Studying a Law Degree: A Brief Guide for Mature Students

Law-BooksStarting a degree is scary enough for students heading off to university as a next step after their A-levels. For mature students, the prospect can be even more intimidating. And with a study-intensive subject like law, it can be more imposing still, not to mention difficult to know where to begin. Even so, breaking down some of the essentials of becoming a mature student taking a law degree can help make things look a lot clearer and a lot more manageable.


To qualify for a law degree, you will need a certain level of pre-undergraduate education. The exact criteria vary between different universities, but in general things are as follows. If you have A-levels or equivalent qualifications with good grades, then you are likely qualified to apply for a law degree. If not, then the best way to become qualified is probably to take an Access to Higher Education course – a college-level qualification that has been specifically designed to prepare people for a degree.

If you are already educated to degree-level, then you are by definition qualified for a university education. But more than that, you might not have to take another full degree if you want to pursue or switch to a career in the law. Depending on the subject and grade of your existing degree and the requirements of the university you are applying to, you might well qualify to take a shorter and more affordable conversion course instead.


If you are a UK national taking a degree for the first time, then you will usually qualify for financial support from Student Finance just like those who are starting their degree as soon as they leave school. You might still qualify for a reduced level of funding if you have started but not completed a degree in the past.

If you do not qualify for financial assistance from Student Finance – for example if you already have a degree – then your studies will have to be self-funded. However, this situation might not be quite so clear-cut as it appears. If you are already working for a legal practice and are taking your degree (or, indeed, your conversion course) because your employer has asked you to for career reasons, then you should talk to them about the matter of funding. As they have requested that you take the course, your employer may be willing to provide assistance with the financial aspect.

A Brief Introduction to Personal Injury Practice

Accident and personal injury solicitors are one a huge part of the UK legal sector. In fact, it is the country’s second largest legal services market and has an estimated value of around £3 billion per year. As one of the biggest legal sectors, personal injury practice is also a major source of employment opportunities for both qualified and trainee solicitors.

About Personal Injury Practice

Personal injury is a part of tort law, as it deals with cases where one party has been wronged by another. When a person has been injured – including a disease or illness – because of another party’s negligence, then they are entitled to make a compensation claim. For example, if somebody has been injured while working because of negligence, for example if they were not given adequate safety equipment or a slip hazard was not properly dealt with, then that person is entitled to make an injury at work claim for compensation against their employer. Similarly, a person injured by a careless driver can make a claim for negligence against that driver. In short, if a person has been physically harmed and it is the fault of another then a personal injury claim can be made, which almost always requires the help of a professional solicitor.

As such, many firms and individual solicitors specialise in this area. Indeed, often solicitors working for personal injury firms will focus on an even narrower specialism, such as workplace accidents, vehicle-related injuries, or medical negligence. As such, there are opportunities within the sector to work either as a generalist, dealing with a variety of accident and injury compensation claims, or as a specialist in a narrower field.

Pursuing a Legal Career with Personal Injury Firms

Personal injury is definitely a career for solicitors who are good with numbers. Proper compensation levels must be calculated, and to do this solicitors must often calculate and forecast the financial needs that are associated with an injury, and this requires a solid grasp of numeracy.

There are many firms, big, medium, and small, practising within the UK’s large personal injury claims market. As such, there are employment opportunities for solicitors of all levels with such firms, including newly-qualified solicitors and those early in their career. Some personal injury firms, especially larger ones, may also offer traineeships for law graduates to take their next steps towards becoming a full-fledged solicitor, as well as internships and work experience opportunities for those simply looking to gain some hands-on experience of working in a legal firm.

Things First-Year Law Students Should Know

UniversityThe schools, colleges, and universities of Britain have broken up for the summer. For kids and teenagers everywhere, this means a few blissful, sunny weeks of freedom. But for young adults and soon-to-be-mature students, it means preparing to head to university when next term comes around.

If you are going to enter your first year as a law student this September, there are a few things you might like to know ahead of time.

The Law Society is a Good Idea

During your university’s Freshers’ Week, all of the clubs and societies are likely to set up stands and start vying for your attention. For the most part, these organisations are a chance to indulge in hobbies or cultivate interests outside of your studies. But that’s not all there is to them, and joining the law society is a very good idea. It is a great opportunity to network with fellow law students, improve your potential for learning, and get valuable guidance on things like training opportunities and work experience.

There’s a Lot to Do

Alright, any sensible person goes into university expecting it to be hard work. But law degrees in particular are notorious for taking a lot of effort and, especially, a lot of your time. There is not just a lot of work, but also a lot of reading. This hard work is rewarding, and it doesn’t leave you with no free time at all, but the intensive nature of legal study cannot be emphasised enough. Be as prepared as you can be, and try your best to get on top of your workload (and your reading list) from the very start of your studies. If you get off to a good start and have a good handle on things from the get-go, you will likely find everything a lot more manageable down the line.

Details Matter

If there is a single tip that can help people, more than any other, to adopt the right mindset for the law, this is a good candidate to be that tip. Some subjects are all about the big picture. Not the law. In the law, it’s not just the big picture that matters, but the small details. When dealing with legal matters, every aspect of the law must be properly applied. Often, it is the small details that turn out to have big implications for specific cases with specific circumstances. Law students – and indeed legal professionals – have to be prepared to make a big deal out of the small things, and ensure they don’t write off the trees because they are trying to focus on the whole forest.

Gaining Work Experience for Your Law Career

One fact applies to almost every kind of work: it is a lot easier to start your career if you already have some relevant experience. Getting that experience can seem easier said then done, but there are a number of ways you can look for work experience in the legal sector ahead of a full-blown career.

When to Carry Out Work Experience

You can undergo work experience at any time that works for you. For the majority of prospective legal professionals, this means one of three times; before starting a legal qualification such as a degree, in university holidays while studying, or in between graduating and looking for a permanent position.

These are quite simply the times at which somebody who is preparing for a legal career is most likely to have the time to devote to work experience, as a legal degree is hard work in itself and taking on work experience during term time, while an option, tends to be difficult. If you believe you can handle some form of work experience in term time, there is not strictly any reason not to do so. However, many opportunities are arranged around the holiday periods of the academic year because this is when people are available so you may have fewer options. On the bright side, competition for any opportunities that do come up can be less fierce.

Getting Work Experience

The main way to obtain experience in the legal sector is to spend some time in an experience-gathering role with a firm. This may be paid or unpaid, and the length of time you may spend there varies. Many such opportunities are offered formally and regularly, much like jobs. These tend to be advertised in the press, through job websites, or on the company website of the firm offering the opportunity. Applying generally involves sending a CV and covering letter, much like applying for a regular job. Alternatively, some opportunities may not be advertised, and some firms may be willing to accommodate people who approach them looking for a chance to gain some experience, especially for unpaid experience. As such, if you have trouble finding opportunities that fit your needs it can be well worth sending speculative applications to local firms.

There may also be opportunities to volunteer, helping to provide basic legal support to individuals or start-up businesses through charity organisations and community initiatives. This is a great chance to obtain hands-on, real-world experience of legal support while also helping the local community. If this appeals to you, try to find out if any such initiatives are operating in your area and contact them directly to see if they could make use of your skills.

Graduating in Law: Your Options in Brief

GraduationGraduating is an exciting but scary time no matter what your subject. If your degree is in law, you have a number of options open to you – and not all are in law. If you are graduating in law this Summer – or are just planning ahead nice and early for your future graduation – here is a brief introduction to some of the main options open.

A Law Career

Obviously you have the option of pursuing a career in law. If this is the case, you will most likely want to start looking for training contracts or alternative options such as specialist schemes. Competition for places on these contracts can be fierce, but don’t let that put you off – just be prepared to persevere a bit if necessary.

An Alternative Career

Law is a high-pressure field, and sometimes studying a degree in the subject leads students to discover that it is not actually an area they want to build a career in after all. If this sounds like your experience, do not be disheartened. According to subject-by-subject research from the Higher Education Careers Services Unit, only 28.8% of law graduates actually end up in legal or closely-related fields of work and there are many other career options open to you with a law degree; so many, in fact, that it would take an exhaustive study to properly detail them all. For example, legal work teaches you a lot of valuable skills that are highly sought after in the business world. Human Resources (HR), in particular, is a business field that values legal graduates highly. Many graduate schemes in business and other fields only require a degree in any subject, or in a list of subjects that require relevant skills which will include law, so these are worth looking into as a route into an alternative career path.

A Masters

Alternatively, you may decide not to go straight into work at all but to take on further study. Most likely, this will take the form of a masters degree. While a first degree in law is enough to qualify you for a potentially successful legal career, a masters could give you a powerful competitive edge over other graduates in job applications as well as expand upon the skills and knowledge you have at your disposal in your new role. This applies to careers outside the law too. Alternatively, if you are looking into non-legal career options then you may be able to proceed onto a masters in another subject, helping to make a different path more open to you. Which non-law subjects may be open to law graduates will vary significantly from one institution to another and from one intake to another, but they will generally be subjects that fall into a similar category and utilise many of the same skills.

Easy Ways for Law Students to Enhance Their Learning

Studying law is hard work, and there is certainly a lot to learn. Going above and beyond your lectures and required reading is often encouraged, as it is with most subjects, and it can help you to get better grades and to really stand out as a candidate when it comes to moving onto the next step in a legal career after graduation. But studying law already takes a lot of effort and a lot of time, so you may struggle to fit in anything extra without feeling like you are giving up on the idea of a personal life entirely.

There are, however, some very easy and even enjoyable things you can do to go above and beyond the requirements of your course and enhance your learning about all things legal.

Follow Legal Social Media Accounts

This is one of the quickest and easiest things you can do, but it has the potential to be a lot more beneficial than you might think. Following/liking a few well-chosen legal news and information accounts on Twitter, Facebook and so on can really help you stay informed about what is going on in the legal world. Succinct updates will appear right there in your feed amongst all the updates from friends and family, and will often be accompanied by links to more in-depth articles if something grabs your attention enough that you want more details.

Read Some Books

This one might not sound exactly easy – you probably have more than enough heavy legal reading required for your courses – but believe it or not some legal reading can be easy (or at least enjoyable) while still being very useful. If you find time to read for pleasure as well as reading for your studies, there are plenty of books that will tick both boxes. Some are novels written by legal professionals, with enough real-world accuracy to make them a useful supplement to academic reading, for example Joy by former solicitor Jonathan Lee which sets an entertaining tale in the world of corporate law. Another good example is the BabyBarista series, which is an enjoyable way to peek into what life could be like if you pursue a career as a barrister.

Socialise With Your Fellow Law Students

You might think that after a long day of lectures, reading and essay-writing the last thing you want to do is “talk shop.” However, chatting about your subject socially can be a lot more entertaining than you think if you have a group of friends who are also fellow law students and with whom you can throw ideas around casually. This is something you will probably do naturally in this kind of company, and despite the casual nature of the chat can really help you exchange ideas and get ideas in order.

Personal Injury Law In Theory And Practice

Personal Injury law is a very emotive area of law to work in, and deals with matters that are very personal and of great everyday concern to the client. Personal injury cases, and their outcomes, will very much affect people’s lives one way or another. It is only too easy to have an accident that results in an injury, be it at work, on the roads, playing sport, or elsewhere.

Personal injury (PI) claims come under civil law, and the law of tort. When assessing a potential claim for personal injury, be it from an accident at work 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 a case under tort law; duty of care, breach of duty, causation, remoteness, damage, etc.

The lawyer is looking to see whether there was a breach, contrary to the legal obligations of the employer regarding health and safety at work. However, under law (be it tort or employment law), it is not just health and safety that the employer has to be legally held responsible for.

The liability and duty of care of the employer is assumed in any accident at work claims, and has to be argued against, rather than proved, in tort. The breach of such duty and responsibility can manifest itself in many ways, which the PI lawyer has to be alert for. Similarly, causation is one of the elements of tort law that is never straightforward. However, the matter of remoteness of damage, (applying the infamous Wagon Mound No1 case) is often straightforward.

Overall, the elements of tort, and above all applying it to personal injury, are actually quite straightforward. After learning the basic legal tests and rules, and the variations on the rules, it is simply a matter of using a ‘flowchart’ approach to see whether all the criteria are met.

Of course the classroom is always different to reality.

Putting that ‘flowchart’ into practice can be daunting – but also easy. A complex and emotive issue such as a workplace injury can be neatly dissected and reduced to its core essentials, and the heart of the matter easily found. A series of complicated injuries, and a convoluted series of events, can similarly be interpreted more easily. Also, the structure and questions asked at each stage of the ‘flowchart’ are both very descriptive, definite and detailed, and also very open and flexible. As such, in most cases it will be evident quite easily whether the case before you will meet the criteria.

As such, personal injury law, whether the injury is received in a workplace accident, car accident, or an accident at home, is a relatively straightforward area of law to work in. Further, it can be very rewarding. A client seeks advice regarding sometimes dreadful injuries, some of them long term, and potentially unable to work and to earn for some time. Securing for your clients an apology or compensation will really make an improvement for them. The PI lawyer is really having a day to day impact upon the lives of their clients, often for the better.

Given that (very regrettably) many people get injured annually, whether at work, on the roads, or elsewhere, and are wanting to seek compensation or a legal remedy, it is an area of law that is rarely affected by recessions, or significant changes in the law that governs it. Indeed, as Judge Lord Macmillan stated in a 1932 verdict, “the categories of negligence are never closed.”

Further, PI cases are often handled under a Conditional Fee Arrangement (CFA). Essentially, the litigant does not pay up front. Under a CFA, the PI lawyer only gets paid when the case is successfully resolved. As such, many injured in workplace accidents or similar will instruct a PI lawyer and face PI litigation not deterred by courts costs and similar.

Further, as mentioned previously, it is relatively easy to quickly make a decision as to whether a case will be successful or not, given the nature of the criteria and tests behind personal injury and tort law. As such, when you actually get to court, you have already assessed that your case has a very great margin of success. That is good for you – and for your client.

What are the Core Areas of Legal Study?

The UK’s legal system, like the legal system of any country, makes up a truly vast field of knowledge comprised of various different areas. Studying the entirety of the law in full detail would be an absurdly vast undertaking. This is why lawyers specialise after completing their course and why, along with a handful of other professions such as medical practice, books remain their best friends throughout their career.

However, some areas of the law are considered especially important. These are the modules it is considered most essential that law students learn about during their degree, and are considered the core, most central modules of the course. Of course, the modules on offer and those considered core or compulsory will vary from institution to institution, but there are certain areas of the law that are considered truly essential and will therefore pretty much universally appear among the list of compulsory rather than optional modules.

So what are these core modules? There are seven of them, and they are as follows:

  • Criminal Law: This area of study involves the technicalities of the criminal legal system, as well as discussion of some of the moral and ethical issues surrounding this area of law.

  • Contract Law: The study of contract law involves looking at the nature of corporate and commercial contracts, the ways in which they are made, and upon the factors that could make or break a contract’s legality.

  • Property Law: This includes the rights of those who own land, the limitations of those rights, and what the law could mean for both the current owner of a piece of land and those who might own it in the future.

  • Public Law: Public law modules involve looking at the way that law affects the relationships between the individual and the state, as well as the links and interactions between courts, government, and parliament.

  • Tort Law: Tort law is the law of “civil wrongs,” and students studying a tort law module will look at what things fall within the realm of tort law and the legal processes that this entails.

  • Equity and Trust: A look at the legal issues surrounding the way trusts are created, the roles and responsibilities of a trustee, and what can happen when trustees fail to meet these responsibilities.

  • EU Law: Students must learn about the laws of the European Union, with particular reference to the way this affects the work of legal professionals in England and Wales.

If you are a student or graduate of another subject and have been looking into law conversion courses, this list could look familiar. These core modules also form the bulk of most conversion courses, as these are considered the areas of legal practice that it is most essential for these students to catch up on.

What you Need to Succeed in a Legal Career

A career in the legal sector can be a rewarding one as well as financially lucrative. However, law is also a demanding area of work, and is certainly not for everyone. If you want to succeed in law – and to do so without feeling stressed and overworked – there are a few things you will need.

A Love of the Subject

Almost every job interview in every sector there is wants to know that you are really passionate about the industry you are applying to work in. In most cases, applicants accept this as a standard requirement, and will happily fake it if necessary. In the legal sector, however, things are quite different. If you want to succeed, you genuinely do need to have a love of the subject.

This is because the legal industry is a very demanding one to work in. You really do have to give it your all, and you will have to spend long hours dealing with the complexities of the UK legal system. This doesn’t change the fact that a legal career can be an extremely rewarding and fulfilling one, but those who don’t have enough enthusiasm may not be able to share in that fulfilment.

Motivation and Commitment

Again, these sound like standard job interview stock requirements. Once again, however, they are genuinely pre-requisites for succeeding in the legal sector and being happy rather than unhappy as you do it.

The reasons behind this are much the same as the reasons you will need to have real enthusiasm for the law. A legal career is hard work – often rewarding work, but hard nonetheless. Hours tend to be long, and this will really impact on your social life. If you want to really succeed in law and get the most out of your career personally and emotionally, you will need to have enough motivation to maintain good performance over long hours of work and enough commitment to not get downhearted.

What if I’m Studying Law and I Don’t Have These Things?

Law is a fantastic sector for some people to work in, and others find themselves unsuitable. When you have little or no involvement with law as a subject, it can be very hard to tell which camp you will fall into. For a lot of people it is only when studying the subject that they become clear on whether they want to stick with it for a career or not.

Some students panic when they suddenly realise they aren’t so sure about a career in the law, especially those who only have doubts near the end of their degree. However, it’s no bad thing and is very common. There are plenty of other careers you can pursue with your legal degree so it doesn’t mean that all is lost or that you should pack in your studies. You will still have a useful and prestigious qualification, and now you know that you will be happier working elsewhere.

Tax Law: HSBC, and Avoidance vs Evasion

“No man in this country is under the smallest obligation, moral or other, so to arrange his legal relations to his business or to his property as to enable the Inland Revenue to put the largest possible shovel into his stores. The Inland Revenue is not slow-and quite rightly-to take every advantage which is open to it under the taxing statutes for the purpose of depleting the taxpayer’s pocket. And the taxpayer is, in like manner, entitled to be astute to prevent, so far as he honestly can, the depletion of his means by the Inland Revenue.”
Lord Clyde, Ayrshire Pullman Motor Services and Ritchie v IRC (1929) 14 TC 754; 8 ATC 531

HSBC was very recently accused of aiding and promoting tax dodging amongst some of its customers. Wealthy customers were having HSBC to put their assets offshore, especially in Swiss bank accounts. Investigations are on going, amidst allegations that HSBC has channelled billions of pounds offshore over recent years, and hidden billions in customer money from the Inland Revenue.

Further related issues were raised concerning Lord Fink. Tory donor and peer, the former hedge fund manager was labelled by opposition leader Ed Milliband as involved in tax dodging. Lord Fink threatened to sue Mr Milliband for defamation, and challenged him to repeat his words outside Parliament, without the protection granted by Parliamentary privilege under constitutional law. Later, Lord Fink appeared to withdraw his threat to sue. Previously, Labour has stated its intention to crack down on offshore tax havens, such as the Cayman Islands. Mr Milliband’s anti tax dodger rhetoric is therefore in keeping with such intentions and Labour party policy.

In Lord Fink’s pseudo- withdrawal, he stated that the definition of tax avoidance was very broad. Legally, and under the complicated UK tax code that is indeed the case. Further, dodging tax comes under two legal categories, tax avoidance and tax evasion, of varying legal consequences and understanding.

Tax avoidance is legal. Avoidance ultimately involves lowering your tax bill, and subtly adjusting your financial or other liabilities as regards tax. Methods used can be, for example, maximising tax deductions and tax credits, creating certain trust funds or similar, and certain offshore schemes and investments. Above all, it is not illegal to have foreign accounts and investments- so long as the appropriate tax is paid. Provided, amongst other things, that there was no intention to evade tax, then such measures are legal. Tax avoidance, if prosecuted at all, will merit a fine or similar penalty. Indeed, as leading American judge Judge Learned Hand stated in the 1940’s “Over and over again courts have said there is nothing sinister in so arranging one’s affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible. Everybody does so, rich or poor; and all do right, for nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands.”

Tax evasion is wilfully avoiding paying tax. It often involves methods such as offshore or foreign accounts and investments, undeclared income, and similar financial dealings and holdings. In essence, the individual is not operating in accordance with law. A further point of many tax related offences is intent; the individual must be acting with the intent of not paying tax. In effectively hiding money from the tax authorities, the individual (or corporation) is acting illegally. When prosecuted, sentences can range from hefty fines to jail.

A further complication of the UK tax system is the unique concept of ‘non domicile’ as regards taxation. Under those rules, UK citizens or residents with a non British father (or mother, in a few cases) can claim such a tax status. Under that status, although a UK resident and taxpayer, for some financial matters you can take the domicile of your father, and legitimately not pay tax on some properties, inheritance tax, savings and investments in that domicile. Although morally and ethically questionable- it is perfectly legitimate. Such non dom status has been used quite legally by an estimated five million British citizens and residents, including some senior political and establishment figures.

As with any jurisdiction, tax law is complicated, and in the UK the result of nearly a thousand years of successive British rulers and governments raising money. Some rules are indeed very archaic, and a throwback to former eras. Those rules and laws are constantly changing to meet social changes, and modern financial times; following tax dodging scandals in recent years, those rules and laws are now before Parliament for review and change. Tax law usually involves further specialist or master’s level studying tax law, and rigorous training. Prior accountancy or financial training will inevitably be of great benefit to the aspiring tax law practitioner.

As the on going scandal with HSBC indicates, and Lord Fink’s response to the Labour leader’s statement, tax law involves a great deal of open and broad interpretation of the law, and relevant legal principles. As always, that skill of legal analysis and interpretation is only learned by the law student over time, and is a skill that makes a lawyer a lawyer.