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The Fate of Law Degrees Post-Brexit

11th March 2017 Posted by: Cristina Radulescu

A LITTLE over seven months after an EU referendum result that appears to be actively tearing an entire continent apart, it is still rather unclear which direction the UK will go with... well, just about anything.

Apart from the certainty that Brexit will happen, the public at large is in the dark with regards to exactly what that will entail. The future of immigration policies and free movement of goods is unclear. Students are worried about the potential immigration restrictions they might suddenly face. Graduates are concerned about working for foreign businesses with branches in the UK, and rumours that companies intend on capping the number of EU nationals accepted onto graduate schemes.

Arguably, when it comes to students using their degrees, law students face the most challenges. Until now, major areas of UK law have been influenced and depended on EU legislation. Britain’s departure from the EU will result in a significant change in the the law,  meaning that much of what LLB and LLM students have learned so far will be obsolete. As a law student myself, the idea of dismantling an entire legal system is scary enough without the extra worry that most of what I was taught will soon be a thing of the past. However, let us not fling ourselves into an unnecessary state of panic. Instead, here’s a calm look at things as they are:

Which areas of law are currently influenced by EU legislation and how could that change?

Most obviously, areas of law with a strong commercial element are affected by EU legislation. The extent to which this happen varies across the board, but there is no denying that Intellectual Property law, Company and Commercial law, International law and Environmental law will suffer significant changes. At the moment, the scope of most of these areas extends beyond the UK and they are subject to EU agreements and laws. The UK leaving the European Union will mean that this will no longer be the case. However, the UK’s membership to the World Trade Organization (an entity separate from the EU, but which often works in tandem with it), may require that the UK maintain some of its agreements with European countries under a different title. 

Moreover, Human Rights law, Immigration and Employment law also depend heavily on EU legislation. Whereas the integrity of commercially-oriented laws may be protected by the existence of the World Trade Organization, the non-commercial ones may suffer more. This is also because immigration, for example, was at the crux of the entire pro-Brexit campaign. So keep an open mind for significant alterations.

What will most likely change in law degrees?

It’s unsure whether changes to LLB and LLM curriculum will take immediate effect, or will wait until all of the significant revisions have been finalised. Nevertheless, alterations will occur. 

Looking at the compulsory modules required by both the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and the Bar Standards Board (BSB) it appears as if the area which will be facing the most drastic change will be EU law. It is, however, too soon to say what changes will occur or whether the module will be eliminated from the compulsory modules of a qualifying law degree. Tort and Contract law are both derived from English common law and are likely to remain broadly the same. However, in view of the latter, students should bear in mind that some commercial contracts are currently being interpreted in accordance with EU legislation and that will change in the near future. 

Lastly, Constitutional law discusses at length the relationship between the legal enforcement power of the EU and the UK’s Parliamentary Sovereignty (most notably visible in the Factortame case in relation to the European Communities Act 1972). In this case, the most significant change will occur in the way in which law students interpret constitutional issues from now on, given that they may not have to take into account the EU law. 

How should graduates and students handle the upcoming changes?

First thing’s first: don’t burn your law books just yet! 

For those who are still at university, whether in their first, second or even final year of study, just keep on studying what you are given and if there are any matters which may be impacted by Brexit, don’t be afraid to ask your lecturer’s opinions on what changes might specifically occur. Or better yet, why not conduct independent research and make a good argument as to what or how any changes may alter the current legal landscape. Since nothing is set in stone yet, you can use this to gain extra marks on your essays and exams by showing initiative and speculating changes.

For recent graduates looking to secure a training contract, pupillage or paralegal position, don’t let the changes alter your momentum. Your degree is no less valuable and the effort you’ve put into it is not diminished by the changes that will inevitably take place. Now more than ever, it’s probably most important to demonstrate to employers that you are capable of flexibility in learning, creative problem solving and an open mind. Just like in the case of current students, look into the effects of Brexit and anticipate solutions and changes. 

Change is inevitable. In this case it might turn out to be extensive, perhaps painful and, to some, unnecessary. Regardless of that, it is happening. As law students and graduates the best we can do is show as good an understanding of the law as we can and rest assured that whatever we will have to learn or re-learn, we will all be in the same boat!


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