LLM Student Insight
Matthew MacDonald is a recent graduate of International Relations from the University of St Andrews. He will be completing the Law Conversion Course (PGDL) with BPP Law School later this year as the first step towards a career as a solicitor. During this programme, he hopes to secure a training contract with a London-based commercial firm. He will be following the Solicitor Qualifying Examination route and, as such, has opted to take the SQE prep course as an extension of the PGDL, thereby upgrading the conversion course to a Masters of Law (LLM).
How was your experience studying at St Andrews? What was your study abroad programme like?
I loved every minute of St Andrews. If I could I would do it all over again. The Department of International Relations struck a good balance between class teaching and independent study and pushed me to really think about the world in a way that I had never considered before. The department changed my outlook on the world and inspired me to be the best I can be.
In terms of my study abroad, the University of Auckland was a great place to study. The campus and library were great for studying with friends and the classes were very engaging. My only criticism of the university was that I found I was completing tasks and learning concepts with which I had already been familiarised during my first year at St Andrews. The university, while offering a great experience overall, was lacking in academic challenge. However, I would still recommend this university for a study abroad programme as I found the overall experience highly rewarding.
What extracurricular activities were you involved in and what work experience did you gain that supported your career aspirations?
Throughout my years at St Andrews I undertook a number of extracurricular activities to enhance my transferable skills and help the community. This included contributing to the St Andrews Foreign Affairs Review in my first year. From second year onwards, I was an elected member of the Royal Burgh of St Andrews Community Council and worked with the locals in order to represent the student population.
I also held a number of paid positions with the university. I worked for 3 years at the Library Café and spent summers working in the Halls of Residence, bars, and the Union. Most recently, I have worked at the University Asymptomatic Test Centre for the last six months as a registration assistant, helping with the rollout of mass testing facilities across the university. These part-time jobs helped me develop my skills in time management, teamwork, and attention to detail, specifically, alongside a number of other soft skills.
What inspired you to convert to law, particularly after a degree in International Relations?
A degree in International Relations is a vast one that offers insight into a number of factors that influence the way that the world works. One very prominent contributing aspect in global and domestic politics is trade and finance. Through the many modules I studied in honours, I understood the world as one which is primarily moved by the markets. I therefore gained a greater appreciation for the power of the financial sector.
I am primarily an academic and my strongest skills are related to research and the presentation of findings, alongside fine attention to detail (a skill I gained from many hours spent reading long IR articles). This led me to explore commercial law as a possible career path. From my research into the field, I believe that my IR degree had offered me a number of clear transferable skills that would be very useful in this sector. It has also provided an approach to the law from an international standpoint through a deep knowledge of current affairs and the history of the world.
Why did you choose to study the Masters in Law (LLM) at BPP University? Furthermore, why BPP and why English and Welsh law?
The clear front runners in the race for the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) are the University of Law and BPP. Both seem to be great institutions from my research and their national standing is impeccable. Choosing either has the potential to benefit your career greatly. But why BPP?
Firstly, a large part of working in this sector is making good connections that will serve you well in the future, as well as being a part of a community of scholars attempting to reach the same place as you. BPP’s Waterloo campus at the heart of London offers in-person teaching and small class sizes, facilitating the process of making these connections. Similarly, the other students on the course can offer unique insights in tutorials and ultimately help you to gain a greater understanding of the area of law that is being studied.
Also, perhaps more superficially, the LLM offered by BPP is clearly a law degree. The University of Law offers a Masters of Arts in Law which, at first glance, could seem to not necessarily be as strong a degree as the LLM. When employers are looking at hundreds of CVs, the LLM may be superficially perceived as preferable, although this is all speculation. In addition to this, most of us receive a MA upon graduating St Andrews.
Finally, why English and Welsh law? I am Scottish and have lived in Scotland for the last 22 years so why would I travel south for work? Well, again, to put it bluntly, there is more money and more opportunities available in the city of London than in Edinburgh. Similarly, Scots law covers a population of around 5.5 million people compared to an English population that is almost ten times that. It offers expertise in a legal system that is more internationally transferable and is sought after by large multinational firms. This offers the chance to work abroad and travel, as well as being part of a larger more internationally relevant area.
Also having lived in Scotland all my life I wanted to live somewhere new. I would stress that great careers can be made in Scotland under Scots law and London is not the only place where you can find success but it was the right place for me.
How did you choose an LLM rather than a GDL?
The LLM is preferable to the GDL as it qualifies for a government loan of around GBP 11,000 which covers the majority of the fee. The University of Law’s MA will also qualify you for this loan.
This upgrade also offers (at least for BPP) a six-month SQE+ prep course which will aim to prepare you for the SQE 1 exam. This standalone course would cost several thousand pounds if not integrated and seems like a good investment for a return of a better grade in the SQE.
The only downside of the LLM is that it can take an extra six months to complete but I believe it is a worthwhile investment as it allows you to stand out as a candidate with a Masters degree and saves having to pay a large sum of money upfront.
What are you looking to do after you complete your law degree?
I am currently applying for training contracts with firms across London with the intention of pursuing a career in commercial law. Although with my current experience I am finding this difficult and do not anticipate having a training contract until around 2024 due to the 2-year in advance applications. In the meantime, I will apply for roles as a paralegal to increase my skill set and give me exposure to a firm.
Do you have any advice for students exploring law and considering a conversion after a non-law undergraduate degree?
I would say, firstly, to do your research. It is not an easy conversion course by any means; it is compressing a 3-year law degree into 8 months. It is expensive and time-consuming and you put off getting an income for another year at least. However, if you are really interested in what a career in law has to offer, make sure to utilise the University of St Andrews' Career Connect service as it was through this platform that I met alumni from Clyde and Co and DR Solicitors. It is a great tool and is there to help you do well.
Also, I would say the most important skill to develop early on is commercial awareness. It is incredibly important to understand the world you are about to walk into and the current affairs that are driving it. This is important both so that you understand your part in the larger sector, and also so that you have plenty to talk about when the training contract interview comes around!
How should they approach applications?
I am probably not the best one to come to for advice on applications as the furthest I have gotten so far is to the interview stage! However, every rejection is a lesson. Read the feedback and adapt your answers for the next time.
Do not be afraid to contact alumni on LinkedIn and ask for their advice as they were in the same situation as you. You will find most are very eager to help. I would look for trainees and recent associates from the firms you are applying for and ask them what they think made them stand out and what you can do to increase your chances of success.
Overall, I would say not to get disheartened as every rejection is one step closer to that dream training contract or pupillage so long as you learn from your mistakes and keep on trying!