What school subjects are needed to study law?

A common concern before applying to study law is whether the subject choices, which you have chosen at school, meet the requirements of Law courses in the UK. Here we will first dispel the common myth about there being essential subjects which are required to commence the study of Law. In theory, you can apply to study Law with any set of subject choices. In the second section, we will then make some key recommendations of subject choices which are especially beneficial to the study of Law and explain why choosing these subjects may likely strengthen your application when applying to the LNAT universities which are uniquely competitive.

There are no essential subjects required

Universities openly state that “existing knowledge of the law is not a criterion of admission”. Therefore, there is no requirement to study Law at A-level or equivalent, nor is there any benefit to doing so. Students are expected to have no legal knowledge at the commencement of their studies and much of the Law A-level syllabus will be immediately covered at the start of your undergraduate studies (but in much greater depth!). In truth, attempting to learn the law at the school stage is counter-productive. Before acquiring actual knowledge of the law, it is first far more important to develop the foundational skills which are used in legal reasoning. A-level Law syllabus focuses on passing on superficially condensed beginner’s knowledge rather than bestowing those skills. Because of this in our opinion it acts to the detriment of your later learning as it jumps ahead and oversimplifies material that is far more complex.

That does not mean that you should not take interest in legal affairs alongside your studies. An interest in the law is best demonstrated by making some insights regarding past or present legal issues in your personal statement which you can find out about by doing some reading and researching in your spare time. Having an interesting issue or concept to discuss will boost your personal statement and give you something interesting to talk about in interview which is compulsory at Oxford and Cambridge universities and sometimes may also be conducted at other LNAT universities like UCL and King’s College London. Having at least one legal affair or concept up your sleeve that you feel confident talking about may act as the perfect ice-breaker in an interview if asked about what it is about law that took your early interest.

Lastly, it is important to remember that school may be your last opportunity to explore subjects that are relevant to law indirectly but not about law itself. Study of history, for example, is inevitably tied to legal changes. English Literature often analyses texts which directly confront concepts tied to law, such as those of justice and fairness. Just think of texts such as Animal Farm (1945) and Lord of the Flies (1954). Therefore, it is wiser to take this opportunity to explore other subject choices before university and constantly seek inspiration to see how they link to legal ideas on your own.

Avoid ‘Soft’ subject choices

The majority of UK universities will not recognise General Studies and Critical Thinking for admission purposes. You can still mention these subjects on your application and how they helped you develop skills relevant to the further study of Law, but remember that they will not be acknowledged as an extra subject choice in the strong majority of cases. If you chose to do Critical Thinking make sure that that is an additional subject you study and not a substitute.

Some subject choices may be considered ‘soft’ subjects and not be welcomed by legal admissions looking for evidence of high academic achievement. There are only a few subjects considered to be ‘soft’, if in doubt do check the departmental website of your chosen university which should give you a list of the recognised subject choices which are accepted. ‘Soft’ subjects tend to most commonly include Media/Film studies, Photography and sometimes Business Studies.

Take at least one essay subject

Any subject that will help you develop the skills required to the study of law will be useful.

As mentioned in the previous guide on ‘Is Law right for me?’, it is evidence of the student having developed the skills of critical thought and written communication that the admission teams will be looking for..

Most obviously, it is essay subjects that lend themselves to the development of those skills.

Traditional subjects such as:

  • English Language and Literature
  • History
  • Religious Studies (Theology)
  • Classics
  • Latin
  • History of Art
  • Philosophy
  • Economics
pose no danger of being considered ‘soft’ and certainly develop those two core skills required for further study of law. Still, this does not mean that the subjects are equally as good in preparation for doctrinal study of law; for instance, Economics may inoculate in a student a reformer’s zeal to the detriment of humility in the legal task and its associated dangers.

Ultimately, the admissions team will be looking for evidence of those core legal skills - strong critical thought and excellent communication skills - which are most readily demonstrated by essay subjects that directly teach both of these skills.

And whilst the LNAT essay is itself a very specific form of essay writing, it is inevitable that your written word would have been developed more fluently through an essay subject for an A-level.

How about science subjects?

Once you have ensured that you have studied an essay subject, that should not stop you from choosing a non-essay subject as well, such as a science and/or a language.

Sciences are also a good evidence of your mental agility. They require hard work and teach the ability to apply sets of rules to new information, which is undoubtedly also a transferable skill with regards to legal study. Sciences may also prove hugely valuable for those who wish to study a module in Intellectual Property law during their degree, which calls on knowledge of basic principles from Biology and Chemistry. Therefore, there are undoubtable advantages to studying a hard science.

But do beware of ‘softer’ sciences such as Psychology or Sociology which require less academic vigour and are much more tenuously related to good legal skills. Frankly, both disciplines are so enmeshed in muddled thinking of erroneous aims that it’s best to avoid them for the sake of one’s sanity. It is rather advisable to pick only from the core sciences, which are:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics and/or
  • Mathematics
These remain universally acknowledged as the ‘hard’ sciences.

Languages and Art

A language is necessary if you are applying for a Joint honours Law course (for example Law with French), but even for the traditional single honours Law LLB course a language is still useful as a good indicator of hard work ethic.

The valuable skills developed by arts subjects are unfortunately not relevant to the study of Law. Whilst an Art or Drama A-level (or equivalent) will be recognised by the admissions team, it will not account for the same academic weight as an essay, science or language subject at A-level. In light of this, given how competitive Law is, we recommend not taking an arts subject as a substitute for another A-level (or equivalent), as it will make your application less competitive. By all means, make it your extra-curricular!

However, the same does not apply for students of International Baccalaureate or other international qualifications that allow you a choice of more than three subjects. So long as you ensure that there is an essay subject, a hard science and a language (in the case of IB qualifications, essentially a requisite,) choosing a subject from the ‘Arts’ group as well is by no means a disadvantage in this unique case. This also stands true for other international qualifications which allow you a choice of more than three subjects.

Grades are more important than subject choices: Play to your own strengths

Lastly, grades do matter the most. The admissions team first and foremost will remain most interested in what you achieved in your subjects, as evidence of motivation and hard work ethic which are the other two skills necessary for future study of law.

If you know that you will be able to achieve better grades overall by taking an essay subject with a language and a science, than if you did three essay subjects then by all means it is wiser to do so. Because a key to a successful admission remains high grades across all of your chosen subjects.

In summary: play to your strengths, feel free to pick a mix of subjects, so long as you avoid taking any ‘soft’ subjects and make sure that you select at least one essay subject. When studying your selected subjects always seek to find inspiration in the syllabus and think about how it could relate to the legal world and legal concepts.

Does Arbitio help with your studies at school?

To an extent, we think that it does since your preparation for LNAT will serve to improve the foundational skills in humanities and expose you to wide-ranging texts, which will hopefully make you ponder and engage with the arguments in your own time.

Of course, remember that you have to get the needed grades on the exams by developing strong and specific self-study skills, however do not think of LNAT preparation as merely a stressful slog to get a given mark! Your education should be more of a symphony than a jazz improvisation solo!