A dissertation or thesis is a research project with a length of around 10,000 to 15,000 words completed as part of your final year in undergraduate studies or post-graduate studies. A dissertation allows students a sense of freedom as they are allowed to pick their dissertation topic and complete independent research.   

Some common topics for a dissertation in law range from criminal law, business law, and EU law all the way to theories in criminology with law combined. 

The general aims of requiring students to complete a dissertation consist of

  • Building on and improving research skills;
  • Developing academic writing skills;
  • Time management skills;
  • Independence; and
  • Critical thinking and analysis.

Most undergraduate programmes require third years to complete a dissertation however most UK-based law schools only have it as an optional module to pick. With evident benefits to students and the wider academic community after completing a dissertation, the question still remains… why is it optional for law?

Law Student Perspective

I caught up with my friend and fellow student Karis Cracknell to tell us a bit more about completing a dissertation in law.

So Karis, tell us a bit about yourself:

    • Hi! My name is Karis, I’m a second-year law student currently studying at the University of the West of England. This year I have taken the modules of land law, tort law, commercial law and migration law and policy. Next year I will be studying Equity and trusts, EU law, family law, and I have opted to do a dissertation as my final section.

What topic is your dissertation on?

    • I have chosen to complete my dissertation on migration law, specifically focusing in upon the criminalisation of migrants within the migration system to the UK; taking a critical approach to how different factors can affect this, as well as compare the UK’s approach in this system to that of other countries.

What made you choose to complete a dissertation in law/ What do you aim to gain from completing one?

    • The main premise of a dissertation is extensive external research into a niche topic. I personally felt that this is something which would be extremely beneficial in expanding my own knowledge of the legal system, and also hope that it may allow me some insight into topics of law that I might want to continue working in, when considering my future career. The research and general writing skills gained are undoubtedly beneficial, and for me personally, wanting to continue my education onto a masters degree or even further, this is an absolutely essential base to have prior to doing so.

Why should or shouldn’t others consider it?

    • I consider dissertations to be a vital step in university, and it seems that they have almost become a ‘right of passage’ in the university experience. The stress and hard work all seem to look worth it when you see the pride students have in completing this daunting task. However, I do think that the choice to undertake a dissertation should not be taken lightly. Signing yourself up to write 10’000 words is never going to be a breeze, and ultimately if you don’t at all enjoy research or writing then it will not be for you.

Do you think it should be compulsory for all law schools in the UK?

    • Although I clearly really value the importance of a dissertation, ultimately, no, I do not think they should be compulsory across all law schools. It would make sense for research and writing-based course such as law to make a research and writing-based task compulsory, but the wider picture must be considered. Not everyone who opts to study law will ultimately pursue a career in law, or potentially even a career in a neighbouring field to law; it is such a versatile degree, that it would not make sense to require each student to partake in a task, which ultimately may not benefit them in their future career anyway. In place of a dissertation, a student would undertake a different module – a module which just as effectively may broaden their knowledge, and even allow the same benefit of opening a door into a new topic of interest. At the end of the day a dissertation is not for everyone, and not every student will be able to reach their full potential by doing one.

Good luck to you Karis and I look forward to seeing your photo with a completed dissertation!

Why Law Students May Choose Not To

    • Lack of time to plan;
    • Too early to choose a topic in law that they are totally interested in;
    • Preferring problem questions and exams over an essay based assessment; and
    • Having the option to complete it in postgraduate studies.

Bottom Line

As has been discussed throughout this article, a dissertation aims to offer students mass independence and an array of useful skills for academia and professional work. It can be concluded that as law is such a wide subject with many students not aiming to become a lawyer, it makes sense not to have it as a compulsory module. It is down to the individual student to see if they have a passion for a particular topic and have the willpower to see it through the whole academic year.