The Myths About UK Law Schools: Lower Admission Standards
There has long been a myth in the Canadian legal community that foreign legal education is substandard compared to its Canadian counterpart. Particularly, poorly researched articles that lack logic such as this one have posited that it is dangerously “too easy” to transfer a UK law degree back to Canada, arguing that admitting foreign law graduates into Canadian practice puts the integrity of the Canadian legal market at risk.
Anyone who has received a UK law degree and completed the NCA examination process certainly knows that qualifying in Canada is not “easy”. It is a time-consuming, expensive process that takes dedication and determination. Yet, having overcome this hurdle, internationally trained law graduates (ITLGs) face the difficult job of finding an articling position in a legal market where some recruiters believe that they are not as smart, capable, or qualified as their Canadian competition.
But why does this myth perpetuate? I would argue that a lack of understanding about the UK’s legal education system has given the idea that Canadian law schools are superior a much stronger footing than is factually reasonable. Unfortunately, many have tried to look at UK law schools under a Canadian lens rather than a comparative one that weighs the pros and cons. We need to correct this in order to fully appreciate the strengths and qualities that ITLGs bring to the Canadian market.
Over the next few weeks I will address three common myths about UK Law schools and ITLGs:
1) UK admission standards are far lower than Canadian admission standards
2) Passing law school in the UK is much easier than it is in Canada
3) The NCA exams are too easy
To get us started, I will tackle myth number one here…
Are admission standards in the UK too low, or just different?
The aforementioned article points to the UK’s lack of an LSAT examination and the “lower” required entrance marks of 70-75% for high school courses as proof that getting into a UK law school is easier and therefore less valuable than gaining admission to a Canadian one. However, there are a few key differences between UK and Canadian Law schools that should be weighed before making such qualitative judgement.
Firstly, an LL.B in the UK is an undergraduate degree meaning that students can gain entry on high school marks alone (or the UK equivalent A-levels). Looking at the averaged high school minimum entry marks for a Canadian undergraduate program, the UK’s 70-75% is comparable to the entrance requirements for many Canadian undergraduate degree programs (see Macleans university rankings). Additionally, Canadian students with existing undergraduate degrees often opt for compressed or graduate-entry versions of the LL.B which are done in two years instead of three and often have higher admissions standards. For instance, at The City Law School, where I completed the 2-year LL.B, a 3.0 GPA is required which on the global GPA scale equates to 85% and is quite comparable to Canadian Law school entrance requirements.
Secondly, while there are no LSAT-type entrance tests, once admitted, the effort required to continue in an LL.B course is notoriously high. The most recent UK statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) indicate that the first-year drop-out rate in UK law schools sits at around 5.7%. Comparatively, the University of Toronto—often considered the hardest Canadian law school to gain admission to— appears to enjoy a nearly 100% graduation rate if one compares the university’s published class profiles against its published career statistics.
Arguably, these differences in graduation rates point to a different approach in weeding-out students. While Canadian Law schools disqualify students at the entrance stage with a standardized test that does not assess legal knowledge, but rather attempts to evaluate cognitive capability, the UK chooses to conduct selectiveness through examinations of the LL.B materials themselves.
I’ll not comment on which of these two approaches is better as the flaws of the LSAT and the UK’s ever-increasing university drop-out rates are both hotly-debated topics with pros and cons on both sides. Nor should one read that Canadian students can coast once admitted into law school; both ITLGs and Canadian students are acutely aware of the impact that poor grades can have on employability—a topic I will touch on in detail next time.