Teaching of Law at St John's
St John’s College currently admits about nine or ten undergraduates each year to read Law. We have three teaching Fellows whose expertise covers many of the subjects taught in the Law Tripos. We can therefore take a special interest in our students’ progress and in seeing that they flourish.
Although studying Law at St John’s involves plenty of hard work, the course is also richer and – we hope – more rewarding than most. We aim to produce graduates with an intellectual outlook that will equip them to succeed in the upper tiers of the legal profession, and as roundly-educated members of society. That kind of outlook cannot be learned quickly or superficially. It only comes from seeing law in its broader social or historical context, from the fine interpretation of complex sources, and from writing about sophisticated legal concepts. St John’s aims to develop those ways of thought in its students from the day they arrive.
All Law undergraduates work under the direction of their Director of Studies who provides guidance in how they can study most effectively as well as providing advice about vacation placements, careers, or postgraduate study after graduation.
The DoS meets undergraduates at the end of each term to review the reports received from their supervisors and to plan their work over the vacation. There is a strong emphasis on developing a sense of self-responsibility in undergraduates for the quality and success of their work.
Studying Law at St John’s
At St John’s, our students are taught by people who are scholars in their own field, and who have interests in related disciplines such as history, economics, language or politics. We expect our students to develop the mind-set that will make them interested in the world of learning and which will shape them into talented practitioners of the Law, and we support them closely and are committed to seeing them develop.
As soon as our students arrive in College they are given a thorough grounding in the skills of reading, writing, argumentation and textual analysis that are essential to succeeding as legal scholars and – eventually – as lawyers. We attach much weight to their ability to analyse and think inventively about primary legal sources, and we encourage them to read widely and to think outside the legal “box”. Although we prepare our students well for their examinations, we will not “coach” them.
Cambridge is an exciting place to learn Law. A typical week in Cambridge brings many speakers from the judiciary, and from governmental and international organisations to speak in the Law Faculty. The College Law Society, the Winfield Society, runs its own programme of visiting speakers, careers guidance, and social events.
As for all subjects, the University Faculty arranges lectures but supervision teaching is provided through the College. First-year undergraduates take four papers in Part IA of the Law Tripos (Civil Law I, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law and the Law of Torts) and have a fortnightly supervision in each of them. Part IA students also take a half-paper on legal methods and skills, which is taught exclusively through lectures. A Law supervision group typically comprises three students. A first-year Law undergraduate has about ten hours of lectures and two hours of supervisions a week, although about forty hours private study is generally needed in addition to this. The range of optional subjects available expands as undergraduates progress through their course.
St John’s provides generous financial support for its Law students. In addition to the book grants available to all undergraduates, those Law students who distinguish themselves by academic performance are eligible for academic prizes and also for McMahon Studentships. These provide substantial funding assistance to graduates of the College who take the Bar Practical Training Course or the Legal Practice Course. We are also able to support to our former students who want to undertake postgraduate study in Law.
Student Saffiya Haddad talks about studying Law at St John's
The Winfield Society
The Winfield Society - the St John's Law Society - is one of the largest College law societies in Cambridge. All undergraduates and graduates are automatic members.
The Winfield Society organises a busy calendar of events throughout the year such as:
- The Winfield Annual Mooting Competition, with the final judged by barristers from Crown Office Chambers
- Lords Questions in the Chamber of the House of Lords
- Visit to the Supreme Court to attend judgement being handed down and listen to first day of an appeal
- Workshops on applying to law firms and commercial awareness
- Lectures and talks, with subjects ranging from the political implications of Scottish independence to a career at the Bar
- Social and cultural events such as visits to the theatre
- President's Dinner with guest speaker; all former Law students of St John's are invited
After St John’s
After completing their Law degree, most of our students qualify as barristers or solicitors, although a number of them first undertake postgraduate study in this country or the United States. The College has seen a steady stream of its Law graduates entering the major London and international solicitors’ firms, and the more prestigious barristers’ chambers.
St John’s students are fortunate in having many alumni contacts available to them who are happy to provide advice about the early stages of professional practice. The Directors of Studies in Law often arrange these contacts.
UCAS Code: M100
What we look for in prospective students
We look for prospective students who are enthusiastic, self-motivated and have a genuine intellectual interest in the academic study of law. We take an open view about the kinds of school subjects which are a suitable preparation for reading Law at Cambridge. Current students who have studied both arts and science subjects at school have proved to be equally capable of arguing logically, analysing written texts closely, and articulating abstract concepts in a clear and understandable way.
We are more interested in students’ ability to think creatively and pay attention to detail rather than whether they are a Geographer, Linguist, Mathematician, Chemist, Economist, Classicist or Historian, though we tend to find that more traditional subjects in the Mainstream Arts and Sciences (History, English Literature, languages, Mathematics, etc) provide the best opportunity for developing these skills fully. Further information about advantageous subject combinations can be found in a helpful University leaflet here which offers the following advice:
“If you’d like to study an arts or social sciences course at university but you’re not sure which one, then English Literature, History, languages and Mathematics are good ‘keystone’ subjects: choosing one or more of these can provide a good foundation for your subject combination.
Other good choices to combine these subjects with include: an additional language, Ancient History, Classical Civilisation, Economics, Further Mathematics, Geography, Philosophy, Religious Studies and sciences (Biology, Chemistry or Physics).
Other possible subject choices – such as Archaeology, English Language, Environmental Science, Government and Politics, History of Art, Law, Music, Psychology or Sociology – can be useful preparation for some of our arts and social sciences courses.”
While there are no absolute requirements in terms of essential subjects or subject combinations for a successful application, it is advantageous for an applicant to be studying at least two of the subjects listed as “keystone” or “good” in the list above and to be predicted A* (or equivalent) in at least one of these. Applicants taking a subject from the “possible” list in the above passage should not be put off from applying; we have made offers to many students in the past who have applied with a subject from this list. An A-level in Law (or its equivalent) is in no way required, and students might better prepare themselves for Law at Cambridge by studying the more traditional subjects just mentioned.
We do not expect you to have undertaken any legal work-experience before you apply, but you should be able to demonstrate an understanding about the role of law and the legal system in society and a real interest in legal issues. In this regard, it may be helpful to make an effort to stay informed of current legal and political developments in the UK and elsewhere. This is not because we require to have an established knowledge base on such matters, nor that we will seek to test for this in the admissions process. The value of doing so, rather, lies in you helping to understand whether Law, and the kinds of issue we discuss within it, are where your intellectual interests lie and in helping you to find ways to demonstrate this. We are interested in your extra-curricular activities (whether music, sport, debating or any other interest) as evidence of your general potential for organization, commitment and enthusiasm, but our primary concern is your intellectual ability and personal motivation for reading Law.
Non-standard examination systems are no barrier
A Cambridge education in Law is internationally respected, which is reflected in the range of educational backgrounds from which we choose our students. Many of our applicants come with examination results outside the standard GCSE and A-level system of England and Wales. The College has offer levels based on Scottish Advanced Highers and the International Baccalaureate. We have in recent years accepted applicants with results from the Australian, Belgian, Czech, Hong Kong, Netherlands, Romanian, Singaporean, Swedish and Swiss examination systems.
If you are applying from outside the United Kingdom, then you should ask your referees to provide some information about the comparative quality of your examination results. It is best if they give a percentile ranking against the whole national cohort.
Selection for interview
We aim to give the majority of our UK and EU applicants an interview in Cambridge. The number that we actually interview may vary from year to year depending on the strength of the field. We may deselect from interview a small proportion of applicants whose papers indicate that they do not stand a strong prospect of admission to St John’s or to other Colleges. We look for signs that applicants may be improving as they progress through their schooling.
As a very general guide, unless there are special extenuating circumstances, we are unlikely to call for interview an applicant who is not predicted our standard offer of A*AA at A Level.
For applicants studying the International Baccalaureate, we are unlikely to call for interview an applicant who is predicted less than 42 points overall unless there are special extenuating circumstances.
Law interviews at St John’s comprise two parts: a general interview with the subject tutor handling the application, followed by a subject interview conducted by two Law fellows. Each interview lasts about 20-25 minutes. Between the interviews, applicants are commonly given a passage of legal text to study, which is then discussed in the subject interview along with some more general legal issues. No special preparation is needed and you are not expected to have any legal knowledge. Instead we are interested in your skills of comprehension and analysis. There may not be a right or wrong answer to the questions asked, but you may need to think instead about what further information might be required, and why, before you could give an answer.
We appreciate that interviews can cause anxiety but we are keen for you to produce your best and our questions will be directed to this end. We do not offer “one size fits all” interviews. What we discuss will be tailored around what you say about yourself in your application. Your interview performance is just one factor to be taken into account along with your school reference, personal statement, GCSE grades, prospective A2 level grades and the Cambridge Law Test.
We regularly make offers to applicants who have not been interviewed in Cambridge. If you are applying from an overseas country, your application will be taken as seriously as if you had come to Cambridge for interview. Where a Cambridge representative offers an interview overseas, we attach much weight to his or her assessment.
Applicants invited to interview in Cambridge are strongly encouraged to attend. Please note that we do not offer remote interviews (e.g. via Skype) for Law.
A Level: A*AA (sometimes with A* in a specified subject).
IB: 42 Points overall with at least 7,7,6 at Higher Level (this may include 7 in specified Higher Level subjects. This is our typical offer and it is possible that we might stipulate a higher grade).
Cambridge Law Test
All applicants whom we invite for interview in Cambridge, or we interview remotely, are required to take the Cambridge Law Test, which is a law admissions test offered by nearly all Cambridge Colleges. Further information about the test can also be found on the University's website. Applicants for the undergraduate Law course at St John’s, including applicants from overseas and affiliated applicants, are not required to take the National Admissions Test for Law (“LNAT”).
In addition to the Open Days run by the College, the Faculty of Law runs its own Open Day early in July each year. The Faculty also runs the Sixth Form Law Conference over two days in about the third week of March each year. It aims to provide a view of how Law is studied in Cambridge and of some of the career options that can follow after it. Attendance at the Faculty Open Day and the Conference requires special booking, for further details please see the links provided.
Honorary Fellows in Law
Sir Richard Aikens (Lord Justice of Appeal)
Sir Jack Beatson (Justice of the High Court)
The Rt Hon. Lord Hope (Deputy President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom)
The Hon. Mr Justice Frank Iacobucci (former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada)
Ambassador Andrew Jacovides (former member of the International Law Commission and Cyprus ’ ambassador to the United States and the United Nations)