Choosing a Law School
The decision to go to university carries with it an important consideration. For the next three years or so, you will be surrounded by academics and peers who will shape your academic and personal growth. The reputation of a given institution is not sufficient to absolve you of the responsibility for undertaking detailed research. In this guide, we will discuss some of the key information you should research as you choose the law schools on your UCAS application.
As you decide to embark on a legal career, you must face the reality that it is an extremely competitive field, where success is not guaranteed to anyone. You should aim to put yourself in the best position possible, starting with the choice of law schools.
With that in mind, we think that you should aim for the highest. Of course, your expectations have to be realistic (for example, you must meet the entry requirements of a given institution). However, with five UCAS choices, you have an opportunity to apply for the top law schools as well as including some middle-tier institutions. This is a sensible strategy, even more so when you realise that taking a gap year can be very beneficial if organised towards personal development.
We cannot stress the importance of conducting thorough research of various institutions. This goes beyond mere skim-reading of a prospectus. You can visit various universities during their Open Days, you can get in contact with admission tutors and current students, you can analyse admissions statistics online. Such inquiry should start with you outlining some performance metrics of a given institution that you think will accurately allow you to make the right choice.
Below, we discuss some of the features we consider indicative of a high quality legal degree.
You should very carefully consider the tutorial system offered by a given law school. It is the very essence of legal education as it serves to develop the vital skills of legal reasoning that were discussed in the Guide: Is Law right for you?
What is the average size of a tutorial group? A smaller tutorial group will ensure greater dedication from the tutor and foster an environment of open debate.
How many hours of tutorials are scheduled per week? Ideally, you want to have regular tutorials, in line with the modules you are undertaking.
Who are the tutors? Are they the module conveners? Are they the leading voices in their respective areas of academic law?
The undergraduate Law degree in the UK will usually involve first two years of compulsory modules, such as Contract Law, Criminal Law, Public Law, Property Law, Tort Law etc. In your final year, it is common that you are given some choice with the modules.
It might be the case that you do not have a predefined idea on the area of law that is of particular interest to you. It is also very likely that your interests will change as you study Law over the first two years. However, it is advisable to consider the breadth and quality of the option modules offered by a given Faculty of Law. Perhaps you wish to undertake a module in more academic area of law. Maybe your aspirations point towards the commercial sphere? Or you are keen on Jurisprudence? It is never a bad idea to undertake some evaluation of the option modules offered, since they may form a springboard into a career specialism.
When assessing law schools for their position in various league tables, you should see them only as a helpful guide. It is easy to be overtaken with the competitive urge and attach too much weight to the law school’s ranking. The rating for research quality and student satisfaction provides the most contextual evidence for your deliberations. We advise also noting the ranking of the university itself.
Open Days: the quality of teaching
Nowadays, universities put significant effort in organizing open days for prospective candidates. If you have the chance, you should try to attend at least a two or three. However, this effort ought to pay for itself: know exactly what you want to find out and ask questions. Do not be dazzled by the state of facilities or the promises of bountiful career prospects. Instead, focus your assessment on anything indicative of the teaching quality. If possible, attend sample lectures or tutorials, talk to the students in the higher years, and evaluate the opportunities presented by the student LawSoc.
This may be more difficult to research, but universities usually have internal or external awards for academics that have demonstrated teaching excellence. Some awards are based on student feedback, others on faculty feedback. These may be indicative of the learning culture fostered by the Faculty. Another more anecdotal evidence relates to textbook writing: have any of the tutors published acclaimed textbooks?
Forms of Assessment
A good legal course will be demanding throughout the year. You may evaluate this quality by researching how many essays/problem questions are you expected to write per Term. Is there a mooting programme? Are there regular formative exams?
Try to find a sample reading list for a tutorial or a module: is it extensive yet with some elements of choice?
Admission statistics & criteria
Each law school releases a wealth of information about their admissions process. Use this to make a reasonable assessment about your potential application and consider what qualities are tutors looking for in the candidate.
Does the school include an admissions exam? It may be a great opportunity for you to prepare and objectively improve the chances of your application.
Having undertaken the assessment of the law school, you should remember to include the wider context of the University itself. The campus culture is a reflection of the general student body and we think you should look for universities that maintain academic rigour across the faculties and support independent inquiry and free expression of views.
The choice of law schools requires you to undertake research, guided by criteria you find important to your circumstances. You should be ambitious. You should also work hard to ensure your chances are realistic. Try to objectively assess the teaching quality of each Faculty. As you settle down on your law school choices, you should research the qualitative admissions criteria used by the tutors, and thus informing your approach to the Personal Statement.