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Our history


The School of Law at Birkbeck was founded in 1992 as a Department of Law with three members of academic staff. In its first year, some 800 people applied for 65 available places. Based on what we thought of as the ‘Birkbeck access mission’, we accepted a mix of mature graduates and non-graduates and started interviewing.

The applicants were amazing, a typical sample of what we came to know as the Birkbeck law student. They included:

  • a septuagenarian Irish aristocrat
  • a shop steward from Harrods
  • a libertarian bookseller
  • law clerks
  • PhD holders in physics and maths
  • a retired psychoanalyst
  • a number of highly motivated unemployed Londoners.

At the end of the first year, we had achieved our aims.

The external examiners congratulated us on our teaching methods and exam results and compared our students favourably with their own at the LSE and UCL, something that still applies. The Law Society and Bar Council gave us Qualifying Law Degree status.


From that point onwards, we concentrated on growing the School and building its reputation in Britain and internationally.

The London Legal Theory seminar we organised introduced London academics to world-renowned intellectuals such as Habermas, Luhmann, Derrida, Legendre and Kennedy. The government’s official Research Assessment Exercise in 1996 put us within the top five law schools in Britain. Not bad for a law school that was just four years old.

Soon a large number of doctoral students joined the School and started making their scholarly mark. Many are now teaching all over Britain and beyond. The Birkbeck School of Law is seen as a training ground for future legal academics.

The 2000s saw the launch of our first Master's degrees. The LLM/MA in Human Rights attracts some of the most committed people in London, offering a contextual and critical approach to this all-important area. Our other LLM programmes also attract a variety of students from various backgrounds.

In 2017, the school celebrated its 25th anniversary. 


To reflect the expansion and the School's growing centres of expertise, in 2016 the School was restructured into the following departments:

We now have six research centres, an academic staff body of over 40, and an annual intake of around 1000 students.