Funding: Cash on delivery
18 February 2013 | By Becky Waller-Davies
29 May 2013
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Becoming a solicitor is expensive, but if you’re sure it’s the right career for you, it’s worth every penny. Becky Waller-Davies reports on the help available
Undergraduate debt, as everyone in their 20s knows only too well, is not real debt.
Graduating from university owing tens of thousands of pounds is now a fact of student life. What would have cost you nothing a decade ago now costs upwards of £35,000 plus interest. Looked at from this angle, it is easy to feel as though you have lost before you had a chance to get started.
The comforting fact about undergraduate debt - aside from those Student Finance England letters dropping onto the doormat with irritating regularity - is that as long as you are in employment and earning a middling wage, all you need to do is watch the interest pile up and pay the equivalent of an extra phone tariff per month.
The impossibility of completing a bachelor’s degree, and so getting started on your chosen career path, without a hefty loan also takes away the guilt or pressure you would feel had you racked up the sum of your own volition.
Professional debt does not fall into this category, though. The Legal Practice Course (LPC) and Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) are professional qualifications and you cannot afford to look at them in the same way as you would an undergraduate degree.
Instead of writing it off as a necessary expense, you need to be honest with yourself about: your chances of obtaining a job as a solicitor; the type of firm you want to work for; your bank balance; how attractive you are as a candidate for a loan; and whether your family can afford to help you out.
Non-law graduates need to pay conversion course fees, which range from £3,500 to £9,500 full time depending on the institution you attend. The LPC then costs from £8,000 to £14,000 for a year’s full-time tuition.
Put starkly, is it worth it? A daunting question, but one you need to answer before you embark on the GDL or LPC.
If your ambition is to work for a large firm - perhaps a famous City name or a regional powerhouse - then financing your studies should not be much of a problem. Once you have passed the nerve-wracking assessment days, survived formidable partner interviews and been presented with that elusive training contract, the firm will sponsor your LPC tuition and usually provide a maintenance grant that will easily cover a year’s rent.
Living expenses are another matter. If you have the time after your studies for a part-time job or your family can afford to support you then these are options worth investigating. If neither of these applies then a trip to the bank is in order.
Luckily, you should be judged a good candidate for a loan as you will be contracted to start earning a fantastic salary once your LPC is completed.
US firms with London offices usually offer the biggest maintenance grants and the largest salaries once you are on the payroll. More often than not though, this is in exchange for a fair few hours of your time.
The important thing to keep in mind is the type of firm you want to work for. There is nothing wrong with clocking up the hours in the City if that is what you want to do. But do not let the promise of a shiny salary or generous sponsorship sway you - it could turn out to look distinctly tarnished a few years down the line.
Other institutions that take on trainees also offer sponsorship. The Government Legal Service is one example of an employer that helps trainees qualify, although it is not as generous as the large law firms.
Large companies may also offer in-house training contracts, check their websites for details.
Be honest with yourself. If a boutique or high street firm is what you are after then that is what you should be chasing. But you need to be aware that these firms may not pay your tuition fees and you may need to find someone else to stump up the cash: usually, the bank.
If you are relying on a bank loan to see you through, shopping around is essential. As an aspiring lawyer your earning potential makes you an ideal loan candidate so the high street banks will be prepared to lend you the money during training and then sit back and wait for the interest and repayments to come in.
Getting banks to loan you money should not be difficult. What will be trickier is visiting the banks to research which can offer you the best deal in terms of interest rates, repayment holidays, flexibility and customer service. With the GDL or LPC on your plate, the last thing you will want to think about is your monthly repayments or a lengthy call to an uncaring adviser.
Some banks, such as NatWest, used to offer specialised loans just for postgraduate law students, with better rates and repayment conditions, but these were withdrawn in 2011. Bear in mind that repayments on a regular loan usually start as soon as your course finishes, regardless of how much you are earning.
Career Development Loans have been replaced by Professional and Career Development Loans, available through an arrangement between the Young Person’s Learning Agency and participating high street banks (Barclays and the Co-operative). But these loans do not cover the GDL because it leads to another course rather than employment.
LPC or postgraduate students can borrow between £300 and £10,000 and do not have to start repaying the loan until they have finished their course. Interest on repayments is usually lower than with normal loans. Visit direct.gov.uk for more information.
Each LPC and GDL provider offers its own financial initiatives, such as BPP’s Law Loan. If you hold a UK passport you are eligible for a loan of up to £25,000 to cover multiple courses from BPP’s partner Investec Bank. The College of Law offers full and part scholarships for both courses, which are based variously on essay competitions and academic merit testing.
Some smaller firms offer interest-free loans but it really does vary from case to case.
Another alternative is that some colleges offer a two-year part-time option for both exams, allowing you to earn while you study.
Let’s be honest, scholarships are not the easiest thing to secure. But if you do manage to bag one, it could well be the answer to your financial woes.
First stop is the Law Society’s Diversity Access Scheme (DAS). The scheme aims to ensure fairer access to the legal profession and tries to help students who will have to overcome an obstacle to qualify. This obstacle could be of a financial, social, educational or personal nature, or might be a disability or chronic health condition. The scheme also provides work placements and mentoring for successful applicants.
DAS is the sole source of financial assistance for fees available from the Law Society. Applicants wanting to start the LPC this autumn or next January can apply online from 18 February to 29 March.
The Inderpal Rahal Memorial Trust makes one, or occasionally two, grants a year towards legal training for women from an immigrant or refugee background who intend to practise or teach law in the UK. Candidates are required to complete an application form and, if shortlisted, attend an interview. Successful applicants receive £2,000.
The £7,000 Graham Rushton Award for blind and visually impaired law students originates from Graham Rushton, a blind lawyer who left a considerable sum of money to the RNIB as a legacy to be spent on assisting blind and partially sighted law students studying English law in the UK.
To say local authority awards are rare is something of an understatement but it is worth checking with your local authority awards officer, who will know about local charities or trusts for which you may qualify, although most of these will be small sums of money and will not be sufficient for a year’s rent or tuition fees. Details can also be found at turn2us.org.uk.
College access funds are available for postgraduate students at universities and publicly funded colleges. They are at the discretion of the college or university and, similar to local authority grants and trusts, are not designed to support you completely but provide extra assistance.
Private provider scholarships
College of Law
In addition to what may become available through the Legal Education Foundation, formed following the £200m sale of CoL to Montagu Private Equity last year, CoL offers GDL students one full-fee scholarship and a runner-up prize of a half-fee award, which is decided via a competition, along with 45 ‘gold awards’ of £3,000 each for those with first-class degrees.
For LPC students CoL offers one full-fee award and one runner-up award of £4,000,
also via a competition, plus 24 ‘lunar awards’ of £3,000 each for students with first-class degrees.
BPP Law School
BPP has a range of scholarships available in addition to one full-fee scholarship for both the GDL and LPC via an essay competition run in conjunction with Lawyer 2B.
The principal’s scholarship is a full-fee award based on access to the profession and diversity; the Senior Academic’s Scholarship is worth £1,000 to £3,000; the Law School Dean’s Scholarship is £5,000; five Director of GDL Programmes’ Scholarship awards of £3,000 each for those starting in September; and one Director of LPC Programmes’ Scholarship, worth £3,000.
The Cohen Scholarship programme is a merit-based scholarship open to those who wish to do their GDL and LPC or BPTC at BPP in Leeds, Liverpool or Manchester. The scholarships are worth £2,500 each and BPP usually offers between five and ten Cohen Scholarships for each location.
Kaplan Law School
On both the GDL and LPC, four diversity scholarships worth £1,300 each are available and six pro bono scholarships worth £2,500 each. In addition there are 12 “excellence” scholarships of £1,300 each, awarded to applicants who show top-quality potential for the legal profession.
This is not an exhaustive list, please contact providers directly for more information
Firms that offer GDL and LPC sponsorship
- Addleshaw GoddardFull course fees; £7,000 maintenance
- Allen & Overy Full course fees; £5,000 maintenance
- Ashurst Full course fees; £6,500 maintenance
- Baker & McKenzie Full course fees; £8,000 maintenance
- Berwin Leighton Paisner Full course fees; £7,200 maintenance
- Bircham Dyson Bell Full course fees
- Bird & Bird Full course fees; £5,500 maintenance
- Bond Pearce Full course fees; £6,000 maintenance
- Bristows Full course fees; £7,000 maintenance
- Burges Salmon Full course fees; £7,000 maintenance
- Charles Russell Full course fees; £6,000 maintenance
- Cleary Gottleib Steen & Hamilton Full course fees; £8,000 maintenance
- Clifford Chance Full course fees; £4,900 maintenance for accelerated LPC
- Clyde & Co Full course fees; £7,000 maintenance
- CMS Cameron McKenna Full course fees; £7,500 maintenance
- Covington & Burling Full course fees; £8,000 maintenance
- Dechert Full course fees; £10,000 maintenance for LPC
- DLA Piper Full course fees; £7,000 maintenance
- Dundas & WilsonFull course fees; £7,000 maintenance
- DWF LPC fees only
- Edwards Wildman Palmer Full course fees; £6,500 outside London, £7,000 inside London
- Eversheds Full course fees; £7,000 maintenance
- Farrer & Co Full course fees; £6,000 maintenance
- Field Fisher Waterhouse Full course fees; £6,000 maintenance
- Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer Course fees; £6,000 maintenance for accelerated LPC
- Herbert Smith Freehills Full course fees; maintenance for GDL (£5,000 outside London, £6,000 in London) and LPC (£6,000)
- Hill Dickinson Full course fees; £7,000 maintenance
- Hogan Lovells Full course fees; £7,000 maintenance
- Holman Fenwick Willan Full course fees; £7,000 maintenance
- Ince & Co Full course fees; £7,000 maintenance for London, £6,500 outside London
- Jones Day Full course fees; £8,000 maintenance
- K&L Gates Full course fees; £5,000 GDL maintenance and £7,000 LPC maintenance
- Kirkland & Ellis Full course fees; £7,500 maintenance
- Latham & Watkins Full course fees; £8,000 maintenance
- Lawrence Graham Full course fees; £6,500 maintenance
- Lewis Silkin Full course fees; £5,000 maintenance
- Linklaters Full course fees; £5,000 maintenance
- Macfarlanes Full course fees; £7,000 maintenance
- Mayer Brown Full course fees; £6,500 maintenance (£7,000 for London and Guildford)
- Mills & ReeveFull course fees; £4,500 maintenance
- Nabarro Full course fees; £6,000 GDL, £7,000 LPC maintenance
- Norton Rose Full course fees; £7,000 maintenance
- Olswang Full course fees; £6,500-£7,000 maintenance
- Osborne Clarke Full course fees; £6,500 maintenance
- Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe Full course fees; £7,000 maintenance
- Penningtons Full LPC fees; £5,000 LPC maintenance
- Pinsent Masons Full course fees; £5,000-£6,000 GDL maintenance; £5,000-£7,000 LPC maintenance
- Reed Smith Full course fees; £7,000 maintenance
- RPC Full course fees; up to £7,000 maintenance
- SGH Martineau Full course fees; £4,500 maintenance
- Shearman & Sterling Full course fees; £7,000 maintenance
- Shoosmiths Full course fees; maintenance
- Sidley Austin Full course fees; £7,000 maintenance
- Simmons & Simmons Full course fees; £7,500 maintenance
- SJ Berwin Full course fees; £7,250 maintenance
- Slaughter and MayFull course fees; £7,450 GDL, £5,580 LPC maintenance
- Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom Full course fees; £8,000 maintenance
- SNR Denton Full course fees; £5,000 outside London, £6,000 in London
- Speechley Bircham Full course fees; £6,000 maintenance
- Stephenson Harwood Full course fees; up to £6,000 maintenance
- Stevens & Bolton Full course fees; £4,000 maintenance
- Sullivan & Cromwell Full course fees; £9,000 maintenance
- Taylor Wessing Full course fees; £6,000 maintenance
- TLT Full course fees; £4,500 maintenance
- Travers Smith Full course fees; £7,000 maintenance in London, £6,500 outside
- Walker Morris Full course fees; £5,000 maintenance
- Watson Farley & Williams Full course fees; £650 per month maintenance
- Weil Gotshal & Manges Full course fees; £8,000 maintenance
- White & Case Full course fees; £7,500 maintenance
- Withers Full course fees; £5,000 maintenance
- Other UK firms also offer financial assistance