I want to be a lawyer: should I study law at university?

It seems obvious, right? If you want to become a solicitor or barrister, you should go to university and get yourself a law degree. Well, at least one of England’s finest legal minds disagrees. Lord Sumption, Justice of the UK Supreme Court has famously said that students wishing to become successful lawyers in the future should do precisely the opposite! He argues that studying something else at university will give students an advantage in their later legal careers. Can this be right? In this post we will examine the pros and cons of studying law at university if you want to become a practicing lawyer.

The arguments against studying law

First, university presents a great opportunity to broaden your mind. If you spend your undergraduate years doing law then you might miss the chance to learn Russian, become an expert in Shakespeare, or ponder the causes of the French Revolution. When there are so many fascinating courses you can study, why not just do a one-year conversion course after university?

Second, studying something else as your first degree may actually make you a better lawyer. An education in the humanities gives students a range of skills like analysing vast amounts of complex information (a crucial lawyer’s skill), but also the ability to make interesting and intelligent arguments. Too many lawyers are so focused on the law that they fail to make the imaginative and creative legal arguments that would come more easily to someone with a background in say, philosophy or literature. So, reading Plato might even sharpen your legal mind.

The arguments for studying law

First, law is interesting! It is not true that people who study law miss out on all the fun stuff. In fact, it is often quite the opposite. The law is a fascinating puzzle, and the questions faced by law students on a daily basis are unlike those in any other degree. Just to take a few examples: why did fox hunting almost cause a constitutional crisis in the UK? If you accidentally drive onto a policeman’s foot, can you stay there? If you break someone’s leg while they are on their way to the hospital to have it amputated, do you still have to pay them compensation? As well as being great fun to study, each of these seemingly trivial examples conceals an important principle of law that our society would struggle to do without.

This leads us to another reason to study law at university: law is important! So important in fact, our society cannot function without it. It is hardly surprising then, that it has become a serious academic discipline at university, and law professors have become some of the first people the government turns to when trying to understand complex national issues such as Brexit. Therefore, taking an academic approach to the law is a worthwhile and necessary pursuit, especially in English law where many of the court judgments are longer than The Great Gatsby and often much harder to understand.

So what should you choose?

It’s important to remember that studying law as your first degree is a unique opportunity to gain an in-depth appreciation for the law. It will enable you to take an intellectual approach to solving some of the most difficult questions facing society, regardless of what career you go on to after university – so it’s well worth considering. But there is no right or wrong answer, and the good news is that you can become a brilliant lawyer no matter what you choose to study at university (look at Lord Sumption…), so the most important thing is to pick what’s right for you.

Written by - Tom H.

Studied Law at Cambridge University