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Now moved to http://pupillageandhowtogetit.wordpress.com/ for reasons of convenience and ease. Come and see.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

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This list will, hopefully, be out of date soon.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.


Anonymous said...

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.

Martin said...

I would add,

Queens, Belfast

I would probably remove York (they don't even seem to be on the Times University Guide for Law

Law Minx said...

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.

Mark said...

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?

Mark said...


The list of universities that could (and in my opinion should) feature goes on.

Simon Myerson said...

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.

Mark said...

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.

scribbler said...

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.

Mark said...

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.

Simon Myerson said...


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.

Martin said...

"Queens" and "Belfast" on your version of my list actually refer to the same institiution: Queens, Belfast: http://www.qub.ac.uk/.

(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.

Anonymous said...

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...

Simon Myerson said...

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.

Anonymous said...

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.

Martin said...

"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.

Anonymous said...

"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?

Anonymous said...

Yhis used to be called subversion or treason at one time...No?


Can we have Magna Carta Back please...

Anonymous said...

"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)

Anonymous said...

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.

Simon Myerson said...

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.

Brassed Off said...

Does this then mean you have more or less had it if you are in posession of a 2:1?

Simon Myerson said...

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.

Charon QC said...

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.

Martin said...


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.

Brassed Off said...

If the future's grim for people with a 2:1 then I would hate to be doing the BVC with a 2:2.

Batfink said...

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.

Anonymous said...

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?

academic barrister said...

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.

Paranoid Pupil said...

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.

Anonymous said...

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 ;-)

Simon Myerson said...

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?

Lost London Law Student said...

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 :)

steph said...

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!

Simon Myerson said...

If you can afford it - go to Oxford. It does make a difference.

Anonymous said...

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.

Jack said...

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.

Anonymous said...

A couple of people above have mentioned Queen Mary but could you tell me what you think of QM for law and whether you consider it a good university Simon? Cheers,

Anonymous said...

There are no York Law graduates around because there are none! The department has only been open for a couple of years.

Anonymous said...

Hi Simon, I know its been quite a while since anyone has picked up on this point, but for some reason I am under the impression that Birmingham is not very well perceived. I am close to graduating and am expecting a first, with arguably a strong CV, with 4 mini-pupillages.

Having spoken to students from London and other top universities, I get the feeling that I can never make a career in the City, having looked at most top chambers they seem to be graduates from Oxbridge. I couldn't afford to move to either Cambridge or Oxford but had the aptitute to do so, added to the fact I have family constraints.

My questions to you Simon is:

1. Why does Birmingham get so much stick?...so much so that people disregard it as a top ten law school, when everyone knows its reputation as being one of the best.

2. If I was to get a first from Birmingham, will I be able to apply to one of the top 'magic circle' type chambers?

3. What is your view on students who are unable to go to top universities either because of family or financial constraints?...and would a chamber take that factor into account.

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Anonymous said...

If we're going to add in Scots law degrees, then I suppose the top two would be Glasgow and Edinburgh, although Aberdeen is highly regarded too. Strathclyde and Dundee make up the 'big 5' Scottish law schools- they're all much the same, no other department in Scotland would be worthy of inclusion.

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