5 Essential Skills a Law Degree Can Develop
Studying law isn’t about being able to name the fifty most influential cases in contract law or reciting the Human Rights Act 1998 off by heart. Instead, it’s about developing essential skills which will help you in all walks of life.
Here Emma Jones, Senior Lecturer in Law and member of the Open Justice team at The Open University, discusses in brief five skills you will likely develop whilst undertaking a law degree, even if you don’t always realise it!
Law is all about evidence and finding the right evidence to answer a question or assessment becomes second nature as you work through your degree. It is likely you’ll be using lots of different types of information too, from textbooks and monographs to online databases and articles. This means that you will develop the capability to handle lots of different materials effectively. You’ll also become an expert at checking that whatever sources you use are up-to-date and focus on the right jurisdiction.
As the size of most legal textbooks demonstrates, law degrees require you to do a lot of reading. However, it isn’t enough to simply skim through masses of material. The skills you learn on your law degree will enable you to select the right information for your task or assignment, pull out the most relevant details, make links with other sources you’ve read or points you’ve come across and draw them all together to develop a clear, well-evidenced response.
Your law degree helps you to develop problem-solving skills through the use of problem questions and the setting of other tasks which require you to think through the issues and find solutions. You will probably be introduced to useful tools such as IRAC (Issue, Rule, Application and Conclusion) to help you approach these. These tools help you develop a methodical and analytical approach which enables you to reason through issues logically.
If you go into legal practice, you can expect clients to come to you with a wide range of problems, not all of them just legal ones! There are lots of other careers you can use a law degree for where problem-solving is essential too. Not to mention the role it has in helping you navigate everyday life successfully!
You may also be fortunate enough to take part in a clinical legal education programme, giving you the opportunity to tackle real-life legal issues and problems. If your university doesn’t offer this, it is worth looking into volunteer opportunities to gain some further experience.
A large part of your legal studies will be spent communicating with others. You will gain experience in lots of forms of written communications. Some of them more formal, for example, when writing assignments and examinations. Some of them may be less formal, for example, when emailing your tutor or fellow students. This helps you to develop skills in writing for different audiences and structuring what you say appropriately.
You will also get plenty of opportunity to practice your oral communication skills, from answering questions in lectures and seminars to mooting and/or giving formal presentations. Once again, this will give you the skills to ensure you are pitching what you say correctly, formulating a persuasive point or argument and speaking clearly and coherently.
From making a complaint in a shop and telephoning a utility provider to writing business reports and completing application forms to standing up in court and presenting your client’s case, these are invaluable skills to have.
Thinking critically is about being able to look behind what you’re being told and starting to ask questions. If you’re carrying out research, this could be about looking at the author of a source, asking yourself how reliable it is and weighing up how strong the arguments it makes are. More generally, you will begin to apply these skills to all aspects of your studies, from querying a point you don’t understand in a lecture to digging a bit deeper into a case judgment. Refusing to accept things at face value and starting to really unpack what lies behind them will help you in daily life too, from working out whether that “buy one get one free” offer in the shop is really as good as it seems to the way you read newspapers and social media.
This article has picked out five key skills a law degree can develop, but you can probably think of many others too. Don’t forget to emphasise these when you are writing your CV and/or applying for jobs or further study. Studying law gives you a great foundation for whatever you plan to do next.