In defence of the LLB

We recently witnessed a widespread debate amongst Lawyer 2B readers, provoked by the blog, “In defence of the GDL” by Rajesh Vora. We would like to respond to this, providing a different perspective and putting into context the position of the LL.B in this modern debate.

In an attempt to provide an informative and relevant account, we believe the three universities we have chosen are a fair representation of the spectrum. According to the Guardians University guide for 2011; University of Warwick is currently third in the country overall, University of Manchester are fifty-first and Liverpool John Moores are one-hundred and ninth. Further, we have compared the number of modules taken during popular degree subjects by GDL graduates to the LL.B.

At University of Warwick the entry requirements for law are AAA at A level with an additional As level required at grade C or above, and includes five modules per year. At the same university entry for Sociology is BBB with an additional As level required at grade B or above, with four modules per year.

At University of Manchester the entry requirements for law are AAA at A level, with six modules per year. At the same university entry for Politics is ABB.

Liverpool John Moores University, the entry requirements for law are BBB at A level, with six to seven modules per year. At the same university entry for English is BCC, with four to five modules per year.

We believe the higher entry requirements indicate that an LL.B requires higher levels of intellect. This conclusion is only advocated as the entry requirements needed for Russell group universities are higher, indicating a better quality of education. The higher number of modules required for an LL.B suggests a heavier workload, proving it is of a higher intensity. As previously highlighted an LL.B can have eighteen or more modules. The GDL has just seven core modules and we question the depth of the legal knowledge gained during this course. This is compounded by the substandard entry requirements of a 2.2 for admission onto the GDL. Other professions such as medicine and architecture do not have an equivalent to the GDL as they take years of training, academic study and dedication which we assert GDL students do not have.

Another issue that cannot be ignored is if the GDL is such an academic and challenging course, then surly the finest institutions in the country would decide to run it, adding to their prestigious reputations and attracting more high calibre students. This is not the case, pointing to one conclusion; that the most esteemed universities in the country deem this diploma inferior and unable to produce graduates of the same calibre as those from an LL.B. It is no surprise then that the majority of providers of the GDL are ex-poly universities, providing what many academics perceive as substandard education.

To support our assertions, we have provided a link to an insightful article. In it, important statistics are cited; just 6.7 percent of law students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland graduate with a first, the lowest percentage on any degree programme. As previously highlighted, law already has amongst the highest entry requirements, attracting students of the highest calibre. Here is an interesting quote from the article in response to the low number of firsts awarded on an LL.B. “A good lawyer has to be a whole package — he or she has to be a linguist, a researcher and have scientific analysis skills. To be all-round excellent at very different things is very rare”.

We assert that an LL.B is designed around these views and aims for students to develop these skills, which are required to become a lawyer. We pose the question, how then can a degree programme unrelated to law combined with the GDL provide students with these skills at such a proficient level when a course specifically designed to do so has relatively low success rates? We suggest it cannot.

The entire debate relies on employment statistics as it is they who ultimately decide. During the previous debate it seemed that commentators were just plucking statements out of the air, so we took it upon ourselves to carry out firsthand research. In our findings, at Essex Court Chambers the proportion of GDL graduates is just 20 percent. At one of our local sets, Atlantic Chambers, the percentage of GDL graduates is just 35 percent. Even in solicitors firms as highlighted in another article the common ratio is 60:40 in favour of LL.B graduates.

During the Open University documentary ‘The Barristers’, at Lamb building chambers a GDL graduate was questioned by Bernard Richmond about their lack of dedication to a career in law. Pointing out that, “You have only completed two years of law…unfair as it is what sort of impression does that give?” In the previous debate Rajesh Vora stated, “…sadly we’re not afforded the luxury of doing electives related to our preferred practice areas”.

The main question we pose to Rajesh and every other GDL graduate is if you truly wanted to become a lawyer before choosing your degree subject and there was a specific area of law you wanted to study, then why did you not choose to study an LL.B?

The mature student argument advocated by many GDL graduates does not hold up either because the same can be commented at LL.B level. On our course 30 percent of students are mature, many, with numerous years work experience in the legal sector. Additionally, many LL.B students have part-time employment, it is not exclusive for those studying on the GDL, demanding the same levels of persistence and endurance many GDL students suggest. Another area overlooked in the previous debate was the fact that an increasing number of LL.B students are going on to complete an LL.M or even a PhD, providing them with superior legal knowledge, carefully honed analytical skills and more life experience.

Regarding the ‘top up’ LL.B argument, here is what the SRA has stated on this topic, “…the LL.B upgrades/top-ups to the Graduate Diploma in Law programmes offered by some institutions are not recognised by the SRA as Qualifying Law Degrees”.

Many academics have commented on the demise of the legal profession, including Peter Birks, placing a proportion of the blame with the GDL and we echo these sentiments. To assert that the GDL is more difficult than the LL.B, with no prior experience or dedication to the legal sector is nothing short of an insult to thousands of undergraduates, graduates and even awaiting students. We thank those who have taken the time to read this blog. We wish to merely offer our perspective and open an opportunity to debate.