8 June 2009
If you haven’t got a training contract, want to work in a non-commercial field or indeed become a barrister, do not despair - there are plenty of ways to self-fund your training. Viren Vaghela considers the alternatives
With the recession in full swing and London law firms cutting back or postponing their trainee intakes until the economy stabilises, taking the decision to embark on a law career is more daunting than ever.
Coupled with this, law schools have hiked up the cost of completing a LPC, BVC or GDL, seemingly unaware of the recession.
LPC fees for 2009-10 are around £7,000 to £12,500 depending on the provider, and when you add on maintenance costs the total could reach around £25,000 - enough for a deposit on a London flat. BVC fees are even higher, at £9,000 to £14,700. For non-law graduates who want to become lawyers, the costs are even higher, as they need to take the GDL conversion course, which means taking another year out of work. GDL fees can be upwards of £8,000.
But do not fear - there are sources of funding out there to help you. Larger law firms will shell out for the course fees and also a generous maintenance grant, while smaller firms sometimes offer interest-free loans. The four Inns of Court also offer sponsorship packages to their pupils.
Sponsorship aside, there are other ways to fund becoming a solicitor or barrister.
If you don’t mind acquiring a bit more debt to add to what you are likely to have accumulated while studying for your first degree, then the vocational stage of your training can be funded by a bank loan. This area is a potential minefield, so do plenty of homework before signing on the dotted line. Whatever your circumstances, do not take out a loan unless you are sure you will be able to meet the repayments.
Career development loans (CDLs), currently offered by Barclays Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland and the Co-operative Bank, are worth looking into as a potential source of funding for the LPC and BVC. However, CDLs are no longer available to GDL students.
CDLs are subsidised by the Government, and you do not have to start repaying the amount borrowed until one month after you complete your course. It is possible to borrow any sum between £300 and £8,000 and to repay it over a period of up to five years. But beware - interest rates are around 12.9 per cent, which is higher than some personal loan products. CDLs can be used to pay for up to 80 per cent of course fees, or 100 per cent if a person has been out of work for more than three months.
The latter requirement, however, does not apply to those coming straight out of university. The loan amount not spent on course costs can be used to pay for anything from books to childcare to travel expenses.
An alternative to CDLs are graduate or professional studies loans, which are offered by most high-street lenders. With interest rates recently tumbling to record lows, they could be the most cost-effective option. HSBC is currently offering a rate of between 2-3 per cent above the base rate. These, however, are essentially personal unsecured loans (the type of borrowing used to buy a car), so it is worth comparing graduate loans against other bank products. And do not forget to check out the internet banks as they are often more competitive than their high-street rivals.
Although the possibility of paying back a loan early may sound far-fetched at this stage, your earnings may shoot up relatively quickly, making it possible to rid yourself of some of the debt you have accumulated during your studies. Also, some firms may pay your course fees retrospectively, meaning you may no longer need the loan at all.
The Law Society is quite helpful in this area, running a bursary scheme funded by a number of trusts and scholarships established by those who want to contribute to the development of new solicitors. To qualify you must be able to demonstrate that your financial hardship is greater than most and that you are serious about entering the profession.
The society also runs the Diversity Access Scheme, which aims to provide support to talented aspiring solicitors who have to overcome specific obstacles to qualify. Social, educational, financial, disability and family issues are all factors that are considered.
Limited funding for ethnic minority and overseas students is also available from organisations including the Windsor Fellowship, the British Council and the Inderpal Rahal Memorial Trust.
For students aiming to work in legal aid it is worth noting that the Legal Services Commission has boosted the number of awards available under its Training Contracts Grants Scheme by 50 per cent. The grants, which totalled £3m last year, are awarded to legal aid organisations. Each grant, worth up to £20,000, can be used to fund 60 per cent of LPC tuition fees and/or 100 per cent of the Professional Skills Course and/or 50 per cent of the Solicitors Regulation Authority minimum trainee salary.
It is also worth checking whether your postgraduate law school feels like giving you a freebie or making a contribution towards fees. BPP Law School, for example, runs an annual scholarship programme aimed at increasing diversity in the legal profession. It also runs an annual essay competition in conjunction with Lawyer 2B, which offers the lucky winners free places on its LPC and GDL (see page 69 for this year’s winners).
Talk to your local council as the awards officer may have information on local charities or grant-making trusts that could help you out. The council will also be able to give you the lowdown on any discretionary awards it makes available.
The four Inns of Court - Inner Temple, Middle Temple, Gray’s Inn and Lincoln’s Inn - all offer scholarships to their members. The total amount offered by the Inns is approximately £4m.
The awards range from the GDL to pupillage, covering the whole vocational side of training to become a barrister.
Although the Inns share common deadlines for most of the scholarships, each has unique awards, so visit their websites for details.
All of the Inns tend to award their scholarships on the same basis, namely merit. This is assessed in terms of the candidate’s intellectual qualities, interpersonal skills and, of course, academic achievements. To prove the latter, potential scholars have to show a true commitment through moots, mini-pupillages and other extracurricular activities, in addition to exam grades.
Qualifying as a solicitor or barrister may seem fraught with financial barriers at every turn, but if you can overcome these, a rewarding career awaits you.
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