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Mastering specialisms: The benefits of a focused qualification

With so many changes on the horizon in legal qualifications, it’s no surprise that the courses themselves are going to undertake dramatic changes too. Here at The University of Law, we are always working to ensure our course offerings meet the demands of both students and employers, which is why we offer a wide selection of Master’s specialism courses. To find out more about these courses, we sat down with National Programme and Student Affairs Director Dr Leyanda Purchase.

By Cara Fielder. Published 31 January 2019. Last updated 25 August 2022.

At Master’s level, students want the ability to specialise and perfect their skills in particular areas. What’s especially important is the opportunity to have choices in terms of the modules to study. As law schools try to include SQE preparation content as part of their standard undergraduate programmes, they have to sacrifice some of the customisability that was previously there. That’s why we set out to design a series of courses that help to make our students more specialist and therefore more employable on graduation.

We chose to focus on areas that we, as an institution, have the expertise to really help students understand how the law is applied in practice. Our suite of Master’s courses can be broadly broken down into eight main categories: banking and finance, corporate, data and technology, HR and employment, energy and environment, human rights, mediation and arbitration, and dispute resolution. We’re well-known for our expertise in corporate law, so we were keen to build on this experience by offering a number of focused programmes within this area. These delve into specialist areas such as Company Law and Corporate Governance.

We wanted to stay true to ULaw’s core ethos of providing legal training with a practical application. We’ve therefore focused all our Master’s specialisms on applied academic study. This means that we will still consider the core theoretical debates in a given subject area, but we’ll also put that theory into a practical context. We’ve made these courses complementary to our existing offering to ensure that while we’re catering to growing demand, we’re also keeping our main focus on providing a solid practical education in areas where our tutors’ expert knowledge and practical experience makes the difference to our students.

Of all the course areas, I’m most excited about the exploration of legal tech. The University of Law is leading the way when it comes to studying legal technology. We’ve already embedded legal tech into our LPC and offer an MSc and PG Dip Legal Technology courses at our London Moorgate, Bristol and Nottingham campuses. These campuses will also be our legal tech hubs, working together to foster a community committed to delivering programmes at the forefront of the discipline. This is an exciting area of the law, which will no doubt present us with many fascinating advancements in the coming decade.

We aim to continually expand and develop our postgraduate legal programmes to meet the needs of the sector. In particular, I think we will see growth in hybrid academic-professional Master’s awards as the sector adjusts to the introduction of the SQE and students look to specialise beyond their undergraduate degree. With increasing levels of automation within law firms, solicitors at every level are being freed up to concentrate on value added tasks; tasks which require more technical, specialised knowledge. I therefore think that we will see more demand for qualified practitioners who have upskilled in areas that are important to their firms. It’s this kind of expertise that is going to really boost career progression in the future. Needless to say, legal technology is going to be the key area to complement further automation, so I think we will see an increased range of shorter Master’s level programmes such as the Postgraduate Certificate (PG Cert) and Postgraduate Diploma (PG Dip).

These courses fall largely outside of the scope of the SQE and Future Bar Training. At ULaw we offer two different types of Master’s programme: taught academic and taught professional courses; our Master’s courses are taught academic. The expectation is that taught academic Master’s courses will continue to exist as they always have, possibly with an emergence of a hybrid taught academic-professional programme to cover any possible legal training gaps brought about by the SQE. What we’re finding from the majority of law firms we’ve spoken with is a concern that the SQE won’t cover important elective content currently covered by the LPC. Firms want our students to continue to receive training in these important areas of legal practice, so it’s likely that those current LPC elective subject areas will become Master’s programmes of the future. This will allow for a focused and specialised knowledge in key areas, while our professional courses will continue to prepare students for qualification.

I think the future will see the majority of students completing an undergraduate degree and a Master’s qualification in addition to the SQE. For students wanting to specialise in a particular area of law, it will only be through a Master’s award that this specialism is likely to be achievable. Becoming a legal professional is hugely competitive and students are constantly trying to ensure they stand out from the crowd. With the standardisation of assessment brought in by the SQE, it’s going to be through specialised Master’s qualifications that students will be able to demonstrate how they are different and suitable for the careers they aspire to fulfil.

To find out more about our specialist Master’s programmes, visit our website.