Law is a very popular choice when it comes to applying for university, due to the conventional perception that it leads to a career in law, or at least provides a solid education in writing and analytical thinking. However, with the rising popularity of the Juris Doctor postgraduate programme in Hong Kong, alongside the long-established equivalent in the UK, the Graduate Diploma in Law (commonly known as the GDL), some may wonder whether they should study law as an undergraduate, or leave it to postgraduate. As with most things in life, there is no correct answer, but it depends on your circumstances and preferences.
The first question you should ask yourself is why you are considering reading law as an undergraduate. If it is because you are genuinely interested in the academics of the subject, you should by all means go for it. For those of you who are interested in law and another subject, there are some universities which allow you to combine your law degree with another subject. For example, the University of Bristol has a combined law and French programme. If you are interested in Oxbridge, however, the Cambridge law faculty advises students to either express their desire to do a combined degree in their application, or to study law after completing that other subject; while the Oxford faculty only allows for a combined degree with European Law.
If your primary reason for wanting to read law is to practice it professionally, then it may be a wiser choice for you to read a subject you feel passionate about and study law as a postgraduate. The Cambridge law faculty hosted a debate a few years ago between Lord Sumption and Professor Graham Virgo on the motion ‘Those who wish to Practise Law should not Study Law at University’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMR1NIEifWM). Lord Sumption, who was exceptionally raised to the Supreme Court bench from the practicing bar without sitting in the lower courts, read history as an undergraduate, and is a strong advocate against lawyers reading law at university. In his view, an exposure to other subjects allows for a lawyer to be more cultured in the world’s affairs, and often offers a better training ground in fact analysis, language command, and logic, all of which are essential for those who aspire to become good lawyers. Further, from a purely personal stand point, reading something you love at university will almost guarantee you having a fantastic three or four years.
As a postgraduate, you then have the following choices:
1) the one-year GDL programme in the UK;
2) the two-year “affiliated”/”Senior Status BA” law degree at Oxbridge, or;
3) the two-year Juris Doctor programme in Hong Kong offered by the University of Hong Kong, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and the City University of Hong Kong.
In order to practice law in either the UK or Hong Kong, you will need to complete another year of legal studies, which are the Legal Practice Course (LPC) in the UK and the Postgraduate Certificate in Laws (PCLL) in Hong Kong. For those who want to become barristers, many apply further to do a law masters in order to have a very solid legal foundation before embarking on their career.
From our experience and observations, law firms and chambers do not treat applicants differently depending on whether they read law as an undergraduate or postgraduate. What matters ultimately is the applicant’s intellectual capacity, legal knowledge, and a passion for the profession.
Best of luck with your applications!
Stephanie attended Benenden School before obtaining her Classics degree from the University of Cambridge. Having experienced life as a boarder at a very young age and been appointed Overseas Liaison at Benenden, she thoroughly understands the concerns and challenges young students (and their parents) may face. Stephanie has spent years tutoring students for the purposes of preparation for boarding schools, and believes that every student can reach their maximum potential with good education. She is now a qualified lawyer in Hong Kong.
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