Magdalen helps to create an ‘equality of arms’ for prospective Law students

15th October 2019


“Understanding what it is like to be a Law student is surprisingly difficult,” explains Professor Joe Sampson, a Law tutor at Magdalen who recently taught on the College’s first fully-funded residential access event for prospective undergraduate Law students from disadvantaged backgrounds: Law at Magdalen.

“Everyone has an idea of what they think law is – criminal trials, backroom deals, and the odd constitutional crisis – but the private law backbone of the Oxford Law degree remains mysterious to most applicants. This puts the burden on fledgling lawyers to uncover the subject, which leads to an inevitable inequality of arms based on background and connections.”

Law at Magdalen is a three-day residential access event designed to help academically brilliant candidates see what studying Law at Oxford would be like, helping to demystify both the subject and the University in the process.

The programme, which was designed to introduce students to the full breadth of legal studies, began on the first day with a look at some of the problems of ownership discussed in Roman law, such as determining ownership of uncovered treasure, and who owns the result when an artist creates art with another’s material. The students quickly saw how timeless these issues can be.

On the second day the students were divided into three groups and rotated through six different activities overseen by Professor Sampson and fellow Law tutor Professor Katharine Grevling, assisted by student helpers. Half of the activities focused on hearsay evidence, examining the same set of issues using legislation and a case report. The students also explored the nature of law using Joseph Raz’s famous ‘Society of Angels’ thought experiment.

The final day looked at admissions and personal statements, with a live mock interview undertaken by a Magdalen student.

During the week students were taken on tours of both Magdalen and Oxford by the student helpers. The students worked, slept, and ate at Magdalen – including a formal dinner in hall – experiencing what it would be like to be a member of College.

Two thirds of the participants would be the first in their family to study at university, and just over a third were from the most deprived neighbourhoods in the UK. Half were from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, and over half were female.

“The number of candidates considering applying to Magdalen to study Law more than doubled after their stay at College,” explains Professor Sampson. “There was also a 30 per cent reduction in the number of participants concerned about Oxford’s admissions process.”

Feedback showed that participants valued the opportunity to talk directly to tutors and current students, and to see first-hand what an interview entails. They also enjoyed the opportunity to stay at an Oxford college.

“It was a real privilege for us to help introduce our attendees to the study of Law,” says Professor Sampson. “We were deeply impressed by their enthusiasm and appetite for knowledge. We’re already thinking about how to make the 2020 residential even better!”

The Law at Magdalen residential access event was made possible thanks to the remarkable generosity of Magdalen alumni.

For more details about Magdalen’s wide range of outreach and access activities, get in contact with our Access and Outreach team.