Cambridge University Law Interview: Another Example

Henry Mares is a Fellow and Director of Studies in Law at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. He helps Sidney Sussex to conduct interviews for Law applicants each year.

Last year, Henry offered a glimpse of a Law interview at Cambridge by sharing an outline previously used by Sidney Sussex interviewers. This year, he offers another example, this time from the 2016–2017 application round.

Because each Cambridge college conducts their own interviews, interview practices will vary from college to college. Although you will not see these exact questions in future Cambridge Law interviews, these examples may help you to understand what to expect if you are invited to interview.


The following material was almost word for word the basis of the first of the two law interviews at Sidney Sussex College in the 2016–2017 admissions round, conducted by Henry Mares and one other interviewer, albeit in any particular interview there was some slight variation depending on the responses given.

Absolutely NO legal knowledge was required to answer these questions, and indeed applicants tended to do better when they refrained from relying on bits and pieces of technical legal knowledge that they may have acquired in advance of their interview.

The exercises were meant to test the applicant’s analytical skills on the spot, capacity to interpret small extracts at a basic level, and to discuss a broad policy question on the basis of the materials given. In short, we were, and will be in the future, looking for thoughtful, competent, and sensible answers, rather than ‘correct’ answers: this was an exercise rather than a test.

This material will not be used again for interviews in the College, but it may be useful in thinking about the way in which Law interviews are conducted here.

First Law Interview at Sidney Sussex College, University of Cambridge

In the 2016–2017 admissions round

Introduction

The following introductory matters were done in the same way for all interviews

Bring in student, tell them to sit down, indicate that we have provided water for them. Tell student: ‘Welcome, relax, have a sip of water if you want.’

First Interviewer: ‘Let me explain the structure of the interview: first we will check your file is up to date, then do the first exercise with me, then the second exercise with [interviewer 2], then the third exercise with me again. Is that ok? So I can see if your file is correct, can you tell me what stage you are at in your education?’

Exercise 1

5–10 minutes, conducted by First Interviewer

Interviewer 1: I will just tell you a short story, and then I will ask for your advice, ok?

In a small island nation, person A lived in a house, where her people had lived for hundreds of years. Then, about a hundred years ago, there was an invasion, and in the invasion person A lost her house and had to work in the fields, and after a while, after everything had settled down, person B bought the land where the house was from the new government, and spent a lot of money and built a very fancy house near the beach and moved in and lived there happily raising a family for 40 years. Then, about twenty years ago, there was a revolution, and what had been the invaders left, and person B, who was by then old and afraid, also left with her children. A democratic government was slowly installed.

Person A is now dead, but the descendants of person A, who have never lived on the land, now want the land and the new house.

Person B, who is now very, very, old, and her children, who grew up in the house, now live overseas, and they also want it back.

The government wants to do what is right, and so they ask you to decide who should get to have the house and land. Could you tell us how you would decide?

  1. Who should get the land? Why?
  2. Can you now give us an argument why A/B [the other] should get it?
  3. Would it make a difference if B knew/didn’t know what had happened?
  4. Would it make a difference if A was still alive?
  5. If they say ‘sell and split the proceeds’: great, but let’s assume for fear of future litigation no-one would buy the land, so you have to give it to one of them…

Exercise 2

5–10 mins, conducted by Second Interviewer

Interviewer 2: Here is a definition of a mortgage, take a moment to read it:

A mortgage is a legal tool used by purchasers of property, usually land, to borrow funds for the purchase, and used by existing property owners to borrow funds for any purpose. The loan of funds is ‘secured’ on the borrower’s property: this means that a legal mechanism is put in place which allows the lender to sell the secured property to pay off the loan in the event that the borrower fails to pay off the loan.

Now consider a situation where a husband, deeply in love with his new wife, agrees to take out another mortgage on his house to help his new wife start what is clearly a very risky business venture…

  1. Should he be allowed to do so even though this might cause him very great financial hardship if, as seems likely, the business fails?
  2. What reassurance might the bank want?
  3. What would be the implications for business if we said he could not take out such a mortgage?
  4. Would it make a difference if the husband had received legal advice?
  5. What if the bank had insisted that the husband receive independent legal advice but he neglected to do so?
  6. What if the bank knew that the husband had had independent legal advice but had ignored his legal advice because he was so deeply in love?
  7. What if bank knew that this woman had bad business dealings before and her previous husband lost his house in a similar situation — should the bank be prohibited by a law from letting the husband take out a mortgage? Would you say that lending to the husband is ‘unconscionable’?
  8. What if the bank suspects that even despite legal advice the wife is pressuring the husband or is influencing him in some way?
  9. Does your view change if, as in the real case which this situation was taken from, it was the wife that had taken out the mortgage to support her husband’s business?

Consider that you have a house, and you wrote out a cheque for it, and you live in it but should you not make your monthly repayments on your mortgage the bank may repossess the house, kicking you out. Can it really be said that you own your house? What do you think this tells us about ownership and property?

  1. What does ‘ownership’ mean?
  2. Even if you pay off your entire mortgage the local council or authority still charges rates/taxes against your property and, again, if you do not pay these your house can be sold against your will. What does this say about ownership?
  3. Can it ever be said that we ‘own something’ entirely — or do we simply own it so that other people cannot use it?

Exercise 3

5–10 mins, conducted by First Interviewer

Interviewer 1: For the final question we would like to consider the following passage, take your time to read it over and let us know when you are done:

Generally two kinds of argument are relevant for judging another person’s action, two kinds of argument that a person can use to convince another rationally that she is entitled to perform a certain act. She can show that the act is right (or that there is a reason to think it is) or she can show that she has (or that there is reason to think she has) a right to perform it. To show that the act is right is to get the other person to approve its performance. To show that one has a right to it is to show that even if it is wrong one is entitled to perform it. In a liberal state the second argument is not available in defence of civil disobedience; civil disobedience is (in liberal states) one type of political action to which one has no right.
  1. Can you summarise this for me?
  2. What is an example of the first kind of act ‘which is right’?
  3. What is an example of the second kind of act ‘for which one has a right’?
  4. What do you think civil disobedience means?
  5. Why does the author think there is no right to civil disobedience?
  6. Does that mean it is not right to do it?
  7. When would it be right?
  8. What does this have to do with law?

Conclusion

Any procedural questions for us?

Thank you very much for coming in. Do you know where to go now?


After applying through the UCAS application system, applicants to Cambridge University are invited by their college to interview in the first two weeks of December. These interviews are arranged by the college handling your application, and as such, practices will vary from college to college. For specific questions about the interviews, please contact the college that you applied to.

Although Law applicants can expect an interview that will discuss legal concepts, no prior knowledge of Law is required. For more information about the interview process at Cambridge University, see the University’s website or the Cambridge Law Faculty’s website.

This article is an updated version of a previous article, which included an example interview from the 2015–2016 interview round.

The information in this article is considered correct at the time of publication.