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Having just finished studying for 2 years at The College of Law in Birmingham, I am in a good position to write this review. The College of Law has branches across England in London, Birmingham, Bristol, Guildford, Manchester Chester and York. I chose the Birmingham branch to study, however my choice was based purely on my wanting to move back to my home town after completing my Bachelors degree.
The College of Law run a whole range of courses, from the undergraduate LLB (Bachelor of Law) degree, postgraduate LLB, Graduate Diploma in Law, Legal Practice Course, Bar Professional Training Course to a wide professional development courses once you are working in the legal profession.
This review is going to focus on the Birmingham building and resources and the Graduate Diploma in Law.
I began studying at the College in September 2009. When I was considering the College, I booked onto an open day during the previous academic year. I attended the open day, expecting my tour of the college to be in a group of prospective students. However, my mum and I were pleasantly surprised to be given a tour of the College on our own with a lecturer at the college. This meant we could ask all the questions we wanted to, even the ones that you think are going to be really stupid questions! It was very useful, especially as by this point, the closing date for applications had not passed, therefore I had not yet heard whether I had been accepted or not. The tutor was very reassuring at this point, and have me an honest opinion as to whether I was likely to be accepted.
By March before starting in September, there was a set date by which we would hear about the result of our application. I was expecting an e-mail or a letter, so you can imagine my happiness when a quick glance at my phone during a university lecture told me by text message that I had been accepted to law school! There was no chance of me not finding out the result, as I had a text, email and a letter all telling me that I had been accepted!
Many courses are available to study in a range of ways. I chose to study full time during the days, this meant that my classes were scheduled on weekdays between 9 and 5. However, it is possible to study part time, and this can be during the evenings or weekends. The best way to chose your course method is to contact the college and tell them what would be easiest for you as they probably have a mode of study to match it!
After being accepted, I paid my non returnable deposit of £250 towards the rather large fees! I had known since the first year of my Bachelors degree that I wanted to go down a legal route, so I had been saving my wages from my job towards the fees. The current fees for this academic year are £7,160. This is a rather hefty amount of money to part with, so I think that this would not be a course to take on a whim! However, if you have not had the chance to save the amount of money that this course costs, some banks operate a career development loan. I would want to urge caution towards this route. There is generally a high interest rate and being an actual bank loan, the repayments begin immediately after you finish your 2 years at law school. This is only the ideal route to take if you already have your Training Contract (2 year legal "apprenticeship") lined up.
The College of Law has excellent facilities, and out of the law schools I looked round, I found that the college was a far superior learning environment for many reasons.
Technology - the college has a wide range of technology for students. The library has a large computer bank for student use and is open from 8.30 every morning, although closing times vary due to the range of ways to study. Also, the library has an 'extension' which is an even bigger bank of computers and printers. Also, the college has Wifi, which means you can even take your laptop and hook it up to the colleges internet connection. Each computer is maintained by the technician and is well equipped with headphones etc as iTutorials are part of the courses.
Elite is accessible on all computers, elite is a blackboard program, storing everything you need for your course. You can access all the files placed on the system by the lecturers, e.g. assignments, iTutorials and course materials as well as all the legal databases like LexisNexis and Westlaw. This means you can access all journals and academic texts which are on the databases.
Library - The colleges library is incredibly well stocked with everything you could need. All legal texts such as Halsburys is present and up to date in all volumes etc, all legal journals you could think of are available in hardcopy as well as the electronic access you can get from Elite. Also, there is a wide range of textbooks on various legal subjects. They are organised by content, rather than alphabetically which makes it much easier to find! For example: Tax, Family, Trusts, Company etc, when you are doing an assignment, this is a much easier system to use. All the librarians are trained in helping you find the information you need, whether this is using Halsburys or locating a textbook.
Social areas - there is a cafe in the basement of the college. It is a large area with lots of seating including comfortable sofas and really is a good place to chill at lunchtime! The cafe has a wide range of lunch type items, e.g. sandwiches, crisps, chocolate, cold drinks, jacket potatoes and hot drinks. The only downside of the cafe are the extortionate prices, the only affordable (to me!) items in the cafe were the hot drinks. There is a tesco located over the road from the college and the people working in the cafe have never seemed to mind people eating their packed lunches or their tesco sandwich in the cafe.
Careers - there is a careers service at college which is really very useful, however, I have known people who spent 2 years at the college without getting to careers! They have all sorts of information from all the careers services such as Prospects etc, as well as careers advisors who will read applications, give mock interviews and much much more. I found that the careers service was really helpful, although I have not yet managed to secure a training contract; this has nothing to do with the College, it's purely the economic circumstances. The advisors were very helpful and read all application forms I wrote, helped me rewrite things, and made sure I was making the most of my experiences, grades and academic credentials etc.
Tutors - all the lecturers at the college are currently practising law part time as well as teaching have been previously practising solicitors or barristers with much experience. All lecturers are excellent at the job, know the subject inside out and are a pleasure to be taught by. Some lecturers give excellent "When I was in practice...." stories!
***Graduate Diploma in Law***
The GDL is a conversion course which you can take in order to change your Bachelors degree in a non law subject to law. On this course, you take the subject areas which the Law Society states are the essential subjects in a law degree. These are Land Law, Equity and Trusts, EC Law, Criminal Law, Public Law, Tort law and Contract Law. For each subject, you receive the materials you need for study. You receive a study manual (which contains specific information which you study for seminars), a textbook for the subject and a pack of materials which state which lecture or seminar they are for and they are tailored towards the topic you are studying and follow a clear layout for the lecture.
Lectures - there is a lecture for every topic in each course. The beginning of the lecture has a consolidation section from the previous lecture, which will go over what happened in the previous seminar. The lecture then gives an overview of the topic. Then you have a seminar for a more detailed study of the area.
Seminars - Each topic in each area has a seminar for you to undertake, howeever, your course materials outline a detailed list of studying which MUST be done before the seminar. There is approximately 10 hours worth of study for every seminar; and studying on the GDL is the equivalent of a full time job. Seminars are in smaller classes and run by a tutor who gives a seminar of that area, interspersed with class activities, moots (mock trials) and case studies.
My time at the college has been absolutely great. First of all, the college provided an excellent learning environment for my 2 years, 1 year on the GDL, 1 year on the Legal Practice Course. Secondly, the passion coming from all the tutors was an absolute joy. The study of law really fascinates me, and I honestly could not have chosen a better place to study.
P.s. Join me in my campaign to ban those signs saying "Trespassers will be prosecuted"... They are factually incorrect and really irritate me!!