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Scottish versus English law degrees: factors behind your informed decision

Scottish versus English law degrees: factors behind your informed decision

Posted by justis1 | 09 May 2014

There is plenty to consider when choosing a university; the city, the nightlife, the sporting culture and of course the university’s rankings.

But should the location of a university be a factor for consideration? More specifically, for would-be-lawyers, is it important to study in the jurisdiction in which you intend to practise?

Below we lay out the routes to practice in both England and Scotland, and the alternatives available should you choose to qualify elsewhere following your undergraduate degree.

The UK comprises three distinct jurisdictions: England and Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. Undergraduate law degrees can be studied across all three, but the qualifications required and the structure of admission to practise vary in each.

Qualifying in England

In England the first step is to complete a qualifying law degree, either the undergraduate LLB or the Graduate Diploma in Law. Would-be barristers must then complete the Bar Professional Training Course, BPTC, while aspiring solicitors complete the Legal Practice Course. Completion of these courses is followed by either a pupillage or two-year training contract respectively.

Qualifying in Scotland

Similarly, in Scotland the first step is to complete a Foundation Programme. An honours degree takes four years, an ordinary degree three, and a post-graduate degree two. The Professional Education and Training Course, PEAT 1, must be undertaken by all graduates. Potential solicitors then commence their PEAT 2, a two-year training contract, while hopeful would-be advocates first train in a solicitor’s office before ‘devilling’ as a pupil to an advocate. Whichever jurisdiction you choose, the routes to practice are similar.

The question then is: is it worth studying in Scotland to qualify in England or vice versa?

There is no bar to qualifying in a jurisdiction from which you do not have an undergraduate degree; the concern is most often that it will take an “extra year” to qualify when switching jurisdictions.

But an extra year of study need not act as a disincentive. If you have chosen your undergraduate university with good reason because you feel that the education you will receive or the course on offer is unparalleled elsewhere, then an extra year of study may be easy to accept.

Furthermore, qualifying in a different jurisdiction need not necessarily equate to an extra year; much depends on the specifics of the route you choose.

Scottish graduates come to the qualifying process in England in the same manner as English graduates with non-law degrees; they must first complete the GDL. However the SRA and the BRB, acknowledging that students have already studied law, allow for exemptions from certain modules, granting students time to work and gain experience throughout the year.Flow diagram tracking the stages for students wishing to study a law degree in England and Scotland

Following the GDL you may then undertake the LPC or BPTC. The “extra year” theory can be questioned here: PEATs 1 and 2, followed by training and devilling in Scotland, will take about three years. The time to qualify in England also sits at around three years, with the year-long GDL and BPTC followed by a year of pupillage. So for Scottish students heading to the bar the qualification process in both jurisdictions is comparable.

To qualify in Scotland you must first have a full LLB qualification. With an undergraduate degree from England, you can take the accelerated post-graduate degree and gain your LLB qualification in two years, before beginning the PEAT 1.

Advantages of learning the law of both jurisdictions

It is useful to note that there are advantages of qualifying cross-jurisdictionally. As Fiona Todd states in The Student Lawyer, “Do not think that if you decide not to continue your legal career in Scotland that you wasted four years of your life. That is not the case at all … I have found that having the perspective of Scots law allows you to engage more with some of the provisions of the English law you encounter … Having knowledge of both jurisdictions allows you to understand the criticisms and also the possible solutions.” This is equally applicable to English graduates embarking on the PEAT.

 

For those who wish to bridge both jurisdictions it is interesting to note that the University of Dundee allows for students on the Scottish law degree to take English law modules and earn a dual-qualified law degree. Additionally, the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme in Scotland allows for the possibility of becoming dual qualified as a solicitor in both Scotland and England.

The above should illustrate that the qualifying route has similarities in both jurisdictions and that studying across both does not necessarily equate to a longer qualifying process. Though the jurisdiction of your undergraduate university should be an aspect to consider, just as it is not necessary to have a law degree to become a lawyer, it isn’t necessary to have a Scottish undergraduate degree to become an advocate.

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