The way that films tend to portray lawyers, courtrooms, and the legal industry in general often tends to be less than realistic. Even so, there are some great law-themed films out there, and some excellent dramatisations of landmark real-life cases. This can really help law students to understand and appreciate aspects of the law and of the way that current legislation has been formed, and it’s a much more fun way to develop that understanding than most of the alternatives.
10 Rillington Place (1971)
This film dramatises the case of Timothy Evans, who was tried and hanged for murders which, it later turned out, were actually committed by one of the key witnesses for the prosecution. This has gone down in history as one of the most well-known and influential miscarriages of justice in the British legal system, and in particular was one of the key cases contributing to the decision to abolish the death penalty in Britain, so it is a case well worth examining and understanding. The film, which stars the likes of Richard Attenborough and John Hurt, is an entertaining and thought-provoking way to dip into the subject. There was also a more recent dramatisation of the same case by the BBC.
In the Name of the Father (1993)
Another dramatisation of a major miscarriage of justice, this film examines the case of the famous Guildford Four. These four people were tried and convicted for IRA bombings in the 1970s, but later turned out to be innocent. The film is sadly guilty of a very unrealistic representation of how trials are carried out, but the film is still worth a watch as a quick and entertaining way to get a grip on the facts of the case. It is, after all, another case that proved very influential; it played a role in the decisions to form both the Crown Prosecution Service the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
Judgement at Nuremberg (1961)
This film examines part of the Nuremberg Trials for war crimes that took place in the aftermath of the Second World War. In particular, it looks at the trials of four German judges who were accused of using their position to advance the Nazi party’s goals of genocide. It is not only an acclaimed film, but an excellent piece of background viewing for examining and understanding modern-day International Criminal Tribunals for the hearing of war crime allegations.
Twelve Angry Men (1957)
This is an American film, and part of the interest for UK law students comes from watching it critically and thinking about how things might have been different if it had taken place under the justice system of England and Wales. The film is set in a jury room where the people of the jury are having trouble agreeing on the outcome of a case. As well as providing a look at the differences between UK and US law, it opens up interesting lines of thought or discussion about what impact the option of reaching a majority rather than unanimous verdict – as can happen in the UK – might have, or to consider the fact that what happens in UK jury rooms is entirely confidential.
Most of the UK’s law students will have started their summer holidays by now. For many, this is a welcome chance to get a bit of a breather from the intensive work that a law degree demands. Some students, on the other hand, may be looking for an opportunity to take some of the time they have over the summer and use it to get ahead in their studies. There are a few productive and useful ways that hard-working law students may want to spend their summer.
One of the simplest ways to spend your summer productively is by reading. This might sound a little bit obvious, but it is easy to underestimate just how useful this can be. If you have your reading list for next year, then you may simply want to get ahead on that. You will probably still need a refresher once you have started your modules, but this will take a lot less time than reading it, and time will be in much shorter supply come term-time. Alternatively you may want to do some more general reading about areas of the law that interest you or you believe may be useful, or even read some law-related fiction.
Gain Some Experience
There are various ways of gaining work experience in the law. Naturally, your holidays will likely be your best opportunity to do so while you are still studying, if not the only time you will be able to take the necessary time out from your studies. Having some practical experience behind you before you even graduate can be invaluable when it comes to launching your legal career. For many opportunities, you may now be too late to apply this time around but could consider it for a future holiday. For some kinds of opportunity, particularly voluntary work, you may still be able to set something up that you can do before this summer is over.
There are likely to be a number of legal events held over the summer, and these are a great way to boost your studies, your future career prospects, or your knowledge of the law in general. Law fairs, which are held by legal organisations and universities, can be a great opportunity to network with legal professionals and firms as well as to find out more about things like career opportunities, postgraduate courses, and training schemes. Public lectures are another kind of event, allowing you to expand your knowledge of the law into subjects that may not be covered by your core course, or perhaps get a head start on subjects you have yet to cover.
There are several reasons that somebody may want to study law as a mature student. You may be pursuing a change of career by retraining for the legal sector, you may have been asked to complete your degree for professional development or to qualify for a promotion, or you might just be doing it for the love of learning. Whatever the case, there are a few things you may wish to know before you begin your studies.
Types of Study
The type of study you complete will largely depend on your previous educational background. If you have completed a degree in a different subject the past, then you will most likely only be required to complete a law conversion course – much like a recent graduate who wants to pursue a career in law but studied a different subject.
If you do not already have a degree, then you will instead have to take a full degree. This takes three years if studying full-time, compared to a law conversion course which takes only one year of full-time study. If you are undertaking study at your employer’s request, they may also request you study the full degree even if you already hold a degree in another subject. Of course, if you are studying out of personal choice then you may choose to take the full degree out of simple preference.
Qualifying for legal study varies from institution to institution. To be able to undertake a law conversion course, you will certainly need to already hold an undergraduate degree. Generally, you will be required to have achieved a grade of at least 2:2 on your first degree to be accepted for a conversion course.
To take a full law degree, if you are educated to at least A-level or equivalent then, depending on grades, you should usually qualify for degree-level study. If you do not have A-levels or equivalent qualifications, this does not mean you cannot go to university but you may well have to complete some other course first, such as an Access to Higher Education course. Relevant work experience may also be considered as an alternative to these qualifications. Speak to the admissions department of the universities you are interested in attending.
If you have not undertaken a university-level qualification before, then you should qualify for student finance when taking a law degree just as younger students do. If you have started but not completed a degree in the past, you may still qualify for funding but this could just be partial.
Usually, if you do not qualify for student finance you will have to fund your studies yourself. If you are being asked to undertake these studies for professional reasons, however, you should speak to your employer about whether they can assist with the costs.
Law students spend a lot of time looking at specific cases. Some of these are simply good examples, but many are studied because they set precedents and established principles that continue to have major consequences for the way the law is administered in the UK. The following cases are a few key examples of such landmark legal events:
The Arrest of Pinochet
In the late 1990s, General Pinochet (pictured right), former dictator of Chile, was placed under arrest in London and detained following a request for extradition to Spain. He was facing charges of crimes against humanity. Ultimately Pinochet was never extradited, but the case still established an important principle. Before the establishment of the international courts that would now be tasked with handling such charges – as recently demonstrated by the conviction of Radovan Karadzic for crimes against humanity – this incident established that heads of state were accountable and were not immune from legal consequences for their actions.
The Belmarsh Decision
One of the more recent landmark cases, the Belmarsh Decision of 2004 related to the then-government’s policy of detaining foreign individuals suspected of terrorism indefinitely without making charges against them. After nine law lords reviewed the policy and a subsequent legal challenge, a majority declared that the practice was both discriminatory and illegal. This is now one of the key precedents to consider when debating the delicate balance between individual freedoms and national security.
The Snail in the Bottle Case
This 1932 case firmly established a legal concept so powerful that, today, it is the basis for an entire area of the law. It was arguably the first case in which an individual made a claim for criminal negligence, and enshrined into law the need for individuals and businesses to take due care to ensure that they do not cause harm to others. A Mrs Donoghue brought a claim against the manufacturer of a bottle of ginger beer in which she had found “the decomposed remains of a snail which were not, and could not be, detected until the greater part of the contents of the bottle had been consumed.” The court found that, as the manufacturer was creating a product designed for human consumption and placing it in a bottle which did not allow the customer to inspect it before drinking, they had a duty to ensure that the contents were indeed suitable for their intended purpose and not likely to cause harm to the drinker.
A student-led initiative at the University of Bedfordshire offering legal advice to members of the public for free has reopened at the institution’s Luton campus. The initiative, simply called The Law Clinic, sees the university’s law students offer fee-free legal support to those who need it covering multiple areas of the law.
The initiative is not only staffed but run by students, though they operate under the supervision of the university’s legal experts to ensure the fact they are still learning does not compromise the quality of advice they give to the public. The initiative also ran last year, when 24 clients received free advice on a range of issues. Primarily, this included issues in the fields of employment law, consumer rights and issues with housing.
According to the University of Bedfordshire School of Law and Finance’s acting department head and Associate Executive Dean (international), Dr John Beaumont-Kerridge, “The Law Clinic is an excellent example of contemporary Higher Education working to provide a valuable service to the community and at the same time offering a unique experience to students.”
He continued: “Always under the guidance of experienced and qualified staff, members of the public have access to free legal support on housing, consumer and employment issues.”
the benefits to the local community are obvious and, according to Dr Beaumont-Kerridge, “immeasurable.” However, the students are also reaping very solid benefits from the initiative. Running the clinic is giving them valuable real-world experience of providing legal guidance and support to genuine clients. This is helping them to better prepare themselves for the world of work in the legal sector. By doing so, it also represents a valuable entry for their CVs, helping them escape the “experience trap” which can be as problematic for legal students when they graduate as for those trying to get into any other field of work.
Gaining experience is invaluable for graduates looking to secure a training contract or some other first step into their legal career. Places can be competitive, and having some experience of providing legal services in a practical way can be a big advantage. However, opportunities to get experience can also be competitive and their numbers are limited. A scheme such as the University of Bedfordshire’s Law Clinic provide students with an accessible way to get genuine experience of supporting real clients with real legal issues while still studying their degree and within the bounds of their university campus.
Personal Injury law is quite an emotive area of law to work in, and addresses matters that are very personal and of great everyday concern to the client. The outcomes of personal injury cases will affect people’s lives greatly one way or another. Unfortunately, it is only too easy to have an accident that results in a serious injury, be it at work, playing sport, on the road, or elsewhere.
Personal injury (PI) claims come under civil law, and are subject to the rules of tort law. When assessing a potential personal injury case, be it arising from a workplace accident or elsewhere, the PI lawyer is ultimately looking for a ‘breach.’ The lawyer is also seeking to see if the case meets all the elements and criteria of tort law; duty of care, breach of dirty, causation, remoteness, damage, etc.
The lawyer is assessing whether there was a breach of the employer’s duty of care towards thier employees, particularly regarding health and safety. However both tort law and employment law hold the employer liable for far more than just matters of health and safety at work.
In a work accident claim, the liability and duty of care of the employer is assumed, and has to be argued against, rather than proved. The breach of such responsibility and legal duty can manifest itself in many ways, which the PI lawyer has to be watchful for. Legal causation is similarly one of those elements of tort that is famous for being rather more complicated. However, addressing the issue of remoteness of (the possibility of) damage, applying the Wagon Mound (No1) case, makes that question much more straightforward. Overall, the elements of tort, and applying it to a specific personal injury claim, are actually quite straightforward. After learning the basic legal tests and rules (along with the attendant variations), it is a matter of using a ‘flowchart’ approach to see whether all those criteria of tort are met.
Inevitably, the classroom is always different to reality.
Putting that ‘flowchart’ into practice can be fairly daunting – but also relatively easy. A complicated and emotive matter such as a workplace injury can be neatly reduced and dissected to its core essentials, and the heart of the claim easily found. A convoluted series of events, and complicated injuries, can similarly be interpreted more easily. The structure and nature of the questions asked at each stage of the ‘flowchart’ are very descriptive, detailed and definite, and at the same time very open and flexible. As such, in most cases it will be evident early on whether the case before you will meet the required criteria.
With that in mind, injury compensation, whether the injury is a result of a workplace accident, car accident, or sporting accident, is a relatively straightforward area of law to practice. PI law can also be very rewarding. A client seeks advice making a claim against an employer having suffered sometimes dreadful injuries, and possibly unable to work and to earn for some time. Obtaining for that client an apology or compensation will really make an improvement for their situation. The PI lawyer is really having a regular impact upon the lives of their clients, and quite often for the better.
Unfortunately, a great many people get injured annually, either at work, on the roads, or elsewhere, and want to seek compensation or a legal remedy for thier accident. Consequently, PI is an area of law that is rarely affected by recessions, or has significant changes in the law that defines it. As Judge Lord Macmillan stated in 1932, “the categories of negligence are never closed.”
Further, the great majority of PI cases are often handled under a Conditional Fee Arrangement (CFA) regarding funding. Under a CFA, the claimant does not pay up front, with the PI lawyer only getting paid when the case is successfully resolved. Therefore, many injured in workplace accidents or similar will approach a PI lawyer and the resulting PI litigation not deterred by the financial cost. Further, as mentioned, it is relatively easy to make a rapid decision as to whether a PI claim will be successful or not, given the criteria and tests behind tort law and personal injury cases. When you actually get to court, you have already assessed that the PI claim before you has a very great margin of success. That is both good for you – and good for your client.
The legal sector is a competitive area, and one that is not immune to the “experience trap.” While a training contract should give you the kind of real world experience you need for your subsequent legal career, prior work experience can be invaluable in beating out the competition to secure that contract in the first place. Some degree of work experience can even be a big help at the very earliest stages of your career, when applying for a law degree or conversion course.
So what kind of work experience is out there in the legal sector, and how do you go about getting it?
Formal work experience opportunities, paid or unpaid, may be advertised by firms of various kinds. These tend to be advertised in much the same way as any other job, through online job boards or in the press, and have similar recruitment processes involving a CV or application form followed by an interview. Not all opportunities are advertised at all, so you might want to send a CV speculatively to some firms that are especially relevant or conveniently-located just to see if they will consider giving you an opportunity or have anything coming up in the near future.
Some of these may be vacation schemes, designed for degree or conversion course students. These are of various lengths and are even more diverse in terms of the kind of work they might involve, depending on the type and size of the firm offering the opportunity. However, they are timed to coincide with university holiday seasons as they are specifically designed for current legal students to gather industry experience between semesters.
You might also undertake pro bono work, using the skills and knowledge you have already gained in your studies to help out with real cases. This is naturally more demanding and is unpaid, but is a great way to demonstrate your commitment to the profession while dealing with real cases and having direct contact with clients.
If you are interested in a career as a barrister rather than a solicitor, you may be able to undertake a mini pupillage. This involves a short period – usually just a week or two – spent shadowing a barrister in chambers.
Informal opportunities may be of interest to those who are already studying law, but are arguably more useful for those who want to gather some experience of the legal profession before starting their degree (or their conversion course, as the case may be). The experience will look great on your UCAS application, and will also be a great way to find out first-hand about what a legal career entails and make sure it is right for you.
This kind of work experience involves shadowing legal professionals or providing basic assistance with their work on a voluntary basis. It is essentially similar to the work experience you were probably required to do for a week or two during secondary school. On some levels, the experience you gain is basic but it still represents a useful real-world insight into the legal sector. Opportunities are almost certainly unadvertised, requiring a speculative and proactive approach on your part, and will almost certainly be unpaid.
Before embarking on a career in the law, you will need a lot of training in the complex intricacies of the British legal system. All this training requires funding, both for payment of fees and to meet your living expenses. Some of this training can be pricey, and not all of it will qualify for assistance from the Student Loans Company.
For some of “the professions,” such as teachers, there are government schemes to provide help with training costs. This is unfortunately not the case with the legal industry. However, there are a few options available for funding.
What are the Costs of Legal Training
The first step in training for a legal career will be a degree. Aside from living expenses, these will carry standard university tuition fees – currently up to £9,000 a year in England and Wales, as well as in Scotland unless this is your home region. The degree lasts three years.
If you study a subject other than law, then you will have to undertake a Graduate Diploma in Law, commonly known as a conversion course. This can cost between £7,500 and £10,000.
After you graduate, further training will be necessary. If you aim to become a barrister, you will have to complete a Barrister Practice Training Course (BPTC), costing at least £11,000 and potentially up to £16,950.
If you aim to become a solicitor, on the other hand, then after graduation you will have to complete a year-long course known as a Legal Practice Course. The price tag on this is lower than that attached to a BPTC, but still will still come in at £8,000 minimum and up to £13,500.
Total fees associated with legal training, therefore, can be up to £53,950 for barristers and £50,500 for solicitors. If your degree is in law and you don’t need a conversion course, this knocks £10,000 off each figure, but still leaves over £40,000 in fees.
For your first degree, you will qualify for student loans to fund your study just as any other student does – assuming you have not attended university before.
For your training after graduation, there are a few options available to you. One possibility is a specialist loan. While the Student Loans Company may no longer be willing to help you, some private lenders offer loans specially designed to help with legal training costs. You could also potentially qualify for low-interest postgraduate loans known as Professional Career and Development Loans (PCDL).
There are also some scholarships and bursaries available. For solicitors, these come from bodies such as The Law Society, while barristers-to-be may be able to access schemes from the likes of the Bar Council.
A few very lucky students may be able to get a sponsor – a legal firm who pays for their training on condition you work for them after you qualify. Sadly, these are very few and highly competitive. Usually, the only students who even get a look-in are first-class graduates of Oxford or Cambridge.
If your career goal is to become a solicitor, graduating from university is only the first part of the process. There are further steps you must undertake within the industry in order to qualify to practice as a solicitor.
If this is the path you want to pursue within the legal industry, you will have the following routes open to you after your graduation:
If You Don’t Have a Law Degree
If you are currently studying or have graduated in a subject other than law, then the road to being a solicitor isn’t entirely closed to you. However, your first step after graduating is to return to university and do a law conversion course, in which you will intensively study core areas of the legal system. After that, you can then proceed along the road to becoming a solicitor in much the same way as a law graduate.
Legal Practice Course
The first step for law graduates will usually be the Legal Practice Course (LPC). This is a vocational course tailored not just to the law but to the role of practicing solicitors specifically. This step will usually take a year, or can sometimes be taken part-time over a longer period, and will help you develop the skills you will need for your career as a solicitor.
After completing your LPC, you will move onto a period of recognised training within the legal industry. Usually, this will involve taking on a training contract with a firm and working within the industry as a trainee solicitor. This will allow you to learn about being a solicitor and develop the skills and knowledge you will need for the role on-the-job in a real-world legal practise assisting with genuine cases.
Professional Skills Course
As part of this period of training, you will also complete your Professional Skills Course (PSC). This will be the part of your training period that most closely resembles a formal, academic education. You must complete and pass your PSC in order to qualify as a solicitor and go into practise.
As part of a drive to provide more flexibility for those who want to pursue a legal career, the concept of “alternative means” was introduced last year. This allows qualification to be granted to people who have gained experience within the legal sector which brings them up to the same standards of knowledge and skill as somebody who has followed the above route in full and completed a training contract. This isn’t really a route that can be relied upon, and so far only one person has qualified through these means. However, for those who may want to pursue a career as a solicitor later but want to enter a different legal position after graduating this is an extra route that may be open in the future.
A career in the law can be rewarding both emotionally and financially. However, it can also be demanding and hard work, meaning often only those with the greatest love for the subject decide to pursue a career.
Unfortunately, this means that some people can be unnecessarily put off of studying law because they perceive the subject to be essentially vocational. Even if they do love the subject, they may be reluctant to spend years of their life and amass a lot of student debt when they may ultimately decide they are not cut out for a law career. While it is important to think about any degree choice carefully, a law degree can open up work in many areas besides the legal sector. It is not necessary to see it as a vocational qualification leading to one defined career path, as it can also open up opportunities in:
Obtaining a law degree is a demanding process, and involves many transferrable skills. Law graduates are often well-equipped for careers in management, particularly through joining graduate management training schemes. More even than most graduates, they are used to demanding workloads and challenging tasks. They often have more specific skills too, such as knowledge of contract law, which can also work in their favour when pursuing a management career.
Finance is a regulation-heavy area, and like management it is also a field that requires many of the transferrable skills that a law degree will teach. Many financial companies, from investment banks to insurance firms, are keen to recruit legal graduates who have a good appreciation of the regulatory challenges that face the industry.
If you have the necessary skills and knowledge for a legal career but have decided you don’t want to follow this avenue for yourself, you could instead use your abilities to help others enter the sector. Law is taught at various levels in the UK school system from GCSE upwards, so if teaching is a career that appeals to you then this can be an excellent and rewarding way to put your knowledge to good use. For the vast majority of teaching posts, however, you will need a further teaching qualification to go with your degree.
Publishing is also an industry that likes to recruit its fair share of law graduates. Part of this is down to specialist legal publications, which understandably want to recruit staff members who have an appreciation of the area. Other publishers simply like law graduates because they tend to be skilled at research tasks, and simply because a law degree is evidence of hard work. Departments dealing with intellectual property and rights issues may also be open to law graduates with knowledge in these areas.