Law is at the heart of the functioning of human societies. All aspects of life are permeated with legal questions, whether at the level of interactions between states, between government and citizens, or between private individuals and commercial organisations.
While many of our graduates go on to legal careers, the Cambridge law course aims not to be merely a pre-professional training: the mastery of the detail of the law is important, but it is important as a foundation upon which to build a firm understanding of the principles and concepts which are at the root of legal systems, to examine the policy behind rules of law, and to consider the effects of those rules in practice.
The course is divided into three parts: IA, IB, and II. Each part lasts for one year, and the subjects studied are examined in written exams at the end of each year.
Part IA covers four compulsory subjects: constitutional law, criminal law, the law of tort, and civil law. Constitutional law is a 'public law' subject, concerned not so much with interactions on the individual level, but with the legal structure of society as a whole, with such topics as parliament, the judiciary, freedom of speech, human rights, and the judicial review of administrative action. The idea of criminal law is probably fairly familiar already. The study of criminal law involves not only the rules concerning specific crimes, but questions of the nature of criminal liability, and its proper limits. The law of tort concerns the commission of wrongs which are not crimes, for example libel and negligence. Civil law is based upon Roman law, which has provided the foundation for most continental European legal systems. Study of Roman law allows an understanding of the principles which under-pin the laws of other countries, and provides a means of access to essential legal concepts which will re-appear in other areas of the course.
Parts IB and II both cover five subjects. Strictly speaking there are no compulsory subjects for either part IB or part II, but in practice almost everyone takes the law of contract, land law, European Union law, and equity. Together with constitutional law, criminal law, and the law of tort, studied in part IA, these make up the seven 'foundation subjects' which are required to gain exemption from the academic stage of professional training. The law of contract and land law are taken in part IB, and European Union law and equity in part II. This leaves a choice of three additional subjects in each part, allowing candidates to take subjects suited to their own tastes and interests, including subjects concerned with the philosophy of law, the history of law, and the sociology of law. It is possible in part II to replace one full subject with two half-subjects, or to replace one examined paper with a research dissertation.
First-year law students also take the Freshfields Legal Skills and Methodology Course, which focuses on legal technique, skills and methodologies in a context which mirrors topics in the criminal law, constitutional law, or tort law papers.
At present, there is also an opportunity to study law abroad for a year through the Erasmus Scheme at universities in France, Germany, Spain, and The Netherlands
Magdalene has a large, friendly, and active legal community, with three Fellows who are University Teaching Officers in Law. Since 2002 Magdalene law students have won twenty-two University prizes in the Law Tripos (including five, in 2003, 2004, 2008, 2013, and 2017 for coming top of a Part of the Tripos across the University), and five in the LL.M. Examination, together with success in the University mooting competitions. The Wigglesworth Law Library has a strong core collection of legal materials, and the College Law Society runs an active programme of social and academic events.
The Archie Leslie Travel Scholarship is available to undergraduates reading law at Magdalene. College scholarships are awarded on the basis of university examination results and there are several named College prizes.
The College Law Society plays an important role in Magdalene's legal life. The officers of the society are undergraduates, and they play a major part in organising the society’s activities. There is at least one law society social event each term, together with a careers evening, a second-hand book sale, and a range of mooting.
A moot is a mock hearing in an appeal court (usually the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court), in which two pairs of students take the role of barristers arguing each side of points of law before a judge or judges (either a law fellow, or other students). There is a workshop on mooting each year, and an 'exhibition' moot in which experienced mooters demonstrate the art to new students. In the second term of each year the College Law Society organises a college mooting competition, the winners of which usually moot against Downing College before a senior external judge. The highlight of the Law Society's year is the annual Lawyers' dinner, held in college not long before the exams begin, an occasion for forgetting the pressures of revision for a few hours of fun and companionship.
Many Magdalene graduates have reached the highest levels of the legal profession, current examples, all of whom are now Honorary Fellows of the College, include Lord Judge (former Lord Chief Justice), Sir Christopher Greenwood (Judge of the International Court of Justice), Sir Andrew Morritt (former Chancellor of the High Court), and Wong Yan Lung SC (former Secretary for Justice, Hong Kong). Current non-teaching Fellows in Law include Professor Bill Cornish QC FBA, His Honour Dr Colin Colbert, and Andrew Ritchie QC.
Law is and always has been close to the heart of human civilisation, providing structures for societies, structures for the interaction of groups and individuals within those societies, and, at the international level, structures for interactions between societies. National constitutions, family relationships, personal safety, commercial dealings, rights of privacy or free speech, rights to land, to bank accounts, or to intellectual ideas, treaties between states, are all founded upon laws. So if you are interested in human relationships, and the ways in which those relationships may best be mediated through legal structures, law may be right for you. You may also, of course, be interested in making a career as a lawyer, and a law degree is a good preparation for doing so, but there are very good intellectual reasons for studying law quite apart from the possibility of practising it.
We have no preference as to whether you have previously focused on arts or science subjects, or as to whether you have previously studied law, and have no particular subject requirements for A-level or equivalent. We are looking for an interest in law which is analytical, evaluative, and critical, and for self-motivated, enthusiastic, people whose interest has already prompted them to begin to think about the law, and to take what opportunties are available to them to engage with it, from visiting a court to listen from the public gallery, to discussing the legal stories which abound in the media with friends. We are looking for an interest in how ideas can be expressed unambiguously in words, a capacity to move from particular instances of the law embodied in cases towards statements of general principle, and to apply those principles to new situations, and an ability to move beyond the rules themselves to consider them in their wider context, whether historical, economic, sociological, philosophical or political.
We have no set subject preferences for applicants for Law, although, ideally, your AS or A-level choices might include at least one logic-based subject (e.g. Maths) and one essay-based subject.
Typical offer conditions for Law are A*AA, or 41-42 in the IB with 7,7,6 at Higher Level.
Interviews and Written Assessment
Candidates attending for interview in Cambridge are required to take the Cambridge Law Test, which will be held in Cambridge at the time of the interview. The test will last for one hour, and will form one element within the selection process. Examples of questions (along with other information about the test) are available here.
Candidates will have two interviews, one will be with the Director of Studies and another Law Fellow, the other may be with two Law Fellows or a lawyer and a Fellow in a related subject. Candidates may be asked to read a short passage prior to one of the interviews, which will be discussed in the interview. No prior knowledge of law is expected or required at interview.
Candidates who are interviewed overseas will be asked to take the Cambridge Law Test at the interview centre. The test will last for two hours, will be the same for applicants to all colleges, and will form one element within the selection process. Examples of each type of question (along with other information about the test) are available on the Faculty of Law website.
Candidates being interviewed overseas may also be asked to submit an essay on any topic. The essay, which need have no legal element, should be about three sides of A4 paper in length, and will ideally be either a piece of school or college work. The essay should present reasoned argument and not simply narrative or description.