What is it like to actually study Law at an LNAT university?
Studying Law at university is no easy task. But it can be a noble calling, leading to some rewarding opportunities in your future, for you and others around you. You can look forward to using the degree to later representing those in need of justice, helping shape society and engaging critically with its ongoing developments. Regardless of the fact that this sort of worldliness requires a certain detachment from itself by the individual, going to one of the LNAT universities, all of which are most reputable in their field, makes the achievement of a legal career a real possibility.
Yet, meanwhile, the journey to achieving the many ambitions of our law students is not only laborious but also a really exciting one! Going to lectures, writing essays and debating with your fellow students about issues and concepts that underpin much of humanity, makes up for a highly stimulating time that you will remember for the rest of your lives and look very fondly back on.
In this article we will try to share with you some in-depth insight into what learning Law really involves, informed by the perspective of a Law graduate, who studied LLB with Another Legal System (Singapore) at University College London (UCL).
Firstly, we will focus on demystifying this reputable degree, then on dispelling some common myths and finally putting down some key points about how studying Law at one of the LNAT universities is different.
Carefully reading this insider knowledge, all informed by a real student’s perspective, will allow you to cater a Personal Statement that demonstrates a clear understanding of the degree and prevent you from writing those faux-pas claims which can unnerve the admissions tutor who is looking for you to demonstrate a real understanding of the journey that you are applying to undertake.
A Law Student’s Perspective: What is studying Law actually like?
In your study of Law, you can be certain to study some core modules which are required of every qualifying LLB degree. These are: Criminal, Contract, Property, European Union, Tort and Public Law.
Additionally to these, you will also be given an option to pick from a list of different modules which you will also study at different times in your degree. The variety of those modules will differ slightly between the different LNAT universities.
You can expect all modules to be taught in the form of a series of lectures and tutorials. The former explain topics and give you an opportunity to make notes in a large classroom setting and supplement your independent readings, whilst tutorials is when you can narrow down on a specific topic and work individually with a Professor, or in a small group with fellow students, in greater depth to master your understanding and ask your own questions.
In the Law courses offered by LNAT universities you can expect to be taught legal material in balanced approach which covers both application and theory.
We will explain what this means using an example. Imagine that you are starting your first week at University College London and you start studying Contract Law, which is a module taught in First year of the course. You will begin by learning about how contracts are actually formed. You will learn the legal ‘rules’ which must be abided in order to a make a valid, legally enforceable piece of agreement that we term a ‘contract’. It will be a little like learning a recipe for a very complicated end dish – there are many stages and rules to get acquainted with first. However, this form of learning will never be monotonous. Each stage will invite questions and criticism. Just as some people disagree over what ingredient is better in a single recipe, so academics and lawyers may disagree on what stages we should insist on to make an enforceable contract. Some may think any single rule to be too great in scope, allowing for what the laymen terms ‘loopholes’, whilst others may insist that it should continue to be so in light of other arguments. You will be invited to engage in such legal conflicts and form your own critical stance.
This stage will involve learning the law both from statues enacted in legislation, but most importantly from case law. Case law is essentially a body of past court cases which set a ‘precedent’ of how certain rules have been applied in the past. Courts and its judiciary are under an obligation to carry on the precedent and only break from it in exceptional circumstances. This fascinating mixture of statute and case law is what makes the English legal system particularly exciting to learn, and what gives it its status as a ‘common law system’.
Then, once the application part has been mastered, you will be invited to engage in some philosophical theory. Taking the example of Contract Law again, you may question what is a fair agreement, for example should signing an agreement which meets all the legal standards but “at the point of a gun” be classed as fair and valid? Should we even place a premium on ‘fairness’ in legal agreement and how far should we police this? What if someone is not pressured at gunpoint to sign an agreement for a high-interest loan, but instead experiences such financial poverty that they feel at no liberty to decline the proposal? Is policing contracts to which parties are free to enter an appropriate task of the courts, or even the State? Discussing such theoretical difficulties will allow you to engage with the philosophy that underpins the Rule of Law. You can expect to encounter concepts of fairness, justice and state intervention with individual freedom on quite a regular basis. However, understand that legal method is a creature of its own as opposed to some sociological amalgam and so most of your study will focus on black letter law and legal reasoning of judges.
After engaging with each core module in this way – both learning the standards of application and engaging with the underlying theory – you will be able to not just know the law as it stands and be able to apply it to different scenarios, but you will also be able to discuss it and criticise it in a highly informed and creative way using theory and some philosophy. The legal method is one of those subjects that will make you sensitive to the importance of means before we discuss the ends that could be achieved.
In your tutorials and coursework assignments you will be given the chance to apply this learnt knowledge both to solve legal issues and seek a resolution to a legal problem, and also you will be given the chance to write theoretical essays in which you engage with conceptual questions and offer your own critical stances.
“One of the greatest joys of my Law degree at UCL was how the Faculty placed equal importance on theory and practice. In our lessons we would always learn about what the law is, but soon after we also developed theoretical standpoints and evaluated the Law conceptually. If I could give advice to my younger self, I would tell her to address both aspects in the personal statement for Law – showing awareness that legal study involves both practice and exploration of its philosophy, although very much within the setting of academia.”
Luke - Arbitio student and a graduate of UCL Laws; Law LLB with Another Legal System (Singapore)
Dispelling the Myths
Myth 1: Studying Law is about memorising laws
Somewhat unfortunately, one of the most common myths of prospective students is that a Law degree is an exercise of memorising different laws. We can put you at ease and reassure you that this is not the case.
Studying Law does involve learning about what the laws are (as explained above you do need to learn the application of the law which is learnt from statutes and case law), but books with statutes are often provided in exams and in any case, English law is a mix of statutes as well as past cases which require analysis and not just mere memorisation. You will be surprised how flexible and malleable English law and its principles are, yet certainly applied!
The memory faculty will be developed and put to the test as the degree does entail a lot of material. But a Law degree never requires of you some mindless memorisation. At every step you are asked to engage critically and analytically with every bit of the law.
Myth 2: Studying Law is not creative
One of the core exercises which you will engage in during your study is solving legal problems. You will be given a scenario of an event that a person might have gone through (like signing an agreement “at gunpoint”) and asked to solve the legal problem which they encounter: is such a contract enforceable? Or can they avoid it?
In order to be able to meaningfully engage with these puzzles you will be taught to think creatively and at times even very imaginatively.
Lastly, mastering the philosophical foundations of law also calls for a theory-driven mindset. In some sense, it’s about appreciating the commonalities as a whole and attempting to input a formal system to explain how it all fits together. A good example of this sort of thinking can be found in Unjust Enrichment, only a recently recognised area of English law, which arguably emerged from a set of cases on quasi-contracts. Many LNAT universities will cover this either as an optional module or part of the law of obligations.
How studying at an LNAT university differs from other universities?
Commitment to teaching Legal Theory
At the LNAT universities you can rest assured that Law will be taught in a creative manner, with an open eye to philosophical debate and creative thinking about the law.
These universities are particularly praised for teaching students to engage with the law on this balanced basis, placing high importance analysing and evaluating the law. Teaching law as both theory and practice, rather than taking the reductionist approach of seeing law as mere practice to be “drilled in”.
Many students find the theoretical approach to studying Law much more intellectually satisfying.
This teaching approach can be seen in the fact that all LNAT universities offer a module in ‘Jurisprudence’ which is the study of Legal Philosophy. All LNAT universities offer ‘Jurisprudence’ as a compulsory module – so that you can rest assured that the course will address legal theory – with the exception of University of Durham and University of Nottingham which offer this as an optional module that you can choose to study as one of your optional modules.
Meanwhile, other non-LNAT universities may offer a theory module but often do not give you the option to study Jurisprudence. Meanwhile they generally place much lower importance on the philosophical foundations of law in their style of teaching the core material.
“The King’s degree programme focuses on the study of law as an intellectual discipline. Law may be regarded as a social science, a branch of ethics or as part of political philosophy, and all of these perspectives are explored within the learning environment of King's. It also can form the first major step towards qualifying for practice as a solicitor or barrister.” (Source: King's College admission website)
Quality of the teaching: Commitment to small-group teaching
One of the most valued assets of LNAT universities is their teaching style – namely the smaller sizes of their teaching groups. All of the LNAT universities openly commit themselves to small-group teaching, in the form of tutorials alongside lectures and sometimes seminars. The unique aspect of teaching in tutorials is that these are much smaller classes of approximately eight students. Uniquely, University of Oxford prides itself on being the only university, except for University of Cambridge, in the UK which teaches one-on-one tutorials with its tutors.
Emphasis on small-group teaching is of a vital difference that marks out the LNAT universities. It ensures close engagement with the material that you are being taught and fosters in-depth debate between fellow students on the course. On a personal level, students highly value being offered such close and personal academic guidance during their degree, which ultimately allows you to get to know the material very closely and establish a personal dialogue with your teachers.
This teaching style is what chiefly sets LNAT universities apart from the academic crowd, whereas other institutions offer much larger teaching groups and most do not even hold tutorials but only large-group seminar sessions in lieu of.
“The small sizes of our weekly tutorials meant that I was able to gain a very close understanding of the material that we were taught. Tutorials were a place where I could ask my personal questions and go through tougher material slowly. Overall, tutorials allowed me to break down complex material and made it so much more manageable! It was also the place where I made close friends who shared my desire for further debate.”
Luke - Arbitio student and a graduate of UCL Laws; Law LLB with Another Legal System (Singapore)
Law is passionate
Lastly, it is true to say about Law is that it is a subject which welcomes passion and builds on it.
Students who study Law very soon realise how deeply law permeates the whole of society and represents/refers some of the most valued ideals in our world.
Engaging with the ideals of justice, fairness and freedom is an incredibly rewarding task. It is hard not to feel passionate about those foundations which form the moral fabric of our shared lives. This understanding of law also adds a certain seriousness to the pursuit of legal degree.
However, study of law will also serve to cool your passion in a good way. It will help you to “get out of your own head” and learn to put a premium on reasoned distinctions backed with moral sentiments – something we could all have done with in our sixth-form debates (and probably beyond!)
Admissions Insight: Use the above information to write a better Personal Statement
In an effective Personal Statement, the admissions tutor is looking to see that the student really knows the journey on which they are attempting to embark on. That is why prior research is essential: go to Open Days, speak to tutors and take note of current students’ personal insight, such as the above.
This will help you tailor your statement appropriately – demonstrate awareness of Law being a practice that is underpinned by conceptual insights.
Arbitio subscription includes access to Personal Statement Writing Course, which helps you to draft the right structure for your statement and have it reviewed by two of our experienced tutors in line with your university choices (additional fee).