A Leading Academic Gives Advice on How to Make the Best Choice on Where to Start Your Legal Training
Professor Peter McEleavy, a Barrister (Gray’s Inn), and the University of Dundee’s Academic Lead for Sub-Saharan Africa, is a regular visitor to Nigeria where he engages with Dundee’s extensive alumni community, leading Federal Universities, schools and Parastatals. He is a leading expert on international family law issues, and his research has been cited by Supreme Courts across the globe, most recently in February by the United States Supreme Court in Monasky v. Taglieri.
Whenever high school pupils tell me that they wish to study law, my first question is always to ask why? There are two main reasons for this – studying law and practising as a lawyer is a very serious business – and whilst there will be many exciting moments, whether doing a mooting competition for the first time, a high profile trial or helping seal a major contract – these events are all underpinned by many, many hours of pain-staking work.
The reality of life as a law student or legal practitioner is not the round the clock glamour portrayed on TV shows such as Suits! Furthermore, anyone aspiring to a legal career must be able to respond coherently when questioned – preferably relying on some persuasive evidence. This leads me to my next question:
How do I Know if a Law Degree is the Right Path for Me?
It is not easy deciding what to study at university – indeed it is one thing doing advanced study on a subject one has already studied, quite another to embark on a completely new vocational course. There is, rightly, a lot of cachet surrounding a law degree – but it is there for a reason – law is a demanding discipline and one which will equip its graduates with many very valuable transferable skills.
To understand though if it is the right discipline for you, my advice is always to try and undertake placements at law firms. The insights gained from seeing life at the sharp end of legal practice will help you decide if it really is the discipline for you.
Something I have trialled in Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria over the last 12 months is Mock Trial Competitions for High Schools. Year 12 and 13 A-Level, IB and Foundation students have been set fictitious cases to argue, and have to construct arguments and make submissions from a selection of reported judgments.
This exercise has been an invaluable way to understand what the study of law is all about. Oxbridge Tutorial College are the reigning Dundee University Nigerian School Mooting Champions after producing a masterful performance in October 2019 at the finals held at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Ikeja.
Must I be Set on Becoming a Lawyer if I Choose to Study Law?
Many students choose law not because they are certain they wish to practise law, but because of the inherent value of a legal education:
It demands precision and attention to detail;
You will acquire the ability to analyse large quantities of material accurately and efficiently;
You will learn to persuade in writing and orally;
And you will be able to assess competing positions / arguments and reach justified conclusions.
These are all incredibly valuable transferrable skills, which ensure law graduates are sought after by employers across a wide range of fields.
Where Should I Study Law – Which Country?
The University of Dundee has strong ties with UniLag and UNN and we have alumni on the staff of both Law Faculties. And as an academic with 20 years experience of teaching and supervising Nigerian law graduates in the UK I am well aware of the quality of legal education available locally.
However, I also know that many pupils will look to study overseas and deciding between the UK, Canada, Australia, Ireland (my home country) or elsewhere can be challenging.
As a member of Gray’s Inn and with two decades of lecturing at leading British law schools, I know the quality and tradition of legal education and legal research in the United Kingdom. UK law degrees have a very high degree of recognition from international law firms. And London is a global litigation centre with English law frequently relied upon in international contracts.
The re-introduction of the 2 year post-study work visa means Nigerians graduating from UK law schools will be able to gain valuable work experience before returning home to qualify in Nigeria, or seeking sponsorship from a UK employer for a longer period of employment.
Where Should I Study Law – Which University?
Once you have decided which country to go to study there is the often bewildering number of options of where to study. In addition to the obvious criteria of rankings, location, cost and scholarship opportunities, I always ask pupils to reflect on: the quality of the teaching; the level of support available to international students; and the size of classes.
You must also decide – where will I fit in easily? And where am I most likely to succeed? It essential that you are happy and well supported at you chosen university for then you will have the foundation to get the best degree possible and make the most of the huge investment you and your family have made.
To make the right decision it is essential to gather evidence – you are studying Law after all! Speak to alumni, current students and, if possible, visit the institutions you have shortlisted. For some the bright lights of London will be all important for others a smaller institution in a quieter location will be more appropriate.
At Dundee Law School, where we have taught an English LLB alongside a Scots Law LLB for many decades, student support and experience is at the heart of what we do and explains why so many Nigerians have made it their home away from home!.
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