The history of law relates closely to the history of civilisation. For as long as the written word has existed, men and women of power have given us codes of ethics, civics and rules to live by, so as to ensure a safe and moral society.
In our increasingly global era, the importance of a morally good and functional set of laws becomes evermore vital, while practitioners of law continue to be well respected, well regarded and well paid, thanks to this importance.
Studying law abroad can do wonders for one’s career, as it can open the law student to new perspectives, supplement understanding of other forms of law and help establish a career in one of the many forms of law in which international experience is required. However, it is important to carefully consider studying law overseas, as if your preferred focus is regional or national, especially with regards to your country of origin, it may be better to remain in your home country.
What is Law?
Law is a system of rules, typically enforced by a local or national government, which dictate the behaviour of the people who make up a community or country under which said government maintains influence.
There are many, many branches of law, much of which are particular to the places or people they regulate. Countries operate under one of three legal systems: Civil Law, Common Law or Religious Law, although some countries operate under more than one. By far the most common, though, is Civil Law.
Underneath this system, many institutional bodies take responsibility for the development and accountability of the law. These include:
- Independent courts
- Representative parliaments
- An accountable executive
- The military and police
- Bureaucratic organisation
- The legal profession
- Civil society
The practice of law can be further understood by the topic a particular set of laws relates to. These are broadly categorised as Public Law and Private Law.
Public Law more closely relates to the state, such as constitutional and administrative law, as well as criminal law. Private Law covers contract law, tort law (civil wrongs) and property law.
Other core law topics include International Law, Equity Law and Trust Law. Beyond these, Law can focus on any number of topics that relate to a person’s day-to-day life, such as Social Law (employment, human rights, immigration, family), Commerce Law (company law, commercial, intellectual property) and Regulatory Law (tax, banking, the environment).
Why Study Law?
Law, as you may have gathered, is far reaching and impacts everyone in some sense each day. If you choose to study Law, there can be ample opportunity to focus on any one of a great multitude of topics.
Law is also a well respected and often well paid career choice.
Studying law offers students the opportunity to develop a range of skills and explore many aspects of human life. It can sharpen your mind, strengthen your understanding and deepen your experience. Law can appeal to those who want to develop their abstract thinking and practical problem solving.
Moreover, law offers graduates a strong career path, as well as a broader choice of role if the graduate so chooses. Law graduates will often become solicitors, barristers, attorneys or lawyers (there is some crossover in these roles and is often dependent on the country of residence). However, law graduates can also become clerks, detectives, paralegals, accountants, even stockbrokers.
Many lawyers often take their skills and apply them in either the public or private sector too. Many politicians, for example, have experience in law, while many top business executives have backgrounds in law. Law graduates can become producers, managers, journalists, diplomats or police officers.
And of course with many other subjects, further study remains a common option- indeed, for many roles within law a postgraduate qualification is necessary. The Bar examination is perhaps the best known of these, which is required in many countries to practice law in the courts.
Life as a Law Student
Let’s get this out of the way first: Law is not an easy course of study. There is a lot of reading, lots of caffeine to be drank, lots more reading, lots of sitting in the library and lots more reading on top of that. And unfortunately, it’s not easy reading. While the English student spends their afternoon in the park reading Shakespeare, the Law student will be in the library, reading statutes, academic papers, case reports and legal principles.
However, the more you read, the more you will come to understand how to approach your reading lists, how to shortcut some of the longer (and more boring) texts and your understanding of law will grow as the days go by.
And of course, it isn’t all boring- many legal cases can be fascinating and the impact one can have as a lawyer can be great motivation too. Nor is the day-to-day life as a law student simply all reading and discussing law. As a humanities subject, students often have a lot of freedom in defining their own timetable, which allows for free time with friends and fun too.
Top Law Universities
As measured by The Guardian, the following universities are the best for an undergraduate Law degree. There are no particular surprsises, with the Ivy League and Oxbridge dominating.
1. Harvard University - USA
2. University of Cambridge - USA
3. University of Oxford - UK
4. Yale University - USA
5. Stanford University - USA
6. New York University - USA
7. University of California, Berkeley - USA
8. The University of Melbourne - Australia
10. Columbia University - USA
Applying for an Overseas Law Course
Depending on your interest within the wide variety of potential legal study options, international experience may be more relevant in some areas than others. This can influence whether or not your focus is better supported by just a few months or year of study, even a summer program if your interest in studying overseas is more related to self-development than career aspirations.
Commercial law, for example, typically requires working with large global corporations, so if you plan on entering this realm of law then exposure to foreign legal systems can be very beneficial.
International criminal law and human rights law are also areas of study well supported by study abroad programs. These branches of law operate overseas and so by their inherent nature make good opportunities for time spent studying abroad.
If you are interested in studying law but don't necessarily want to work as a lawyer, then a course studying comparative law could also be beneficial.
Direct Enrollment vs. Program Provider
Another difference in program types is that certain programs cater specifically for foreign students, while others will only enrol you for a short period of time in a foreign university.
If the latter is true, where you choose to go may be even more important as you'll be learning the same material as your peers in that foreign country (which may be a system of law you ultimately will not practice).
Whether you choose to participate in a term-long, year-long, or summer-long program, living and studying in a foreign country can help prepare you to better understand cases regarding that country, or can provide the chance to conduct business there if your long-term goal is not courtroom oriented.
If you're serious about building a career focused on one particular country or region, than a direct enrollment year-long program would be the most immersive option. If your goal is simply to develop a basic understanding of law in a particular type of country, a communist country for instance, than an 8-week summer program catered to foreign students should be sufficient.
Regardless of the type of program you go with, studying law overseas requires attention to a more particular set of requirements than for history, language, or political science. Whether your interest lies in international law, human rights, commercial law, or criminal justice, you will want to be sure that your destination is relevant to your longer-term goals and interests.
The first thing you should consider, as alluded to before, is the type of law that governs a country (civil or common), as that is likely to be the type of law that will be taught in that country’s colleges and universities.
The common law system is used in the UK, as well as Australia, India and the United States. Many other countries around the world use civil law.
China and India are civil law countries that are particularly popular because of their global relevancy and exposure to the particularities of their systems can be beneficial for many aspiring legal professionals.
The difficulty of the coursework is also something to make note of. Many that study law overseas believe that foreign universities have a more challenging legal curriculum than their equivalents at home. Some Americans, for example, that have taken the Bar in another country have remarked that passing the exam was easier in the United States. This may be the consequence of cultural difference and understanding - law is often based on the historical events and societal norms of the country in which it is based, which can take some readjustment when studying.
If you are curious about going to law school overseas, you should try and study in the country where you intend to work. The specificity of the law system in each country makes it difficult for lawyers to attend law school abroad and come home and practice in their home country.
Look with a keen eye at the courses listed for your program. Do these make sense from an academic perspective and complement your existing experience? Are these topics you wouldn't ordinarily cover at your home university?
Also make sure the courses on offer will satisfy the requirements of your home university if that’s the route you decide to take, especially if you're enrolling in a semester or year-long program.
Going abroad can potentially interfere with law school application timelines and studying for exams. Make sure you choose a time before the application madness begins so you can fully enjoy your time overseas.
If you're studying a foreign language and are proficient enough to take a class in it, would there be courses available in that language? Especially for those who want to study international law, demonstrated foreign language proficiency is incredibly beneficial. If you don't speak a second language, would beginner classes be offered alongside your law-centered curriculum?
If you can’t decide between two similar programs, look at the faculty. Sometimes the person that teaches the class can be as important, if not more important, than the content of the course.
Legal clinics on-campus provide opportunities to work on real cases with a supervising faculty member. Are these available or accessible to study abroad students?
Does the university have an international law journal? Student-run publications can be a fun and rewarding opportunity, as well as look good on the resume.
Once you have decided on the country and its associated law system, as well as the length of course you think would be most beneficial to you, it is time to browse the available institutions. Lists of law schools are freely available on the internet, on sites such as HG.org and Wikipedia. It is then a case of checking the admission requirements and finally applying if you think that your chosen institution would benefit you (and accept you).
Application and review can be time-consuming but is incredibly worthwhile, especially in the essential and rewarding realm of law.
We wish you the best of luck with your application and make sure to stay tuned to Viva-Mundo for more application advice.