Studying Single Honours LLB vs Joint Honours Law LLB with a Year Abroad

Studying Law is a great challenge and there will be a lot of interesting material which you will master throughout your three-year study of the LLB Law degree. However, many wonder whether to transform this into an even greater challenge by studying the Joint Honours LLB course. A Joint honours degree involves an additional year of study added onto the three year programme. The Joint honours entails additional study of another jurisdiction and commonly its language to the point of near fluency. Essentially, it is the LLB degree with an extra year added on which is spent abroad studying in the relevant jurisdiction.

Whether to study Single honours LLB or a Joint honours LLB is a very personal choice and it is often dictated by your existing language skills. Only those with evidence of advanced skill in a relevant European language (A-level or equivalent) can apply for courses in Law with French, Law with Italian and other languages.

However, if you lack the relevant language skills you may still have the option of applying for a Joint honours degree of an English-speaking jurisdiction such as Hong Kong or Singapore. Most often, you will be able to transfer to such a programme only once you have completed a year of your LLB studies and you will not need to show any language skills to do this. That is the case for UCL, King’s College London and London School of Economics which offer programmes in America, Hong Kong, Singapore and other English-speaking countries. If you are interested in those, you will need to apply for the three-year LLB programme on UCAS normally and then apply to transfer to the joint programme, at the start of the second year of your studies. Applications are then assessed on academic performance.

Meanwhile, for Oxford, university applicants should at the start apply for the four-year joint programme on UCAS before beginning any study.

But, the process for applying for Joint honours with an English speaking jurisdiction differs for each university and you should explore individual websites to find out the specific application process for each institution.

There is no advice that one can bestow in terms of what is the ‘better’ route, for there isn’t one.

The only thing that we can say truthfully is that the single honours Law LLB degree undoubtedly opens very many (exciting!) doors, meanwhile the joint honours degree opens even more!

Career benefits of Law with a foreign language: Law LLB with French etc.

Studying a Joint honours degree with a European jurisdiction will give you the opportunity to develop your foreign language skill to the point of fluency. Aside from this being a great asset to personal enrichment, it also is of high employment value in the Solicitor career, most notably with international law firms.

International law firms seek graduates who can communicate with clients in their native or commercial language of choice. So if you can offer skills in another language, the graduate recruitment team will most certainly value this. It will be a strong asset which you can use to stand out, even more, from the high number of applicants.

A member of the international law firm White & Case’s graduate resourcing and development, Christina Churchman, openly states that “it's always useful for us to know if applications have certain language capabilities which align with our overseas needs or our larger strategic plans.” And every training application for a UK law firm asks candidates to state their language abilities, with some openly stating that they prefer candidates who speak more than one language due to their multinational client base.

Secondly, as well as increasing your employability prospects, once you secure solicitor training with an international law firm in the UK you are more likely to encounter a wider range of international opportunities during your employment. For example, you may be able to choose to work abroad for a period of time, provided that the firm holds offices in the relevant country. Most of the top Law firms in the UK are international and hold offices which span the globe, so it is not uncommon to hear of lawyers travelling to international offices for temporary work placements.

In short, if you study Law with a language you will have more opportunities involving that country itself in your work life; in the case of Law with French firms may ask you to work with their French-speaking clients and send you on “secondments” (work placements lasting a few months up to a year) to France itself.

If you wish to work abroad permanently, then as a bilingual you are far more likely to secure placements in European and international institutions with a Joint honours degree.

Having said all of this, it is worth mentioning that a language can (and should!) be studied for the sake of it, although this is to be balanced with the concern of a given jurisdiction. English law is “uniquely” common law and takes centre stage in the world of commerce, whereas civilian jurisdiction may be much more secluded and paradoxically insular. In practice, taking a module in the Conflict of Laws may give you sufficient understanding of laws’ international relations and effects. Why not learn a language as an extra-curricular?

What if I want to become a barrister? Are languages useful then?

The above employability advantages do not translate to the career at the bar or to non-legal careers that you may be interested in pursuing. Training to be a barrister practising in the UK does not require language skills or knowledge of a different jurisdiction. Likewise, a career in politics or academia may not call on those skills in the same way.

The employment advantages stand largely relevant to candidates who seek a solicitor career and are interested in future work opportunities abroad.

Year abroad in a common law jurisdiction: Singapore/ Hong Kong/ Australia

Studying a Joint honours degree, most commonly with Singaporean, Hong Kong or Australian jurisdiction does not offer the obvious advantage of studying a new language, however it still offers the opportunity to later steer your career towards those jurisdictions which are uniquely similar to the English jurisdiction.

Students may find it easier to move to those countries after completing their studies and complete their lawyer qualification training there, staying on to practise as solicitors permanently. However, students with single honours Law LLB are commonly known to be able to do so nonetheless and are often offered training in those jurisdictions whilst holding the traditional Single honours degree. This is due to the great similarities shared between English, Singaporean and Hong Kong jurisdictions which all use the shared approach: a common law system. Because of this and other reasons, the legal knowledge between these three jurisdictions is highly transferable.

Joint honours degrees do not automatically qualify you in two different jurisdictions

Depending on the university and the course, an added-on year abroad will reap different benefits in respect to the qualifications of foreign jurisdiction.

First and foremost, beware of mistakenly assuming that a year abroad in a certain jurisdiction will qualify you with an equivalent Law degree in the said country as well as England.

You will still, in majority be studying the English legal system and qualify with an English law degree under Joint honours. That is a given.

However, the added-on year abroad may function differently, depending on the university institution. At Oxford university, the added year does not work towards an equivalent Law degree qualification in the different country and that is also the case with many other joint programmes that offer one year abroad placement at other universities.

However, you can specifically elect a programme that will in fact qualify you with two equivalent Law degrees (For example LLB Joint Degree English and German Law with Universität zu Köln (M146) - and (M103) offered at UCL). Other joint programmes do not qualify you with two LLB qualifications, however do shorten the time which you would need to study for in the foreign jurisdiction later if you wanted to qualify there as well later (an example of this is LLB Law with French Law programme at UCL).

In summary, when you research joint programmes you should check very carefully what sort of qualifications the added year of study will give you. Check whether it does or does not help you later attain a full equivalent Law degree in the other jurisdiction.

In most cases, European legal systems require full-time study of their jurisdiction which is not substituted by a year abroad offered by the Joint honours course in the UK. Common law is not the civilian law system.

However, an exception to this irreconcilable difference between the European and English legal systems are the other common law systems – chiefly that of Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia. These legal systems are also common law systems and are heavily influenced by the English law itself, so because of this you can actually qualify into those countries’ legal practice after completing the English Law LLB easily without having to study a separate law degree in the respective country. This is a unique position because of the similarities of our legal systems, however does not require a Joint course in any event, seeing that the content of a standard LLB is already very transferable.

Academic benefits to any Joint honours degree

A lot of students find great academic satisfaction from being able to interact with a foreign legal system as it gives them an opportunity to take on a legal comparative lens.

It allows you to look at the English system from the point of view of another and this certainly fosters a more critical attitude.

If you have an interest in comparative legal study and like the idea of comparing systems against one another, then any joint degree may just be of pure academic interest to you solely for that desire to compare which often stimulates great new evaluative legal insights!

Disadvantages of a Joint honours degree

Nonetheless, studying a Joint honours law degree involves higher costs and a longer study by one academic year than the Single honours alternative.

Do keep in mind that universities offer scholarships to help with the costs of the extra year. For example, UCL covers the majority of the tuition fees involved in many of its English-speaking joint programmes. You should research your university of interest as there will be financial support in place!

In light of personal preferences in terms of future career plans, most students decide that a joint programme is simply not their cup of tea! English law and its many nuances quench their legal interests just the right amount and most are satisfied by the great challenge of a three-year Single honours Law LLB course.

So in making this choice consider the above opportunities opened up by the Joint honours and consider whether they strike you as something that would be of real use to you personally in your later life. If the answer to this is yes, then consider which foreign jurisdiction is of greatest interest to you and why as this is something you should explain in your personal statement and/or interview.

Is an admission to a double honours programme even more competitive?

There are fewer spaces available on the joint programmes than on the Single honours Law LLB, making them more competitive to attain a place on.

However, if you apply for a joint programme, many universities will also consider your application for the single honours regular Law LLB as well. This is true of Oxford university and other universities may do so as well if you specify a wish to be considered that way in your UCAS application or by directly emailing the institution.

If this is practised/allowed by the university, then applying for a joint programme does not actually diminish your chances of a successful application at all.

It is very important to check with the specific university how your application for a joint programme will be considered. You can often find it on their respective websites directly, or you can email the admission team with the following question:

If I apply for a Joint programme (x), in the event of my application being unsuccessful will the admissions team automatically consider me for the single honours Law LLB programme as well? If not, then what should I do in order for my application to be considered both for the joint and the single programme?

Having an answer to the above question will allow you to then determine what the best application strategy, as to not actually decrease your chances of being admitted onto a Law programme at your chosen university.

Arbitio take on the matter

Don’t do a year abroad just for the allure of it – we seem to put too much premium these days on moving about just enough to never take the risk of forming a home somewhere with others. A year abroad can be an intellectual journey and character building – how will you find yourself in different realities, how will you see the commonalities shared? Try to discern a solid reason for studying an extra year at undergraduate level and take into account that you will not know everything you need to know when making this decision. Perhaps bear in mind that you can always, that is finances and scholarships permitting, instead choose to take an LLM abroad – this option really is for those who will make study of law their “jam” and are academically aware enough to take demanding modules at doctrinal institutions for solid legal systems. If you think the world is your oyster, then pause and ask: how do pearls find their way into us? 😉