amused

“Well, generally the right aren’t concerned with those things. You’re an exception.”

It’s sad you think that because it isn’t true.

The right are present in quite a lot of social mobility spheres: from teachers, academics to heads of social mobility charities. There has been a tolerance of a certain element in the left pushing a narrative that only they ‘care’ for too long – but that element of the left is the discredited element who spit on people. Most decent lefties recognise that there are supporters of social mobility from all hues of the political spectrum.

(6)(5)

omfg

Seriously, your ‘poor born children’ phrase is a disgrace to the English language.

(9)(3)

Calm down

Let us not forget the student loan system under which students only make repayments in line with income, in addition to non-repayable maintenance grants for poorer students.

Accordingly, I think it absurd that anyone can claim the cost of a degree is a barrier to entry to the legal profession for those from lower income backgrounds.

(1)(3)

Anonymous

I chose not to go to University. My choice perhaps a poor one, perhaps not but I have to had to live with the consequences of that decision.
I am not aware of any law that prevents “poor” people from attending university, I actually thought they were asked to pay for their education like “rich” people. I also understand that a loan is available at interest rates considerably lower than the open market and with extremely generous repayment terms.
Surely this is an investment by them in their own future. The pay-off is a lucrative career….if it isn’t, don’t do it! Nobody should enter university unless they have the conviction in their own ability to perform at a high level, excel in their chosen field of study and then build a career.
If you want a three or four year break from any meaningful life and spend your days and nights fannying around with your friends, great, just don’t expect anyone else to pay for it.
Going to university is a choice made by adults over the age of 18….take the decision responsibly.

(4)(7)

Not Amused

I understand your feelings. I sympathise. But your feelings will harm you if you give in to them.

The poor born child makes the decision to go or not to go to university at 17. Not 18. Is that difference relevant? I do not think so, because if they made the decision a year later then they would still be monumentally badly I formed.

Whether the human child, born poor, is forced to make such a crucial decision at 17 or at 18 is irrelevant if they are badly informed. Are they badly informed? Well we know the government admits career guidance in state schools is shit. I went through it, I can tell you it is poor. We know that the bad universities are full – who are they full of?

Your own personal frustration is understandable and I sympathise with you. But to pretend that human children, born poor, never educated in these choices, actively mislead in these choices, make “free” decisions is a lie.

Oxbridge would be full of poor born kids if they applied.

(0)(2)

What the ****

“I found a Law degree boring and useless and therefore everyone does. I speak for everyone”

Yep, he’s a QC.

(54)(1)

Quo Vadis

Three years for a law degree is far too long. There is little need for a practising lawyer to study Nicomachean ethics, Roman law, or any of the other bogus topics thrown in as filler. On the other hand, the one-year GDL is far too short. Many crucial topics are not covered on the GDL (family law, employment law, international law) and must be shunted onto the LPC/BPTC, further inflating their already ridiculous fees.

In my view, the best option would be to have two years of a liberal arts education, allowing students to hone their skills and decide upon a future career – then, if they choose it, two further years of law perhaps including the LPC/BPTC equivalent.

(7)(13)

deleted

How about media law, international law, commercial law, advanced public law, tax law, medical law? There are masses of very useful electives and a law degree helps students feel out what area they might be interested in before really diving into a legal career. Just because you had crap electives, doesn’t mean we all did. The fact that I was able to study PIL and advanced PIL at uni led me to know exactly what I wanted to be doing, in an area that GDL graduates have literally no understanding of and kick started my career. And I enjoyed all my other subjects too (apart from T&E). There is immense value in doing lots of electives in diverse areas of law.

(15)(2)

Anonymous

I didn’t study a law degree because I wanted to be a lawyer. I did it because I anticipated it would be an interesting subject to study academically for three years, which is of course the purpose of an undergraduate degree.

The proposition that a law degree is a waste of time is an easy one to make, firstly, with the benefit of hindsight, and secondly, under the mistaken assumption that going on to practise law is the sole reason for taking a law degree.

Yes, I ended up as a solicitor, but I don’t regret the route I took.

(14)(1)

Anonymous

Thanks for posting a more positive picture for year 1 LLB students; especially after reading the QC comments regarding a law degree being a waste of time. I am in year 1 of the LLB program. Cheers!

(2)(0)

Anonymous

I didn’t study Nicomachean ethics or Roman law on my LL.B. In fact, I would say there was little, if any, ‘filler’ and the course was incredibly well-structured.

In response to this QC – I am somewhat disheartened that a QC considers a three year law degree boring. Obviously it’s rare for someone to enjoy ALL areas of law and will naturally find some modules less interesting than others but in my own experience most students on the 3 year degree enjoy studying law and find it interesting overall.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Totally agree.

It’s merely a procedure where you scratch the surface of a preponderance of topics.

Learnt much more in practice in one year than I did in three at university.

(0)(12)

Kuzka's Mother

Well that approach worked for me (undergrad in unrelated subject from top-10 redbrick, GDL from lower ranked uni) but it’s a bit of a stretch to say that it would work for everyone.

(1)(2)

Boh Dear

“MAN FINDS LAW DEGREE BORING – DEMANDS IT BE ABOLISHED”

I did law, thoroughly enjoyed it and found researching statute and case law surprisingly good practice for researching statute and case law.

(50)(1)

Anonymous

It isn’t novel to suggest that there are better ways of preparing to practice law than doing a law degree.

I did modern languages at a poly, then converted. Admittedly the cost was lower in those days, but I found law only became interesting once I started to practice it.

The cost nowadays is significant – but perhaps the answer is to do a combined honours degree, doing the essential law modules but with the rest of the time devoted to something more interesting?

(0)(6)

Anonymous

This assumes that everyone would find the law degree boring. Actually, as people have mentioned above, large areas of it are incredibly interesting – PIL, public law, criminal law, IT law and even company law were very interesting.

Just because he didn’t enjoy it or couldn’t hack it, doesn’t mean that others don’t enjoy it as a degree. The applicability to jobs is irrelevant.

(8)(0)

Armitage Shanks

I loved my law degree. I use the knowledge gained every day.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

I hated my law degree, despite being a barrister now.

I’m right behind Courtenay on this.

(1)(8)

Sandman

The idea that another degree would give somebody more practical skills of being a lawyer is ludicrous. Most degrees are pretty pointless when all is said and done.

If you think at the age of 17 that you want to be a lawyer, then a law degree is the quicker and cheaper route than another degree plus GDL. If you want to get some practical skills then go and do something practical in your evenings / holidays / free periods / year out. A Sociology or Politics degree just ain’t going to do that.

I did the GDL and although it did not go into great depth, and although the exams were little more than a marathon series of memorisation exercises, it did at least give me a good grounding in the core subjects.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

Silly to argue it gives you more skills, but maybe more worldly knowledge and general enjoyment.

I always wish I’d done History rather than Law. I probably spent more time reading history books during my law degree than law ones, and hardly ever read a case from start to finish during my degree.

(2)(3)

Anonymous

“Doing law from a former polytechnic is a complete waste of time” – well then? Tesco or Asda?

(1)(0)

Seamus

How about we keep the current system, and inform students of the potential pros and cons of both routes, rather than force their hands? That way we can let young people make, ya know, an informed personal decision.

The comments on this thread alone (“I loved my law degree” vs. “I hated my law degree”) suggest that different people enjoy different things. The current academic system ain’t broken, so it doesn’t need fixing. The vocational stage, however…

(3)(0)

LLB COMPO BOY

Utter tripe from a tripe monger.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Do LSE law students not do legal research or something?

(5)(0)

Anonymous

There’s no need for legal research at Goldman Sachs

(7)(0)

Anonymous

He shouldn’t blame the world for the fact he didn’t do his homework when choosing degrees.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Law degrees are great.

Its the tedious constant-one-upping students doing the degree which makes it unpleasant.

(13)(0)

Current QC

Saying that a Law degree should only be post-graduate forgets all those who study law but never plan to get a job within it.

A law degree needn’t necessarily be vocational – thousands (I for one) took the degree as I found the subject to be of interest. Only later did I decide to pursue the Bar as a career.

Lots of people take the degree simply as a degree – not as a stepping stone on a career path.

(6)(0)

Anonymous

A law degree involves study of the philosophy behind the legal rules. Very interesting to study even if it is not useful for practice (I think it is). A law degree is no different to any other degree – study if you find it interesting and enjoyable but not essential if all you want is a career in law but have no interest in studying the law.

(0)(0)

Left the Bar

I DON’T LIKE DRIVING MY FORD ESCORT. BAN ALL FORDS SO NO ONE ELSE CAN DRIVE THEM.

Idiot.

Rubbish advice for potential civil barristers in particular, who’ll gain a lot from reading law at university.

Let people make their own decisions. Some enjoy law as an academic subject and/or would rather not pay several thousand pounds extra to do the GDL.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Dear Left the bar,
Your comment has me laughing to tears..Ban all Ford Escort, I say! Love it!

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Very odd suggestion. Students currently have two options: take the LLB or GDL. Why would it be a good idea to take away one of those two options? If anyone wants to only study law at postgraduate level and take a subject they are more interested in at undergraduate level then they are able to do that now. Scrapping the LLB would only mean that those who want to study the law (and especially the theory behind law) would be worse off. I think people should have as much option as possible.

He also seems to think a law degree is more competitive to get admission to. That only shows its popularity. Of course, it may be a good idea for less intelligent people to study history/classics at Oxbridge and do the GDL instead, but for those bright enough to do a law degree at Oxbridge/London, there is no reason why they should have that choice taken away from that.

If this QC found the law degree boring then that really only shows he was only interested in practice and not study of law. Many people are interested in both.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

There seems to be an assumption that Courtney Griffiths comes from a privileged background. Some years ago I attended a graduation ceremony at Coventry University – formerly Lanchester Poly- where he was being receiving an honourary doctorate. He entered pushing his mother in a wheelchair, proud of her working history as a cleaner in that polytechnic. As a fellow member of the “working poor” class, and having qualified in the way he advocates – a History and Politics degree, followed years later by a part-time CPE, and excruciatingly expensive LSF, I do see the benefits that such a broader approach gives to any lawyer.

(3)(0)

bb

“I found a Law degree boring and useless ” maybe the money only was the attraction to law?

(0)(1)

Anonymous

It’s a pity that some senior lawyers forget what they learned in law degree. No wonder it was boring if you just saw it as facts (most go out of date quickly anyway) instead of a way of thinking, understanding, reading cases, spotting the social relevance etc etc etc. Presumably the next proposal will be to scrap the reading by primary children of Janet & John style books – why waste the time, go straight to the more advance stuff. Oh wait, they won’t be able to read. The law degree is a central part of the process of *becoming* a lawyer – great idea if the BSB follows the SRA and turn English legal practice into the laughing stock of the World – hardly any study, pass a few exams, hey presto you are a lawyer (or would that be a bricklayer or a carpenter – no disrespect to these valuable occupations, but the aren’t professions as traditionally understood and law will soon be joining them).

(0)(0)

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