A ‘golden ticket’ to training contract glory, or losing its shine? Legal Cheek explores the Oxbridge law degree

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Recruitment teams still dazzled by high-status law schools, despite so-so performance in rankings

In the battle for a top training contract or pupillage, an Oxbridge law degree is a sharper sword than the same from another Russell Group (RG) university.

At least, that’s what the statistics seem to show. The number of Oxbridge law graduates hitting the legal market is, comparatively, tiny — UCAS data revealing 435 aspiring lawyers accepted places at Oxford or Cambridge last year versus 6,435 at the other RG unis. That means less than 10% of new RG students are Oxbridge; throw all other law schools into the mix and Oxbridge’s lot make up just 2%.

The elite duo’s impact on the graduate recruitment market is far greater.

Training contracts first. It’s difficult to obtain data from law firms about the universities their trainees attended (Legal Cheek has tried). There are a number of big players in our Firms Most List, including four of five of the magic circle outfits, which do not release these statistics.

Some do, though. Of the 20 data-releasing firms with the biggest trainee cohorts, average Oxbridge representation is 18%, this ranging from 0% (Irwin Mitchell) to 39% (Herbert Smith Freehills). Outside of the top 20, we spy one firm, Weil Gotshal, with an even meatier Oxbridge intake of 42%.

No firm, though, took on more Oxbridge-educated trainees than it did other Russell Group-educated trainees — in stark contrast to the bar.

At the 20 biggest chambers by pupil places, 59 of their 100 newest tenants are from Oxbridge, as shown in our Chambers Most List. That’s an average of three out of five (60%) per set. At seven of these top 20 (Littleton, 4 Stone Building, 7 King’s Bench Walk, Brick Court, Erskine, Essex Court and Fountain Court), four out of five new tenants are Oxbridge grads.

At Maitland, it’s a full house (five out of five), which is also the case outside of the top 20 at XXIV Old Buildings. Small wonder, then, that when we asked one Cambridge graduate and barrister-to-be whether he thinks an Oxbridge law degree is a golden ticket to a top job, he replied, without hesitation, “absolutely… I’m sure it’s helped me massively applying for jobs and further study”. But, should it?

He doesn’t think so: “Many employers value an Oxbridge degree much more highly than they should,” he says. Though recruiters are often “dazzled” by the universities’ status, our sceptical graduate believes “Oxbridge doesn’t always give you a ‘better’ law degree”.

His gripe principally lies with the “disappointing” teaching he received on some modules:

“Many top academics at Oxbridge are there for their brilliant research skills, not their brilliant teaching skills.”

Though Oxbridge is consistently praised for its research quality and tough entry standards, by comparison the pair falter in more student experience-oriented categories of university rankings, like teaching.

In The Guardian rankings, Oxford’s law school comes in 18th place for its teaching, while neither Oxford nor Cambridge seem to be particularly hot on student satisfaction. In The Guardian, Cambridge comes behind London South Bank and UEA in third place, and Oxford 29th. They do worse on the Complete University Guide: Cambridge’s law school comes in 12th place for student satisfaction and Oxford’s in 39th.

Buy your tickets now for the legal education and training event of 2018 - on 23 May

As for the percentage of students satisfied with feedback, Cambridge places 29th and Oxford 54th.

In each of these categories, there are RG universities outperforming (at least one of) the pair: Belfast, Leeds and York in teaching and student satisfaction, for example, while seven of the other 21 RG law faculties score better for feedback. “Apply for Oxbridge every time,” one recent Cambridge graduate recommends to aspiring lawyers, “not because the degree is better, sadly, but because everyone thinks it is.”

There are myriad reasons why his advice will not be followed, though (and not just by people who don’t have the grades).

A student at Liverpool says the open days she attended at both Oxford and Cambridge painted the historic duo as “very work focussed”, with little to be said for “sports (other than rowing!) or student societies which were not academically focussed”. This deterred her from applying.

An Exeter graduate, now studying at a top-rated London university, says he didn’t apply to Oxbridge because you had to sit an admissions test. Another aspiring lawyer, now studying at Durham, concedes her “personality didn’t align with Oxford”, while a fellow student who recently graduated from Cardiff University was put off applying because of Oxbridge’s “culture and regulations”.

Whatever the motive behind it, a decision made aged 17 not to punt for Oxford or Cambridge, thankfully, does not sound the death knell for aspiring lawyers’ career hopes. Succinctly summarised by one Durham student, “strong academic results, a compelling application, being personable and being able to see the applicant thriving within the firm, in my opinion, carry greater weight” than candidates’ alma mater. Even a Cambridge law student concedes:

“Law firms want to see many other qualities [beyond intellect and good grades] in their applicants before giving them an offer. Having an Oxbridge degree doesn’t necessarily mean that a person is a team player or that they can communicate well and effectively with others.”

Firms’ involvement with the likes of Rare Recruitment and a select few’s introduction of ‘CV blind’ go further to show a candidates’ prospects of lawyer success don’t lie just in the name of their university. These programmes encourage recruiters to consider candidates more holistically and to avoid ‘lazy’ Oxbridge bias. “Firms want the best,” one LSE student says, “they no longer want a brand of elitism.”

These diversity pushes, though, don’t seem to have led to a drop in Oxbridge representation. Research from 2013 and 2016 by Chambers Student in fact suggests the percentage of Oxbridge-educated trainees has increased — by 1.2 percentage points.

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The Chambers Student research suggests Rare Recruitment and other initiatives are having an impact, but at the expense of RG representation. Firms recruited from 14 more universities in 2016 than in 2013, the statistics show, and at the same time the percentage of RG-educated trainees was knocked down by more than 15 percentage points (from 79.3% to 63.8%).

The RG bearing the brunt of firms’ diversity pushes comes at a turbulent time for this group of top-rated universities. In a previous Legal Cheek article on the RG’s faltering position and influence, the author argues RG leaders “have manoeuvred themselves into a situation where they are massively dependent on undergraduate revenue irrespective of the quality of the intake”. Some RG law departments are now taking on in excess of 500 students a year, and: “In turn, that will accelerate their poor performance in the National Student Survey (NSS).”

Indeed, though Oxbridge hardly receives praise all round for its student experience, certain RG universities consistently find themselves languishing at the very bottom of the NSS. The most recent league table saw no RG universities ranking better than 19th. Southampton, Queen Mary and Edinburgh came in in joint 90th place. LSE failed to make the top 100. The Complete University Guide’s ‘student satisfaction’ rankings also place a number of RG law schools at the very bottom, such as: Birmingham (81st), Edinburgh (82nd), King’s College London (80th), UCL (81st) and Manchester (91st).

That said, RG graduates are, like their Oxbridge counterparts, still hugely overrepresented in law firm trainee cohorts: they are outnumbered by non-RG law graduates entering the job market by about one to three, yet make up an average of 64% of rookies at the 20 biggest firms that release this data.

We wonder whether turmoil over the RG’s prestige will alter this.

All the while, Oxbridge’s revered status hums along, leaving its law graduates with the (very enviable) recruiter box-tick of being from the best universities in the country. But, that doesn’t mean they have the best grades, the best interview technique or the best application form, nor does it mean they’re the best candidate. We’re not sure a helpful first box-tick is quite a golden ticket — but maybe it’s a silver one.

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Millennial Snowflake




On a totally unrelated point, but with the aim of this post being visible, I have a career conundrum for all of you.

I’m mid-20s, have a first in history from a RG uni (with a prize – yay for me) and am doing my TC at a national firm. I don’t really enjoy it and am considering switching to the bar after perhaps 1PQE. I got distinctions in the GDL and LPC but wonder whether I would be overlooked by good sets due to non-law, non-Oxbridge background. Is this a sensible concern, and would it be advisable to do a LLM/BCL to indicate a certain aptitude in law. It’s the intellectual side of the law that I enjoy (which is why I don’t enjoy my TC) and I’m not sure the GDL and LPC do anything to show any intellectual capability.

I’d be much more keen to do the bar transfer test than the full Monty, mainly due to costs. Is this also going to be a sticking point for good sets?

Also, if anyone has any particular advice about switching to the bar, this is more than welcome.

Answers on a postcard. TIA.



I was in a similar position a year ago and was fortunate to get pupillage at a very good commercial chancery set. In terms of advice, I would aim to do as many mini-pupillages as possible as it allows you to gauge whether or not a set is interested in you. I think a First from a RG uni would be seen as very decent. I have a First from Cambridge which I think (along with a decent CV) tended to lead to a decent number of first round interviews. However, the quality of applicants that I met at interviews was very, very high so you can’t take anything for granted on that front. I didn’t get the impression that a post-grad course is strictly necessary, although if you want to do one, I think the BCL would be better than anything else. All the sets I applied to seemed perfectly happy for me to sit the Bar Transfer Test. Overall, what surprised me most was how difficult it was to secure pupillage at a decent chancery/commercial set. It’s a completely different ball game to securing a training contract. There were a lot of very high quality applicants (including a lot of MC/SC trainees and solicitors) so it’s important to look at yourself critically and try to build up your CV.



Any Oxbridge grad worth their salt is heading to the bar.



Yes. Given the nature of a barrister’s role, only the top intellects are at the Bar. Little wonder that Chambers therefore recruit from Oxbridge graduates, who are the brightest people in the country.



What idiocy. Plenty of Oxbridge graduates fancy that City cash, and don’t have a fetish for gowns and spending half their time “on their feet” (i.e. following a QC around an old but badly maintained building).

These days, you make far more as a pre-eminent solicitor than you can as a barrister, with the very, very narrow exception of the one or two commercial QCs in London who maybe rival the equity partners at City firms for remuneration.

I don’t know how many times this point has to be made, but made and made again it must be.



That’s simply not true. 70-80% of NQs will not make partner. Commercial and commercial chancery barristers earn more, on average, because they keep what they earn, unlike solicitors. All solicitors below partner level at least hand over all their fees to the firm, in return for a salary



But if you’re on 140k as an NQ at the age of 23 when your barrister equivalent is mid-pupillage having drawn down a substantial chunk of the 70k or so pupillage allowance while doing their BPTC, then you (the NQ) are probably banking c. 100k more than your unfortunate mate.

Obviously those numbers can move within a certain framework but there’s a lot of wiggle room there for my point to still stand.

So you’re earning more at the junior end as a solicitor. We’ve already established you’re earning more at the senior end as a solicitor.

I’d like to hear a rebuttal.


I disagree. Firstly, only one or two firms In the UK pay 140k to NQs. That’s not a common occurence. None of the top UK firms pay over 85k. Also, you need to remember that very few of those NQs will ever make partner , i.e. because of the pyramid model. Yes, their salary might increase for 5-6 years but, in most cases, the solicitor will then move in-house or to a smaller firm for much less money. Most in-house roles are under 100k.

It’s very common for most first year juniors at good commercial and chancery sets to earn 120/130k in their first year after Chambers expenses. In many cases that continues to climb as they get more experienced. Senior juniors often make £300-£500k and Q.Cs can make millions. Of course not everyone makes that, but the average rate is much higher.

dolla dolla bills y'all

1. It’s perhaps inappropriate to highlight an NQ earning that much money, as only 14 trainees from a pool of thousands will receive offers from the two firms that offer that sort of remuneration package (if LC’s intake stats are accurate).

2. Your comparison is short-sighted. The solicitor in your scenario would be working for a top commercial firm, so if you were to continue monitoring their progress against that of a good barrister in a top commercial set, you’ll notice that the barrister will very quickly begin out-earning the solicitor.

3. If you attended school, sixth form and university in the UK without taking any gap years, the earliest you can qualify as a solicitor (via training contract) is on the year you turn 25. However, this is not representative of the profession, as the average qualification age is 29.


I also disagree. As a very junior commercial chancery barrister there is no way I could earn what I do in another role with the same lifestyle. Many bill 180k in their first year (even good PI barristers can bill 100k) and of that you might get £150k. I only “work” 4 days a week really and can work whenever I want. I regularly decide to just not work at all for 3/4 days at a time and take at least 12 weeks holiday. I couldn’t do that at the MC.

You can do, for example, one confrence, one opinion and one hearing a week and make £4k-5k.

I also prefer to work after 12 which I couldn’t do in the MC.

Having said that – no pensions or statutory protection.

After 5 years call you might even occasionally get a 20k brief fee for a longer trial (say 4/5 days) and that could be all you do that month!

Put simply its better for having children (work where/whenever), work life balance (3/4 day weekends!). The downsides are immemse stress and ultimate responsibility which you wouldnt get in the same way at a firm, and precariousness of keeping solicitors happy.

All of this Oxbridge bashing is tired and old. There are those who go to the top end of the bar without the BA/BCL. If anything the Bar is dominated by GDL grads! Dont do law do English/History/PPE/Classics.


The figures/facts promoted re the bar above are not true. Nor are they for law firms.

Firstly, it depends what set you’re in. The best common law sets will have you on a good living earning nearly as much as MC firms with better “work/life” balance to an extent because there will be a lot more unwanted travel involved.
Commercial sets are not all the same. The best will have you taking home as much and often more than you will in a US firm (as a junior – not as a partner/senior junior/QC level necessarily). There are maybe slightly over half a dozen of these sets and many of them are run like mini law firms. The “alright” ones like Hardwicke – heavily promoted on this site – will not; you will earn less or at best similar than you would in a US firm – they expect at least 120k gross earnings after the first year.

Secondly, it’s been well spelt out on this site in many articles that barristers do not keep their “gross earnings” – 30% is siphoned off pre-tax in chambers’ expenses, rent, insurance, professional fees, minor expenses like books and laptop plus there’s travel expenses. So 200k of for a 1 year call at a top tier set like Wilberforce will be closer to 140k pre-tax as an equivalent PAYE salary. Someone quoted 180 being 150 net – i.e. 15% for all of the above – that’s fiction and one of the many things which immediately makes it obvious that person is not an actual barrister. 15% is the low side of average just for rent.

Thirdly, a rather obvious point, but barristers don’t get paid monthly paychecks. They might bill 150k a year, but they may not get paid for months, if not years. You might be taxed on say, 115k after taxable allowances, but you might not actual recover that 30% of that until the following year, 15% the year after, 5% the year after that, and 5% might actually end up being non recoverable and be written off. For paying bills, mortgage payments going on holidays and living day to day, it’s not convenient.
This is quite a big point because a lot of lawyers have investments and make just as much, if not more, on those investments than they do from their salary. Some people leave their savings with an investment manager, some people buy property and become landlords. It’s easier to do these things and plan/budget when you have money coming in on a predictable basis.

Fourth, the idea in an above post that, at the comm bar, you can take endless holiday and work very flexibly is not true. That posters claiming to be a comm barrister taking at least 12 weeks holiday a year plus 3/4 day long weekends, working when he feels like it is making it up. Particularly when you’re junior, you have to work like a dog and you have a working pattern based around meetings, calls with clients/firms and court deadlines/appearances. And particularly at a top comm set, you’re being led by more senior barristers and essentially you’re their dogsbody. The stresses are similar for city solicitors. Associates can work from home occasionally and generally do it when they know the partners aren’t going to be around – when a partner is on a business trip or on A/L, many associates do just work from home when they feel like it and if they know a partner rarely comes in much on a Friday, they might copy that pattern. Usually associates might WFH pretty rarely though during business hours – maybe once every 2 or 3 weeks, but equally they often will leave at 6pm and WFH – again it depends if they want to or not and if the partner is around and they want visibility.

Fifth, on US salaries – firstly most US firms are paying in the region of 120k at the moment to NQs, increasing by at least 10-20k per year. There are also many US firms like STB which don’t recruit trainees – there was an assertion above that only Kirkland and Akin paid top or near the top of the market. Secondly, there are bonuses on top of that – at least 10% for NQs rising by c.5% or so depending on the year/firm for each year of PQE. So that’s a minimum of 132k take home for an NQ – the posters above are not apparently aware of this. Thirdly, the value of the pension, private medical healthcare and insurance and general benefits package including free or heavily subsidised gym membership is worth several thousand a year on top of that. Fourth, there are other law firms perks – dinner is free (under £15-25) every night (that you work after 7-8pm) and you get a free cab home. Free coffee machines, stationary, work equipment, everything you can possibly need on tap too. The free dinner usually works out to around 2k a year for your average trainee – and remember that’s all tax free for you.

Finally, the idea of thinking you’re going to become partner or a QC when you haven’t even started out is very silly, but the idea you’ll make more at the (comm) bar long term is not necessarily true. There is also a high attrition rate at the comm bar. If you make partner at an MC or US firm, which many people do, you will generally overtake a comm barrister with a similar level of experience. You can also make just as much in-house too with a better work/life balance. You can exit at 3-5 PQE for a 120k 9-6, relatively low stress IH gig without much difficulty.


Could someone give this chap a regular column? I don’t think I’ve seen anyone above the line write anything so sensible…


Yeah. The most intelligent people opt for a career photocopying/bundling/putting together pro forma deals/rarely or never giving legal advice/running to counsel if they do not understand a point/professionally humiliating themselves by sitting behind barristers in court, taking notes.



False. Plenty of Oxbridge grads choosing money over pomp and ceremony.



Are XXIV the chambers that Legal Cheek exposed advertising for clerks below London Living Wage?






Skimping on staff so they can fund the pupillage award for Oxbridge w@nkers


LC management

We definitely don’t pay the London living wage. Or any wage at all



Durham student concedes that her “personality didn’t align with Oxford” = Oxford reject.



“Of the 20 data-releasing firms with the biggest trainee cohorts, average Oxbridge representation is 18%, this ranging from 0% (Irwin Mitchell)…”


Irwin Mitchell Partner

I can’t think why we’ve not got any. All the moldy digestives you can eat, 23.5 hour days, top whiplash claims to work on, who wouldn’t want that? I’m really scratching my head.



Oxford and Cambridge are not ‘Russell Group unis’.





Oxbridge are world-class law schools that, on average, out perform most other prestigious U.K. law schools.

I’ve been a solicitor at a MC firm. I them moved over to one of the Chambers listed above. I don’t think my Oxbridge degree helped massively in securing my TC – I knew plenty of other grads at other universities with a similar offers.

However, I do think it helped getting pupillage. The Chambers listed above take 1-3 pupils a year and they are much more selective than City firms – unfortunately, you often need a First plus a slew of academic prizes to get an interview. However, although Oxbridge helped, I do believe we would a interview a UCL/LSE grad with a First over an Oxbridge grad with a 2.1.



“I do believe we would a interview a UCL/LSE grad with a First over an Oxbridge grad with a 2.1.” Then you will be giving a position to someone who, by definition, is intellectually inferior. Getting a First from any non-Oxbridge university is akin to rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic.



I think it depends on the calibre of the oxbridge 2.1 perhaps. Oxford law degree is hellish in final year – almost all of the core QLD modules (plus electives) are examined and those results represent your final degree class. Non-Oxbridge people are lucky to have had the “cumulative degree” experience. RG First over Oxford/Cambridge 2.1 averaging 68% or 69%? The latter still trumps it.



I know people who teach at Oxford who graduated from London universities. I have asked them if it a more challenging undergrad course and in their opinion it isn’t. One is Karl Laird, who teaches undergrads at Cambridge as well at Oxford.

I am at the bar. Not on a pupillage committee, but I think we rarely interview 2.1s from anywhere. We mark applications, I think there is a university blind, degree scoring system.


The Brown Knight

The Titanic is underwater you dumbass



QED. You are clearly too dim to understand. Durham graduate?



QLD = qualifying law degree


Bakers is not MC


Jacob Rees-Mogg

“Whatever the motive behind it, a decision made aged 17 not to punt for Oxford or Cambridge”

… clever girl …



‘Another aspiring lawyer, now studying at Durham, concedes her “personality didn’t align with Oxford”.’ That should read: “her intellect didn’t align with Oxford”.



The top four law facilities in the world:

1. Harvard
2. Oxford
3. Cambridge
4. Yale


I’ve taught at Oxbridge, RG and non-RG universities. I would say there is, on average, a sizeable quality gap between non-Russell group law students and Oxbridge law students. Today, far too many young people are admitted onto law courses and the ability level of some students at newer universities is frankly quite poor.

Yes, the ability gap is undoubtedly smaller between Oxbridge and RG universities. The main difference is that Oxbridge cherry picks the most impressive students at the age of 18/19 and then spends 3 or 4 years educating them to a far higher standard (sadly, that is the magic of the tutorial system). I’ll
leave it to others to decide whether this is fair.

One huge downside of Oxbridge (in my opinion) is the pressure cooker atmosphere. Law students there are again, on average, highly academic and often suffer from no longer being a star performer. Both faculties only really care about the top performing students – the students with prizes, Firsts, distinctions in Moderations.



TL; DR – This is a confused and wrongheaded article.

The first claim is that the quality of the teaching in Oxbridge isn’t that good (though I note Oxford is 18th on this student satisfaction ranking, Cambridge is 2nd). That may well be true – or it might not. The Guardian’s rankings don’t really tell you either way because the figures are based on “the percentage of final-year students satisfied with the teaching they received, based on the NSS”. That is subjective and doesn’t bear easy comparison to student satisfaction at other universities. The key distinguishing feature between Oxbridge and other universities is small group (i.e. 2 people) supervisions or tutorials. While that might not be for everyone, it tends to be ignored in these discussions.

The second claim is that student satisfaction is not very high at Oxbridge. So what? It’s hard to see how this is relevant to “recruitment teams still dazzled by high-status law schools, despite so-so performance in rankings”. Are you seriously saying people should be hired based on their peers’ views of student satisfaction?

The third set of claims are from students who didn’t go to Oxbridge but got “put off” by miscellaneous vibes, some of which appear to be based on it being too ‘academic’ an environment. None of these people actually know what its like given they didn’t go, so it’s hardly good evidence. But anyway, it’s hard to see why a recruiter should change their hiring decisions based on bad vibes from people who didn’t go to a particular university.

The fourth set of claims is that factors other than one’s alma mater matter. True. But going to a good university and having other interests isn’t mutually exclusive. Lots of recruiters are not faced with an either/or situation: there are plenty of people who are smart and have non-academic interests.

Finally, the general implication of the article is that Oxbridge grads are being hired because of a lazy tick box exercise. That in itself appears to be a lazy trope trotted out by Legal Cheek.

People hire Oxbridge grads at least partially for signalling reasons – i.e. it is a way for a particular student to provide evidence that they are smart (before everyone starts kicking off – I’m not saying foolproof evidence). Obviously, people at other universities can also do this, but its no secret that Oxbridge has the highest entry standards (see those Guardian rankings again!). The quality of the course/student satisfaction etc. naturally takes a back seat.



Far better than the article itself. Thanks.



I didn’t bust my balls at a crappy state comp to get to Cambridge just for some bitter rejects to tell me that their degree from London/Bristol/Warwick/Durham etc is just as good. The supervision system at Cambridge (and tutorials at Oxford) provide a far deeper legal education than anywhere else in this country.

If your problem with Oxbridge is a social one, then look at where those Oxbridge graduates went to school rather than simply tarring all Oxbridge grads with the brush of easy privilege (by the way, I don’t think that privately educated students worked any less hard once actually at Oxbridge).



Here’s an anecdote for you. A long time ago I attended a recruitment event at my firm. One very impressive candidate turned down our TC offer and is now a tenant at a leading commercial chancery set. Yes, he was privately educated; yes he had a good First from Oxford.

I later found out that he was from Preston, neither of his parents had attended university, and that he got that private education by way of scholarships. My current trainee who was also at the event – with a 2.1 from Bristol – is perfectly acceptable and went to a very good Grammar school and her mother is a very well known partner at Linklaters. Which is the better and more deserving candidate?

Following the logic of this article, it must be the Oxbridge, privately educated chap rather than the Bristol, state school educated girl from Richmond who’s mother earns £2.5 million a year.

That’s why, in my opinion, token diversity articles like this focus on completely the wrong details metrics.



It’s a good anecdote – but it remains just an anecdote. It may even be a common anecdote. Of course, not all privately educated kids pay for their fees, but the majority do, and the institutions themselves perpetuate privilege in industries such as ours.

It is fully legitimate for the starting position in respect of private schools to be that their pupils are privileged.



Quite. Non-Oxbridge graduates are, by definition, second rate. If they deny that, they are either lying or deluded; either way, their opinions are worthless.



Absolutely. Anyone who is non oxbridge has no merit working in the legal profession and would be better off serving pasties at their local greggs



They certainly should not be barristers. There is more at stake here than mere career aspiration: the administration of justice.



The fact that I’m surrounded by thundercunts like this everyday makes me hate the fact that I’m at Oxbridge. The same weirdos making these comments are probably the same losers who populate the drinking societies etc and think that they’re better than the rest of society because their parents could afford to spend 25K a year to buy them a place here. I’d laugh if it wasn’t so sad.

Not Amused

If anyone cared about the education our children received then they would lobby for teaching standards/access at non-oxbridge universities to rise, for universal degree boundaries and for equal work loads across universities.

20 years of determined lefties loudly declaring (without any evidence or indeed analysis of fact) that other unis are “just as good” has been a complete waste of time. Watching Polly Toynbee junior start reciting the same nonsense in this august publication is just depressing.

They may just as well just go to hyde park corner, get a megaphone and declare that the world is flat.



1. MC firms, and especially the top end of the Bar, want new recruits that couple intelligence with an ability to work seriously hard.

2. Oxbridge selects the brightest students. This statement is controversial. Despite those universities’ best efforts over the past decade or so there are still non-merit-based hurdles to access for less privileged applicants.

However, the basic premise that students at Oxbridge are, on the whole, more intelligent than their peers at other RG universities (let alone non-RG universities) surely stands.

3. Oxbridge then relentlessly hones its students’ intelligence and work ethic over the course of a 3 or 4 year degree. An Oxbridge degree is not easy. Up to four weekly tutorials, each requiring a thoroughly researched essay/problem sheet, and a constant stream of lectures can add up to an intimidating weekly workload just to stay afloat. Anyone that tells you otherwise is rudely misinformed. The students that come out the other end with Firsts, or even good 2.1s, are both smart and capable of putting in the hours. This is particularly true in a difficult and competitive subject, like Law.

4. Oxbridge grads are therefore ideal recruits for MC firms and the Bar.

I must admit, I’m actually surprised that the percentage of new tenants with Oxbridge undergrad degrees isn’t higher than 60%. This is not to say that non-Oxbridge students who top their degrees aren’t brilliant and hard-working – they clearly are – it’s just to note that the Oxbridge system is in effect tailored to provide the perfect MC/Bar fodder.


Oxford Law 2nd Year

I’d just like to say, as a current Oxford law undergrad in my second year, you do exaggerate the difficulty and workload a little bit.


Oxford Grad

Well, second year is the breathing space you get after Mods and before Finals. Though it depends on your college (mine had a thing for adding as much as possible to the Faculty Reading Lists, meaning my week 2 contract had 120 cases on it. My friend hadn’t read them all and was made to leave the tutorial). Being the world’s most pathological teacher’s pet, I made sure to read absolutely everything, which took a while (partly because English isn’t my first language). And if you’re like most of us, then finals and the time leading up to it *will* be very hard.

Plus, from what I’ve seen, whether or not you think the Oxford BA is hard, it’s harder than most LLBs. Obviously I haven’t done a law undergrad at two unis and can’t compare directly, but most Oxford grads I know who went on to do an LLM at UCL (including me), pretty consistently got an average that was at least 5% higher than their BA average. I don’t know any who didn’t get a Distinction. At the same time, none of the people I know who got firsts from e.g. Westminster, managed to get a Distinction.


Random comment

Most English students from top Universities who do a masters get a distinction. Dissertation 70%+ then just need to sort out one module at the same level. Masters level is not as rigorous as undergrad.

Clearly an Oxbridge degree is the most valuable. However there are often more able 17 year olds who don’t get in and end up elsewhere. The idea that the Oxbridge entry system is perfect and only takes the best 100% of the time is absurd. In addition the idea that someone with 8A*s and AAAA at Oxford will be a better lawyer at age 35 or 50 than someone with 6A*s and AAAA at Exeter or Manchester is the exact sort of thing one would expect from a 22 year old with zero life experience.

I agree that there should be a focus on Oxbridge at the bar, and often its either an Oxbridge first or a London/Durham first with the BCL and/or an LLM from Harvard. As a solicitor, the rigour of an Oxbridge degree is wasted in most practice areas. You really do not need to be that clever to excel as a transactional corporate solicitor. You need to be organised, driven, personable, tenacious, logical, pragmatic and commercial. Academic excellence is a filter not a requirement as such.



“most Oxford grads I know who went on to do an LLM at UCL (including me), pretty consistently got an average that was at least 5% higher than their BA average. I don’t know any who didn’t get a Distinction. At the same time, none of the people I know who got firsts from e.g. Westminster, managed to get a Distinction.”

That doesn’t match with my experience of the UCL LLM at all. When I did it (graduating in 2016) there were plenty of students from “e.g. Westminster” who got a distinction, and the student who came top of the year did his LLB at BPP.


Oxford Grad 2

Are you for real? I don’t know anybody who read anything other than case summaries, at best the headnote, for most cases



The comm bar looks for first class degrees whether from Oxbridge or RG. Most of them do not discriminate in favour of Oxbridge, although some do. Oxbridge 2.1s get filtered out before interview.

Most employers take the stance than a first is better than a 2.1 so long as the university is good.

Law firms usually recruit largely through vacation schemes and usually filter on first year module grades mostly being 2.1s. Not by university. An Oxbridge 2.2 moduled 1st and or 2nd year will get filtered out.

Most employers know the difference between Oxbridge and elsewhere is usually minute when looking at law students. AAA from LSE or Durham is the same as AAA from Oxford. Many students go to RG unis with better A level grades than those at Oxbridge. The LNAT is also a rather arbitrary discriminator. And some courses are more or less competitive than others at different universities.

I went to a RG and got a first, and had no trouble getting interviews at some of the sets mentioned in the article. I ended up doing a TC. There were only a few fails on the fast track LPC I did, 1 was from an Oxbridge grad, 2 more Oxbridge grads deferred the entire course because it was too time intensive. I work now with Oxbridge grads. You cannot tell.

People tend to care less about education as you get more experienced. Having Oxbridge is all branding and signalling kudos. That could help even when more experienced when a recruiter says ‘hey look at this guy, Oxford first from Latham, good experience, worth a look?’. It will add to the perception that you are bright.



Congrats on the TC but did you get pupillage at one of those sets? In my experience, good commercial & chancery sets might accept a RG First if say you also topped your year, or went to Oxbridge for post-grad. Otherwise it’s difficult to get past interview.



Yes, I did and you don’t know what you’re talking about. University and academics matter for filtering to first round. Interview performance takes you through to second round, or more usually a mini. And performance on that dictates whether you get the puoillage. Lots of them set out the process on their websites. The guy who ran the pupillage committee at Fountain Court didn’t go to Oxbridge, same with many others.



If “in your experience” meant looking at profiles on websites, it is true that at some sets half or more have masters degrees wherever they did undergrad. That could help at interview discussing and proving a particular academic interest relevant to that set.



Yes of course…. So we’re supposed
to believe that you went through the hassle of applying for and obtaining pupillage at a commercial/chancery set only to plump for a training contract?

The head of the pupillage committee at Fountain is a woman and has been for years. Get you facts right.



When I applied which wasn’t too many years ago, fairly sure whoever it was had an undergrad from Bristol. Same with Brick Court when I applied, current one is different has an undergrad from UEA.

Where I got a pupillage everyone interviewing me was from Oxbridge.

I chose not to do it because for a number of reasons, including it being lonely, having just as good money in a US law firm, not really enjoying law or solving legal questions, the tough years you have to put in as a junior, speaking to a lot of juniors….you know some barristers move to law firms and vice versa for all kinds of reasons.

Very sad human beings posting in this comments section! So much angst!


I think it’s even sadder to make things up. What you said was wrong. You were caught out.


Ur….no I wasn’t. When I applied there was a guy from Bristol who headed it. That is true. Same was true at Brick. Same is true of Brick. I googled but can’t find FC.


Troll. How long ago?


Over 5 years.
Brick Court head is up there as UEA. But before him was Bristol. Who is FC if it has changed, you’re not saying?

May I ask why you think whether I am wrong or not about the head of FC being from Bristol vitiates everything I have said about interview selection procedures? Can you see why someone might find it rather insulting that 2 barristers would waste an hour of their time interviewing someone non Oxbridge (in the name of diversity?) just to reject them anyway on that basis?

There is a junior I know at FC who transferred from being a Scottish sol. He chose to become a sol first and chose to requalify. I have a friend at BC who came from Oz to do the BCL…he applied to only 4 chambers and if he hadn’t gotten those he would have returned to Oz remaining a sol. Can you not understand why everyone might not share your particular life goals?


In my experience (as a commercial chancery pupil who did not do his undergrad at Oxbridge or a Russell Group university) this is total rubbish.



Congratulations. Are you at a leading commercial chancery set though? (e.g, Wilberforce, Serle C, South S, Erskine, Maitland,)



Don’t forget XXIV


My friend turned down pupillage there. Didn’t like the vibes.


XXIV is very decent, and has some absolutely top class barristers (such as Ed Cummings), but has never really been considered a top tier commercial chancery set. For example, we instruct all of the sets listed above – particularly Erskine, Wilbeforce and South South – but we don’t instruct XXIV.


Chancery average


Which Chambers?


More tin can than silver circle


Those who can go to Wilberforce


Citylaw: Yes, I am at one of those sets. Incidentally I know that one of the pupils at another one of those sets next year did an undergrad at UEA.


Congratulations! Almost all of those sets are 95% Oxbridge Firsts. It’s good to hear that there’s now a little more variation/diversity.


What idiot thinks all Oxbridge student societies are work related? What about all the politics? Footlights anyone?
Oxbridge select best people using a more rigorous system to select them and then give them a better education. The issue is access to Oxbridge not how they dominate afterwards


Cambridge law student

Tl;Dr Oxbridge is academically tough as fuck, but doesn’t really tell you much more about someone than raw computing power

The argument of this article is somewhat valid, though (and I think this applies to most commentaries on the merits of recruitment) ignores some of the underlying pros and cons of Oxbridge.

I got a high mid-high 2:1 in my first year, so I’m competent, but by no means exceptional. I’m lucky that my closest friend here did actually get a first, so I’ve been able to see first hand an archetype of what that kind of student looks like.


Make no mistake, Oxbridge’s glamour is derived from the top end of the student body, not the majority. People like my friend are genuinely robots, their competencies in an academic setting honestly freak me out. On the flip side, there are a far greater number of people that, if you judged oxbridge by its historical clout, have no business being here. In that sense, both chambers and firms have more of an incentive to take a shot on Oxbridge grads, considering the possibility that they are either A) insanely competent or B) have been influenced by their insanely competent friends.

I also agree with a lot of the comments above that our degree is insanely difficult. The caveat to this however, is that it’s insanely difficult to do /well/ (I’m defining well by a 67+). I would say people here (and at most RG unis) are innately capable of getting at least a 2:1 with a decent amount of hard work; to get the higher grades is where, I think, Oxbridge is undoubtedly the toughest. I won’t get into the technicals, but the structure of supervision’s and combined breadth/depth of content is ridiculous (I’m not glamourising this, it fucking sucks and needs to be reformed, but it is what it is, and for those that can do it, fair play).


A huge number Oxbridge people (particularly in law) are fucking twats. Or their insanely robotic and don’t really have the soft skills needed to succeed to a corporate environment. My friend who I mentioned had 7 interviews with MC and SC firms, and ended up at an SC. I had one interview to an MC, and got that. A friend of mine who is insanely personable had a low 2:1, but now has schemes with 2 American firms and an MC.

So to everyone saying personability>academic performance, I totally agree. I personally think that the mundane ‘memorise a thousand cases and apply them in a 45 minute question” doesn’t really tell you much about a person’s working potential. That being said, academic performance is, I assume, vaguely correlated with ability, so the Oxbridge glam just boosts your initial perception of competence.


Cambridge law student

PS: before the LC dickheads get on me about grammar, I’m writing on my phone to distract from revision, sorry I’m advance


Cambridge law student

P.S.S. I forgot to mention that the person with 7 interviews only got 1 (the SC). On a side note, is there an edit button somewhere that I’m missing lol??


Cambridge Registration Team

Good morning. Please report to our offices with your belongings so we can process your expulsion.



Your grammar is shit and I don’t believe a word you just said.


Cambridge Law Student

Okay bro, enjoy your salt 🙂



Good comment. I’m a MC lawyer. You’re absolutely right. You don’t need a great intellect to succeed at a MC firm (perhaps with tha exception of tax law). We would care far more about whether we liked you and that’s probably why you beat out your friend.

It would be a completely different story at the Commercial and Chancery Bar though as raw academic talent does matter to them. To be frank, from the other side of the table, that’s a much better game to be in, but sadly there are far fewer places. There are probably only 45/50 good chancery and commercial pupillages per year v 900 MC/SC/US training contracts.



Totally agree with this. The law degree only really prepares you for the research side of a training contract, which is for most people about 1/8-1/4 of what they do.

Even then, if you’re not an idiot finding the cases and statute is the easy part – actually synthesising them with usually complicated facts and/or coming up with a clever argument is far more difficult. And an Oxbridge degree will have helped you learn how to blag and come up with clever-sounding arguments on the fly, but in a law firm it’s far more important to understand your client’s business and be 100% accurate 100% of the time. And to be good with people generally. The bar is a bit different of course.



Some chambers are changing, those run by former solicitors have absorbed the “fit” and “likeableness” criteria. Time will tell if it works.



Chambers will take the best Oxbridge grads regardless of grades (other more secret achievements while at the Varsity matter more).

After that initial harvest 10% will be allocated the necessary work to succeed at the bar.

And the diversity hires will make it for a while too.


Oxford grad

What a horribly biased article, with so many flaws, written by someone who seems bitter about not being an Oxbridge student/graduate.

It consistently fails to recognise that Oxbridge grads are good candidates, just like RG and non-RG grads can be, because of the reasons such as being personable, having drive, good grades (which is harder to do at Oxbridge than other unis in my experience) etc.

It seems to suggest that traineeships and pupillages should be held proportionately to the numbers of grads from each university type, completely ignoring the issue of quality. Yes Oxbridge gets you through more initial doors than other unis, but you still have to impress beyond those doors, and the Oxbridge grads succeed then in the same ways non-oxbridge grads succeed (or don’t). The Oxbridge grads are just often better quality and that’s what employers care about. It doesn’t mean the grads deserve their jobs any less.

Yes the level of teaching affects the quality of the degree for the students because it makes it easier/more intuitive/less stressful etc. but it doesn’t mean the essays Oxbridge grads write aren’t better than those at other unis – even if they’re marked more harshly, doesn’t mean the students aren’t on average consistently more driven, ambitious, intellectual etc. In short, it doesn’t make the degree any less valuable for employers. Furthermore, student satisfaction is hideously unsuitable for comparison, given most undergrads have been undergrads at only their uni.



There are a thousand reasons why someone might not do well (or even take) A Levels.

I know a very talented QC who went to an ex-poly. She was in an abusive relationship and did not take any A Levels. She did an Access course and could only get a place at an ex-poly.

Oxbridge have only 3% mature students. That is not good.

If your parents spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on your education; you dam ought to get into Oxbridge and should not boast about it when you do.

You’re clever and lucky. Some people are just clever. That does not mean the Oxbridge grad is intellectually superior. They might be the same or less.



I bet she does dross work. Family or the like. She’d never be doing Chancery or Commercial.


S&M trainee

I think he may be referring to the lady at Essex Court Chambers, who is an absolute legend.



I would add:

I am a barrister in a decent chambers. I did not go to Oxbridge. It makes no difference to my career at all.



Do you do proper – ie, Commercial or Chancery – work? Because stuff like family, crime and PI are the intellectual equivalent of colouring in, which is why the second rate – ie, non-Oxbridge – do that work.


Chancery Pupillage Holder

Is it really necessary to be so arrogant about other practice areas? I know many very clever people who are going into common law…



Couldn’t agree more. Very arrogant. Small p*nis syndrome.



It does matter but only to the w@nkers who have shitty practices at commercial and chancery chambers.



Wow you really are a special kind of asshole aren’t you?


A trust fund with a trust fund

Oh let me cry into my six figure income while doing second personal injury work



All some idiots at some chancery/commercial sets do is kiss silk ass and give free seminars. Horrible existence.


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