Last month’s blog was very academic and concerned the interception of legally privileged information. This blog takes a more practical approach and attempts to advise on how best to answer the much-feared Oxbridge interview question of ‘Why Law?’. It outlines four dangerous pitfalls that many interviewees fall into, sometimes provoking an interviewer eye-rolling moment for the interviewer!
1. DON’T reference your family
Many candidates state their interest and desire to study Law stems from growing up surrounded by law – normally because they have a relative involved in the law. References to dinnertime conversations revolving around legal cases, legislation and policy that have prompted applying for Law at university can seem disingenuous and a little clichéd.
DO focus on outlining how you as an individual have been proactive and developed your own interest in Law. Try to demonstrate independence of thought – irrespective of your family’s profession. Discuss your own reading, work-experience and extra-curricular activities. There is so much you can say without referencing your parents!
2. DON’T reference the legal profession
The question is not asking you why do you want to be a lawyer. Instead the interviewer is trying to get you to describe why you want to study Law. Talking about how you think life as a solicitor is prestigious or about how barristers get to wear wigs and gowns is not going to convince your director of studies that you aren’t just using law as a means to an end. In addition, the interviewers are not normally practicing lawyers – so they may have a different viewpoint regarding whether the law profession is ‘great’ or not.
DO focus on what is it about Law that attracts you to study it, not to practice it. What provoked your interest academically in Law? Which area grabs your attention and why? How does this area fit into the modules that you will be studying throughout your three years at university?
Many interviewees end up letting themselves down by using very vague and general descriptions of where their desire to study Law stems from. Phrases such as ‘it is important to society’ and ‘it is at the core of life and policy’ can often come across as very wishy-washy.
DO be specific and give lots of examples. A great candidate will focus on how and why law is important to society. She may reference a specific societal exchange and explain how law was pivotal in this process. Or look at specific theories of law and jurisprudence that discuss the functions of law and its role within modern democracies. Law is an incredibly rich and varied discipline, and you should be able to show you recognise this with the way you speak about your interest in it.
4. DON’T blend in to the background
Many candidates, despite being extremely academic – can often give standard answers that don’t really distinguish themselves from the others. A classic example is normally discussing a simple interest in criminal law, trials and the jury process. My advice would be to stay away from crime altogether, as it is likely to be the most frequently referenced ‘interest’, such is its prominence in current affairs.
DO – if referencing crime – focus on a specific substantive area of criminal law. What is it about the law of joint-enterprise that excites you? How should it be developed in the 21st century? Which academics do you think are most correct in their characterisation of this law? Or find a more niche area of law and research this instead – what about something that initially may seem boring but turns out to be fascinating i.e. liability in tort for economic loss.
The interview process can be a stressful one and it is hard to give well-reasoned answers that don’t appear over-rehearsed. However, this question is one designed to put you at ease, let the interviewer get to know you a little, and even discover how much you know about any specific area of law. So grasp the opportunity that the question gives to you and use it to subtly display your extra reading, work experience, and participation in legal debates and conferences related to the area. If this question teaches us anything it is about the importance of getting prepared early – as ‘Why Law?’ is not a question that is easy to blag.