The SOAS School of Law is the law school of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. It is based in the Bloomsbury section of London, United Kingdom. The SOAS School of Law is one of Britain’s leading law schools and the sole law school in the world dedicated to the study of legal systems in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
The School of Law has over 400 students. It offers programmes at the LL.B., LL.M. and MPhil/PhD level. International students have been the majority at both the undergraduate and postgraduate level for many years.
It publishes a number of journals, including the Journal of African Law, the Journal of Comparative Law and the Yearbook of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law. Along with the International Environmental Law Research Centre (IELRC), it produces the Law, Environment and Development Journal (LEAD Journal). An independent student law journal is also published by undergraduate and graduate students, the SOAS Law Journal, and includes unique scholarship from faculty, students and alumni.
Notable alumni of the school of law include David Lammy MP, former President of Ghana John Atta Mills, Supreme Court justices from Nigeria and Sri Lanka, and Iranian human rights activist Ghoncheh Ghavami.
The SOAS School of Law was established in 1947 with Professor Vesey-Fitzgerald as its first head, and as such is one of the 20 oldest law schools in England. Initially, the School of Law only hosted post-graduate students. In 1975, under the leadership of Antony Nicholas Allott, the school developed a uniquely comparative undergraduate LL.B. Honours programme that thrives to this day. In 2012, the Head of the Law School, Professor Mashood Baderin, was appointed as Special Independent Expert to Sudan by the United Nations Human Rights Council. In 2013, Professor Paul Kohler assumed the role as Head of the SOAS School of Law following the retirement of Professor Baderin.
The SOAS School of Law Honours Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) programme is recognised as a Qualifying Law Degree by the Law Society of England and Wales and the Bar Council for the purposes of completing legal training. As such, the SOAS LL.B. satisfies all professional requirements for the Common Professional Examination. Many alumni go on to train as either solicitors or barristers in England, Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada and throughout the Commonwealth of Nations where local regulators of the legal profession view the SOAS LL.B. (Honours) as highly valuable. Admission is highly competitive with fewer than 80 available spaces each academic year.
Although many modules at SOAS embody a substantial element of English common law, all modules are taught as far as possible in a comparative or international manner with an emphasis in the way in which law functions in society. Thus, law studies at SOAS are broad and comparative in their orientation. All students study a significant amount of non-English law, start in the first year of the LL.B. course, where ‘Legal Systems of Asia and Africa’ is compulsory. Specialised modules in the laws and legal systems of particular countries and regions is also encouraged and faculty experts conduct modules in these subjects every year.
Several combination BA degrees also allow students to combine law courses with another faculty, including history and politics.
The SOAS School of Law also has an expanding and varied Master of Laws (LL.M.) which provides many advanced courses on comparative, international and transnational commercial law- all keenly focused on Asian and African legal issues.
The SOAS School of Law also offers a highly-esteemed PhD programme.
In addition to academic programmes, SOAS School of Law students also have access to several Pro Bono law clinics. These Pro Bono law clinics offer students the opportunity to work alongside practising lawyers on actual cases involving human rights and civil rights which are taken on free of charge to the clients. Very few British law schools offer such opportunities in-house.
The SOAS School of Law has an unrivaled concentration of expertise in the laws of Asian and African countries, human rights, transnational commercial law, environmental law, and comparative law.
It is home to a thriving research community including the following research centres:
- Centre for East Asian Laws (CEAL)
- Centre for Law and Conflict
- Centre for Ethnic Minority Studies (CEMS)
- Centre for Islamic and Middle Eastern Law (CIMEL).
Faculty members routinely contribute to journals and publish volumes of leading research annually. The school has close ties with the internationally renowned Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, which is also part of the federal University of London.
The SOAS School of Law and faculty members are involved in the publication of the following legal research journals:
- Journal of African Law,
- Journal of Comparative Law,
- Law Reports of the Commonwealth,
- Yearbook of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law,
- Law, Environment and Development Journal (LEAD Journal),
- SOAS Law Journal (Co-founded by five SOAS law students, it is a student led and edited journal featuring submissions by students, alumni and faculty.)
The SOAS School of Law is a top law school in the United Kingdom. It was ranked 15th out of all 110 British law schools by The Guardian League Table in 2016. In 2015, The Guardian ranked the SOAS School of Law as the 10th best law school in the entire United Kingdom. The QS World University Rankings placed SOAS as the 113th best law school in the world in 2016. However, it should be noted that due to the highly specialised orientation and academic niche that the SOAS School of Law serves, a true comparison to other generalist institutions is impossible.
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SOAS Law Society
The SOAS Law Society promotes opportunities to learn about the study of law and career options to student members at SOAS. The Law Society hosts meetings, intercollegiate exchanges, mooting tournaments and other educational events. Although there was formerly a separate SOAS Bar Society that conducted bar-related programming and organised moot teams and tournaments, it merged with the Law Society in 2013. Past moot teams fielded by the SOAS Law Society or SOAS Bar Society have participated in the annual English Law Students Association (ELSA) Moot Tournament and the prestigious London Universities Mooting Shield, which was founded by SOAS Law School alumnus, barrister and present New York attorney Daniel Jackson.
Law Degree Programmes
The Law Department at SOAS is one of the most highly-regarded law departments in the UK for the quality of both its teaching and research. The Department has an unrivalled concentration of specialists in the laws of Asian and African countries, with additional areas of expertise in the areas of comparative law, human rights, transnational commercial law, environmental law, international law and socio-legal method. Lecturers in the Department maintain close links with professional practice and frequently have first-hand knowledge of the latest developments in business, government and international organisations. Each year, the Department attracts a number of distinguished lawyers as Research Fellows or Visiting Instructors. A thriving research community includes the following Centres:
- Centre for the study of Colonialism, Empire and International Law (CCEIL)
- Centre of East Asian Law (CEAL)
- Centre for Human Rights Law (CHRL)
- Centre for Islamic and Middle East Law (CIMEL)
- Law, Environment and Development Centre (LEDC)
The Department also has close links with the internationally-renowned Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS) and the Van Vollenhoven Institute, Leiden University, with which it publishes the London-Leiden Series on Law, Administration and Development.
Why study at SOAS?
SOAS is one of few institutions in the world that specialises in the study of law within, or in relation to, the developing world. It has unrivalled expertise in the field of comparative law (China, Africa, South/ South-East Asia, the Middle East) complemented by a range of experts dealing with issues of international and transnational law. Specialist fields include trade law, law and development, comparative law, commercial law (including copyright and patent law), human rights, environmental law, Islamic law, dispute resolution and international law, to name but a few.
In every area, SOAS modules are designed not only to introduce students to the general fields of law that relate to the developing world, but also an understanding as to how generic legal structures and processes may operate in non-Western social and cultural settings.
All teachers on modules offered at SOAS are experts in their designated field. Many have years of experience advising governments, international organisations or non-governmental organisations. Many also have professional experience as qualified practitioners. Teaching is provided not only by the Department’s full-time members of staff, together with teachers from other University of London law schools, but also by other part-time visiting teachers drawn from leading experts working in private practice, governmental departments and international institutions. An official survey of teaching standards in British institutions gave SOAS the highest rating, and the School of Law scored a 5 in the last Research Assessment Exercise.
Apart from its expertise, SOAS also benefits from its social and geographical environment. Because of the specialist nature of the institution, the student population attending the SOAS LLM is extraordinarily diverse: students from all parts of the world come to SOAS to study law, bringing with them a unique range of experience and expertise which frequently enlivens the learning experience. At the same time, the SOAS LLM programme is relatively small by London standards, and students can therefore enjoy its strong collegiate atmosphere. SOAS law school is located in the heart of the university district in Central London close to a range of libraries (including that of the Institute for Advanced Legal Studies to which all post-graduate students have access), and ideally positioned for students to enjoy the range of academic activities (lectures and seminars) that occur on a daily basis within London.