The Scots Law Student

The SLS : Life and trials of learning law in Scotland

Category: Searched

Search queries: How law lords are elected in supreme court

Short story

They’re not, they’re appointed.

Long story

I’ve been noticing a number of Supreme Court related search queries in the blog stats and thought this was a good question to be searching for because the Supreme Court is a new and critical part of our constitutional framework. I’ve studied the House of Lords reasonably well for mooting etc but I’ve read very little on the Supreme Court because it’s just not yet bubbled down to me. Therefore, pinch of salt should follow.

The Supreme Court is a horizontal shift for the House of Lords. It doesn’t actually gain any new powers but the judges get new emails, a new building and court room and they lose their robes and wigs (which I think is a shame).

There are 12 Justices of the Supreme Court who have simply stopped being Law Lords and started being Justices of the Supreme court one day. It’s really probably the best way to get your bench of venerable and well experienced judges from one court to another.

I think that elected judges are a pretty dangerous situation. You don’t actually want the guy who can literally send you to jail trying to appeal to people who read the Daily Mail, you’re not going to measure up. You end up with situations like the US where judges need to differentiate themselves through how tough they are on criminals. It makes wonderful headlines but it’s not exactly Baron Hume. I think there are considerable problems with the appointment model, it appears to be self propagating etc, but it is a better curtailing measure against concentrated state power (a very New World ideal) than if they and the legislature were both chasing after the same votes from the same voters. I think you really want a little bit of heterogeneity in your government.


Highers for law school

The higher grades you need to enter a law school in Scotland are strict but not picky- I sat a particularly high number of exams when I was at school because I wanted the challenge (and couldn’t decide which class not to take) but there’s no reason that you can’t go directly from 5th year with 5 strong highers – the SQA system is pretty much entirely dependent on your grades. Your personal statement, unless you are applying to oversubscribed courses, will not come into the decision, in my experience. 5As or 4AB will put your place pretty much beyond doubt but it is still perfectly possible to enter law school with some advanced highers and a little less from 5th year than this; it’s actually what I did. I went for a very balanced set of humanities and sciences that I was interested in and felt comfortable doing and went on to blank horribly on a previously extremely strong subject and finished up missing my entry requirements by a mark in the exam. These things happen in life, I reapplied the next year and now I’m enjoying the summer break before my second year.

As long as you get the letters from your exams, avoiding vocational subjects, you will be pretty much halfway to accepted by law school of your choice. UCAS needs done on time but it shouldn’t be a huge nightmare for you in fifth or sixth year. You should ideally aim for subjects you will succeed in, that is- score an A. 5As is a fantastic achievement but it is not all that rare and it is not limited to people who sail through on luck, a reasonable amount of work and strategic selection of subjects will get you there too. Having 5As leaves your options wide open and is well worth having even if you are not considering a degree in medicine or law so everyone should put as much effort as possible into their highers, they really are life altering exam results. That said, lower results are still salvageable, just make sure you are sitting 5 in one exam diet.  Skills you already possess are ideal as are good foundations to skill based CVs – my interest in computing was fantastic because I was more than comfortable right up to Advanced Higher, so I scored highly, and computer literacy is a pretty much essential skill to mention on any CV.

The other issue is LNAT, should your school of choice want it. I’ve sat this twice, once in fifth and once in sixth year and still don’t like it as a judging tool. It does however pretty much work out who can reason with words but doesn’t give people a lot of opportunity to work hard to compete with naturally gifted people, in the profession there’s a lot of natural talent but the willingness to work is a very big point in anyone’s favour. It’s not a particularly difficult test, especially because, just like in real law school you aren’t competing with the score instead you’re competing on the curve of everyone else. If you get over average consider yourself safe, any interviews you need have most likely been earned at this point. After you appear at interviews don’t worry if you only scored a point or two over the average score – it’ll be your performance at the interview which distinguishes you from the others so concentrate on giving it your best shot.

I personally feel that you shouldn’t learn substantive law before the start of your course, reading ahead is fine and well but I disagree with the idea of starting off with an entirely new sphere of work while still studying at the high end of your previous level. If you have family or educator friends who can gently ease you into law school preparation then you honestly don’t need this blog and go with the advice they give you, your comments would be very much appreciated. If you try to learn law from books on your own you might end up in the total wrong end of the park from your lecturers and that will create difficulties when you move to law school – you’re going to law school to learn how to be flexible and adaptable with the law as opposed to already knowing it before you arrive. In fact, I started to apply for Cambridge out of curiosity in my 6th year but decided that needing to start reading up on the subject, in advance, was excessive on top of already heavy school workloads and withdrew from the process. The fact that I would need to re-naturalise to practice in Scotland after taking a challenging degree didn’t spur me on much either.

In your fifth and sixth years lots of As (band 1s are nice but don’t matter in the long run) are far more important than having the finer points of delict under your belt before you meet a single teacher, the time for reading ahead is during summer after the holidays (if at all).  Request a book list from your university, pick one or a couple of the books up used from Amazon and read simple casebooks, Law Basics books and maybe even have a look (don’t buy) at reference copies of the institutional writers like Hume, MacBryde, Bell, Stair to see what you make of them.  But before the exams is SQA studying time.

Once you have accepted your place on your course of choice prepare to enjoy your last lazy summer as much as you can and be ready for a shock when you arrive in autumn. It is technically possible to sign onto job seekers allowance in your between school and university period so this is worth trying to bolster your finances, you could also get a job and this is probably a much more sensible idea to prevent you stopping entirely for months. After you start law school you will work your fingers to the bone and will only slowly begin to realise what the competition between the students themselves means. You have already jumped through more hoops to get to your course than most other students – those of you who were interviewed for your place will know this better than anyone and the people who are left in the course are determined and driven. This of course includes you, even if you don’t feel determined or driven right now it will grow on you as your course progresses. Law school shapes you into a very effective graduate and is a great start on life.

Although, I still think I’m crazy for doing law as a first degree, I’m missing out on all the fun the social sciences guys are having, but I’m gaining from the experience for everything I lose in time at the student’s union.

“How hard is law school?”

As degrees go law is generally rated to be on par or slightly below medicine as far as the degree difficulty goes (if it’s any consolation these are reportedly also the most highly paid afterwards). It’s not an easy degree by an means, accredited law schools operate on a syllabus set out by the controlling professional bodies which keeps the level of graduates high in what is a field that relies a lot on the prestige of its members. Law is a definite increase on top of university acceptance qualifications and will very probably be hard enough to get in the way of compiling a proper student record of hard partying.

You will have to sometimes refuse to go out to get work done at university, there’s just no other way but my friends in other subjects have not had the problem of workload to the same extent that myself and my law friends have, so the consensus is that there is more to the course to cover. You’ll probably find it to be a very quick course trying to cover a great deal of information very quickly, the Scottish LLB (my course) tries to have a lot of students ready to study law further in two years while third year and honours provide an opportunity to broaden skills and cement them.  The specifics of the degree will differ depending on the law school you decide to go to but the standard form in Scotland is a four year degree (three years to Ordinary/Pass level and an additional year of honours, sometimes two years for the pass degree to give more time) this is then followed by a number of post graduate options which take between 1 and 3 years depending on what you want to be able to practice after your degree.  Graduate students can opt for a very quick degree which lasts 2 years.

So the pacing may take you by surprise – I was stunned when, on my first day, in my first lecture of higher education I was handed an assignment that would count towards my future employability. Law believes in learn by doing in a huge way. There’s really no messing about as a law student.

It’s not all bad – the course is supposed to stretch and it’s a really good challenge. It just won’t be as easy to maintain the sort of records of going out that people in other degree courses manage to do. You will hear people from the business school boasting about their 17-18 hour stints at the students union and your first thought will honestly be how they find the time. Many students on my law course have survived without becoming a studious recluse, myself included, and it will not stop you enjoying university as much as anyone else. Just consider that a lot of your academic success will be from a knack of pulling off coursework and exams which the markers like – like all English based subject law is also very subjective with the learned principles you have given providing a guide to your own style – your ability to compose, frankly, arty answers to questions is what will propel you though.

So, how hard is law school? Enough to be getting on with and you should consider if you feel up to the work before you start and always remember that in Scotland you are allowed a “false start” without losing your free education, so if you find it horrible after the first year be aware that there are options to get you away from it. Don’t believe the horror stories though – there’s no “book of laws” to memorise for the exam at the end of the year, it’ll resemble high school English and Modern Studies a lot more than the profession is probably happy with.