One LLB graduate reflects on the lessons his degree never taught him
When I first dived into the world of training contract applications, I was at a loss to explain why commercial firms seemed to be putting more and more emphasis on the value of non-law applicants. I thought that they must have really listened to Lord Sumption last year when he said a law degree is “not a particularly good training” for a career in law. But, I can now see that the traditional LLB does not adequately prepare you for a training contract at a commercial law firm.
I’m not saying there are no benefits to studying law.
The LLB helps you to develop a formidable skillset and opens many career doors. It gave me invaluable knowledge in a wide range of legal areas.
But what key skills do you actually need in a training contract, and in a commercial legal career? The big ones are: communication, analytical skills, determination, teamwork, interpersonal ability, and commercial acumen. While studying law definitely helps build ability in the first three areas, it does little to strengthen the latter three.
And, City law firms’ favourite attribute is currently commercial awareness. This is not taught or developed during the LLB. You spend a lot of time discussing what the law should be, or what might be decided in court, but this is a world far removed from the business-focused, profit-driven realm of the City.
The main issue with the LLB is that it is inherently academic and has no practical element to it. I undertook only one mooting exercise in my whole degree. I didn’t hear my lecturers or tutors ever say the word ‘client’.
This stands in stark contrast to courses in engineering or medicine, where students undertake extensive practical work from an early stage, with regular time spent in labs. The LLB, by contrast, focuses on theory and does not teach you client-facing skills nor how to write in a way that clients would appreciate.
This is not least because a law degree teaches you to absorb large swathes of information, apply it in long exams, only to forget most of it the following day. While studying in Australia, I was able to undertake more research essays, take open book exams and be assessed by my contributions to tutorials throughout the semester. You were assessed on a rolling basis rather than in a single exam at the end of the year. This gives a much more accurate reflection of a student’s understanding and ability.
The excessive focus on memorisation in the LLB is unrealistic — as a practising solicitor, you would have case names to hand, you would be able to research a problem and take time to construct an argument. You would be able to collaborate with colleagues and share your expertise. All the long hours of committing ratios and facts to memory gives you little but patience.
Given the LLB’s inherent academic focus and memory test-like format, the vocational stage of lawyer training is instead left to the Legal Practice Course (LPC). This postgraduate course teaches skills such as advocacy and drafting, with much more of a client focus.
But I don’t think this is enough, even less so now of course that the LPC has been consigned to the educational graveyard. The legal industry is in a state of flux and faces multiple challenges. Students need to be better equipped to face these challenges.
As Professor Richard Susskind has said, law schools need to expand their teaching. We need to connect the study and practice of law at an earlier stage. There should at least be the option to study issues such as globalisation, outsourcing, emerging markets and client relationships during a law degree.
Studying a law degree is intellectually challenging and rewarding; but it is stuck in the past. What we need is a law degree that connects practical experience with theoretical learning, reduces the excessive focus on memory work, and prepares students for the workplace and the future. The traditional LLB law degree currently does not prepare you for a training contract.
The Frustrated Graduate is an aspiring corporate lawyer.