Dundee dual degree offers a unique choice
FOR most students, choosing whether to study in Scotland or England boils down to little more than personal preference. But when it comes to law, the choice of jurisdiction is crucial. Having a degree in Scots law will not be enough for students who later decide they want to practise in England or vice versa.
But now one enterprising Scottish law school has spotted a gap in the legal education marketplace. Dundee University is already the only law school in the UK to offer students a choice of doing the LLB degree in either Scots or English law, and it is now taking this a step further by setting up a dual LLB.
The two distinct LLB streams have been brought together and restructured to allow students to fulfil the professional requirements of both the Law Society of Scotland and the Law Society of England and Wales.
From September, students on the Scots LLB programme will be offered the chance to take modules in English law. This means that after graduating they will choose whether they want to follow the English or Scottish routes to qualification as a solicitor.
The move comes after teaching staff noticed that many students were keen to learn about the law in both jurisdictions, and often asked if they could swap between the English and Scottish courses as they progressed through their degree.
"We have had the separate Scots and English LLBs for quite some considerable time now," says Stuart Cross, senior lecturer at the law school. "What we have noticed over the last five to six years is that students on both streams have come to us and said they would like to do both. That got us thinking.
"We managed to find a way for them to do that. We had a programme review last year and it became clear to us that we were not maximising the programmes we were offering."
Cross adds that the dual degree also reflects the changing needs of the legal services marketplace, with many firms having a presence in both Scotland and England. "The big Scots firms have practices in London, in particular," he says. "This will give our students a greater understanding of law across the UK and allow them to decide which jurisdiction they wish to go on to qualify in professionally.
"This will open up new avenues for them as they set out on their careers. It makes it far easier for graduates with all the required subjects to become fully qualified as a solicitor in multiple jurisdictions, offering them new flexibility across the UK."
With teaching staff already delivering modules in both Scots and English law, Dundee already had the resources in place to set up the dual degree, he adds.
The law school devised the dual degree programme by retaining core Scots law modules in first and second year and offering students the choice of doing some English modules in third and fourth years.
"It's not actually a new degree programme – it would have been nigh on impossible to do it from scratch," he explains. "For students who enrol for the LLB, we have produced a series of modules so they can select English law.
"They follow the Scots curriculum, but they can choose in their third and fourth years to pick from modules in English law. And they still do an honours degree."
While Cross points out that some of the Scots law modules will overlap with their English equivalents, there are fundamental differences between the jurisdictions, particularly in areas such as criminal law and procedure or in land and property law. Students will be able to take English law units including obligations, criminal law and process, and trusts and land.
The success of the new approach to the LLB will depend on the uptake from students, but with many already studying English law, Cross is confident that there will be sufficient interest to make it viable.
"It roughly splits between 90 to 100 on the Scots LLB and 40 to 50 on the English," says Cross. "We have had quite a lot of student open days and there has been a lot of interest. We will wait and see what our existing student choices are."
Cross adds that staff have stressed to students that while the new joint LLB is a qualifying law degree for both jurisdictions, this only takes students so far.
Those who want to go on to qualify as solicitors will be faced with a choice at the end of their degree as to whether to pursue a career in the Scots or English legal systems. "We have been very open with them about the fact it doesn't make them a dual-qualified solicitor," he says.
Moving between jurisdictions currently requires further study, even after qualification as a solicitor. Scots law graduates who want to move south can either complete a conversion course and traineeship in England, or qualify as a solicitor in Scotland and then study part-time for some of the Qualified Lawyer's Transfer Test exams.
English law graduates who want to move to Scotland either need to complete another LLB in Scots law followed by the diploma in legal practice and traineeship, or qualify as a solicitor in England and sit the Law Society of Scotland's Intra UK Transfer Test.
But Cross is hopeful that graduates of the new joint LLB degree may be able to gain exemption from some elements of these tests if they want to pursue dual qualification as a solicitor later on.
What also remains to be seen is how Dundee's new course will fit with the changing picture in legal education, given that the Law Society of Scotland is still reviewing the LLB degree. Cross says he is confident that they can amend the modules without too much disruption if required.
"We are in a time of change in legal education," he notes. "The message is; making sure that what you deliver as a law school responds to the changing pace of legal education. We want to make sure that what we deliver is responsive. For us, in many respects, it was a logical step to take."
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