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Home » Law Schools » International Law Schools »

Legal Education in the United Kingdom

Published January 2011

Legal study remains strong in the nation that originated the common law system. This article outlines the process of becoming a barrister or solicitor in the United Kingdom and explores rankings of the UK’s top law programs.

Law in the UK

Unlike in the US, where law is solely a postgraduate pursuit, many UK students study law as undergraduates, earning an LL.B. or a B.A. Others study a different undergraduate subject and then pursue a one-year conversion course—called the “Common Professional Examination” (CPE) or “Graduate Diploma in Law” (GDL)—that covers the basic areas of law: torts, contracts, criminal law, public law, equity and trusts, and European Union law. Next, aspiring lawyers must complete a one-year practical training course, followed by a period of on-the-job training.

The United Kingdom still maintains a distinction between barristers, those who advocate for clients in court, and solicitors, who advise clients directly and do not usually appear in court. After their undergraduate law degrees or conversion courses, aspiring solicitors complete a Legal Practice Course. Some law firms cover candidates’ LPC costs under training contracts, but many students incur significant debt to pay their own way. Would-be barristers take the Bar Professional Training Course. A mix of private law schools and public universities offer the LPC and BPTC, and some law firms send all of their trainees to one institution. Though top universities do not offer these training courses, some do confer LLMs.

After the requisite academic and vocational courses, solicitors and barristers pursue different training periods before qualifying for independent practice. Solicitors complete a two-year training contract with a law firm, while barristers undergo a one-year pupilage with practicing barristers. Placement into both training stages is competitive, with the number of applicants far outpacing available spots.

A Note on Practicing in the UK

For those who hold foreign law degrees but want to practice in the UK, the situation is complicated. The UK actually has three legal systems, with separate laws for England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. US-trained lawyers can generally work in the UK without any additional qualifications or training, as long as they only advise on US law—typically in a finance-related capacity.

Becoming qualified to practice UK law is more involved. In England, would-be solicitors with at least two years of common law practice experience can take the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Test. Those without work experience must complete a two-year training contract. To qualify as a barrister, foreign-trained lawyers must have passed a bar exam and completed three years of common law court experience. A lawyer would also need UK work status and must obtain a pupilage in a barrister’s chamber—no easy feat.

Scotland has two sets of transfer tests for lawyers wishing to re-qualify: one for solicitors qualified in other UK jurisdictions, and one for EU lawyers. Those trained or qualified in other countries (such as the US) should contact the Law Society of Scotland for guidance on their qualification processes. In Northern Ireland, solicitors looking to transfer jurisdictions must submit an application that certifies their good standing and experience in a common law country; those whose applications are accepted usually have to complete a course and apprenticeship period. As in England, becoming a barrister is much more difficult.

Big law firms are becoming increasingly international. Many of the top US-based firms have offices in London or have combined with British firms, as in the recent merger of Hogan & Hartson and Lovells to form Hogan Lovells. Similarly, a multitude of British firms—including four of the five prestigious “Magic Circle” firms—have expanded into other countries. For American lawyers who want to work in the UK, the best route may be to work in a US office of a multinational firm and then request a transfer to a British office. Likewise, some solicitors who started their legal careers in England are now practicing in the US, especially in New York.

Law School Rankings

Due to many of the differences noted above, UK law rankings are a different animal than their stateside counterparts. Aspiring lawyers do not earn J.D.-type advanced degrees, and students who have studied law since beginning university complete training and vocational courses alongside people who have done a one-year conversion course after an unrelated undergrad degree or first career.

To clear all stages of the credentialing process, a would-be lawyer should have a strong academic record: a First-Class undergraduate degree is ideal, although a 2:1 (Upper-Second Class) is usually competitive and a 2:2 (Lower-Second Class) might not sink an otherwise sterling resume.

Potential law students should keep all of the preceding in mind as they consider the following tables, which rank undergraduate law programs. Please note that these rankings are produced by British media outlets, and that this article solely attempts to aggregate and analyze their information.

The Times

Long considered a newspaper of record, The Times publishes some of the most widely-followed university league tables in the United Kingdom. Law is one of the sixty-two subjects individually ranked.

Methodology:

Student Satisfaction: Based on responses to the National Student Survey (NSS).

Entry Standards: Uses Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data on the examination scores of entering first-degree students. Each A-level earns 120 points, with lower qualifications earning fewer points. This metric reflects the average total exam grade totals of all new students.

Research Quality: Based on the Research Assessment Exercise, which measures the level and impact of faculty research at British universities.

Graduate Prospects: The percentage of those enrolled in full-time study or employed in jobs that typically require a university degree.

Rank

Institution

Overall

Score

Student

Satisfaction

Entry Standards

Research Quality

Graduate Prospects

1

Oxford

100

--

530

(2)

5

87

2

Cambridge

100

90

(2)

542

(1)

4

89

3

UCL

95

78

(40)

498

(3)

5

92

4

LSE

94

75

(57)

488

(5)

5

88

5

Nottingham

93

82

(22)

474

(7)

4

84

6

Queen Mary

91

85

(9)

423

(19)

3

85

7

Aberdeen

90

88

(6)

404

(26)

2

93

8

Durham

89

74

(63)

496

(4)

4

82

9

Birmingham

89

85

(9)

428

(17)

3

79

10

KCL

88

81

(24)

462

(9)

3

82

11

Newcastle

88

88

(6)

446

(13)

2

81

12

Glasgow

88

77

(45)

456

(10)

3

87

13

Bristol

87

77

(45)

483

(6)

3

84

14

Edinburgh

87

71

(77)

456

(10)

4

88

14

Reading

87

83

(18)

395

(28)

3

78

14

Strathclyde

87

76

(51)

434

(15)

3

87

17

Exeter

87

85

(9)

426

(18)

2

80

17

Leicester

87

85

(9)

402

(27)

2

86

17

Southampton

87

84

(15)

438

(14)

2

79

20

Dundee

86

85

(9)

386

(30)

2

82

21

Warwick

86

80

(30)

469

(8)

2

80

22

Kent

85

80

(30)

340

(40)

4

79

23

Lancaster

85

80

(30)

415

(23)

2

87

24

Sussex

85

82

(22)

368

(33)

2

84

25

East Anglia

85

85

(9)

393

(29)

2

79

Source: The Times

The Complete University Guide

Published in conjunction with The Independent, the Complete University Guide (formerly known as “The Good University Guide”) publishes an overall university ranking table and subject tables. Their relatively simple formula works as follows:

Methodology

Student Satisfaction: Based on fifteen questions from the National Student Survey.

Research Quality: Uses the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise, which measured the quality and impact of faculty research.

Entry Standards: Uses HESA data on the examination scores of entering first-degree students. Each A-level earns 120 points, with lower qualifications earning fewer points. This metric reflects the average total exam grade totals of all new students.

Graduate Prospects: Measures the percentage of students engaged in employment requiring a university degree or enrolled in further full-time study.

Rank

Institution

Overall Score

Student
Satisfaction

Research
Assessment

Entry Standards

Graduate
Prospects

1

Oxford

100.0

--

3.00

(3)

530

(2)

87

 

2

Cambridge

97.5

4.32

(7)

2.80

(7)

542

(1)

89

 

3

UCL

96.8

3.99

(30)

3.05

(2)

498

(3)

92

 

4

LSE

95.7

3.91

(45)

3.10

(1)

488

(5)

88

 

5

Nottingham

94.4

4.09

(22)

2.90

(4)

474

(7)

84

 

6

Durham

93.8

3.87

(56)

2.90

(4)

496

(4)

82

 

7

Queen Mary

92.9

4.19

(13)

2.70

(11)

423

(19)

85

8

Glasgow

92.7

3.88

(53)

2.60

(16)

456

(10)

87

8

Bristol

92.7

3.87

(56)

2.60

(16)

483

(6)

84

10

Edinburgh

92.4

3.56

(90)

2.75

(10)

456

(10)

88

11

Aberdeen

91.9

4.14

(18)

2.20

(38)

404

(26)

93

 

12

Strathclyde

91.8

3.72

(75)

2.65

(13)

434

(15)

87

13

KCL

91.6

3.89

(50)

2.55

(19)

462

(9)

82

14

Newcastle

91.4

4.32

(7)

2.25

(36)

446

(13)

81

15

Birmingham

91.3

4.11

(21)

2.65

(13)

428

(17)

79

15

Dundee

91.3

4.35

(6)

2.55

(19)

386

(30)

82

17

Southampton

91.1

4.13

(20)

2.50

(22)

438

(14)

79

18

Lancaster

91.0

3.92

(44)

2.40

(30)

415

(23)

87

19

Warwick

90.9

3.90

(47)

2.40

(30)

469

(8)

80

20

Manchester

90.6

3.63

(83)

2.50

(22)

455

(12)

83

21

Sussex

90.5

4.06

(25)

2.60

(16)

368

(33)

84

22

Leicester

90.3

4.20

(12)

2.20

(38)

388

(29)

86

22

Exeter

90.3

4.14

(18)

2.30

(35)

426

(18)

80

24

SOAS

90.2

4.06

(25)

2.35

(33)

413

(24)

82

24

Leeds

90.2

3.94

(38)

2.55

(19)

431

(16)

78

Source: The Independent

The Guardian

The Guardian—one of the most widely read newspapers in the UK—ranks universities overall as well as in a variety of subject areas. The following subject table ranks law courses based on eight metrics.

Methodology:

Overall Satisfaction (5%): Based on the National Student Survey (NSS).

Student Satisfaction with Teaching (10%): Based on four questions from the NSS. Measures how staff enthusiasm and skill, as well as the course’s level of intellectual stimulation.

Student Satisfaction with Feedback (10%): Reflects the helpfulness and clarity of grades and other feedback, according to the NSS.

Value Added (15%): This controversial and somewhat complex metric compares the qualifications of incoming students with the level of degree they eventually earn. Universities that produce more 1st and 2:1 degrees than would be “expected” given their incoming calibers of student are rewarded.

Expenditures per Student (15%): Divides the amount of money spent to teach a subject by the number of students in that subject. Excludes academic staff salaries to avoid redundancy with the Student-Staff Ratio category.

*The preceding metrics are standardized, so that the highest-performing institution in each category receives a score of “100” and other schools receive a lower, proportional total. The following three categories are reported in their original numeric forms.

Student-Staff Ratio (15%): Compares the number of teaching stuff with the number of students.

Entry Scores (15%): Measures the qualifications of entering students in terms of the “tariffs” assigned by the Universities & Colleges Admissions Services based on exam scores and other criteria.

Career Prospects (15%): Based on the proportion of graduates who find full-time graduate-level employment or enroll in full-time postgraduate study.

Rank

Institution

Overall
Score

Course

Teaching

Feedback

Value
Added
[1-10]

Expenditures
Per Student
[1-10]

Student/Staff
Ratio

Entry
Scores

Employment

1

Oxford

100

--

--

--

8

10

10.7

(1)

529

(2)

84%

2

Cambridge

87.3

97

(4)

97

(4)

77

(12)

8

10

15.1

(11)

541

(1)

84%

3

Queen Mary

80.6

92

(16)

92

(8)

77

(10)

7

10

16

(16)

421

(19)

87%

4

UCL

77.3

91

(18)

92

(8)

65

(38)

8

9

15.2

(12)

497

(3)

82%

5

KCL

73.4

85

(48)

91

(9)

72

(14)

9

7

14.1

(5)

460

(9)

78%

6

LSE

71.8

82

(60)

81

(61)

65

(38)

9

8

13.1

(2)

486

(5)

77%

7

SOAS

71.2

90

(25)

89

(23)

69

(29)

8

8

13.9

(3)

411

(24)

73%

8

Newcastle

68.9

98

(2)

97

(3)

82

(4)

7

5

22.9

(65)

446

(13)

80%

9

Warwick

66.6

93

(15)

91

(14)

53

(72)

8

8

16.2

(18)

467

(8)

70%

10

Nottingham

66.3

88

(35)

91

(14)

63

(47)

5

7

16.8

(20)

472

(7)

80%

11

Edinburgh

66

78

(72)

84

(47)

34

(88)

9

10

14.7

(9)

455

(10)

75%

12

Aberdeen

64.8

95

(8)

91

(14)

72

(14)

8

4

--

402

(26)

93%

12

Exeter

64.8

96

(5)

94

(6)

71

(20)

7

5

18.1

(28)

425

(17)

71%

14

Lancaster

64.7

90

(25)

87

(33)

64

(43)

5

8

14.3

(6)

416

(20)

82%

15

Glasgow

63.7

91

(18)

90

(20)

53

(72)

8

6

16.2

(18)

450

(12)

80%

16

Birmingham

63.4

88

(35)

92

(8)

72

(14)

4

9

21.1

(50)

427

(16)

68%

17

Robert Gordon

63.2

86

(44)

88

(31)

63 (47)

10

4

21.4

(53)

318

(43)

85%

18

Bristol

62.4

85

(48)

87

(33)

56

(65)

5

7

18.3

(31)

479

(6)

81%

19

Southampton

62.2

94

(13)

89

(23)

70

(22)

6

6

19.2

(37)

438

(14)

70%

20

Dundee

62

90

(25)

91

(14)

78

(8)

4

7

19.3

(38)

387

(29)

69%

20

Stirling

62

96

(5)

89

(23)

75

(12)

9

5

21.2 (51)

333

(40)

--

22

Durham

61.1

78

(72)

83

(54)

61 (52)

7

6

19

(35)

495

(4)

73%

23

Leicester

60.9

91

(18)

89

(23)

70

(22)

6

5

21.4

(53)

388

(28)

78%

24

Buckingham

59.3

91

(18)

90

(20)

82

(4)

2

3

14.5

(11)

295

(53)

--

24

Sussex

59.3

89

(32)

92

(8)

69

(29)

7

4

19.4 (40)

366

(33)

78%

Source: The Guardian

A Picture of Overall University Reputation

Because of the different credentialing systems, overall undergraduate university prestige matters significantly more for UK lawyers than it does for their US counterparts. This is especially true for those who complete an unrelated undergrad degree and convert to law. Charon QC, a British law blog, half-jokingly states the hiring philosophy of fictional law firm Muttley Dastardly LLP:

You have to get a 2.1 to even stand a chance of selection for a decent law school at LPC level and, being honest, a decent university if you are going to get into a City law firm or any major commercial firm. Being really honest… you haven’t a chance of getting into Muttley Dastardly LLP unless you went to Oxbridge or a top Russell Group university – why would *WE* take second best?

The chart below lists overall university rankings for each institution that appears in the top twenty-five of all three subject tables above. Note that many top-flight British universities, like Imperial College London and St. Andrews, do not have law faculties.

 

Institution

Average League Table Ranking

The Times

Complete University
Guide

The Guardian

Oxford

1.00

1

1

1

Cambridge

2.00

2

2

2

Warwick

5.00

6

6

3

UCL

5.67

4

8

5

LSE

7.00

9

4

8

Durham

9.67

7

5

17

Lancaster

12.33

19

12

6

Edinburgh

13.67

15

11

15

Southampton

14.33

12

13

18

Exeter

17.33

17

21

14

Leicester

17.33

20

20

12

Nottingham

18.00

14

19

21

KCL

18.33

13

17

25

Bristol

19.67

10

16

33

Sussex

20.67

22

25

15

Glasgow

23.67

22

26

23

Birmingham

25.67

20

27

30

Newcastle

28.33

24

24

37

Dundee

35

34

49

22

Aberdeen

35.67

27

47

33

Queen Mary

39.67

30

33

46

Sources:
The Times
The Guardian
The Independent







Canadian Law School Rankings

Canada: University of Toronto Faculty of Law

Canada: University of Alberta Faculty of Law

Canada: Dalhousie Law School

Canada: McGill University Faculty of Law

Canada: University of Ottawa Faculty of Law

Canada: Osgoode Hall Law School (York University)

Canada: UBC Faculty of Law

IE Law School- Northwestern Law Executive LLM Program

IE Law School- Master of Laws (LL.M.) in International Practice

Legal Education in the United Kingdom