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Studying a law degree or qualification can lead students to any number of exciting career paths. We explain how law career pathways differ across countries.
Often when students think of studying towards a law qualification, their minds may instantly jump to thoughts of being a lawyer (or attorney, or solicitor to use some other common international job titles).
But the truth is, a law qualification gives undergraduates a lot of transferable skills that they can use in many other career paths. Much like Business (which we’ll cover in a later article) law qualifications give students the skills they need to succeed in career paths like accountancy, banking, sales, retail or even politics!
But the professional pathway to becoming a lawyer is very different depending on which international destination a student chooses.
The simple answer is that countries organise their legal system and their legal qualifications differently. This means that the professional qualifications required for a legal career will differ too!
That’s why, for international students who have expressed an interest in a legal career, it’s important to research various international legal qualifications carefully.
For example, as we’ll explore later in this article, some countries allow students to work towards a legal qualification at the undergraduate level. In other countries, students will need a postgraduate qualification to become fully accredited in a legal profession
But helping students to weigh up the competing international pathways into a legal career can be tough, especially if you and/or your counseling team find you have a few knowledge gaps of your own.
So in this guide, we’ll look at studying law internationally. We’ll show you how law qualifications work in some of the major international study destinations, we’ll look at the entry requirements for a legal career and we’ll discuss the types of job a law qualification can lead to.
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What jobs can students do with a law degree?
A law qualification doesn’t necessarily mean an undergraduate has to pursue a career in law.
But, likewise, students who want to pursue a legal career don’t always have to have studied a law-based subject at university (though it’s always worth students checking this when they research an individual country)
Law qualifications can often equip students with skills such as analysis, presentation skills, negotiation, problem-solving, conflict resolution and written communication. All of these are valuable in the world of work, whether your students turn out to be lawyers or not!
How are law degrees structured?
Most law qualifications will require students to take a number of core modules, before specialising in particular fields in later years.
The sort of topics that will normally be covered in the first two years of a law qualification will include an introduction to the legal system (and legal systems in practice), intro to legal skills, constitutional/public law, criminal law, the law of tort, and land law.
While law degrees worldwide will share some common competencies that students are expected to master, it’s worth noting that different countries will place a slightly different emphasis on the types of law that they expect undergraduate students to learn.
For example, in the UK and EU, there are often modules or courses on European and EU law as part of an undergraduate degree, as these are countries where wider European law may interact with a country’s domestic laws.
How long is a law degree or qualification?
The length of a law degree or qualification will vary across countries. In countries like the UK or the Netherlands, a law degree is typically three or four years in length. By contrast, an international student who chose to gain their law qualification in Germany would be required to study for five to six years.
In many countries, students can expect to take an additional, post-graduate qualification on top of an existing undergraduate degree. We’ve already mentioned the US, and we’ll cover some other examples in the Postgraduate section.
How are law degrees & qualifications assessed?
Most law degrees at the university level are assessed through a mixture of exams, coursework and group assessments & presentations. Depending on the country you choose to study in, some law degrees may be partially assessed through work experience or a placement.
What’s it like studying law internationally?
As we said, many law graduates may choose not to pursue a career in law. However, if they do want to enter the legal profession, in most cases a postgraduate qualification is essential.
There are two main pathways to becoming a lawyer – a Bachelor of Law (LLB) undergraduate degree followed by a postgraduate vocational qualification, or a postgraduate law degree called a Juris Doctor (JD).
Let’s go into more detail on these two pathways and the countries that use them…
An LLB is typically an undergraduate programme (like the ones we mentioned above), but in most countries, students will have to complete further study and training to practice law. Here are some examples of countries that follow this model:
The United Kingdom
In the UK, after completing their LLB, students will need to take a one-year Graduate Diploma in Law. Further postgraduate qualifications will then diverge, depending on whether they wish to be a solicitor (someone who provides general legal services) or a barrister (someone who represents individuals or organisations in court).
In Australia, after their LLB students will need to undertake Practical Legal Training (PLT) in one of several pathways: The Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice, Master of Laws and Supervised Workplace Training. It’s also worth noting that Australia also offers JD pathways (which we’ll cover in more detail in the next section)
In the Netherlands, an LLB undergraduate programme is typically followed by a 1-year master of law degree. This is typically followed by a 3-year apprenticeship.
In Hong Kong, students must take a 9-month Postgraduate Certificate in Law. To become a barrister, they will then take a 1-year apprenticeship; to be a solicitor, it’s 2 years.
As discussed previously, some countries do not offer specific undergraduate law degrees, and students will take a bachelor’s degree followed by a 3-year Juris Doctor postgraduate degree. Finally, they must complete a bar exam to become a practising lawyer.
This means that the JD pathway can take significantly longer than the LLB option – in some cases at least 7 years.
Below are some countries where students can expect to work towards a JD degree.
In the USA, an undergraduate degree takes 4 years, and many institutions offer a “pre-law” major. After graduation, students will apply to law school. Then, they must take the bar exam in the state in which they want to work.
The process is the same in Canada. However, some Canadian law schools also offer hybrid law programs, such as Law & Social Work and Law & Business Administration.
While South Korean lawyers used to follow the LLB pathway since 2007 the country has opened several postgraduate law schools, offering more North American style JD qualifications. After completing law school, students must take the national bar exam.
In Japan, many institutions do offer undergraduate law degrees. However, in order for students to take the national bar exam to practice law, they must go to law school and take a JD degree – even if they already have an LLB!
Where should students apply to study law?
This is a very complicated question, and it will partly depend on what route students want to take into the legal profession.
It’s important to stress that law qualifications are generally routed in the legal system of the country they are taught in.
Moving to a different country after graduation (or in the case of the US, even a different state!) will likely result in a need for additional training or examinations. So, like with medicine, prospective law students should think carefully about which country they would like to live and work in.
Also, as we’ve already discussed, some pathways towards a legal career will take 3-5 years (for example in the UK, Hong Kong and some EU countries). Meanwhile in other countries, like the USA, South Korea, Canada and Germany, the path to becoming a fully qualified lawyer is longer, and can take 6-7 years.
Note: It’s also worth students researching which universities in their chosen country teach a law degree in English, as some law qualifications will be taught in that country’s native language. For example, some universities in the Netherlands offer law degrees in English – but not all Dutch universities will!
How can students make their law application stand out?
Students who are interested in a law degree don’t have to have immersed themselves in legal texts or the complexities of lawmaking. But it does help if your students who are interested in law can demonstrate some valuable soft skills.
Critical & analytical Skills
Lawyers will need strong analytical skills, so it helps if students have a good grounding in subjects that help them to analyse information and make an argument. Examples include subjects like literature, history, politics, philosophy & economics. But this isn’t an exhaustive list – science-based are equally valid!
Extracurriculars can help here too! If there are any debating societies or school clubs that can help students to develop these skills, encourage future legal eagles in your school to join them!
Knowledge of current and global affairs
It can be useful for students to have a good knowledge of current affairs. Encourage your students to read newspapers & magazines, and think about the political events, social causes or economic injustices that they’re passionate about, or feel most affected by.
Service to their local community can help law applicants to demonstrate a commitment to a wider public service and gives students valuable experience of working with different and diverse groups of people. Lawyers will likely have to do this in the course of their career!
Legal work experience
If your students can secure work experience with a law firm or legal services organisation in their vacation or summer break, then this will really help their university application and legal CV.
Which subjects should students take at high school level?
Lawyers will need strong analytical skills, so it helps if students have a good grounding in subjects that help them to analyse information and make an argument.
Examples include subjects like literature, history, politics, philosophy and economics. But this isn’t an exhaustive list – science-based subjects are equally valid!
Are there other routes into a legal career?
Higher education is the most common route to becoming a lawyer, but some countries offer or are beginning to offer, vocational law qualifications or law apprenticeships – the UK is one example. Students can also consider becoming a paralegal (assisting with legal duties), which requires less training and can often be done alongside working.
We hope our crash course on studying law internationally helps you to structure your conversations with any aspiring attorneys at your school! If you want additional resources to help power your international careers guidance, download your free International Careers Handbook.
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