A Northerner in London: Why the capital is the best place to study law in the world
Surviving off of law firm white wine and canapés like a privileged Bear Grylls
‘To study in London, or not to study in London?’
That is the question plaguing any budding law student worth their colour coded ring-binders. The battle between career prospects and costs of living has been a hard-fought one, and continues to rage today in the comment sections of Legal Cheek. Here’s my take on it and why, with the benefit of hindsight, I wouldn’t have picked any other city in the world to study in.
It’s no secret that law students are nearly always careers sharks. Indeed, I’ve yet to meet someone who studies land law purely for the fun of it. After three long years of reading cases concerning everything from disputes over swimming pool depths to sadomasochistic bondage groups — we’re looking to be remunerated.
Cue London’s most obvious advantage: easy access to chambers and firms. Studying in the Big Smoke exposes you to legal London from day one. Every day on my walk to LSE I pass Freshfields, Temple and the High Court. Throughout a very busy two weeks in first term, I attended every firm open evening that I physically could — surviving off of white wine and canapés like a privileged Bear Grylls. For me, that exposure was invaluable, for when I first arrived I found everything about the mystical ‘magic circle’ firms (‘goals’ in the law student world) imposing, even their Christmas trees.
For me then, visiting these firms only a month into my course really helped demystify them and definitely calmed my nerves about applying there. It also gave me an excellent chance to visit offices which could become my future working environment and decide whether it was for me. Those experiences were invaluable now that vacation scheme application season has started and will pay dividends if, by some divine intervention, I land interviews. Indeed, it’s quite hard to be intimidated by a firm’s environment when your last memory of it involved having a laugh about LSE100 (for non LSEers, read hell) with an associate over a glass of white.
Fear not though academics, there are also a few educational reasons to study here.
The British Library, with its legal entitlement to receive a copy of every book published or distributed in the United Kingdom, is an incredible place to both research and work. Furthermore, existing as it does as the legal heart of the UK, London is home to some of the brightest minds in the field. Only last week I attended a panel discussion on Professor Conor Gearty’s new book ‘On Fantasy Island: Britain, Europe and Human Rights’. As a public law buff, this was a fantastic experience — sitting in a hall with academics, among others, discussing something so relevant and pressing. Hearing disgruntled ‘Brexiteers’ decry the panel’s bias and promote the will of the people was a particular highlight.
It was briefly alluded to in the last paragraph, but this is where it gets real. Brexit. The one word I haven’t not read on a newspaper’s front page for what must be ten years now.
Back in my day, Jackson v Attorney General was the hot case. However, the Miller case seems ready to replace it. It is one thing to read the case, but to meet groups of angry Leave campaigners demonstrating against the ‘hijacking’ of our democracy and Remain campaigners protesting against racism on the way to my 9am EU law class really highlighted the wider issues at play. It certainly made me think differently when I discussed the case that morning.
Sadly it’s not all gravy.
The living costs comprise a huge part of the downsides. In my first year, I paid £125 per week for a room just behind the Tate Modern in central London. Combined with the increased maintenance loan you get I was actually left in the ‘green’ at the end. All of this with a view of the Shard to boot. Not bad you might say… but I shared a room. A room. Don’t get me wrong, I got on with the guy and we had a good laugh — but when he was Skyping his parents at 3am from his bed (which lay a mere arm span away from me) and I had a 9am criminal law lecture to attend, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think twice about it all. Furthermore, the inner Northerner has always suffered, and probably always will suffer, with palpitations when I pay more than £3.50 for a pint (not a hard thing to do in London).
However, if you do enough exploring you can find a few gems: cafés that serve reasonably priced good food and pubs serving drinks that won’t force your mum and dad to remortgage their house.
My other gripe is the amount of public transport I have to take to get just about anywhere. Having lived in Liverpool for four years before coming to London, I was accustomed to being able to walk to anything in the city. This, as I found out, is not the case in London. On a map, central London doesn’t look that big, at least I think so. Yet, Hyde Park — the one source of fresh air here — is probably bigger than some towns I’ve lived in; what used to be a five minute walk to get across a high street now feels like five hours. On reflection, this appears slightly more trivial than it seemed before, but nevertheless the Underground’s full of people coughing and, being the germ freak that I am, that’s a fundamental issue.
Josh Dowson is a second year law student at the London School of Economics.