Mature Entrants · University

What Is a Good University?

Hoo boy. I am sure that no one ever advised me to sail straight ahead into the trouble that I see brewing. However, I have been asked (by ‘Anonymous’ – it’s all right for him/her) to give a list of good universities. I am doing so because it may help. As will become clear, the sooner this list is assembled on different criteria to peoples’ current prejudices the better.

Can I make it clear that this is not a judgement on the Universities. Nor is it a judgement on the students. It is simply a list of what most pupillage committees would, in my view, think was a good university. I may be wrong. I have left out Oxbridge as being self-evident. They are in no particular order.

Kings London
Sheffield (in Yorkshire anyway)

To which Martin (who has his ear close to the academic ground) adds:

And removes York. I certainly agree with the Scots and Irish choices although you don’t see too many Scots law degrees in England.

I ought to add that, personally, I always rated Keele as well. They teach law slightly differently and I always found that the people from there had independent minds.

And, after further representations:
Cardiff (better in Wales I suspect)

This is clearly what people would expect. It takes almost no account of non Russell-Group institutions and no account of new universities. But that is how it is.

There are two things that make a difference. Firstly, if you are applying to provincial Chambers then local is almost always a help, even if it is a new university. Secondly, if you have a first I would regard that as more important than where you went. That may not be true of the ‘top’ commercial sets, although it should be. And I think that a 1st is a 1st, regardless of the breakdown of marks. If that’s what your degree certificate says, then that’s what you’ve got. Anywhere that says, ‘Not a very good 1st’ is to be avoided because the people are likely to be deficient as people.

This list will, hopefully, be out of date soon. As a new generation comes to the Bar I suspect that they will change the perceptions and be on pupillage committees which have different priorities. Where you went to University reflects your A level results. Your A level results reflect your school. Your school reflects the advantages you started off with. We do not, in other words, yet have a reliable method of measuring raw talent. But the sooner we (and indeed Universities) start to look at distance travelled rather than current point, the better the profession will become.

One last point. This list, in my experience, indirectly discriminates against one particular category of applicant, namely Asian women. For reasons that my Mother and her parents would understand perfectly, traditional Asian families are less than keen for their daughters to go away from home. Thus a disproportionate number of good female Asian candidates seem to attend universities (new or old) close to home. Comment from those who really know would, as ever, be helpful.

Scribbler, in an excellent comment which I entirely accept, and urge you all to read, points out that mature students are discriminated against in the same way, often having ties which limit their movements. I agree.


75 thoughts on “What Is a Good University?

  1. I see no reason for trouble to brew. You’ve explicitly stated that this is a record of others’ prejudices. I’m glad to see York on there, though somewhat surprised. In my *very* casual browsing of Chambers sites I don’t tend to see York graduates.

    One question I have (given that I don’t have enough already to agonize over) concerns whether a distinction is drawn between Firsts and Firsts. This may be nitpicking but I notice that application forms usually ask for a breakdown of degree results. I’m someone who got a “technical” First (i.e. at least half my results were a First, the other half together averaged no lower than II.1; I got a First despte my final degree average not being 70). Will anyone notice this? Do I deserve a slap for being too obsessive?

    Another follows on from your earlier post about MAs etc. You say it can be an advantage coming to law later in life. What is the opinion on those coming straight from a Ph.D. in another subject (without ever having taken a break to get a Real Job)? My Ph.D. is in philosophy, so there’s no connection with anything legal.

  2. It’s interesting to note that there are no Welsh Universities figuring anywhere on anyone’s lists; this is a bit disappointing; Cardiff posesses an excellent academic reputation whilst Swansea -recently awarded its own Royal Charter and is now independant of the University of Wales- has a young, dynamic and highly ambtious law school with excellent standards of teaching; it’s a shame that chambers will look on both such universities won’t consider them good. Graduates of both are almost bound to face a huge uphill struggle in securing pupillage, precisely because chambers will look askance at their degree awarding body, and probably think twice, even if the candidate concerned has an outstanding CV- and thats without the sting of Oxbridge.
    I find all this quite worrying.

  3. I am very surprised that no-one has mentioned Hull, especially as it seems to do well in most Law league tables. I guess that there is a disadvantage of it being based in a working class provincial city.

    It has recently been ranked (for Law) 9th in The Times Higher Education supplement, 13th in The Guardian League tables and 24th in The Times Good University Guide.

    As a recent Hull graduate with a high 2:1 (67%) this thread has got me wondering if I will struggle for pupillage interviews? I am a mature mid-twenties student with a decent CV and some good extra-curricular activity.

    Interestingly not many people go from Hull to the Bar, with the majority opting for the LPC.

    Despite this I am in contact with three recent Hull graduates all of whom won significant major BVC scholarships then went on to get pupillage.

    Would you be minded to make Hull a late addition to you list (as you have done with Keele), and if not why do you feel that it is not worthy of inclusion?

    1. I too am a Hull graduate (2002) with a decent 2:1, later in life and with a variety of relevant work experience. I was Called in 2010 but some 50+ pupillage applications last year have produced just 4 first round interviews. I think Hull, irrespective of its table rankings is sneered at anywhere other than Yorkshire (and this is despite it being one of the three ‘Great Universities of England’ – who remembers the spy sketch in Blackadder Goes Forth?).

      Look how many Hull graduates are at Wilberforce Chambers (the one in Hull), and then try to find one elsewhere. I have never seen one on a chambers listings of members (although i’m sure there are, i just haven’t noticed any yet). My experience is unquestionably that northerners are not all that welcome on the southern circuits! (but then we are not all that welcome in the south full stop, let’s be honest!!)

      1. It ranks 19th overall in the Guardian timetable and far higher for some subjects. Not everyone lookin for a pupillage will have done law as an undergraduate degree.

  4. I think the problem with Hull is that it’s marketing is poor. I saw the result in the Times, but we get very few mini-pupils from Hull and the University makes no contact with us despite the fact that we are a big Chambers in the nearest large city (although Hull chambers has some really people).

    But for you I’ll add it… You won’t have a problem anyway. I’m going to post on the advantage of being slightly older shortly.

    1. Well… I’m a Hull graduate and although I didn’t apply for a mini pupillage at your chambers Simon, I did apply for the full pupillage in August last year. Around October/November I received the ‘our selection process has been delayed’ letter and so far that it is.

      August, September, October, November, December, January… how long does it really take to sift pupillage applications and invite a few folk to interview? I know you personally distance yourself from the selection process because of this blog but really, do you think you might tell them to get a bloody move on for all us applicants?!

  5. Thank you for your response, I understand what you say about mini-pupils.

    Some explanation may lie in the fact that very few from Hull seem to take the BVC.

    150 people graduated in my year (2007) and I only know of three others who have gone on to do their BVC. I am not sure how this compares to other universities but I suspect that it is a low figure.

    The main reason cited by students is an economic one – the “pupillage problem”. In short people are not prepared to pay £10,000 + living costs for a course which only gives them a 25% chance of getting a job! The LPC fares far better by comparison.

    Despite this the BVC is not all doom and gloom. As you point out elsewhere on this site it is possible to convert and be a solicitor without the hassle of doing a full training contract.

    Nick Freeman (Mr Loophole) apparently started out as a barrister but converted when things didn’t go to plan.

    1. Freeman started out as a barrister? That sounds like twaddle to me. He’s not on the Bar Directory and that’s what I’d trust for an accurate list of who has been Called and who hasn’t.

  6. This pre-occupation with what is and what isn’t a good university, whether or not to do an LLM, the ‘oxbridge advantage’ and so on is perhaps a little counter-productive. Most people who read your blog (which is obviously very helpful) are at least as far through the process as having chosen their university. Whether or not they appear in the ‘list of those most favoured’ is not something that can be rectified. There is a danger in publishing this kind of list in that it may persuade some people who are as yet undecided on whether to take the solicitor or barrister route that their chances of success at the Bar are even slimmer than they might already have recognised them to be. Whilst being realistic is sensible, the barriers to the profession will never be broken down if people don’t at least try, no matter where they went to university.

    I accept that there are some chambers out there for whom ‘snob value’ is all. However, it is to be hoped (either with rose tinted specs or otherwise) that people are generally treated as individuals and judged on their own merits. I didn’t attend any of the universities on your list or any of those mentioned by other people. I imagine that my university would be classed as the ‘university of crapsville’. Despite this I was awarded a major scholarship by my Inn and I have obtained a pupillage at a very good set. The fact that I did not attend one of the ‘top notch’ universities did not deter me from applying and I simply made the effort to do well and get lots of relevant experience and have impressive things to put on my CV. It is these extra things which I found chambers to be most interested in, although good academic performance appears to be a pre-requisite. Surely, the best advice people can be given is to do their best. The Bar is a meritocracy. It does display a certain bias which is a bit unpalatable. The only way this will change is, as you say, as people from other backgrounds infiltrate the profession and ultimately have some influence over the process of recruiting new blood. Until then, people should be pre-occupied with only one thing. Doing all that they can to achieve their goals. If that means staying in every night, working their socks off to get a decent degree then so be it. If that means spending their vacations doing mini-pupillages and marshalling judges then so be it. If that means mooting or entering essay competitions or volunteering at the local court for something then so be it. Whilst there are alot of people out there who are no doubt very deserving of a career at the Bar, there are an equal number who bleat on and on about how unfair it all is without truly having made a great deal of effort themselves. I saw a good few of these at university and on the BVC myself. Chambers, in my limited experience, generally want to see a genuine commitment to a career at the Bar. How better to demonstrate that than by showing how much time and effort you have devoted to achieving it?

    On your final point, there is another group that is indirectly discriminated against as a result of this university bias (besides your suggestion of Asian women). Mature students very often have partners or families and are unable to move because of work, cost of selling up and moving elsewhere, etc. They are therefore indirectly discriminated against too because their choice of university may be severely limited. There were a number of such people on my own course.

  7. Good post Scribbler.

    I can relate to the mature student problem myself – it was simply not practical for me to “sell up” and leave town so my local university was my only (realistic) option.

  8. Scribbler,

    You are right. You are especially right in your analysis of how to succeed. I hope you do.

    I will try and deal with the position of mature students in the relatively near future.

  9. “Queens” and “Belfast” on your version of my list actually refer to the same institiution: Queens, Belfast:

    (I think the main Irish Law Schools are generally viewed as roughly equal in most circles – a QUB degree is no more nor less than a UCD or TCD degree, for example.)

    I should also make clear that my additions to Simon’s list were not meant as a personal judgement on the law schools; they are simply those schools that I imagine (wrongly, perhaps) carry more weight on pupillage committees.

    The same can be said for training contract interview panels and lectureship panels, of course. A first-class degree from Oxford will be treated differently, one suspects, to a first-class degree from Greenwich. I make no comment on whether that is correct.

  10. This is a lot of speculation (evidenced by the use of “I imagine”) and does not appear to make any positive contribution to the issue. Information is useful if it provides people with the tools to assist them, but when it does no more than simply allude, once again, to the pomposity which is traditionally associated with the legal profession (be it the Bar, law firms or academia) it is perhaps better left unsaid, allowing people to make their own minds up as to whether such prejudices exist. I have seen many people from completely unconventional backgrounds succeed in all of these careers and it tends to be those who have got ‘something about them’ that do. Excessive generalisation of the sort I have been reading is pointless…

  11. I can’t find “I imagine” in the post, but you may be right. I certainly agree that good people can succeed. I would like to make that a guarantee.

    As to the pomposity. I don’t think that is what it is. It’s more about a lack of appreciation reagrding how things have moved on in the outside world. I don’t believe this post stops anyone making up their own mind. Since I have an inside track of sorts I simply thought it would be helpful to get a relatively well-intformed view. In my experience that tends to assist.

    I extend to you the cutomary invitation. Email me with your views on why University attendance should not be either:
    a) relevant; or
    B) mentioned
    and if they are new and/or controversial and/or interestingly expressed I will guest post them. Anonymity can be preserved.

  12. Simon, I think we’re slightly at cross purposes here. My comment was directed largely at the comment above mine by ‘Martin’ – it was he who used the phrase “I imagine”. I do however think that much of this discussion about which university people have attended, as already mentioned in a comment by ‘Scribbler’ above, is just a bit counter-productive. There is evidence out there which proves that people who haven’t necessarily started out with the ‘right’ university credentials are able to achieve real, tangible success. I wonder if it wouldn’t be a little more inspiring and productive to have a few stories about people who have managed to succeed. I like to think that focusing on the positive rather than the negative aspects of an issue is often a better way forward.

  13. “inspiring and productive to have a few stories about people who have managed to succeed. I like to think that focusing on the positive rather than the negative aspects of an issue is often a better way forward.” ~ Anon.

    And, to take up your argument, just as pointless; if those stories aren’t representative of the Bar, then all they will do is mislead applicants when deciding on a particular career-path. The stories you allude to are likely to be noteworthy because they are the exception.

    Neither can I see how sweeping these “prejudices” under the carpet will benefit anyone, unless you’re the sort that prefers to not make an informed choice/walk around with your head in the clouds.

    If your university is not on that list, then the inference is that you may have to do more to appeal to a pupillage committee (take an LLM from one of the institutions on that list, for example) than others might. Many of Simon’s posts on this site discuss how weaknesses on the CV can be overcome.

  14. “If your university is not on that list then the inference is that you may have to do more to appeal to a pupillage committee”.
    Hardly a level playing field is it? Why, by dint of your choice of university -which may have little to do with your academic ability-should you have to try harder than any one else to impress?

  15. “unless you’re the sort that prefers to not make an informed choice/walk around with your head in the clouds.”

    No Martin, I am not. I have always made well informed choices having sufficient intelligence to see for myself that life is not always easy. I have a very well established academic career as well as being a qualified practitioner.

    “If your university is not on that list, then the inference is that you may have to do more to appeal to a pupillage committee (take an LLM from one of the institutions on that list, for example) than others might.”

    Fortunately my university is on that list. Even so, it would have been naive of me to think that would have been enough.

    I have been keeping up with Simon’s blog for a while and I am very well aware that he has offered suggestions as to what can be done to improve one’s CV (although I should add that some of the things suggested in one of Simon’s earlier posts were perhaps a bit unrealistic for the masses).

    I cannot believe that there are many people who are pursuing a legal career of any sort who manage to completely evade the knowledge that it’s tough out there. However, the point I was trying to make is that telling people the same depressing story time and time again, particularly when it is perhaps too late for those reading this to do anything about it (ie change university), is not really going to help very much.

    My suggestion that something to inspire today’s hopefuls rather than bombard them with tales of doom and gloom (no matter how true) was meant to try and inject an element of positivity. Even those who come from ‘top flight’ universities do not achieve success simply on the basis that they have attended that particular university. They too have to add value to their CV’s in spades.

    As a tutor who is frequently asked by my students about pursuing a legal career of one sort or another I always say that it’s hard, but I follow that with positive advice as to how best to overcome the hurdles. Not all of my students are as self assured as you appear to be Martin and it is they who can be very easily put off by constant reminders that the university they attended is not good enough or that they need to devote another year and lots more money to studying for a masters degree and so forth. It just needs tempering, and whilst you say that to hear from people who have succeeded despite the fact that they are not representative of the norm is equally pointless, I would ask you whether people like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela are less inspiring because they are exceptions to the norm or whether they do in fact illustrate to anyone that it is possible to achieve what you want to achieve if you are committed enough (extreme examples I know). That was a rhetorical question by the way!

    Anon 1 (I am not one of the two anons above this comment)

  16. I am closely involved in pupil selection in a ‘top’ commercial set, and I can tell you that we regard a First from anywhere as worthy of interview. If anything, it is more difficult to get a First from ‘lesser’ universities.

    And while we’re on the subject, we tend to look with revulsion at people who put ‘travel’, ‘watching sports’ or ‘socialising’ down as their hobbies. These are pastimes, not hobbies – and ‘travel’ is usually only open to the comfortable middle classes.

    1. I do hate this left wing attitude that travel is the preserve of the middle classes. I worked my arse off in order to go abroad and travel is a genuine interest of mine. If you do not want me because I put travel in my OLPAS application-then I don’t want you either. Some stupid ‘top’ commercial barrister who has got his head rammed so far up his backside it’s untrue. Whether you like it or not, travel is a hobby/past time (there is no difference) and it can often show that a person is rounded, worldly and accepting of foreign cultures.
      Oh…one quick point…if you think the Bar is open to all, regardless of background and live in a world where kids from the local comp with parents who are builders are going to make it to the bar then maybe you should ask the College of Law to drop their £14.5k BVC fees-‘cos even a full Inn scholarship of £20k is not going to cover the fees and living expenses.

      1. Then the answer is to call it something which reflects the genuine interest. ‘Living amongst other cultures’? ‘Learning a new language in situ’? That gives you an in. Attacking it as a left wing conspiracy simply expresses your anger. And saying ‘I don’t want you’ may sound great but – in a market where good candidates have a 25% prospect of success – suggests you’d rather be angry than a barrister.

        I have never said the Bar is open to all. I have repeatedly said – and I stand by the point – that we are trying to open it to more people. However, your case is not that of someone who cannot afford to qualify. If you would rather spend your money travelling than qualifying you are making a choice. That’s fine – it’s what adults do. But you cannot then complain that your scholarship means you can’t live in London. Try Newcastle – it’s cheaper. Or dip into your savings or take the risk on the debt to the bank as most pupils do.

    2. Simon: why does saying “I don’t want you” with regard to what the poster sees as class-based prejudice against his hard-earned hobbies suggest he’d rather be angry than a barrister; while saying “I don’t want you” to a set where an Olpas-sifter is put off by bad grammar seem to you to be quite justified?

      Likewise, with regard to the discussion on another thread about whether or not putting the wrong contact details should be a good ground for being dumped early in the process: do you think that is as good a reason, a better reason, or a worse reason, for binning an application than (1) bad grammar and/or (2) putting travel as a hobby?

  17. That matches my own experience (not that we are a top commercial set) and I also agree with the difficulty point.

    Be on the subject more – email me with your pet likes and dislikes and I will post it. You can be anonymous – this is your chance to do good.

  18. At a top commercial set – I would have thought so. Anywhere else – no but I agree with Martin that the CV needs to look interesting. And I know that the Olpas form would make Mae West’s CV look boring.

  19. Simon…. good to see this post.

    After 25 years of teaching – I would say your list is reasonably objective…

    I do, however, rate Cardiff.. Their LPC is pretty good as is Nottingham Trent for their LPC / BVC…

    But, appreciate that you are listing universities in terms of the academic stage.

  20. Anon1,

    I don’t disagree with any of your comments (apart from the remark about my self-assurance, and I’m not really a student.)

    Of course those stories are worth telling. The point I was trying to make in my original reply was that those stories must be set in context. Just as we do not want to put students off applying to the Bar with “constant reminders” that they need to do more, neither do we want to see students who have no realistic prospect of success waste £10,000+ on the BVC, only to retrain. There is a balance to be had.

    Simon’s list also has to be set in context. If one is applying to Brick Court, for example, with a First from a university not on Simon’s list, then good advice would be to go and do the BCL at Oxford or LLM at Harvard before applying. That is simply realistic.

    If we are talking about a top or very good regional set, however, then my advice would differ; make sure you have a well-rounded CV with lots of experience, and you stand every chance.

    By all means inject some positivity , but not at the expense of reality. Otherwise, it will only ultimately lead to more negativity, as the hopeful masses are denied entry into the profession.

  21. I agree with Anon 1.

    I attended a new university because family commitments made it difficult for me to relocate. I am now an academic at an illustrious institution. My advice is if you are intelligent, determined, hard-working, and willing to take the rough with the smooth, then persevere. Don’t let the snobbery of some put you off in any way! Given that most of the judiciary is drawn from the Bar, moves to make the profession more representative, drawing people from more diverse backgrounds in greater number, will only increase. I actually think that giving candidates like this every encouragement is vitally important.

    As far as I am concerned, a first is a first, whatever institution you come from, and those who understand the sheer hard work that goes into attaining that classification of degree will understand that and not trivialise that applicant’s efforts. It is also my view that the majority of sets share this perspective. As noted by another anon above, it is actually harder to get a first from a new university. They apply little discretion in their allocation of classifications (so students have to attain 70+ overall) unlike some more established institutions.

    @ Martin (the research student) if teaching is about anything, it is surely about giving all students every encouragement to succeed, not to telling them to go home and stop wasting their time.

  22. Does anyone have an insight into how pupillage committees view applications from mature graduates of the University of London’s LLB by external study?

    Also,would the addition of an LLM in the set’s area of specialisation help?

    Finally, would work experience in an area that is related to the set’s area of specialisation help?

  23. Interesting list. When you originally put York in, did you know that it did not have a Law Department? (though it is supposed to be getting one soon). Or are you of the school of thought that any degree is as good as another for the Bar. If so, I would politely disagree with you. As a practitioner who is also an academic (and who once appeared against you in a case in Leeds) I am very mich of the view that barristers should also be properly trained as lawyers.

    1. As a former legal academic who has only recently been Called to the Bar, and who has yet to secure pupillage, I fully agree with academic barrister above. The GDL may provide what the Law Society and Bar Council stipulate are the minimum requirements for the academic stage of a legal education… but that is all it does, provide the minimum. There is so much more that is necessary for a well rounded legal education than simply the 7 core subjects, of which for example Evidence is not one and yet the BVC, now BPTC, has such a significant proportion of content that requires an understanding of the law of evidence both in the civil and criminal units.

      That is not to say that those with other degree who take the GDL do not do well, there was a chap in my BVC class with a history degree and the GDL who obtained an Outstanding on the BVC and now has a Leeds pupillage, and well done to him I thought, but I know for a fact he worked very bloody hard in the BVC year to achieve that and I suspect that he is of a group that are very few and far between. In general my view is that a comprehensive legal education is the proper way of becoming a lawyer.

  24. I have to say that I am reassured to see that some value is attributed to a first from Oxbridge – I worked bl***y hard to get mine, and thought that it represented something of a golden key that would get me a tenancy at a top set, but of course now I know that I have a huge mountain to climb to achieve a tenancy. I really think that it is immoral of the BVC providers to take the (hard-earned/borrowed) money of people with 2:2s from any university because I simply don’t see that they are going to get pupillages, let alone tenancies (no-one I know has managed it). Agree with the comments re LLMs and BCLs – I know someone who got a 2:1 and did the BCL after and ended up getting a good pupillage. Seems important also to try to show that you have a genuine interest in a legal career – not that you are doing it because your parents wanted you to, or because you couldn’t get a job at Goldman Sachs.

  25. I know someone who recently got a pupillage with a 2:2.

    It was a provincial set and his dad is best mates with head of chambers.

    ’nuff said 😉

  26. Academic Lawyer,

    Whoops – no I didn’t know. My bad (I do not know what this means but my kids say it and it seems appropriate).

    However I don’t think that barristers need a law degree. I do think that if they don’t have one they need to do a lot of extra reading in the first three years. Whether they do or not is a moot point, but those that don;t tend to be found out…

    Go on, name the case. Were you an academic then? Was I pleasant?

  27. Does Queens refer to Queen Mary?

    It was in my naive opinion that chambers would look at the Times or Guardian review section on universities and see which were in the top 20 for law.

    Obviously it’s important to have a good degree from a good university.

    From a London student perspective there is a huge in fighting problem between the Universities of London, quite a few thinking of dropping out of “ULU” because other “lesser” universities all receiving their degree from “University of London”

    It’s pretty disgusting to see the lengths that some people will go to for example King’s to say that another university is as good as dog mess on their shoe.

    Nice post thank you 🙂

  28. hey, just on the question of the value of degrees from different uni’s…i’m about to graduate with a degree in philosophy from York and have been offered a place at Oxford to do a 3 year second undergrad degree in law…I was just wondering whether it was worth taking up this offer for the sake of getting pupillages later on or whether i’d just be better off doing the GDL? How much difference will the ‘Oxford’ thing actually make?

    Thanks for any help!

  29. Hi,
    I’m new to the blog but I can totally relate to Simon’s last point about Asian women not being allowed to move away for university.
    I was accepted at LSE but had to settle for one in West Yorkshire due to my parents being unhappy about me moving. It is a big hinderance, as I don’t think I’d struggle as much to get pupillage if I could state on my CV that my degree is one from LSE.

  30. I think your list is accurate (as it is basically a Russell Group list), but I would say that universities’ rankings in the degree taken should be taken into some account. For instance, Queen Mary, to my knowledge, is good for law and outperforms some of the universities for this subject on the list like Leeds. But as a university as a whole, from what I see in league tables, it does not rank as favourably. I think there may be a few universities like this. Given that law is the most common degree taken, I think Queen Mary (others I do not know) should be on here, bracketed for law.

  31. I am sorry but many chambers are complete snobs when it comes to degrees. I proved this at the last pupillage fair, it was very easy. All I did was pretend I had a first from a few “new” universities. I was told, right to may face, that I would not stand much of a chance unless I had something else which made me stand out. “Don’t know that university” someone pretended. I had several comments such as “good thing you got a 1st but it’s an average university and we have many applicants with 1sts from “other” universities”. The “other” was said while they rolled their eyes, no doubt thinking “I would not even bother if I were you, mate”.

    Moving around the floor I changed and said I had a 1st from a few of the universities from the list on this blog. Suddenly there was a change of tune. “Yes absolutely we will definitely consider you, congratulations on getting a 1st.” Or: “I can’t see anything wrong with your academic qualifications, what kind of legal experience do you have as well?”.

    My conclusion was:
    1) If you do not have a 1st or 2:1 from one of the Russell Group of universities, go and do your degree again or start compensating like mad by all sorts of volunteer work.
    2) The profession is still filled with lots of snobbery, or prestige as they prefer to call it.

  32. I don’t know of you will see this but:

    Is there a reason Imperial is not on the list? Consistently ranked number 3 in the UK and top 10 in the world should give you a good prospect should you want to enter the bar, no?

  33. I think because it’s reputation is mainly science based. A brief web trawl revealed, for example, that The Times profile doesn’t even mention law.

    I agree that an Imperial degree would be a good one, but if it was in law I would ask why you went there.

  34. Simon, thanks so much for answering quickly.

    Imperial only offers science courses; hence the reason we are not ranked for law. I am currently in my third year of mathematics and on track to graduate with a first (despite an abysmal first year of just about passing the year due to a parent death). I have only become interested in becoming a barrister recently (as an international student, I never saw this as a possibility for me).

    Assuming I do graduate with a good degree and do all my homework, including mini-pupillages, etc… do you believe I stand a good chance at a good commercial or possibly IP set given that despite our quite good academic reputation worldwide we have very few people wanting to enter the Bar?

    Any suggestions greatly welcome.

  35. Dear Simon (or anyone else who can answer),

    I am an English Literature graduate (B.A. and M.A.). I have decided that I would like a career in the legal field. However, I am about to move to S. Korea for a job (I should be out there for at least two years). I would like to undertake a conversion course or degree course whilst I am there from a U.K. university. Bearing in mind that my salary will be low (that is, I’m not sure I can afford the fees of a conversion course), would the external law degree (LLB) offered by UoL be a worthwhile undertaking?

    Thanks to anyone who can help.

  36. York’s first intake of law students was in 2008 so it is impossible for anyone to be from York unless they converted from another course

  37. what are your thoughts on distance or online learning vs. a degree from a traditional brick and mortar university both in terms of the quality of the education you recieve and the experience of tertiary education?

    1. I think you can get a good education by distance learning if you put a lot into it, are disciplined etc. I suspect most traditional-aged undergraduates are not focussed enough to put the effort in to get a good education via distance learning methods.

      The “experience” of distance learning is necessarily very different than in-person education. A big part of university in my experience is the casual interactions you have with fellow students and staff. If you’re scattered around the country/world, those casual interactions are much less likely. It’s also more difficult to get involved with student clubs and societies (sports, debating, mooting, jaffa cake appreciation, etc.).

      And from the perspective of the bar, I think you’d struggle to convince many that it is a “good” degree. The bar is a pretty conservative place and I suspect many barristers are sceptical of the use of PowerPoint and VLEs, which are standard at most universities now, let alone an degree undertaken entirely by distance learning. But I’d be interested to hear others’ perspectives on this issue.

  38. I have an issue- I got A* A* A* A at A Level, and I got a place at LSE for law. However I hated LSE at the induction day so I went to Lancaster instead.I didn’t apply to Oxford as I didn’t like the sound of the course. (I did however get an organ scholarship at Univ which I didnt do either).

    Lancaster is no 8 in the country (no 6 in the Guardian).

    Have I limited my prospects by not going to LSE, and going to Lancaster (bearing in mind I want a 1st and I got A*A*A* A at A level.)??

    And what happened to just going to a university that you like?

    1. I also wanted to add that I have arranged work experience with Kalayan in London helping migrant workers, as well as working with death penalty cases. I am also going to work at a law firm over the easter which is working on reviewing the limits of diplomtic immunity with regards to all the diplomats that beat their refugee servants.

    2. It’s a really interesting question. You should not have limited your chances but the brutally honest answer is that you may well have done. This does not speak well of the profession, I accept, but even so it is the truth.

      People who think like that will assume that you don’t perform under pressure. I suspect that they simply find it disturbing that you chose to reject what they would see as an an obviously better opportunity. If they think about it they would probably not penalise you but thinking about things like that is unlikely when you have 300 applications to read.

      More difficult will be the number of people for whom Lancaster doesn’t rate and who disregard your application on that basis. They may be wrong but the question was whether it was a problem and it is. Lancaster may be in the top 10 but that is not the perception. I ought to say that Universities in general don’t do much to promote themselves to Chambers (the position with solicitors is different I think), but that is not the fault of the profession.

      Mini-pupillages will assist you and I certainly wouldn’t say that your chance has gone. But no, it doesn’t help.

    3. Of course you haven’t – don’t listen to them. There are many notable barristers who went to very lowly ranked former polys and have on to great success. Lancaster is developing a good reputation. I wouldn’t listen to the above. ^

  39. Thank you for adding Keele, I currently am studying law there and it is rewarding to see it on a list – even though the law that we get taught is taught in a slightly different way it is a very good university and seems to bring out the best in people! Thank you! You’ve given me hope after a day on the Bar application form!

  40. Interesting observations and clearly a topic to provoke emotive answers, especially from those indignant that their institution was omitted from the chosen few.

    As someone with a degree, at various levels, from each of three of the named institutions above, and who taught law for some years at one that is absent from the list, my view is simply that it could have been shortened to little more than ‘ancients and red bricks are almost always going to impress; glass plates also are often good enough, but new (post 1992) universities will only have currency in the cities or regions to which they belong’.

    It is no more than a repetition of the long standing academic hierarchy, or snobbery as some might perceive it. Ancient and red brick universities are far more research intensive institutions than their newer counterparts and recruit staff on their research record or potential in noticeable preference to those individuals’ teaching ability; while new universities, if not reversing that priority certainly have it more equally balanced. This distinction is both for funding and status reasons. Universities are funded largely on their research output, and a great researcher is not necessarily a great teacher, and vice versa.

    As useful as league tables and reputations are, the truth can just as easily be a world away from the reality. I know a long standing academic of the law department of one of the universities in the first list, the original selection before later submissions were included. I happen to know that the department I refer to is financially on its knees and crumbling from within. Staff are leaving because of this and then are not being replaced, or senior staff are being replaced with cheaper inexperienced people. While for now the university name will probably retain its good impression with pupillage committees, that in my experience of interviews are often so out of touch it is insulting, sooner or later the reputation may crumble as the department is presently doing.

    For my tuppenth worth I am shocked that QMUL was overlooked by the author – QMUL is placed for law as 3rd in the country by the Guardian Good University Guide, beaten only by Oxbridge:

  41. I thought I’d put my twopenny’s worth as a science graduate of a non-Russell group Midlands university, who will be starting pupillage in the autumn.

    The application process is all about finding the set that’s right for you. While Simon is probably about right with the ‘well-regarded’ University list , how much focus is placed on academics will depend on the set.

    As alluded to above, Commercial and Chancery (and Public Law) sets in London are unlikely to consider applicants from anything other than a top flight university. Indeed, there is a certain Commercial Chambers in London that has only taken on one non-Oxbridge tenant in 5 years and that tenant had a degree from Harvard (…and a Masters)!

    On the other hand, I was told by Head of Chambers at a well-respected provincial Criminal set that he would not favour someone with a First, as he preferred candidates who were not pure academics and wanted pupils who appreciated how things work in the real world. It’s all about matching yourself with a set.

    An Oxbridge student who has gone straight from school to uni to Bar School will probably be favoured by larger sets and those that are more traditional. Someone with life experience or an interesting CV might get on better with a smaller set, or one that is less traditional.

    I don’t have the world’s finest academics on paper (a 2:1 in a science subject from a Non-Russell Group uni), so my applications focused on my life and work experience. In the end, having an interesting CV got me interviews and enjoying the interview and getting on well with the panel got me my pupillage. I think the key is to play to your strengths and to be realistic (I didn’t apply to any top-flight London Civil sets). It is important that Chambers is right for you as much as the other way around.

    However, I would agree with posts above that say that if you don’t have the academics you had best have an interesting CV. I have friends with solid academics and bundles of work experience who are struggling with pupillage applications because their university isn’t on the above list and they don’t have anything that stands out in their CV.

  42. The importance of which university an applicant attended will never go away. The age of meritocracy has ended with high-end/professional careers once again being dominated by the privately schooled/oxbridge elite.

    I do not know much about pure criminal sets, however the majority of mixed/civil chambers appear to have a predisposition towards Oxbridge graduates. This is despite a recent report by COMBAR, when proposing a wild card scheme for commercial pupillages, which accepts that having an Oxbridge first adds nothing to a commercial barristers abilities and that many successful candidates with such a background do not make good commercial barristers.

    With the pool of pupillages becoming ever smaller and the apparent increase in preference for oxbridge candidates there will not be a change in the system. The author is correct, members of pupillage committees will change – they will change to those Oxbridge/first candidates who are currently being selected and who will carry those same prejudices with them when making decisions on future applicants.

    The Bar is once again becoming the preserve of the elite.

  43. I would add Birkbeck, University of London which is ranked in The Times world’s best universities higher than several that made it onto your list. I assume this doesn’t appear due to it not being featured on the guardian list or other similar rankings, which are based on breadth/size of subjects and “daytime” study rather than quality of research. I had a conversation with several QCs recently and it appeared they believe Birkbeck to be a highly-regarded Red Brick. Most students in England have never even heard of it. Perhaps another reason why it’s not on your list. All in all, your list appears quite solid, although I notice there’s no Queen Mary on there. Why is that? Any insight would be appreciated. I would have thought any Russell Group or 1994 Group would be fine for potential applicants…

  44. What about a First Class Northumbria LLB? Well I was told it is the *best law degree* in the northeastern region?!

  45. I’d like to say that I defy the ‘Asian women’ suggestion. I moved to Leicester from New Delhi when I was six, and (A Level results pending), I should be going to read Law at LSE. A Level results don’t go as I hope, I should end up at UCL. Either way, my parents were actively keen to get me out of Leicester, and purely encouraged me to apply for the highest universities available that I could apply to, for a subject that caught my interest. I applied as far away as Leeds too, and even considered Exeter.

    Going to a girls school with a massive proportion of Asian students though, I do have many friends who have turned down choices they preferred, to go to universities that their parents advocated because it was closer to them. But then these girls were rather apprehensive about moving further away anyway, and were more than happy to do as their parents said… At the end of the day, parents have a huge say, but it’s the individual who firms on UCAS.

    1. But, I’d like to add, it’s easy for me to stand on the other side and say “defy the parents”, when mine have allowed me the freedom I needed.

  46. Would this lists still be the same today as it was in 2007? I’m curious as to its remaining validity. After applying to two universities which are in separate lists, I was wondering if anything would be swapped or changed now.

  47. Hi! This is kind of off topic but I need some guidance from an
    established blog. Is it difficult to set up your own blog?
    I’m not very techincal but I can figure things out pretty quick.
    I’m thinking about creating my own but I’m not sure where
    to begin. Do you have any points or suggestions?
    Many thanks

  48. What about if you got a first class degree from Liverpool John Moores University? Would it be foolish to return to that Institution on the basis that you love the masters they offer?

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