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Should I study A-level law if I want to do a law degree?

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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.


Previously:

13 things you’ll only understand if you study A-level law [Legal Cheek]


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42 Comments

Blue Pencil

I studied law at A-Level (syllabus focussed on contract) and found that it gave me a head start in LLB contract law – but otherwise didn’t make much difference.

As for it being a soft subject – the Policy Exchange report is a little elderly so wouldn’t attribute too much weight to it.

Bottom line is – pick A-Levels that you enjoy and will get decent grades in. If law is one such subject – go for it.

(19)(0)

Carpe Jugulum

I agree with this totally. It is better to do subjects you enjoy and will do will in as opposed to ones you won’t enjoy and may struggle in. I think it Is a bit of a myth spread by out of touch school careers advisors that Law Schools don’t like students with A Level Law.

(5)(0)

SingaporeSwing

Completely agree. Do what you enjoy.

And don’t study law as an undergraduate either.

(6)(3)

Commercial Barrister

A Level Law is not necessary. Students should study what they are interested in and likely to do well at. Universities (and to a degree future recruiters) will look first at grades and then at whether the subjects are traditional (and possibly a good fit). English and History are good options. Law will probably be seen as similar to these. Research, evaluative and essay-writing skills will come in handy. No harm in having a science too (logic). Most will not have studied law at A Level and a few will. It might help a little at first but no real advantage and definitely no disadvantage if not. A significant proportion of lawyers do a non-law degree too and later convert.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Agreed. Do the A level if it appeals to you. I did the law A level in 1986 and it gave me a good insight into tort and an overview of the principles of the English legal system. I didn’t see it as a substitute for academic study as a law undergraduate. I was fortunate in that my two law tutors at A level were practicing lawyers (a solicitor and a barrister) who undoubtedly knew more about law as a practical subject than many of the university law lecturers who had never practiced as a lawyer.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Got to love that cute innocence.

(0)(2)

Anonymous

It is one way to test if you like the subject sufficiently to study it for a full three years.

(6)(0)

Corbyn. Symphathiser

I suppose Shakespeare may have meant “the law is an AS level.”

(4)(12)

Anonymous

Terrible.

(3)(1)

Corbyn. Symphathiser

Exits, persued by a Supreme Court bear.

(7)(8)

Interloper

I thought it was quite good and up-thumbed you.

(3)(5)

Corbyn. Symphathiser

Whatever. I don’t need your sympathy thumbs.

(0)(1)

Corbyn. Symphathiser

Excuse me, but this imposter does not speak for me. Thank you for your thumbs up, Interloper. I hope everyone here has a nice day – though I will say I would appreciate not having my identity stolen in future.

(0)(3)

Corbyn. Symphathiser

Excuse ME but THIS imposter does not speak for ME. I revert to my previous comment. I hope everyone has a terrible day.

(0)(1)

Corbyn. Symphathiser

Observant LC readers will note that I rarely, if ever, use ‘all caps’ in my posts, and that I am generally very pleasant (though I will concede to being a bit boisterous on the morning on June 9th), and so may well observe that I am, in fact, the one CS.

Have a good one!

Corbyn. Symphathiser

P.S. Or rather, I should say, I attempt to be very pleasant. I don’t want to blow my own trumpet, and the reader’s experience may vary.

Anonymous

The lady doth protest too much. Just admit that you are having a bad day.

Anon

For myself, I think the AS level was useful in that it gave me a taster of studying law and a basic grounding on how the legal system worked (especially as there was no introductory module on my LLB like those some of my friends got at other universities). With hindsight, I wish I had dropped Law after AS and focused on my other subjects. A2 Law which for me focussed on criminal law gave me very little other than a head start in my LLB criminal law module and little else. However, I enjoyed the subject at the time, I did well in it, and it helped to secure my place at a good university so it didn’t do me any harm either – I don’t think the “soft subject” thing really harms your chances at university so it’s really a personal choice.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

No. It’s not a traditional A Level and isn’t as highly regarded by universities as other subjects, not to mention it being absolutely unecessary for any university degree.

https://www.trin.cam.ac.uk/undergraduate/applying/a-level-subject-combinations/

(2)(1)

Anonymous

“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.”

This is the best quote in the whole article. If there is one thing clients hate in a lawyer, it is being too theoretical and not practical enough.

(4)(0)

Barrister

So true. Being a barrister is quite, quite different from studying academic law. Clients will not appreciate a law essay. Some very smart barristers write terrible advices (e.g. refuse to actually advise but rather set out all the cases in the area).

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Study law for as little time as possible!

(3)(1)

Sleepy lawyer

Very true, the GDL is the best option. The more theory you have the less sense you seem too possess. Law is a way of getting your client to what they want, not an end to itself, in practise

(3)(2)

Anonymous

“I ignored my law lecturer’s advice and slept with my…”

I got so excited when I read that, but was sadly let down.

(11)(1)

Anon

I studied A-Level law and my first year lecturers were speaking to us as though we understood the English Legal System – bearing in mind there were many Canadians and Internationals on our course, I would often be there to define what the lecturer was talking about.

It DEFINTELY helps you understand what is being said, however it may confuse you at some points because the level of teaching at uni is obviously higher, they may possibly know about more complex names/explanations for certain things.

(0)(1)

Carrieann

Angela Merkel avait déjà offert un stylo à Sarkozy avec la remarque « C’est pour voutre colocetiln ».On pourrait y rajouter ce de Pierre Desproges.Michelle Obama a offert une guitare à la chanteuse du palais.On pourrait y rajouter ou par Franziska Martienssen-Lohmann.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Later on nobody will care what subject you studied for A Levels, as long as they were somewhat academic. Do not stress over it and study what you find interesting so that you are motivated and do well.

(0)(0)

Lyza

jury, c’est une marque de civilisation que de laisser ‘divaguer’ ses plus hautes inlsltigences…eneuite le bon sens decidera…des jours comme ca, suis plutot fier d’etre british…

(1)(0)

Anonymous

I didn’t study law at A-Level and it didn’t hinder my performance in my degree at all. I found that studying a subject such as business gave me a head start when it came to company law though – without my A-Level business foundation, I would have struggled with some of the concepts at the beginning of that course.

That being said, I agree with the comments above that you should study subjects that you enjoy and are good at at A-Level rather than law necessarily as you need the grades to get into uni in the first place.

I also taught both GCSE and A-Level law before I began pupillage and found that, in GCSE law especially, it has to be simplified to a degree that means that you’re teaching the “wrong” law as some of the nuances to particular concepts at too complicated at that level, which may hinder you a little at degree level.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

As an aside, it would be helpful if components of A-level law (the very basics) as well as A-level Politics were taught throughout secondary school. It is amazing how many young adults and even grads have no idea how and why the UK is governed.

(7)(0)

Anonymous

It doesn’t matter. Take the subjects which you think you will do best in. 10-15 yeas ago I took Latin to A-level because I thought I was OK at it, but it would “look” more impressive than Classical Civilisation, I didn’t have the option to do Law or Politics. Anyway, I ended up getting a B in it – in hindsight I should have taken CC.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

I would add to my comment something a bit obvious. You pick 4 AS levels and 3 A2 levels usually. Universities just see your AS so offers are based off these. So performance in that 16-17 AS year is the most crucial year re performance of your school education.

At university, degrees are not usually classified on first year results, they do not ‘count’. But law firms recruit using only these for vacation schemes. Vast majority of law firms recruit off these vac schemes taken in easter and summer of second year making offers in early September of your final year. So peversely the first year is the most important year.

So when picking law, it maaaay be a marginally easier subject than e.g. Latin, but if it is a new subject be careful because you have to hit the ground running in your AS year. But to reiterate, take the subjects you will do best in. And take the degree you will do best in. No law firm will discriminate if you do a law degree or not. But they will discriminate on first year results, so better to do History and get good first year results than Law and not do so well.

If you do decide to do a law degree, A-level law may give you a marginally better headstart for your first year. This is not a minor point because the university year runs from October to March, six months, then you break for study leave. It could assist better first year results for sure.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

I’ve just finished the LLB having studied it at A-Level and when I asked one of my fellow coursemates who hadn’t studied A-Level (and this was in my second year of degree study) what the highest court in the UK was, she said it was the High Court… Don’t get me wrong, she is very clever and will probably finish with a 1st, but I really do think A-Level helps with basic information like this. When I asked other friends the same question, they struggled with it too. Plus, there’s no guarantee that I would have chosen to study law at degree if I didn’t do it at A-Level. It hasn’t hindered me in any way

(1)(0)

almosthippy

From this story, I wouldn’t infer that studying A level law helps, I would infer either that there should be better teaching at your uni or that your coursemates are morons. I did the one year GDL and they found the time to teach us the court structure on that. Either your syllabus was poorly planned or poorly taught, or your coursemates spent their first year pissing around.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

I know plenty of people with absolutely no legal education at all but a basic engagement with current events that could tell you the highest UK court

(0)(0)

Anonymous

A level law is also a good way to see if you actually like law. Yes it’s at a much more basic level but it’s taught in a fairly similar way (cases etc.). I was suprised how many people on my law course seemed to struggle/dislike law and had seemed to pick it somewhat randomly.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

My Russell group uni’s admission’s team repeats the advice that A-level in law makes no significant difference in performance on the LLB. Not being from the UK, I never had the option of taking A-levels, but I heard this advice repeated at each of the many offer-holder open days I worked alongside our admissions officers. Among my cohort, I never became aware of any students who mentioned taking law at A-levels, let alone benefitting from it.

I have just finished the BPTC whilst living with a paralegal friend who did law at A-level and at Oxford. From talking with him, A-level law made no difference to his degree other than understanding, e.g., elements of criminal law such as bail that are not taught at undergrad. My impression is that law A-level can supplement the LLB but does not confer any particular advantage on the course. If one undertakes the LLB the same way one would prepare for and write law A-levels, a 2.i is unlikely.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Not everybody starts sixth form knowing what they want to do. I only chose A-level law because I needed a fourth AS

(0)(0)

Anonymous

My phone decided it was time to post that comment before I’d finished. Yes, I only chose to study A-level law because I needed another AS. I had no idea what I wanted to do but I certainly didn’t want to be a lawyer. Within a couple of weeks, my mind was made up and I wanted to be one of those lawyer things.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

It’s all a numbers game anyway – if doing law A-level will get you a better grade than other perspective subjects, then go for it. You can find this out by asking for previous results from teachers.

Harsh but true… it’s not really about what you’re ‘passionate’ about anymore.

(3)(0)

Anon

I took A level law, then I completed my law degree at a top Russell Group university and now I have a TC at a silver circle firm…

Take that as you will.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Does the “forget everything you’ve leaned at A-Level” advice probably apply to all subjects taken at degree level?

(0)(0)

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