Law is an intellectually challenging and rewarding subject to study at University whether or not you wish to go on to qualify as a barrister or solicitor.
- offers an opportunity to engage with real-life practical problems
- requires you to think logically and analytically about which rules might apply to novel practical situations
- requires you to consider how the law has evolved historically
- invites you to explore the social purposes the law might serve, to reflect critically on whether the law might need to be reformed and, if so, how
- gives you an opportunity to explore philosophical theories underpinning the law.
To find out more about studying Law as an academic subject, and the breadth of subjects on offer within the Law course, please visit the Law Faculty's admissions website.
Why study Law?
A significant number of students who read Law at university have no intention of becoming practising lawyers. The nature of the Law course is such that they have acquired skills which are relevant to a wide variety of careers. However, most students who study Law do intend to become practising lawyers.
It’s true that a Law degree is not the only route to becoming a practising lawyer. However, studying Law enables students to develop their ability to think and write like lawyers, to use and understand technical vocabulary, to apply the law to resolve difficult problems and to analyse and engage with a wide variety of legal arguments. These are skills which take time to develop.
Many practising lawyers who did not study Law inform us that it takes them many years to acquire these skills and that students who have studied Law at University have a distinct advantage.
In studying Law as an academic discipline, students develop an understanding of the economic, political, social and international context in which the Law applies, and an appreciation of its ethical and philosophical consequences. This often requires students to engage with other academic disciplines.
The study of Law means that students have a broader and deeper understanding of the law, rather than simply knowledge of rules. They are able to engage with the policies underpinning the law. They can assess evidence and they have the reasoning skills to become highly effective lawyers. In short, the study of Law at University enables them to think like lawyers.
Furthermore, there are significant financial advantages in studying Law at University and then proceeding to obtain a relevant professional qualification. The conversion course route involves an additional, expensive year of study.
Professor Graham Virgo, Fellow in Law at Downing, has recorded a short video discussing the benefits of studying a law degree for those wishing to progress into the legal professions. You can see the video from the Faculty website.
In February 2013 Graham Virgo debated with Lord Sumption, a Justice of the Supreme Court, in the Law Faculty. The motion was: 'Those who wish to practise Law should not study Law at University'. Graham Virgo spoke against the motion and won the debate. You can watch that debate here.
The Law course at Downing
Law has always been one of the principal subjects taught at Downing. The College has five official Fellows in Law:
- Professor Graham Virgo (Professor of English Private Law and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education) who teaches Criminal Law and Equity.
- Professor David Feldman (Rouse Ball Professor of Law) who teaches Constitutional Law and Administrative Law.
- Miss Amy Goymour (University Lecturer in Land Law and Director of Studies for Part IA and Part II undergraduate students) who teaches Land Law.
- Dr Alicia Hinarejos (University Senior Lecturer in EU Law and Director of Studies for Part IB students) who teaches European Union Law.
- Dr Brendan Plant (Hopkins Parry Fellow in Law, and Director of Studies for LLM and MCL students) who teaches the Law of Tort, the Law of Contract and International Law.
Dr Kathy Liddell (University Senior Lecturer in Intellectual Property Law) is a Bye-fellow of the College.
Both in the Law Tripos and in the LLM, Downing candidates acquit themselves with distinction. Most candidates who have taken the Law Tripos or the LLM have entered the legal profession, with conspicuous success.
The Law Fellows attach the greatest importance to helping their pupils to the next stage of their careers, whether in Law or otherwise. For those wishing to enter the legal profession, the Law Fellows will offer advice on progressing to a traineeship in a firm of solicitors or to a pupillage in a set of barristers' chambers.
A significant number of students who have read Law at Downing go on to pursue postgraduate study. Some pursue a one-year postgraduate degree, either the LLM at Cambridge, or a similar postgraduate degree at another UK university or in the United States. Some other students stay on at Cambridge to undertake research and obtain a PhD in Law.
To find out more about the careers which an undergraduate Law degree might lead to, please visit the Law Faculty's website.
The College Library’s Law collection
The College Library is fortunate in its Law collection, the holdings of which include a complete set of the official Law Reports, two complete sets of UK Statutes and over 40 other series of Reports and leading law journals.
The Law collection does not attempt to duplicate the University's Squire Law Library but for members of the College it is an invaluable resource which supplements the University's facilities and which is, probably, the most comprehensive college Law collection in Cambridge.
The Cranworth Law Society
All students who read Law at Downing are members of the Cranworth Law Society, which is the largest and most well-established of its kind in Cambridge.
The Society organizes a wide variety of events for Downing Law students throughout the year. Recent events have included:
- talks and dinners organised by firms of solicitors and barristers' chambers
- an annual trip to London, with a tour and lunch in one of the Inns of Court, a visit to the Supreme Court and dinner with a firm of solicitors in the City
- an internal College mooting competition for first year students and an inter–College mooting competition against Magdalene College
- social events, such as a Christmas Dinner, an end-of-term fancy dress dinner in March, and a Garden Party in May Week.
The final event of the year will be the Annual Dinner at the end of the exams in June. Last year the guest speaker was Sir Terence Etherton, Master of the Rolls, and this year it will be Lady Shami Chakrabarti, shadow attorney general for England and Wales and former director of Liberty.
One of the greatest benefits of the Cranworth Law Society is the links that it maintains with Downing alumni in the legal profession, who are on hand to offer advice and an insight into working in the law.
The Society arranges recruitment events and talks throughout the year, so that Downing Law students are prepared for a career in the law after University.
Scholarships for exceptional Tripos examination performances
A number of substantial scholarships are available to students who perform exceptionally well in Tripos examinations.
The Harris, Jarvis, Saunders, and Sefton Scholarships are among the most valuable Law Scholarships offered by any Cambridge College, being each of up to £3,000 in value.
There are also various funds available for Law students to assist with the purchase of textbooks and to provide financial support. The College is especially grateful to Skadden for providing financial support for book grants.
Honorary Fellows of Downing
Honorary Fellows of the College include eminent lawyers such as Lord Collins FBA, a former Justice of the Supreme Court, Aitzaz Ahsan, human rights campaigner and President of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan and three members of the Court of Appeal: Sir Kim Lewison, Sir David Lloyd-Jones and Sir Richard McCombe.
Emeritus Fellows include Dr Charles Harpum, former Law Commissioner for England and Wales, and Mr John Hopkins, who was a Law Fellow of the College for over 40 years. They both continue to take an active interest in the legal life and work of the College.
The Law Fellows are available to answer any inquiries as to the study of Law at Downing, and welcome invitations to visit schools.
Entry requirements and interviews
The standard conditional offer for candidates in Law at Downing is A*AA at A2 Level. All combinations of subjects are acceptable for Law at Downing, with a preference for academic rather than vocational subjects. The study of Law at GCSE, AS or A-Level is neither an advantage nor a disadvantage.
Law applicants receive two 25-minute interviews on the same day, each conducted by two interviewers. The interviews are designed to ascertain aptitude for the study of Law but do not require knowledge of the law as such.
The interviewers seek to give to candidates an opportunity to show their intellectual interests, breadth of reading, and their interests and pursuits in general.
Applicants to Downing for Law, who are called for interview, take the Cambridge Law Test in the College on the same day as the interview. Applicants will not be expected to have any prior knowledge of the law. The purpose of the test is to assess the applicant's ability to construct and develop a coherent and reasoned argument. The written answers to the test will not be seen by interviewers prior to interview but will be read afterwards. Further information about the test and specimen questions can be found on the Faculty of Law's website.
Written work is not requested prior to interviews.
Further advice about entry requirements and interviews for all subjects can be found in the Applying to Downing section of this site.
If you wish to find out more about studying Law at Downing College, please contact Dr Brendan Plant, one of the Directors of Studies, directly.