LLBye: Is the undergraduate law degree no longer fit for purpose?

July 3, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

According to a recent study, law firms feel that the undergraduate law degree does not equip students with the skills required to be a lawyer in today’s legal profession, namely attention to detail, resilience and commercial awareness.

What does this mean?

The Kies Consulting study, which involved interviews with partners and recruiters from ten law firms, found that “there is a notable gap of essential skills that law degrees tend not to prepare their students for”. 92% of those interviewed stated attention to detail as their top skill for trainees to work on. 83% wanted trainees to demonstrate more resilience, while 76% highlighted a lack of commercial awareness.

This criticism of the LLB is not the first of its kind. Former Justice of the Supreme Court Lord Sumption has said that a law degree is “not a particularly good training” for a career in law. Sumption’s advice to aspiring lawyers is to “personally enrich” and “intellectually satisfy” themselves by studying a non-law degree discipline at undergraduate level. Top legal technology academic Professor Richard Susskind has criticised law degrees for not offering modules that reflect the modern legal profession.

What's the big picture effect?

This story highlights the ever-widening gap between the demands of the legal profession and the efforts of the law degree to prepare students to meet them.

In recent times, the legal profession has evolved dramatically. Nowadays, law firms are business-focused, profit-driven commercial enterprises operating in a highly saturated, global legal market. Highly academic and with a focus on memorisation, the law degree has, for decades, produced graduates with impressive intellectual capability. However, the modern legal profession demands more. The lawyers of today need to be tech-savvy, innovative, business-minded individuals with determination and an array of soft skills. Throughout the evolution of the legal profession, the law degree has remained stagnant, and thus it arguably no longer provides students with the skills necessary to succeed in the profession.

Sumption suggests that studying a non-law degree followed by the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) conversion course may actually be a more effective way to prepare for a career in law. The introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) in September 2021 will remove the need to complete either an undergraduate law degree or the GDL and the Legal Practice Course (LPC) to qualify as a solicitor. This is likely to encourage more budding lawyers to pursue non-law degrees. On one hand, law firms may welcome this change, as non-law graduates can bring different knowledge, experiences and perspectives to the table. However, they may also question the depth of legal knowledge and skills of candidates who have passed the SQE but not completed a law degree, the GDL or the LPC.

The primary role of the law degree is to provide students with theoretical legal knowledge, while the LPC and training contract focus on practical skills. However, reform of the former to more closely reflect the demands of the modern legal profession would undoubtedly better prepare students for life as a lawyer.

Report written by Isobel Deane

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