As exciting as studying abroad might seem to international students, but for all that, it’s got its own negatives and positives which is a reflection of the changing times than it’s about its declining worth, when what might have been quite a great choice a few years back wouldn’t be so anymore. So if you are planning a study abroad trip just now, you’ll do well to be informed of all its aspects as it pertains to the study of law. So before you reach the make-up-your mind time, why don’t you just sit back and take a real hard look at what you are getting into for a decision that would be devoid of regrets. Here are the pros and cons of getting an education in law abroad.
(1) There’s a flexible law programme
Law studies abroad are so inviting to international students because they have that added flexibility with customized law programs suited to each student’s needs. This flexibility is evident the US. (And a growing number of European countries) where law students can simultaneously pursue a law degree and a graduate or doctoral degree in such disciplines as medicine, economics, politics, international relations amongst others. Hence upon completion, students are awarded such dual degree combinations as the J.D./MBA, JD/MD, J.D./LL.M.
What’s more, in law schools abroad law programs are designed to enhance a student’s law school experience with individualized support in vital areas such as writing skills, course selection, study strategy, career goals, and personal challenges not to mention academic enrichment. And to cap it all, they are also intended to harness your unique talents and to bring out the best in you.
(2) It’s experiential learning
Nigeria happens to be one of the few jurisdictions in the world where the study of law is too restricted to classroom theories with little regard for legal clinics and experiential learning (rarely does the Nigerian law student see the four walls of the courtroom until after their 5year LLB. Study). However, law studies abroad are way more practical than they are in Nigeria. Foreign law schools do more than impart theories. In the western worlds in particular, the law curricula are both a medley of theoretical teaching and hands-on practical training for those who can afford it, so that even first year law students have to participate in practicums and legal clinics where they are afforded the opportunity to put theory to practice by participating in unique community service initiative that promote social justice. In addition, you’ll also be exposed to true legal practice through faculty-supervised visits to courts in session and related clinics to say nothing of the chance you’ll be given to represent real clients with real cases.
(3) You’ll exposed to international or global law practice
While law students engaging studies abroad are taught in accordance with the law and legal system of the host country, nevertheless in the course of their legal training regard may be had to not only relevant international law but to the laws and legal systems of other stable democracies around the world. For instance, American law schools are known to offer courses with international flair, like transnational intellectual property law and international business negotiation et al aimed at preparing lawyers who are versed in the practice of law at the global level and can practice at that level. Berkeley Law in California, even teaches lawyers courses like law and business in Japan, Jewish law in the comparative perspective in recognition of the emerging globalization of legal practice. More than ever, studying law abroad seems even more attractive as many study abroad programs now offer international students summer study abroad and exchange programs where they can spend a semester abroad exploring other cultures as part of their programme.
(4) There’s a shorter duration of study.
The duration of time it takes to get a law degree is relative though, depending on where exactly you decide to study as a law student. In terms of duration, it’s more time saving studying law anywhere else in the world than in Nigeria, unless of course you’ve got time to kill. This is clearly evident in our earlier articles. It will take you nearly 5 years to earn an LLB. Degree in any Nigerian university plus, the additional mandatory 1 year vocational training at the Nigerian Law School for bar qualification. So that makes years altogether. But on average, it takes less time to earn law degrees in other foreign jurisdictions. Let’s take for instance, the UK and U.S. where you can complete a formal law degree in just 3 years without any additional training like it’s done here in Nigeria.
(5) Better Job prospects.
Foreign law degrees are very expensive nowadays and that’s obviously down to the high value now placed on them especially when it’s from an Ivy Leagues or a well-ranked, globally recognized institution. They do cost a lot of money to be sure, but in a competitive job market like we have today, they can become the ideal trump card. I hate to break it to you, but any right-thinking person could tell the difference between law degrees got from Harvard, Yale, or NYU and that of any 4th tier law school in America. These institutions have a wide global reach, and earning a degree from any one of them would all but guarantee you a job as a lawyer even after the mammoth amount they cost. Any day, you could get work from any part of the world on account of your Alma meter.
What then are the Cons of studying law abroad?
I could give any number of reasons why it’s disadvantageous to study law abroad but I’ll just restrict them to just a few. Here they are;
(1) You’ll lack your country specific expertise.
For all the benefits you stand to gain earning your law degree abroad, foreign law programs revolve around the legal system of your host country without taking into consideration the nuances in the law and practice back in your country of origin. That then means a foreign trained lawyer who eventually decides to return back home to their home country may lack the peculiar skills required to seamlessly settle into legal practice there unless of course they are willing to work harder at acquiring the required skills they are lacking otherwise they’d have their work cut out. In any case, they just won’t have an easy transition to practice.
(2) It’s expensive to study law abroad.
As an international student looking to study law abroad, one roadblock that will be standing in your way would be the exorbitant tuition fees charged at law schools overseas – in most foreign law schools the cost of acquiring law degrees gob smacks!
While there are a handful of countries in much of Europe where tuition is actually free (but there’s no free lunch up for grabs!) and anyone willing to undertake study in these destinations could get a law degree on the cheap or at no cost at all, it’s simply a different story if you intend ditching Europe for the West where you might be in for a heartbreak tuition-wise. Can anyone remind me again what the average cost of tuition is in say the U.S. or the UK? That’s like $200k for a degree you might not even find a place to use. It’s quite a price for having the amazing law school experience whichever way you look at it. Given that, anyone could be forgiven for wanting to keep the money.
(3) There’s a language barrier.
In nearly all study abroad programmes, the language of transmission is almost always in English (especially when it’s an Anglophone country) and as an non-native speaker, you’ll have to take any one of those standardized tests of English demonstrating English fluency like the TOEFL, or IELTS otherwise you won’t be considered for acceptance. It’s a lot to ask from anyone who isn’t fluent in English and could turn out to a real barrier to learning.
(4) Networking won’t be any easy for a foreign trained lawyer
Given the saturation of the legal job market of today, where lawyers are a dime a dozen and there are more job seekers at law firms than there are available jobs, it’s hard to see how any recent law graduate could expect to land the job of their dream without making any effort in the way of networking. You have to be a lotus eater to even expect a less daunting, nail-biting job search even as a foreign trained law graduate. You have to network, network and be on it nonstop until something really clicks for you. But it’s hard getting leads when you may have studied abroad. You obviously couldn’t leverage your law school’s alumni network as they’ll all be resident abroad. But of course you can beat this hurdle if you are very connected.
A youngish lawyer with penetrating insight, Patrick Herbert is the Editor-in-Chief and founder of Lawstudenthub, a site dedicated to helping new wigs find their footing in a trickily slippery legal profession and stay current with emerging developments in the legal industry. He holds an LL.B from the University of Benin and a BL from the Nigerian Law School, Abuja.
To get in touch, follow him on social media.