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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.