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Why I don’t think a law degree prepares you for a training contract

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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.

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51 Comments

Stating the obvious.

It’s not supposed to. It’s supposed to be jurisprudence and the academic study of law. That’s why you do the proper gesso all qualifications.

Stating the obvious.

*professional-autocorrect!

Anonymous

The other point worth noting is that study of other academic subjects is unlikely to prepare you any better for a career in law. Also, many courses do have legal practice modules, and pro bono units, so the chance to gain real world legal experience is available.

Anonymous

This.

The issue here is that, as a solicitor, you aren’t necessarily expected to be an expert in academic law. A law degree maybe isn’t the best one to do in that case – which is why many people do a different degree with no disadvantage.

Academic law more of a pre-requisite for the Bar (but even then only in certain areas).

Anonymous

The author has missed the point. A law degree is not supposed to prepare you for practice as a solicitor or even the training contract. This is why the LPC is supposed to exist – to bridge the gap (although whether it does or not is debatable). The training contract then forms you into a solicitor. The degree is supposed to be purely academic and will be studied by many people who do not wish to go into a law career.

Anonymous

He’s also missed – or skirted around – the obvious issue that a great of corporate law is not much about law at all. It’s about preparing documents that serve and focus on business interests but are written with some regard to liability or regulation.

‘Commercial awareness’ is just a euphemism for ‘are you willing to sell what we offer to a reluctant client and try to sound plausible while doing it?’.

Anonymous

Is that really what Commercial Awareness is a euphemism for?

Anonymous

There are already non-academic routes into law (CiLex/legal apprenticeships), so nothing would be served by making academic law degrees less academic.

Not Amused

Almost all social mobility in law is from kids with law degrees.

Once you realise that you should understand that any attack on law degrees is an attack upon social mobility. History, English Literature, Languages and Classics. None of those teach the skills you identify you want taught. Yet each of their graduates are considered attractive by law firms.

I am far from being a ranting lefty. Nor do I think the issue is necessarily sinister. Once you have children you understand why parents might bend rules or be blind to their own bias. The Social Mobility Commission itself identified what it called ‘soft skills’ which I can understand an employer might want without caring that in doing so they exclude the less advantaged.

So this issue, which arises every so often, will not go away and, if we are honest, has nothing to do with the practice of law at all.

Anonymous

For once I agree with NA. Good luck competing with an Oxbridge grad in History/Classics/PPE with your law degree with modules in client management and networking. Only students with fewer ‘establishment’ connections are going to think the latter is a good idea.

Anonymous

Very good point!

Anonymous

Unfortunately firms won’t compromise on those who cannot write well and who haven’t been taught to analyse information and turn it into concise conclusions. All the time there are posh students who have learnt these skills through private tuition from a young age, and then have gone on to study at universities who actually give a damn about these matters, they will win out against those whose schools and universities failed to do the same.

Anonymous

I learnt those skills from a young age at a state school – they’re not all bad (many are better than a fair chunk of private schools), and that should raise the question of why the latest government scheme has been to defund them.

Anonymous

Yes – some state schools are great at this, but the majority are awful and typically the worse the school is in terms of performance or funding, the worse the situation will be. Many universities are even worse though and completely fail to tackle getting their students to write accurately (and won’t mark them down on it as long as the content is correct).

Anonymous

Same like medical school does not prepare you to be a doctor or a surgeon. You do years worth of traning after completing your degree. Academia is not suppose to prepare you for work, it shold enhance your intelectual skills and develop you as a human being.

Anonymous

Errrm yes it does.

You graduate medical school and start a month later as a F1. The last 3 years of their degree are the on the job training.

You have to do loads more training to be a GP or Consultant, but a TC doesn’t prepare you for partnership.

All the other lawyers seem to have managed though....

Med school doesn’t prepare you to be a consultant either…

I agree though, that Med school does take an increasingly practical approach to the degree. I do think a similar system would be preferable in Law, but it is a hard thing to do short of having all the students put on placement for a few months. As has been stated elsewhere, that is really up to the student through a range of extra curricular activities.

Anonymous

Having been to medical school, I say confidently you are very wrong.

Anonymous

The LLB gives you understanding of the law, and the skills necessary to identify, research and solve problems. It is not meant to prepare you for a training contract. There are plenty extra curricular activities for that – mooting, pro bono clinics, citizens advice, having a part time job, being involved in society committees. it’s not like there’s a lack of opportunities.

I agree that the whole set up is a little false – regurgitating everything you have crammed in the last few weeks into a three hour exam isn’t reflective of anything other than memory, I think you basic assumption is a little off. I can’t think of another degree that prepares you better for law than an LLB.

Anonymous

I was pretty annoyed when I wasn’t called to the Bar after my first year undergrad.

Anonymous

Yawn.

Anonymous

I thought this was common knowledge?? That’s why you go out and do other stuff and not just stick to your LLB. Work experience, vac schemes, pro bono, any other part time jobs or volunteering. Pointless article

Anonymous

Is it right that a one year conversion course has the same currency as a three year full time LLB?

Big Dolla

What do you mean by ‘right’?

Few recruiters will believe GDL students to have the same level of knowledge in law as the graduate of a 3 year LLB.

And yet in general recruiters do give same currency to them, presumably because it makes little difference to their potential as a solicitor. No government agency is declaring that the two courses should be given same currency. It’s market forces at work.

Now go cry about losing your tc place to an Oxbridge PPE grad elsewhere.

Anonymous

Awww bless. The temper and self-righteous indignation. The real crying is coming from you – it’s called psychological projection.

Anonymous

Giving him abuse for the comment is all good – that’s why we’re on LC after all.

But can you post an actual response to his points before doing so?

Anonymous

You thought they were ‘points’?

He’s just having a babyish strop because he thought somebody was questioning the value of his grab-bag diploma in law.

Anonymous

Anyone who quotes Prof Dicky Susskind in support of an argument has clearly lost the plot…

Anonymous

This is why people should study Law at York! The PBL method and extensive Legal Skills training really complimented the training I received on the LPC and with the TC!

Anonymous

Do you work for York by any chance?

Anonymous

So true. Undergraduates should at least have the chance to steer their degree in the direction of their career.

Anonymous

Do LPC grades matter ?

Anonymous

If you have a TC secured no.

If you don’t have a TC secured it is more of a tick box requirement. Get 60+ on all modules or questions may be asked. Other factors will be far more important in securing a TC.

Anonymous

Why bother with the LPC then ?

Anonymous

Bit cowardly to write this anonymously.

James Roy Wren

Yeah, you should really put in your name when posting comments.

Frustrated Writer

Tom avoided the office as best he could for a few days following the coffee incident with Katie. Not only did he want to avoid her, but also was pushed away by the misery that washed over him when he was there. He could see no way out.

Finally, Tom admitted to himself though that it was getting untenable, and that he had to go into the office again. Not only was he deeply concerned that law firms were publishing retention rates and pay rises unnoticed and unheralded, he knew that he had to face Katie. He did regret what he did. He was angry and frustrated by the outcome of the meeting with Fiona and he hadn’t meant to take it out on her. Tom had to admit to himself that he could not let go of his feelings for Katie, however hard he tried.

Tom finally plucked up the courage and set off for the office. He made sure to arrive early, as Katie was usually in the office first, and he wanted to get in before her so that he could try to manage the awkward greeting as best he could.

On the way in, Tom took a diversion to stop by Katie’s favourite donut shop. The shop was one of the type that had sprung up all over London recently, offering fair trade, organic, locally sourced products for Instagramming by the millennials living in their converted warehouse flats nearby. Tom grabbed a few strawberry donuts as a peace offering. He still remembered that those were Katie’s favourite from a visit they had made to the shop together months before.

Arriving at the dimly lit office, Tom opened the creaky door and was relieved to see Katie’s desk unoccupied, and her computer screen off. He relaxed slightly, placing the decorative donut box on her desk, carefully straightening the ribbon as he did so, placing it in the centre of her desk by her keyboard. He knew it wouldn’t solve the anger, but he hoped it would help. He’d had to walk in today, and lunch would be a protein shake, as he spent his tube fare and lunch money on the donuts, so Tom thought he was owed at least a smile.

Turning to his desk, Tom was startled to hear a cough from the sofa in the corner. He had not hit the lights on the way in, as the bulbs on the strip lights on the ceiling had given out the previous week, so he had not seen Alex sat there, laptop open and whirring as he stared intensely at the screen. Tom was surprised not only that he had not caught a whiff of Alex’s usual aroma, but also that his boss was in so early, and clearly sober.

“Alex? Are you OK?” Tom asked, hoping for a positive answer.

Alex glanced up briefly as if he had only just noticed Tom. “Yeah, you?” he responded, voice disinterested as he looked back at his screen.

Tom was so unaccustomed to seeing Alex working and he wasn’t sure what to do. “You got an article cooking up, Alex?” he asked, trying not to sound sceptical. “Another one of your career conundrum beauties?”

“Not quite”. Alex put his laptop to one side, on the grubby sofa. A conspiratorial grin appeared across his face. “It came to me last night. People have seen through the whole career conundrum mode. They know I write them”. He moved forward in his seat looking Tom straight in the eye. Tom could see that he had been up most of the night. He had bags under his eyes that would be big enough for the weekly shop. Now he was closer, Tom noticed that his breath stunk accordingly. “Now I need to hide them a bit”. He reached for his laptop and beckoned Tom to sit next to him on the sofa.

Tom reluctantly took up position next to Alex. Katie and he usually avoided the sofa, knowing the amount of punishment it had taken in the years it had been in the office. But he had no choice to comply. He made a mental note to wash his jeans later at a high temperature.

Alex pointed a mangy finger at the screen, where Legal Cheek was loaded up. A rather large comment filled the page. It seemed to be a narrative about Legal Cheek and its writers. The author of the comment, poorly written and long winded as it was, was called ‘Frustrated Writer’.

“See this guy. I don’t know who he thinks he is, writing this about us. But he’s getting responses”. Tom nodded. He wondered where this was going. Did Alex want to find out who this was? Alex continued. “He made me think. Instead of writing a career conundrum with a question, which everyone is used to, I’m going to make it as if it’s real. Just like this guy”.

Tom slapped his thigh in delight. “That’s brilliant. It’s like rebooting the cinematic universe!”

Alex’s smugness was thinly veiled. “Exactly mate. The best bit is, I can just make the so-called issue the most obvious, mind numbing statement of the obvious and people will lap it up!”.

Alex offered Tom his hand for a high five, and Tom gleefully accepted. Today would be a reinvigoration of the Legal Cheek they both wanted.

Legal Cheek comments addict

Frustrated Writer – I offer you my hand for a high five.

Anonymous

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Pascal

Slap my BAPS

Anonymous

Much better piece after yesterday’s wobble.

It’s little gems thrown in such as “and lunch would be a protein shake,” that really cause readers to laugh. Please keep it up.

Would love to see some other ‘attention to detail’ things such as: Briana, the Blacker impersonator, Let’s Go Champ, favourable treatment of sponsors, the old Tom & KK Friday videos, etc.

Anonymous

It’s like the author has never heard of barristers

1st in a proper subject; distinction in the GDL

Only short-sighted fools study towards the LLB nowadays.

Trumpenkreig

Didn’t know you mum was doing an LLB?

Anonymous

OF COURSE you support Trump.

Trumpenkreig

Yeah I’ve got a brain! #MAGA🇺🇸 #melania2024 🇺🇸

Anonymous

I agree with the author in the sense that I’ve never seen any evidence in my career that LLB grads (or even people who did very well in the LLB) are any better lawyers in practice than people who did the GDL.

Even in more “academic” areas of the corporate law world which don’t just consist of churning contracts (such as tax, pensions, IP or financial services advisory work) the research and analytical skills required are quite different from those you learn in an purely academic context.

Please post something that people don't already know

The sky is blue

SJ

Not all LLB’s just give you a 3 hour exam at the end of the module. For many it is a combination of practical skills, researching and examinations.
When a University has a combination of academics & professionals teaching the modules you have the opportunity to receive insight into the practical skills required to be a lawyer too.

Anonymous

Wouldn’t this article be more credible if the author was a qualified solicitor or barrister? How can someone who failed to get a training contract and has never actually practiced know if his degree has prepared him for something he has never done?

Sir Geffroy De Joinville 3 yo son

Ga ga. Wanna be a lawyer. Gonna eat donots . how spell dunots ? Then get law + English degree

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