Studying law in the UK as an international student: some considerations

For many bright and ambitious students around the world, the chance to study abroad is an opportunity which they would seize with both hands. This is especially true for those who have been fortunate enough to gain admission to a prestigious university, whether in the UK, US or elsewhere. 

Whichever course of study or university you are looking at, there are of course a range of factors which must be considered, such as career prospects, quality of teaching and cost. However, when deciding to study law in the UK as an international student specifically, there are certain unique considerations which must be weighed up. 

Traditionally, overseas students who have opted to study law in the UK at the undergraduate level have typically come from (certain) Commonwealth countries. For historic reasons, some of those jurisdictions permit individuals who have studied law in England (or have qualified or part-qualified as either a barrister or solicitor in England) to subsequently seek admission as a lawyer upon returning to their home country relatively straightforwardly. Some territories which accord graduates of English LLB programmes eligibility to qualify as lawyers (subject to various other conditions) include Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Hong Kong. However, the requirements to practice law vary from country to country and are subject to change. Either way, it is important to do your research on the available pathways to become a lawyer in your jurisdiction of choice, if you know this is what you want to do. 

So, at the undergraduate level, if deciding between studying law, say, in England rather than in one’s home country, the first question to ask is: “Why do I want to study law?”. After all, not everyone who studies law becomes a lawyer – many law graduates have gone on to achieve success in fields such as diplomacy, public relations or journalism. If your intention is to practice law, the next question would be: “Do I want to do this at home, in the UK, or elsewhere?” Of course, you may not know the answer to this yet – in which case it might make more sense to take the path which would keep your options open. As a general observation, at present, there is a pathway for many overseas-qualified lawyers to gain admission as a solicitor in England through the SQE route. So, if you were to study law in your home country and gain admission in that jurisdiction, it may be possible to be admitted in England subsequently. 

At the postgraduate level, admission to practice tends not to be such a critical consideration. Certainly in England, holding a UK LLM does not result in any specific advantages when seeking to be called to the English bar or qualify as an English solicitor. However, holding a US LLM (in certain circumstances) can be helpful for individuals wishing to sit for the New York Bar Exam, for example. 

So, for individuals looking to pursue an LLM (or other academic postgraduate law qualification) in the UK, it is important to ask, “Why am I doing this LLM?” If, say, you studied law in your home country and are admitted to practice there, doing a UK LLM can be a great way to internationalise your career – whether you stay in the UK, return home or move elsewhere. For some, there is the advantage of perfecting English fluency for use in a professional context and/or, for individuals educated in civil law / Shariah / other legal traditions, gain a better understanding of common law legal reasoning. For all, there is the chance to deepen subject knowledge and forge new connections with fellow students, faculty and UK-based lawyers. Additionally, many international LLM students in the UK may have the opportunity to apply to and interview at leading law firms in London (or elsewhere), whether for internships or for permanent positions. After all, a UK LLM should impart students with a range of technical and soft skills, which would often pique the interest of prospective employers. 

Ultimately, studying abroad can be an adventure where you make lifelong friends, are exposed to new experiences and ways of thinking and make memories which last a lifetime. While no-one else can say what is the right decision for you and it is important to research your options thoroughly, there is no need to be afraid to take the plunge if you know this is the path for you. 

*While care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information presented, we assume no responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions. In particular, the rules on admission as a lawyer in different jurisdictions can be complex, and the requirements for the same may be amended from time to time.

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