What degree should I do to be a lawyer?

University course books for law degree students
Do you need a law degree to work as a lawyer? Are you and your career at a disadvantage by choosing a non-law degree? We let you know.

Do you need a law degree to become a lawyer? Short answer: no! Many very successful lawyers did not study a first degree in law and, in fact, around half of newly qualified lawyers have a non-law degree. However, there are benefits and drawbacks to entering the legal profession with a non-law degree. So, if you are interested in a career in law and thinking about what degree to study at university, it’s worth thinking weighing up your options before making a decision.

Routes into law careers with a non-law degree

There are a variety of job roles in law – legal executives, paralegals and legal secretaries – that you can enter into without a degree or with a degree in any subject. However, these aren’t the only roles in law that you can enter into without a law degree.

You can qualify as a solicitor and a barrister with a non-law degree. However, you may need to complete postgraduate qualifications to get up-to-speed before you can become a lawyer. These conversion courses condense the knowledge you need to complete the assessments to qualify as a lawyer into a single year.

The most common conversion courses for non-law graduates are the CPE (Common Professional Examination) and the GDL (Graduate Diploma in Law). This is a requirement before you complete the LPC to qualify as a solicitor and the Bar course to become a barrister. It is recommended to take a conversion course before taking the SQE (the new process for qualifying as a solicitor), but it may not be a requirement.

Law recruiters have the same criteria whether you’re a law student or not: a good academic background and the skills to be a lawyer. Non-law graduates aren’t inherently at a disadvantage during the recruitment process. Remember that studying law at university is very different to working as a lawyer, so law graduates have to find out about the profession too.

The downsides of becoming a lawyer with a non-law degree

Currently, studying a law degree is the quickest, most direct and cheapest route to qualifying as a lawyer, as the conversion course adds an extra year to your training, and can range from about £5,000 to £15,000 for a full-time course, depending on where you study. Qualifying as a lawyer can be expensive, and so skilling the fees for a conversion course can be financially beneficial. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that if you are lucky enough to secure a training contract at a law firm in advance, your GDL and LPC/SQE fees may be covered by your future employer.

The benefits of becoming a lawyer with a non-law degree

Knowledge from a specific subject area can inform the work that lawyers do in a different practice areas. For example, lawyers working in technology law can benefit from having studied computer science at university and knowing how different technologies work. STEM subjects have been especially sought after by many large law firms.

Qualifying as a lawyer is a competitive process and so having the best degree results possible is a must. Choosing to study a subject you’re genuinely passionate about is more likely to result in high grades, law recruiters will likely be more interested in a track record of consistently high academic results than they will in the degree that you studied.

There are skills that you’ll need for a career in law that you can develop through a non-law degree. For example, studying history gives you analytical and research skills, while modern languages can help when you work for a global law firm with international clients and colleagues and maths develops your logical thinking.

Routes into law careers: should I study a law degree?

The benefits of studying a law degree

Studying a law degree will…

  • give you knowledge of the areas of law you are likely to come across as a qualified lawyer, and offer a more in-depth knowledge of some aspects of law.
  • teach you useful skills, transferable across many professions. These include: problem solving, critical thinking, logical reasoning and analytical skills.
  • surround you with other students with the same ambitions, and you’ll be kept in the know by your law department about careers advice, fairs, guest speakers and events that can give you good links to potential employers.
  • let you have the opportunity to test whether law is right for you by getting involved in your university’s law society: moots (mock trials), socials, meeting recruiters, presentations and so on. Not all law societies allow non-law students to join, meaning that if you don’t do a law degree you might miss out on this insight into the profession as an undergraduate.
  • open doors to other non-law professions. The law degree has a good reputation among employers and you can start careers in areas, such as legal publishing, banking, tax and more.

The downsides of studying a law degree

Studying law and practising law are two very different things. Some find the law degree a little dry; many find it much more interesting in practice. As a law student you explore law's importance and boundaries at a philosophical level, but in practice you learn that you are working for a paying customer, and apply the law to their specific needs and circumstances.

  • Think hard about whether you will enjoy the academic study of law. There’s a lot of reading and you’re likely to have more lectures than your friends on humanities and language courses, potentially giving you less free time.
  • Barristers and solicitors specialise in a select number of practice areas, meaning that many of the subjects studied by undergraduate law students are only really useful for academic purposes.
  • It’s a highly competitive course to get onto, requiring high A level (or equivalent) grades and – for some universities – successful completion of the Law National Aptitude Test (LNAT). The upside to this test is that it can help you understand if law is the right degree for you, and allows universities to see whether you might succeed on a law course.

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