• Ally Garton

What they don't teach you in law school

As any final year law student will be able to tell you, you learn a lot in law school. You learn about R v Brown, you (kind of) know what equity is and you understand the difference between a tenancy in common and a joint tenancy. However, there is a lot I have learnt outside my lectures and seminars. There are many unknown facts and unwritten rules and traditions in the legal system that simply aren’t taught as much as they should be during an LLB, we will get to why it's called an LLB shortly. So, I want to share some important things I’ve learnt outside of the classroom. You may be wondering why this is relevant to QLT, well I believe that the more people that know these things the greater the diversity within the legal profession will increase. By gatekeeping this knowledge from law students, it ensures that only those that have someone else to tell them will know, i.e a parent or family friend. This gap in knowledge can become known at interviews or networking events, which disadvantages those without someone to tell them. So, without further ado, here are the top four things I’ve learnt outside of my degree that I think law students should know.

Gavels aren’t real

I know, I’m sorry. Everyone loves the image of the judge banging their gavel after a witness makes a witness box confession to bring the aghast crowd back under control, but gavels have never been used in English courts. Nonetheless, everyone is convinced they do have gavels. I think this belief comes from the media not knowing English judges don’t have gavels; there is an excellent Twitter account dedicated to calling out when someone claims judges have gavels (@igavels). Judges in America do have gavels and it is commonly said tongue-in-cheeks that they have them because an English judge can control a courtroom with just their words, no need for a little wooden hammer.

Barristers don’t shake hands This clip from the TV drama Silk perfectly summarises my point that gatekeeping the knowledge of this rule means it is only known by those who know someone who already knows, a tool to keeping the Bar insular.

I have heard two main rationales behind this rule. Firstly, that it is so your client doesn’t think you are friends with the other side. This explanation never really made sense to me, hugging them sure, but does shaking someone’s hand really mean you are friends with them? Does the client actually think that? The other explanation is that handshakes were originally used to show you didn’t have a weapon, and with barristers being only the highest in society, this was not necessary.[1]

However, this isn’t strictly true anymore. The Secret Barrister has said they don’t go out of their way to shake a barrister’s hand but would not refuse to either. This seems like a good balance to me, but don’t be offended if someone doesn’t shake your hand!

What even is ‘the Bar’?

Now, I don’t have an official source for this one but I do have a personal reliable one! So, ‘the bar’ is the little gate you cross that separates where the barristers sit from the general public. The idea is that unless you are a barrister, you can only cross this little fence when called, hence “I would like to call Joe Blogs as a witness”. So, when a barrister is “called to the bar” this means they can perpetually cross the line.

Why LLB and not BL for a Bachelor of Laws?

This is a bit of a linguistics one, but still relatively unknown. An LLB is a Bachelor of Laws, much like a Bachelor of Arts, but is shortened to LLB as opposed LB. This is because it is a Bachelor in Laws, not law. In Latin, when you shorten a plural in an abbreviation, you double it. This can be seen in Spanish when Los Estados Unidos is shortened to EEUU. I’m not entirely sure what the multiple laws we learn are, perhaps common law and equity but I’m not here to get into a debate over fusion!

I hope these few bits of knowledge have shown you something new and interesting, or will start to make you wonder why these rules and facts are not taught to law students. Share the knowledge far and wide to demystify the legal profession and increase accessibility to the profession.

By Daniella Davenport

Diagram courtesy of


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