Everything I wish I knew before studying law in the UK

studying law in the UK
My final year of law school was the best time of my life. Source: Nathan Hew

Studying law in the UK wasn’t part of my plan.

While most of my friends had a clear idea of the type of lawyer they wanted to become, even before starting their law degree, I was still determining what the future held when I finished my A Levels. 

I knew I liked writing. 

I did relatively well in law during my A Levels. 

I studied at Brickfields Asia College (BAC), one of Malaysia’s top law schools, so pursuing law as a degree made sense.

Plus, everyone told me a law degree is flexible. If we didn’t like what we studied, we could pursue other careers upon graduation. 

That sounded like a good plan to me and my friends. As it all seemed to make sense, I joined a UK Transfer Degree Programme, open to those who complete their A Levels with my college.

The UK Transfer Degree Programme is a twinning degree programme, which means students complete one or two years of their degree at a local uni before transferring to a UK uni in their last year. 

In short, we used the term “1+2” (where students studied one year in Malaysia and two years in the UK) or “2+1”. 

After two years in Malaysia, I pursued the final year of my undergraduate studies at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) in Belfast, Northern Ireland (which is still a part of the UK). 

So I’ve been there, done that and got the T-shirt about the whole process. And I’m here to answer the top questions about and myths surrounding studying law in the UK:

studying law in the UK

Studying law in the UK gave me (pictured second from the right) unique opportunities, such as chairing a council at the London International Model United Nations Conference. Source: Nathan Hew

Question 1: Is the UK good for studying law?

Studying law in the UK is a popular option after A Levels for many students.

Over the past decade, the number of international students applying to study law at UK universities has increased by 238%, according to Scottish Legal News

This popularity is understandable. The UK is where the common law system was born, which is practised in many jurisdictions and popular among countries that are part of the Commonwealth of Nations, like India and Singapore.

You might wonder: what is common law? Rather than following an Act, the common law system abides by a set of principles laid in cases (this concept is called judicial precedent).

Russell Group Universities

If you are considering studying law in the UK, you might have encountered the term “Russell Group”.

Fun fact: QUB is a member of the Prestigious Russell Group — but what does that mean?

The Russell Group is a group of 24 UK universities which produce leading research and degrees, with unrivalled links with business and the public sector.

For international students, it’s the assurance of quality in the experience they’ll receive — whether it is in the form of facilities, teaching, or access to resources.

Here’s the catch: most universities in the UK Transfer Degree Programme were also part of Russell Group.

You’d think this makes it easier to choose one. But we found it a little hard to pick out so many elite unis.

Combine the fact that the UK has a world-class legal system and universities and it’s clear that studying law in the UK was a great decision for me.

Question 2: What qualifications do I need to study law in the UK?

Look up the uni’s website to determine the specific qualifications you need to pursue your law degree at a particular institution.

For my programme, QUB required a 60% average for our second year. Higher ranked uni, such as the University of Reading or Cardiff University, required a 65% average.

On top of that, we had to make a firm and insurance for our Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) application.

How do you make the best decision? The secret is to manage your expectations.

In my case, my average was determined by a mix of assignments and exam results.

Since I had good scores for most of my assignments, consistently revised my lessons in class, and practised an adequate amount of past year questions, I was confident in achieving the 60% average.

The results? I achieved a 65% average for my second year.

One of the best parts about studying law in the UK is seeing how the city comes to life during St Patrick’s Day. Source: Nathan Hew

Question 3: Which city is best to study law in the UK?

That’s a great question! I can’t stress how important it is to consider where you will be studying as this decision will influence several parts of your life as an international student.

In my case, I visited the UK a year before I would complete my final year in the country.

Through this trip, I explored London and other parts of mainland UK like Bangor, and I instantly knew I wanted to experience a city with a slower pace of life.

So why did I end up choosing Belfast?

studying law in the uk

Near the library, you’ll find the Botanic Garden. When the weather’s good, it’s the perfect place to unwind for me while I was studying in the UK. Source: Nathan Hew

Easy access to nature

Go up North, and you’ll find plenty of attractions along the Causeway Coastal Route. The main highlight would be the symmetrical stones of Giant’s Causeway.

Another hidden gem was the small town of Bangor, which is easily accessible by train. I recommend strolling along the Irish coast and trying out the local food.

Jamaica Inn, for example, has great seafood, vegetarian and vegan options. Try the seafood chower — I still think about it until today.

Near campus, there’s the Botanic Garden — a 28-acre public park near Queens University, housing the Ulster Museum, the Palm House and a wide variety of trees and plants.

This was a great spot to unwind after a long day of classes.

Of course, I still remember Cave Hill. Just a short bus ride from the city centre, you’ll arrive at Cave Hill Country Park and can make your way to Belfast Castle before going towards Cave Hill.

You can get a nice view of the city and the coast from the peak.

The community: From home, Brits and everyone else

There were only a few Malaysians from the UK Transfer Degree Programme that transferred to Belfast, so I had loads of time to make new friends.

Having lived in Belfast for a year, I experienced the warmth and friendliness of the locals through my time serving at a local church.

The Malaysian Students’ Society Northern Ireland was also super active and hosted plenty of activities catered to Malaysians studying in Belfast.

Plus, I was a Media Executive for the United Kingdom and Ireland Malaysian Law Students’ Union — a student union for law students in the UK and Northern Ireland.

Question 4: How much does it cost to study law in the UK?

If we met the entry requirements, we were eligible for an International Office Undergraduate Scholarship worth 2,500 pounds towards our first-year tuition fees.

That’s not including a 10% early bird discount if we pay our tuition fees early.

For context, my friends who studied in Liverpool paid 15,750 pounds for their final year.

Belfast also has a low cost of living. My friends spent 20 pounds to 25 pounds a week for groceries and budgeted around 30 pounds to dine at a local restaurant or pub.

I paid much less.

What’s more, I live close to the city centre and it’s easy to get to places by walking — which helped me reduce my travelling expenses.

Do note that your expense will vary according to your lifestyle and the city you’re living in.

studying law in the uk

After studying law in the UK, which was challenging but so much fun, I returned to Malaysia to qualify for the local bar. Source: Nathan Hew

Question 5: Does law pay well in the UK?

Once you graduate with a law degree, you will have to undergo some form of training before you officially become a lawyer. 

For Malaysian law graduates, we had two options: complete the Malaysian Bar exam or stay in the UK for the Bar Professional Training Course (Bar Practice Course now). 

Law graduates are paid higher if they qualify as lawyers in the UK.

While there is no official minimum salary for trainee lawyers, professional body The Law Society recommends a minimum of 21,024 pounds.

That’s the figure for those outside London. Law firms in London are recommended to pay trainee lawyers at least 23,703 pounds (approximately 128,836 Malaysian ringgit).

In Malaysia, the average pupil (the equivalent of trainee lawyers) is paid RM1,501 to RM2,000 within Klang Valley and RM500 to RM1,000 outside of Klang Valley.

That’s around US$334 to US$445 and US$111 to US$223 respectively, at the time of writing.

Do note that trainee lawyers must complete two years of training.

Pupils in Malaysia must pass a nine months pupillage to qualify as a lawyer in their respective jurisdiction. 

Let’s remember to factor in the cost of living and inflation rate in these countries. As of January 2023, the inflation rate for Malaysia and the UK is at 3.7% and 10.1%, respectively. 

While you may earn more as a trainee lawyer in the UK, you’ll likely have to bear a higher cost of living — even more or so if you are living in London.