6th November 2019

Studying Law: What on Earth for? – Opinion

Opinion pieces are the view of the author and in no way reflects the view of the Liverpool Guild Student Media or Liverpool Guild of Students

As I enter the second year of my Law Degree and move one step further along the employee production line, I am seriously questioning who I am, what I want to do with myself and why on earth I am studying law.

As soon as my attendance was registered on campus on the first Monday morning of the semester, the first instalment of the £9,250 annual tuition fee was paid by Student Finance England to the University. This tuition fee covers only 24 teaching weeks per year. By 24 teaching weeks, I am not, unfortunately, referring to busy and fully enriched timetables with small class sizes. I am referring to lecture halls of over 200 students for the majority of the time. During the first semester, I am scheduled to be in university for an average of fewer than eight hours per week. This works out at a cost of over £50 per hour of teaching. This is a disgrace. 

‘Seminars offer an active learning experience, as opposed to the more passive learning model within lectures’. This line is taken directly from a module handbook. In this module, I attended a 1.5-hour seminar which had 27 people in it. Being one of the last to arrive, I was stuck with a seat near the back of the room. Despite trying to actively engage in the seminar, I was only given the opportunity to contribute twice. This is far away from what an ‘active learning experience’ at a Russell Group university should entail. 

The nature of law as a subject lends itself to hours and hours of reading: cases, legislation, academic commentary, articles and textbooks. This is, I assume, why our timetables are so sparse. Self-directed study is perhaps more prominent on a law degree than on many other courses. The lack of timetabled hours seems to be the University’s way of acknowledging this point. Why then, is no financial support offered to help students out with the cost of textbooks? Simply buying the ‘essential reading’ for the year’s modules will easily cost in excess of £200. This is simply unaffordable for many students. To illustrate this, the ‘offer price’ for the set text of one module in Blackwell’s is the not-so-measly fee of £46, reduced from £54.98. It just so happens that this book, listed as ‘required reading’, was co-written by the head of Liverpool Law School. 

If the Sydney Jones Library was suitably equipped, there would be no problem posed by extortionate textbook prices. However, the lack of provision of the set texts for each module is frankly embarrassing. There is a higher chance of finding a four-leaf clover in a guild burrito than there is of being able to access any of the required reading at a convenient time in the library, as it is forever out on 7-day loans to students much savvier than myself. Liverpool Law school prides itself as a champion of social justice. A key principle of social justice is access to equal opportunity. Can we truly declare that this is something that Liverpool Law School is currently providing to its students?

But what is it all for? As a law student am I destined to graduate into a well-paid job, in a thriving jobs market? The short answer is no.

The Ministry of Justice has had some of the largest public service cuts, causing the scope of availability for legal aid to have deteriorated alarmingly over the past decade. Reports have suggested that a starting salary for a junior criminal barrister can be well below minimum wage in real terms. Of course, there is still huge amounts of money for the taking in the world of corporate law; but at a cost, and in a hugely competitive jobs market. This presents a dilemma – either help those in drastic need of capable representation, for a fee far below your worth; OR ‘sell your soul’ to a corporate titan, for big bucks. For me, neither of these options particularly appeal.

Check out more Liverpool Guild Student Media opinion articles here.

Feature Image Credit: Unsplash – Sharon McCutcheon – Books