Law at Oxford

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Two Bright Young Things tutors who studied Law at Oxford give their experiences at interview:


Oxford Law Jesus College,

Interviewed by: Peter Clarke and Peter Mirfield

By way of introduction, I had one interview, lasting 20 minutes. I wasn’t given anything to prepare or to think about before the interview.

Firstly, the tutors briefly worked through my application, asking why I wanted to study law. I thought this to be such a difficult question to answer in a unique manner, despite being one of the most obvious. I answered that, as my exam results had consistently shown, I took a lot of pride in my work and really enjoyed to be challenged and stretched academically, that I had very little prior experience of the law – just enough to know that I would be sufficiently challenged.

I remember vividly a debate over the smoking ban in pubs and restaurants. I was asked for my opinion, and I came down heavily in favour of the smoking ban, citing the dangers of passive smoking and how it could be quite unsociable. The tutors allowed me to finish, and asked as to whether people should be allowed to smoke in their own home, and I argued that they should. They then posed the difficult question – if I believe the smoking ban was justified to preserve the health of people in pubs and restaurants who I don’t know, why am I against a ban on smoking in the privacy of my own home, where I live with my children. Shouldn’t I be more concerned with their health?

The second and final issue we discussed involved intention in criminal law. The tutors spelled out a scenario of two would-be murderers, one of whom was planning the murder, with the evidence strongly suggesting that he was soon to attempt it, and one who had actually attempted murder. I was asked to assess their culpability. How should we punish them? Should one be punished more harshly than the other? I didn’t know the legal meaning of the term at the time, but I used the word ‘intention’. One of the tutors immediately picked up on this, and stopped my previous answer to focus the remainder of the interview entirely on intention and what it meant. I realised I had hit upon a key word, but equally realised I wasn’t sure what I would argue on it! I suggested that there could conceivably be different levels of intent, and explored that theme further. This was the most difficult part, as I was asked a series of quick fire questions that demanded longer answers, such as how to measure intention, how can we really know what the parties intended, could there possibly be a measure of self-deception involved, etc. This debate on the meaning of intention concluded the interview.” “I was fortunate in that I had already formed a strong opinion on the smoking ban, and was able to defend it with reasonable success, but any number of topical issues could have arisen where I was less well-informed. 

Advice for future candidates:

I remember rushing too quickly into an answer early on in the interview, and I hesitated slightly too long before backtracking and changing my mind. The tutors were more than happy to accept this, but if I had another interview I would definitely pause for a while longer to think about the answer!

Finally, given the strength and persuasion of their arguments, I was probably too easily convinced on one or two occasions, and should have stuck with my original opinion! Although they may well have disagreed with it, they were much more concerned with my ability to argue from one standpoint.”


I applied to Keble and eventually got into St Hilda’s. The interviews at Keble and Hilda’s were very different. At Keble, they asked lots of hypothetical questions about the difference between what society considers to be good and bad, and the difference between a mental state, and actual conduct (ie mens rea/actus reus)

for example- if A shoots B, intending to kill him, but B was already dead, is A guilty of anything? should he be?

At St Hilda’s, they gave me a case study to read for 45mins, and they asked me questions about the judgement, and reasoning in the case. ” “Try to think about what aspects of your A-levels you enjoy and why, and consider your non-academic activities. They asked me what my favorite book was, and I was so surprised, I just said ‘The Godfather’!

Advice for future candidates:

Say what you actually think, don’t just say what you think they want to hear.

Try to read the paper or watch the news, and keep update on current events. They don’t ask you specifically about this kind of thing, but its handy to know.”