Study Law

Four GEMS Alumni tell us what it is like to study Law at colleges around the world

gems schools older student in library

Callum Meany is a Specialist Paralegal for Mastercard. He has previously worked for DLA Piper and Emirates Advocates & Legal Consultants. He studied Law at the University of Newcastle and Commercial Law at BPP Law School. He graduated from Dubai American Academy in 2007.

What led you to study Law?

The idea of being a lawyer is an attractive career prospect. Most people envision the perks of the role; financial stability, being a part of a highly respected group of professionals and being able to impress people with a breadth of legal knowledge at parties. In truth, this is what enticed me. Being in the legal industry is a status symbol as much as it is a rewarding profession.

Knowing what you know now, how has your perspective of studying/working in Law changed from when you were at school?

If you intend to study Law as an undergraduate degree at a UK university (Law LL.B), keep in mind that this does not automatically qualify you (or even fully prepare you) for the practical aspects of legal services. Undergraduate degrees in Law are about 95% legal theory and 5% practical application. This is beneficial in the sense that it engrains core legal principles in you, but don’t expect to be able to give any meaningful advice on matters outside of a research paper, such as day-to-day legal questions (which your friends and family will almost certainly bombard you with).

It’s a tired cliché, albeit undoubtedly true, that you should study what truly interests you at undergraduate level. When you consider the scope for taking short conversion courses to law after your unrelated undergraduate degree, you could save yourself a lot of boredom and tedious work.

Whereabouts do/did you study Law? Would you recommend it? What insights would you offer into studying Law in your institution?

I studied at Newcastle University in the UK. It has one of the highest ranked law schools in the UK and is a very lively alternative to the traditional London university offerings.

Did you study straight Law or do a conversion course? How do you feel about your pathway? 

I completed my law degree (Law LL.B) at the undergraduate level then went on to do my Legal Practice Course (LPC) in London. There were many people in my LPC class who had sat conversion courses, as opposed to the LLB. I think I gained a greater breadth of legal knowledge having done the LLB (in comparison to those who had sat conversion courses), but this extra breadth was rarely in an area that actually mattered. For those who study law, you will be surprised (and appalled) at just how little knowledge from your LLB you will use in practice. That being said, if you are seeking to become a barrister (rather than a solicitor), the LLB is an absolute must.

Any suggestions for things people should read/learn before they apply?

Look for barriers to qualification in your area of jurisdiction. The legal industry is highly competitive, with a high volume of graduates seeking a relatively small number of available
training contracts. Particularly if you are seeking to qualify in the UK, keep an open mind about qualifying elsewhere. The US and Australia have systems whereby admission to the bar is granted by passing an exam, rather than completing a mandatory two year training contract.

What skills and requirements make a good lawyer/legal professional in your opinion? How would a prospective law student know if they were well suited to a career in Law?

Much of legal work (on a commercial level) is an exercise in problem solving. Being able to think on your feet and being able to admit when you’ve reached your limit of competence is key. You don’t have to be Harvey Spectre (in fact, you’ll likely make more enemies than friends with such an approach) but you do have to be responsive and have a keen eye for detail. Be prepared to subject yourself to high volumes of very complex work; embrace that, because the reward is worth it.

If you are already working in Law, what is your career like? What do you actually do on a day to day business?

I am a specialist paralegal working for MasterCard in Dubai. In-house roles can vary, but my work at MasterCard involves the review of commercial agreements and assisting commercial negotiations. Like any job, some days can be dull, but others can involve multi-million dollar acquisitions or time-sensitive tenders for business. I have also worked in private practice for DLA Piper. One of the key choices you need to make as a lawyer is whether to work in private practice (a law firm) or in-house (the law department in a commercial business). Private practice work is frenetic.

Every minute of the day is billable and you’ll be exposed to a vast array of clients with an even higher variance of problems. In-house work is less predictable and largely depends on the company you’re with.

However, one of the main pros of in-house is the ability to see a project through from conception to completion. One thing you’ll realize is that no degree can truly prepare you for real-world legal work. I learned more in my first 6 months in the job market than at 4 years of higher study. It’s fast-paced, but very rewarding.

What are your future aspirations? How would you see your career developing?

I intend to sit the California Bar exam next year. After qualification, there are no major barriers to your career progression – it really just depends on how hard you’re willing to push for it. Personally, I don’t see myself working in a law firm, but would rather gain experience and transfer my legal knowledge into a more business oriented role.

If you could share one thing with your younger self about pursuing Law, what would it be?

Telling people you’re studying law at university might help with impressing girls, but don’t overlook the benefits of a conversion course at a later date. Keep your options open and play to your strengths, not clichés for success.

Ines Khiari Millian is a former student of Dubai American Academy. She completed an LLB in European Law at the University of Maastricht and is now completing a Masters in Corporate and Commercial Law there.

What led you to study Law?

For as long as I can remember, nothing could get me as agitated/irritated as an injustice. Even as a little girl, I could go on talking for hours about why or how something was so unfair, that it should be changed. I could also go on for hours arguing a certain point of view. Then, in the 5th grade, we did a mock trial in my history class, indicting Christopher Columbus for crimes against humanity (for exterminating the Taino natives). I was the prosecutor, and I enjoyed myself so much, that I realized I wanted to be a lawyer.

Knowing what you know now, how has your perspective of studying/working in Law changed from when you were at school?

I have realized that studying Law is more like learning a new language, 'legalese.' It has its own logic, and can, at times, be equated with some form of mathematical formula. I have also learned, in the process of studying Law, that it is not 'on its own.' For example, International Law cannot be studied by itself, as it is inextricably linked with international policies and events.

Whereabouts do/did you study Law? Would you recommend it? What insights would you offer into studying Law in your institution?

I did my LL.B. (Bachelor) in European Law in Maastricht University. I am currently finishing my LL.M. (Master) there as well, specializing in Corporate and Commercial Law. Maastricht University is very tough, and a great place to learn. The study of Law there is very rigorous and demanding, so I would only recommend it to those that are truly passionate about the subject, and willing to put in a tremendous amount of time and effort.

Did you study straight Law or do a conversion course? How do you feel about your pathway?

I studied Law straight after graduating from DAA. As I followed the IB Programme in DAA, I was much more prepared than a lot of my colleagues, regarding, for example, the amount of reading we had to do a week. I am very happy with the pathway that I have taken, as in four years I have managed to obtain my LL.B., and I am almost done with my LL.M.

Nevertheless, I would highly recommend to first really consider where the student wants to practice Law, and to read up on the civil effects requirements (the actual permission to practice law, as, for example, passing the bar in the USA). For example, as I studied in Maastricht University but do not speak Dutch, for me to practice Law, I will now have to go to London where I can follow the GDL programme (Graduate Diploma in Law), and after a year, pass the Solicitor's (or Barrister's) Exam, and thus have civil effect to practice Law in the UK (this is the shortest route for me).

It is important to remember here too, that as long as you obtain your civil effect in the EU, and practice in that country for at least 5 years, you can then practice Law in the whole EU. There are also specific rules for specific countries, as, for example, the UAE and USA recognize the GDL programme, and will allow you to practice Law here too (subject to specific state requirements in the USA, for example).

Anything else you wished you’d known about it before you applied?

Yes, I wish I had known about the civil effects requirements, so that I could plan my studies better.

Any suggestions for things people should read/learn before they apply?

They should definitely consider where they want to practice Law, and whether they are interested in only practicing/learning national laws, or if their focus is more global. For example, I was not (and still not) interested in only studying the laws of one country. The European Law LL.B. programme in Maastricht University entails studying Comparative Law, and as such, we focus on German law, British law, French law, Dutch law, EU law, and International law. This provides me with great leeway and more knowledge. Nonetheless, this is not for everyone, which is why I would recommend thinking hard about whether one is interested solely on the national laws of one country, or of more.

I would also recommend looking at whether/which moot courts the university takes part in, as these are usually useful and fun to be a part of. For instance, I took part in the ELSA World Trade Organization (WTO) Moot Court, and it was a wonderful learning experience. Language requirements should also be paid attention to. For example, at my university, we have to speak English and at least one more European language, as we did assignments involving legal translations, for instance.

Finally, I would like to emphasize once more that I would really suggest that students consider not only the university where they want to study, but how civil effect will take place there. For example, I believe that in Spain one can simply take an LL.B. there (Bachelor) and immediately has civil effect (can immediately practice law in Spain). In other countries, such as the UK or the Netherlands, further studies are necessary to obtain civil effect.

What have you found interesting in your study of Law? What has been least interesting? 

To be honest, I found almost everything to be interesting in my study of Law, as I really enjoy it. I truly enjoyed learning to be the "Devil's advocate," and to argue for both sides of every issue. It is also very fulfilling to learn how the Law actually impacts society, especially (of course) when the consequences are positive.

The least interesting aspect of studying Law, in my personal opinion, was the lack of flexibility, as we could not choose our courses for the first two years, so sometimes we had to take courses we were not interested in. For example, I am not interested in Administrative Law, but as it was a compulsory course, had to take it. I would describe studying Law as being a very meticulous study, demanding, exigent, and incredibly fulfilling. It is a rather hard study, but very interesting, and in the end, it really pays off.

What skills and requirements make a good lawyer/legal professional in your opinion? How would a prospective law student know if they were well suited to a career in Law?

In my opinion, the most important requirement to make a good lawyer/legal professional is to be very strong-willed, and to have the skill of perseverance; to have a personality that does not give up, and more importantly, is not intimidated into giving up.

For example, in one of my courses, we were given a case study regarding a traffic accident. I truly believed that the driver was to blame, and even though I was arguing against five people for about 30 minutes, I stood my ground, by myself, refusing to give up. By the end of the 30 minutes, our teacher stopped the discussion, and told us that this was a real case, and that I was correct, the driver was indeed found to be responsible for the accident. I was very happy and satisfied that I had not given up on my arguments, regardless of how many people were against me.

Therefore, I find that the best skills are those of perseverance, passion for the subject, the ability to see both sides to every argument, and to not be afraid to stand out, and go against the current. In my opinion, if a prospective student finds themselves with these skills/traits, they are well suited for a career in Law. It is important to point out here, however, that the above is only for students that actually want to practice Law and become lawyers.

More than 75% of people that study Law do not end up in the legal business, or remotely close to it. As such, I find that studying Law opens many doors, and could therefore be suited to just about anybody, especially prospective students that are not sure about what they want to do in the future. For example, many consultants, recruiters, bankers, and executive directors in companies have studied Law, and yet do not practice it at all.

If you are studying Law, how do you feel about your future employment possibilities?

I feel pretty confident about future employment possibilities, as studying Law is a very well-rounded study. I worked for the University during my second year of my LL.B., in the Marketing and Communications Department. During my LL.B. I received three job offers, and one during my LL.M. Even though I did not take them as I wanted to focus on my studies, I believe it is a good sign, and that people with a background in law are in quite high demand.

What are your future aspirations? How would you see your career developing?

After I finish my LL.M. in Maastricht, I will take some specialized courses in the University of Barcelona, as my colleague and I received vouchers to attend these courses free of charge as we won three prizes at the ELSA WTO Moot Court Competition. I then hope to enrol in a GDL programme in London, in order to obtain my civil effect, and be able to practice law.

How transferable do you see your skills as being in an international job market?

I see the skills that I have acquired during my studies as being very transferable in the international job market. First and foremost, as we study European and International Laws, we already have a great framework for most businesses as to what they can and cannot do on an international level. Additionally, as we learn 'legalese' (specific legal vocabulary) in different languages, including French, Dutch, and German, for example, it facilitates entries into international jobs. If you could share one thing with your younger self about pursuing Law, what would it be? Focus on your writing skills, study efficiently, and, though it can get very frustrating sometimes, enjoy the ride, it all pays off!

Any further observations or things you’d like to share?

The study of law is incredibly rewarding, and very useful for most types of careers. I would definitely recommend it to everyone, in the sense that if a person is unsure about what career they want in the future, a legal background is very helpful for essentially any business/job position.

Kian Newlyn graduated from Jumeirah College in 2013. He has is studying Law at the London School of Economics.

What led you to study Law?

In all honesty at first I didn't have a great reason for studying law - it just seemed to suit my own skill set and looked like it would be mildly interesting. Having studied it for a year now, however, I can honestly say it's a fascinating subject to explore. The law is constantly evolving and always open to a well-thought challenge, something that allows you to be creative in your thinking alongside the need for analysis and attention to detail.

Whereabouts do/did you study Law? Would you recommend it? What insights would you offer into studying Law in your institution?

Right now I'm studying at the London School of Economics. While generally law courses at most universities are the same - they all require the studying of 'core pillars' of legal education for students to qualify as lawyers in England -there are little differences like the quality of teaching and the depth of study in certain areas that really make a difference. It's fascinating to have a teacher who's a field expert in the area of criminal homicide, for example, and being able to pick their brain about a certain subject is something you can never really take for granted.

Did you study straight Law or do a conversion course? How do you feel about your pathway?

I am studying straight Law, but it's by no means a requirement for practice. The common piece of advice given, and one I support, is to study whatever you're interested in and take a conversion course if you're still committed to a legal career. Studying Law as a degree and implementing it as part of a job are actually very different things, and a lot of people who take an LLB degree often enter different career paths than those of solicitor or barrister.

Any suggestions for things people should read/learn before they apply?

As part of research for my personal statement I ended up reading a book about how courts in America are trying to adjust patent law to the free flow of information on the internet. It was something that really provoked my interest in the law and, along that line, I would recommend reading about an area outside of what you would typically associate with an LLB degree (i.e., criminal law). It provides a more accurate representation of what you might be studying and either put you off entirely or, like my case, attract you even more.

What have you found interesting in your study of Law? What has been least interesting? 

Most people probably expect that studying Law comes with a great deal of reading, and they would be right, and it does get very monotonous after a while. At the same time, though, this sort of research is being done to accomplish a certain goal - in a sense you're collecting points to support either side of an argument which you'll be faced with in an essay.

What skills and requirements make a good lawyer/legal professional in your opinion? How would a prospective law student know if they were well suited to a career in Law?

It goes without saying that the job market post-recession is a great deal more competitive than it was a few years ago. That being said, most companies look for the same general attributes that can be developed over time like teamwork, communication and, most importantly, the ability to apply the law to practical situations. Beyond knowing how the theory works in the real world, applicants have to show that they can see the impact of the legal outcome on business clients and give commercial advice based on that. What inclined you to study Law?

Nabeel Ebrahim is a former student of Jumeirah College. He is studying Law at the University of Exeter.

What led you to study Law?

Debating, Model United Nations and living in a country where a lack of laws regarding real estate and, in general, an immature legal system. Media such as the West Wing also drove me to do law as it showed that you needn’t confine yourself to being just a lawyer and that a law degree can open many doors.

Knowing what you know now, how has your perspective of studying/working in Law changed from when you were at school?

  1. It’s tougher than you can imagine. You can do the bare minimum and get by but you won’t get any job offers or even application considerations unless you go the extra 100 miles.
  2. There is an increased focus on employing people who didn’t do law at undergrad level. You can do a GDL (conversion course – 1 year) after your undergraduate. So if you really do like drama or English literature or History, don’t worry. Do it.
  3. You have to build a networking base from day 1. Who you know might determine where you go. Go to all the events possible and taking part in national and international competitions helps as well.
  4. Grades are the most important thing. Everything else helps but don’t let anything get in the way of grades.
  5. Keep applying. If you knock on enough doors, one will open.

Whereabouts do/did you study Law? Would you recommend it? What insights would you offer into studying Law in your institution?

Studying Law at the University of Exeter. I would recommend studying law at any top 10 university as you are immediately recognized by firms. Studying outside the UK does not limit your access to city firms, if you are in a top uni, firms make the effort to reach out to you and at Exeter there are firm ambassadors from all the top firms.

Exeter is an up and coming university and is rapidly rising through the top 10 – there are huge investmentsbeing made in the law department to recruit top professors and researchers from other institutions and abroad.

Did you study straight Law or do a conversion course? How do you feel about your pathway?

As mentioned above, you can study whatever you want at Uni and do a conversion course. I am studying straight law and thoroughly enjoying the variety of modules offered at Exeter.

Anything else you wished you’d known about it before you applied? Any suggestions for things people should read/learn before they apply?

I wish I had read an introduction to English law, found out exactly what to apply for and when to apply for it.

What have you found interesting in your study of Law? What has been least interesting?

I’ve found the intricacies and complexities thoroughly enjoyable. The least interesting modules depend on the professors. For me, it was commercial law. However, while land law is arguably one of the driest areas of law, it was made better by a keen and incredible professor.

What skills and requirements make a good lawyer/legal professional in your opinion? How would a prospective law student know if they were well suited to a career in Law?

The first question is something every law student needs to answer in application forms. In order to be a good lawyer, it’s important to know what a lawyer does which is facilitate transactions or carry out instructions given by the client. Being analytical, concise, organized, efficient are all important but when dealing with clients, legal knowledge is not good enough.

If you’re dealing with someone in the pharmaceutical industry, know something about it. Be well read, read the news, question things, debate things. Always remember to substantiate your arguments.

A prospective law student needs to ask themselves if they can read dry material for long periods of time and not only understand the material, but also question and challenge it by referring to case law, academics and the law of other jurisdictions. Most of the skills are acquired during the degree but it’s important to be organised from day one.

If you are studying Law, how do you feel about your future employment possibilities? 

I have been offered a training contract at a city law firm but intend on doing a masters first in either law or business as I wish to widen my scope before taking a job.
Graduating with a high 2.1 or a 1st should be any law student’s aim if they want to have a good shot at employment.

I intend on working in the legal profession until I have gained sufficient experience and then making the jump either to in house legal counsel or to the financial market and working in private equity.

How transferable do you see your skills as being in an international job market?

Very transferable. Law is Law and every jurisdiction and discipline, despite its nuances, has a requirement for a legal mind.

If you could share one thing with your younger self about pursuing Law, what would it be?

Take good notes, attend every workshop and lecture even if you can’t get out of bed.
If you organise yourself well, you can easily balance a social life with your work. Law isn’t a 24/7 commitment and it’s important to pace yourself well. If you party to hard you’ll find yourself with an all-nighter before submission deadline. If that’s how you work, fine. But use your first year to find out what system suits you. It’s not like school where you’ll be chased so use your first year to experiment with revision techniques, essay writing techniques. Read exemplars from previous years for a best method.

Get involved with some pro bono work – it reflects well in your applications and makes you a better lawyer because you can apply theory to practice. At Exeter there is a community legal helpdesk where we work on matters ranging from domestic abuse to financial claims to EU law issues.