My sister-in-law is currently deciding what she wants to do when she leaves school. She will be sitting the Leaving Certificate this year. She has decided she wants to pursue a career in law. The advice to her from friends of mine who are lawyers was “don’t study law in university if you want to be a solicitor or barrister – do something else that interests you and will give you extra skills”.
As there are no longer any exemptions for law degree graduates on the professional qualifications for solicitor or barrister there is no advantage there.
However, one might suspect that if you have studied Tort, Criminal law, Legal Systems and a raft of other subjects that are part of the core exams for professional qualification you would have some sort of advantage or ‘head start’ (I suspect this is the thinking behind my sister-in-law’s persistence at wanting to do a law degree first). This would seem to make sense and would be, as JK Galbraith put it, “Conventional Wisdom”.
But interestingly, some research has been done on just this question (admittedly in the US) and the results were interesting enough for the Freaknomics guys to write about it on their blog on the New York Times.
To quote from the article:
no relationship existed between law school courseloads and the passage rate of students ranked in the first, second or fourth quarters of their law school class, while only a weak relationship existed for students who ranked in the third quarter.
In other words, smart people with work ethics (the top 2 quarters of the class) passed the Bar exams regardless of the courses they studied in law school. The bottom tier failed regardless of what courses they took. The middle ground people… well for them it might have helped a little bit – but only a bit.
My legal friends view was that given that you have to study for the professional exams anyway, it would be better to become a more rounded person with perspectives from other disciplines before embarking on the legal route. Many of the solicitors I know from college either didn’t study law or, for those that did, went into another career for a few years before returning to the law with a wider skillset.
One of the most thoughtful and insightful legal minds I know doesn’t have a law degree from University. He studied classics and was a civil servant for a while. He took the professional qualification route to solicitor (as everyone has to). As a result he is an interesting fellow to talk to about things ranging from politics and social ethics to the campaigns of Philip of Macedon and the merits of the Kaiser Chiefs. He has been known to give pretty good legal advice too.
That’s not to say that people with law degrees are dull and boring. Many of them are not. I must categorically state this… law degree holders are not boring (on average). (Disclosure… in my misspent youth I spent 4 years studying in UCD’s Law faculty to get my BBLS)
So, the anecdotes from my lawyer friends are that if you want to be a lawyer you should spend three to four years studying something else that interests you before you embark on your professional qualification. That learning will round you out as a person, give you different perspectives on the law, it might give you contacts you can call on in the future (expert witnesses, plumbers, whatever) and at the very least it gives you time to be certain you want to be a lawyer.
The scientific evidence is that what you study in law school doesn’t affect your ability to pass professional qualifications (and I know that the study relates to the US and Bar exams and similar studies might have different results here… but I doubt it). Add to that the fact that you can enter the legal profession here through a variety of routes and don’t need to have completed a law degree first and I am left with the question…
Why study law if you want to be a lawyer?
I’m not sure if anyone has done a similar study in Ireland but it would be interesting to see if there is a correlation between pass grades in Solicitor FE1s or Kings Inns exams for people actually having completed a law degree versus those without.