What your law major can do for you?

By Tarik de Vries

“What are you thinking of doing after this?” My supervisor asked me, as he might you, whilst lighting his next cigarette. I explained how graduating with a Social Sciences Bachelor with law as major, yet not a Bachelor in Law (an LLB), makes searching for a future in the legal profession tricky.

As the profession has become more regulated since the 18th century, universities offering law have had to balance teaching it as an academic discipline and as a preparation for, and often requirement to, becoming a lawyer. In many common law countries, future lawyers need an LLB to practise law. Generally, students in the US, Canada, or Australia must obtain a Juris Doctor (JD), costing three years’ time and tuition, before they can be admitted to the bar. A Social Sciences Bachelor in law is neither of the above, yet can show that a student has studied law as an academic discipline.

For this reason, those wanting to go on with law without becoming a lawyer can still be grateful for the degree. Doors open, perhaps to a Master of Laws (LLM) program. Although most Masters require applicants to have an LLB, Dutch law schools have adapted to the prominence of university colleges in the Netherlands by specifying in the criteria for LLM admission to also admit graduates from UCs. University Utrecht needs any such applicants to have completed at least 45 credits of law courses, whilst the University of Amsterdam requires around 60 for their LLM in public international law. Leiden University also makes an exception for students with non-LLB degrees, so long as these have covered a “substantial” amount of law courses.

Outside the Netherlands though, such degrees usually face the less easygoing admission requirements of law schools unfamiliar with the system of university colleges. Nevertheless, institutions wanting an intellectually diverse student body sometimes open up for non-LLB degree-holders. As an example, the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights offers an LLM to applicants without an LLB if they have enough training in the field of international law, or have taken enough courses in it as an undergraduate.

Notably, becoming a lawyer is still possible with a Social Sciences Bachelor. No matter the field of their undergraduate study, students can apply for a JD program. This requires taking the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), for instance in Germany, or France – the Netherlands having no LSAT test centre. With predicted high tuition costs though, getting a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) after a year’s study in the UK could be just as worthwhile, if not more so. A GDL converts a regular Bachelor into an LLB, making the holder eligible to sit for examination in the UK as well as in other jurisdictions of EU member states (for now).

And as I explained this, my supervisor listened earnestly, stomped out his cigarette, and said, “So long as you get one position,” and he grinned. “You just need one. You get into one, and you’re good.”

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