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As changes to primary, secondary and tertiary education continue to provoke debate in the country, how are they affecting the demand for legal specialists in the sector?
“This is a niche market, with a relatively small number of firms having dedicated education practices and consequently opportunities are limited, but this area of law is seeing somewhat of a boom and openings exist at many of the main players,” comments Anthony Wiggins, a consultant at Pro-Legal.
“Although education law plays host to a variety of disciplines, the trend is towards recruiting lawyers in projects, procurement, property and employment, and most vacancies are around mid-level PQE,” he says. “Overall, it seems that, due to recent developments in education law, this area will grow in the short to medium term.”
And has the rise of free schools and number of schools converting to academy status increased the demand for dedicated education specialists?
“The Education Bill 2011 and the introduction of free schools and academy schools has had a dramatic impact on the need for education specialists and is the main reason for growth in the sector,” adds Wiggins. “Most firms that specialise in education are looking for talent, but you’ll be expected to have good knowledge of free and academy schools, and the impact these have in your main area of law, be it property, employment or projects.”
However, Wiggins admits this kind of work may not be guaranteed in the future.
“There are a finite number of schools wishing to take advantage of these schemes and you may find in the future that the amount of work drops significantly.”
For lawyers who are interested in working in the education sector, Wiggins stresses that it is a competitive market.
“For a young lawyer looking to get into this sector it’s important that you join a firm that will offer you exposure to this type of work as it is difficult to move into education unless you have the relevant experience,” he says. “There are not a lot of these firms around and consequently competition is fierce - a trait common in all areas of public sector law. To stand out from the competition you’ll need excellent academics and to be able to demonstrate a genuine desire for this sector through work experience, pro bono and related academic work.”
As for in-house roles, there’s some scope in governmental advisory roles, but Wiggins notes that these are not plentiful.
“As with private practice, the sweeping public sector reforms and in particular The Education Bill have meant that opportunities in-house have increased - in particular within local authorities,” he says. “It must be said though that a lot of these positions are contract roles and a lot of work is still outsourced to law firms.”
“Also worth bearing in mind is that, once you have moved into an in-house education position, it’s difficult to move back into private practice.”