Law
The Old Bailey, London.
(Image credit: Shutterstock).

Law (Jurisprudence)

There are two Law courses at Oxford: Course I is a three-year course and Course II is a four-year course which follows the same syllabus, with the extra year being spent abroad following a prescribed course at a university within the European Union.

 

The Oxford Law degrees aim to develop in their students a high level of skill in comprehension, analysis and presentation. Students are expected to read a good deal, mostly from primary sources (such as cases and statutes), rather than to take other people’s word for things. They are expected to think hard about what they have read, so as to develop views not simply about what the law is, but also about why it is so, whether it should be so, and how it might be different, drawing on moral, philosophical, social, historical, economic and other ideas. Students are asked to process what they read, together with their own thoughts, and to prepare essays and presentations for discussion in tutorials and classes.

Law at Oxford

The Oxford syllabus comprises topics chosen primarily for their intellectual interest, rather than for the frequency with which they arise in practice. But at the same time, the skills of researching, thinking and presentation developed by the Oxford Law courses are eminently suited to practical application, and employers recognise this. Moreover, the skills can be as well applied outside the law as within it. Oxford is probably the only leading law school in the world where the main means by which teaching is done consists of group discussion (tutorials) in groups as small as one, two or three students and a tutor.

The modern, purpose-built Bodleian Law Library holds more than 450,000 law-related items, more than almost any other comparable library in the UK. The library is conveniently located in the same building as the Law Faculty: the St Cross Building. Colleges also have collections of law books for student use.

European opportunities

Course II students spend their third year of study at a university in France, Germany, Italy or Spain (studying French, German, Italian or Spanish law) or the Netherlands (studying European and International law). See the faculty website for further details about Course II and the admissions arrangements.

Careers

There is no assumption that our Law graduates ought to pursue a legal career: in practice, around 75% of Oxford Law graduates go on to the legal profession; others continue on to further academic study of law. Although Oxford Law graduates gain a BA in Jurisprudence rather than an LLB, each of the Oxford Law courses counts as a qualifying law degree so Oxford Law graduates can immediately go on to the Legal Practice Course (for solicitors) or the Bar Professional Training Course (for barristers). Many Oxford Law graduates go on to successful careers practising law outside England and Wales. The Oxford Law courses naturally focus on English law, but the fundamental principles of English common law play a key role in other jurisdictions such as those of, for example, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Graduates of the four-year course also gain important international knowledge during their year abroad. If you are considering going on to practise outside England and Wales, and want to know the status of an English law degree within that jurisdiction, please contact the relevant local regulatory body. For example, if you are interested in practising in the United States, you should contact the relevant state regulatory body: useful information can also be found at www.abanet.org.

The teaching programme

Colleges have the discretion to teach subjects in different terms, but students learn through a form of directed research into one or more different subjects each term, as well as by going to faculty lectures and seminars given by some of the world’s leading legal scholars. This system is academically demanding, but at the same time very rewarding.

A typical weekly timetable

1st year (terms 1 and 2)
Courses
  • Criminal law
  • Constitutional law
  • A Roman introduction to private law
  • Research skills and mooting programme

For those on Course II, there are also French/German/Italian/Spanish law and language classes during the first six terms, or for those going to the Netherlands, introductory Dutch language courses in the second year

Assessment

First University examinations:

Three written papers: one each in Criminal law, Constitutional law and a Roman introduction to private law
1st year (term 3),
2nd and 3rd (4th) years
Courses
  • Tort law
  • Contract law
  • Trusts
  • Land law
  • Administrative law
  • Course II: year 3 is spent abroad
  • European Union law
  • Jurisprudence
  • Two optional subjects, chosen from a very wide range of options. For full details of courses offered, please see the faculty website
Assessment

Final University examinations:

  • Tort law, contract law, trusts, land law, administrative law, European law: one written paper each at the end of the final year
  • Jurisprudence: one shorter written paper at the end of the final year, plus an essay written in the summer vacation at the end of the second year
  • Two optional subjects: normally written papers but methods of assessment may vary
Course II students will also be assessed during their year abroad by the University they attend

Candidates are also expected to have at least a C grade in GCSE Mathematics, or other evidence to demonstrate that they are appropriately numerate. We accept any subjects at A-level except for General Studies. There is no particular advantage or disadvantage to studying Law before you apply.

Candidates applying for Law with Law Studies in Europe may also need additional language qualifications.

To study in France, Germany or Spain candidates would be expected to have the relevant modern language to A-level, Advanced Higher, Higher Level in the IB or any other equivalent.

To study in the Netherlands (studying European and International Law), a modern language is not essential since the course is taught in English.

To study in Italy, candidates may be admitted without A-level Italian, though they would be expected to demonstrate sufficient language aptitude to be able to achieve the standard required to study successfully in Italy during the year abroad. Intensive language training will be offered during the first two years of the course.

All candidates must also take the Law National Admissions Test (LNAT) as part of their application. Please see how to apply for further details.

All candidates must follow the application procedure as shown in how to apply. The information below gives specific details for students applying for this course.

Written work

You do not need to submit any written work when you apply for this course.

Written test

All candidates applying to study Law at Oxford for entry in 2015 (or for deferred entry in 2016) must sit the Law National Admissions Test (LNAT) between 1 September and 20 October 2014. A number of other universities also require candidates to sit this test. (To guarantee that you can take the LNAT on or before 20 October, you need to register and book an LNAT test slot by 5 October 2014. If you have not yet registered, there are still plenty of test places available but please note that these may not be at your nearest centre.)

The expectation is that you will sit the test onscreen in a test centre near your home. It will be a test of your aptitudes rather than your knowledge. Your performance in this test will be used as an additional factor in deciding whether to interview you and whether to offer you a place. Test centres are now located internationally. For further details, a specimen paper and information on how to register, please see www.lnat.ac.uk/.

Candidates for Law with Law Studies in Europe who are applying for the French, German, Italian or Spanish law options may be given an oral test in the relevant European language at the time of interview.

What are tutors looking for?

The selection criteria are based on the qualities required of a successful law student. Throughout the admissions process, tutors look for evidence of a candidate’s motivation, capacity for sustained academic work, reasoning ability and communication skills. Relevant evidence is provided by a candidate’s academic record (including any predicted grades in forthcoming exams), reference, personal statement and performance in the LNAT. Interviews can provide further relevant information. A candidate’s pre-existing knowledge of the law is not assessed at any stage. For more detailed information on the admissions process, including a video of a mock law interview, please see: www.law.ox.ac.uk.

Selection criteria

Candidates may wish to refer to the selection criteria for Law.

Suggested reading

We recommend that you start by reading the court reports in broad sheet newspapers.

As the reading lists for the degree course change each year it isn't always advisable to buy text books in advance, but you may find one or more of the books from the following list useful when preparing your application: Introductory reading for Law. It can be useful to look at the list of law academics on the departmental website and follow the links to their latest publications. All lecturers have their own lists, which change from year to year and include books and journal articles.

You may also like to read the BBC's website Law in Action, and download their podcasts. Other recommendations are the Guardian's law pages and Counsel magazine.

Tamsin, 3rd year

'Studying Law at Oxford is a unique experience. I feel I have learnt as much about politics, philosophy and sociology as I have about the law! It equips me with the fullest understanding of the law possible. The reasons behind studying something so abstract as Jurisprudence or Roman Law seemed incomprehensible at first, but it all became clear once I started studying them. For example, the ability to see how contract interacts with tort law will help now in exams, as well as when the time comes to leave university and start a career.

Although at first the transition from A-level to university study was a daunting prospect, I soon adapted to Oxford’s distinct methods of teaching. Fellow students and tutors are also always on hand when I find a particular topic tricky or don’t know the meaning of a particular piece of the legal jargon that judges are so fond of using! Tutorials are also a great way to express ideas and queries, although I have to be prepared to fight my corner as no doubt my view will not be held by all. Even if a tutor does agree, they will generally play devil’s advocate so that I learn to reinforce my assertions and develop the skill of being able to express both sides of an argument.

I’ve become used to the workload and managing my own time rather than having a strict timetable of classes.

The beauty of having such freedom as to when I study means that there are lots of opportunities to experience Oxford in full and try out new hobbies or interests.

I have been involved in my college JCR as Academic and Admissions Rep. This role has allowed me to become heavily involved in the politics of the college and to experience something entirely different from my studies.'

Joanna, a solicitor who graduated in 2007

She is currently the Private & Legal Secretary to the Chancellor of the High Court. She says: 

‘I regularly draw on the skills I developed at Oxford. If a judge asks me to research a point of law I not only use my research skills and ability to conduct legal analysis, but I also rely on the confidence I developed in tutorials to put across my findings and my opinion.’

Charlie, Law with French Law, who graduated in 2012

The most unexpected thing about my course:

'The number of opportunities to meet with other lawyers, including current students, tutors and alumni, in social settings.'

The best thing that Oxford did for me:

'It instilled confidence in me so that I can really develop my skills in all areas of life - and therefore be very happy!'

My favourite Oxford memory is...

'Watching the US presidential election results in the JCR at 4am with fellow students who were equally as passionate about international politics as I was. It was a really amazing experience to be able to share something so important with so many people who had the same interests as me.'

I'd just like to add:

'Going to any university will change your life, but going to Oxford will change it in ways you can't really think about when you apply. I have gained so much confidence since I came here. Now I worry less about everything, and I am able to enjoy life to the fullest. Oxford will teach you how to shine without changing who you are.'    

Sebastian, Law, who graduated in 2012

The most unexpected thing about my course:

'The profs were very friendly and supportive, even when I had rather silly questions to ask and obscure ideas to bounce around.'

I wish they'd told me when I was applying to university...

'Talk to as many students as possible when deciding on college preferences.'

The best thing that Oxford did for me:

'Made me much more confident in my intellectual ability and opened up a whole new world of scholarship for me.'

My favourite Oxford memory is...

'Late night debating about the intricacies of the Greco-Persian Wars in a fish and chip shop on Cowley Road after a bop.'

I'd just like to add:

'Oxford is what you make of it: the most rewarding moments often come unexpectedly outside of studies... so go out there and meet some interesting people!'

Verity, Law, who matriculated in 2012

The most unexpected thing about my course:

'...was when my tutor for Roman Law started whipping out some unusual props to illustrate various private law concepts. A most memorable tutorial involved chocolate coins, which were used to demonstrate a peculiar type of loan agreement - they mysteriously reduced in number as the tutorial progressed!'

I wish they'd told me when I was applying to university...

'...that it's only really worth applying for something you absolutely love, even in the face of daunting acceptance statistics.'

The best thing that Oxford did for me:

'Was to show me that uncovering the controversies and complexities of my subject (law) is an utterly fascinating, fulfilling and exciting experience. The notion that something is worth studying for its own merit is embraced here.'

My favourite Oxford memory is...

'...when I was coerced into performing solo interpretative dance as part of my JCR election hustings. I vocally complained at the time, but secretly loved it.'

Contextual information

The Key Information Sets provide a lot of numbers about the Oxford experience – but there is so much about what you get here that numbers can’t convey. It’s not just the quantity of the Oxford education that you need to consider, there is also the quality – let us tell you more.

Oxford’s tutorial system

Regular tutorials, which are the responsibility of the colleges, are the focal point of teaching and learning at Oxford. The tutorial system is one of the most distinctive features of an Oxford education: it ensures that students work closely with tutors throughout their undergraduate careers, and offers a learning experience which is second to none.

A typical tutorial is a one-hour meeting between a tutor and one, two, or three students to discuss reading and written work that the students have prepared in advance. It gives students the chance to interact directly with tutors, to engage with them in debate, to exchange ideas and argue, to ask questions, and of course to learn through the discussion of the prepared work. Many tutors are world-leaders in their fields of research, and Oxford undergraduates frequently learn of new discoveries before they are published.

Each student also receives teaching in a variety of other ways, depending on the course. This will include lectures and classes, and may include laboratory work and fieldwork. But the tutorial is the place where all the elements of the course come together and make sense. Meeting regularly with the same tutor – often weekly throughout the term – ensures a high level of individual attention and enables the process of learning and teaching to take place in the context of a student’s individual needs.

The tutorial system also offers the sustained commitment of one or more senior academics – as college tutors – to each student’s progress. It helps students to grow in confidence, to develop their skills in analysis and persuasive argument, and to flourish as independent learners and thinkers.

More information about tutorials

The benefits of the college system

  • Every Oxford student is a member of a college. The college system is at the heart of the Oxford experience, giving students the benefits of belonging to both a large and internationally renowned university and a much smaller, interdisciplinary, college community.
  • Each college brings together academics, undergraduate and postgraduate students, and college staff. The college gives its members the chance to be part of a close and friendly community made up of both leading academics and students from different subjects, year groups, cultures and countries. The relatively small size of each college means that it is easy to make friends and contribute to college life. There is a sense of belonging, which can be harder to achieve in a larger setting, and a supportive environment for study and all sorts of other activities.
  • Colleges organise tutorial teaching for their undergraduates, and one or more college tutors will oversee and guide each student’s progress throughout his or her career at Oxford. The college system fosters a sense of community between tutors and students, and among students themselves, allowing for close and supportive personal attention to each student’s academic development.

It is the norm that undergraduates live in college accommodation in their first year, and in many cases they will continue to be accommodated by their college for the majority or the entire duration of their course. Colleges invest heavily in providing an extensive range of services for their students, and as well as accommodation colleges provide food, library and IT resources, sports facilities and clubs, drama and music, social spaces and societies, access to travel or project grants, and extensive welfare support. For students the college often becomes the hub of their social, sporting and cultural life.

More about Oxford’s unique college system and how to choose a college