Help or hindrance: Legal Cheek investigates the value of this ‘soft’ subject
“Raise your hand if you’ve studied law A-level,” said the head of my LLB course at my first ever university lecture. “If your hand is raised, now is the time to forget everything you learnt.”
One of only a few to answer his call to action, I’d worried about my 16-year-old self’s A-level choices throughout the university application process. Open day gossip and a few Google searches had convinced me law was a Mickey Mouse qualification admissions teams would sniff at. I was so desperate to secure a decent LLB place, being told to unlearn two years of my life on the first day of my undergrad seemed a welcomed compromise.
To date, there’s little clear guidance for aspiring lawyers on whether A-level law will help or hinder their UCAS applications. Though law schools rarely specify required A-level subjects, a 2008 Policy Exchange report blacklisted law as a “soft subject”. To pull out one of its interesting, but typical, findings, the report states:
More than four times as many A-levels were accepted in French at Warwick University (331) as in law (82). Law is more popular than French at A-level in schools.
“A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing,” the report notes, and I think that was the driving force behind my law lecturer’s plea. Though syllabuses hinge on sixth forms’ and colleges’ preferred exam board, law A-level doesn’t come close to the intellectual rigour associated with its undergraduate counterpart. Perhaps punting for law A-level over a ‘harder’ subject like maths gives little more than a watered down taster of a notoriously difficult degree; a taster that can lull students into a false sense of security.
The experience of Legal Cheek reader Clare — who studied A-level law herself — seems to echo this. She tells us: “I did law A-level after falling in love with it from a six-week taster course in Year 9 at the local college. I went on to do a four-year law and American law degree and honestly hated every second of it.”
Taking the school course, in her opinion, “helped and hindered.” Though she appreciated walking into university with a store of prior knowledge, she says the A-level made her “lazy and lax” in first year. She explains:
For my criminal module I did no work or revision for the exam as I could remember everything from A-level.
Senior solicitor Danielle sees her law studies through a similar lens. She says:
I would say [taking law A-level] helped establish whether I had a genuine interest in key electives that I would go on to study at university as part of my law degree such as contract law and tort, rather than helping in respect of an advantage on subject knowledge.
She adds: “On a more general note, it still resonates with me today how theoretical both A-level law and the law degree are given in reality practice is very different.”
Clare and Danielle’s comments may raise doubts about law A-level’s worth. But from Kirsty’s “I loved my A-level!” to Ellie’s “it was my favourite subject at school”, Legal Cheek has been overwhelmed by readers keen to heap praise onto the course.
Hoda, for one, studied the A-level before starting a Russell Group law degree. She thinks the college course was stimulating, fun, and very recommendable. Interestingly in light of the above comments, she adds:
More importantly and contrary to popular belief, it has prepared me very well for law at degree level, as it gave me a solid understanding of how the legal system in England and Wales operates and the legal problems that can arise in various areas of law. There is also a substantive overlap as some things I had studied at A-level, such as the Human Rights Act 1998, was also something I studied in my first year.
This sentiment is shared by Rachel, now a personal injury paralegal. She tells us: “When I started university I found that the background knowledge I had gained studying A-level law really helped me. I was familiar with the legal terms being used and was able to assist my friends that hadn’t studied A-level law.”
Bar hopeful Ryan agrees. A law degree and masters graduate, he credits law A-level with giving him an insight into the nuts and bolts of the legal system and for piquing his interest at a career crossroads. “It was a fun, fascinating and engrossing outline of a subject which has come, over time, to absorb my life,” he sums up.
And as for me, I ignored my law lecturer’s advice and slept with my A-level law notes on a shelf above my bed for the first year of my LLB. Having a basic understanding of lawmaking and fundamental legal principles gave me confidence in my first few months at university and made my ‘introduction to law’ exam far less daunting. Sure, a law A-level won’t secure you a Cambridge first; nor will a History or Chemistry A-level at that.
Perhaps universities are beginning to realise this too. In most ‘to A-level or not to A-level?’ guidance pieces, a point is made of the London School of Economics listing law A-level as a “non-preferred” subject. LSE has now confirmed this is no longer the case.
An LSE spokesperson told us:
There is no ideal A-level subject combination for students hoping to study law at LSE… We do require that applicants take at least two ‘traditional’ A-levels, and A-level law is considered as one of these.
13 things you’ll only understand if you study A-level law [Legal Cheek]
For all the latest commercial awareness info, and advance notification of Legal Cheek’s careers events, sign up to the Legal Cheek Hub.