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Law and human rights graduate Laura Wrixon on the difficulties of breaking into human rights law in the wake of the discontinuation of the National College of Legal Training’s graduate diploma in law (GDL) and legal practice course (LPC).
The legal education market seems geared at those who will make a lot of money.
As I have gained substantial knowledge of the workings of human rights law I would like to be able to put it into practice but I am realistic. I know that there are few firms that practise human rights as a distinct area but human rights come into many areas of law such as immigration, actions against the police, community care and mental health so I am open to different areas.
The kind of firms that I would like to work for often do not offer sponsorship for the LPC, which is why I was looking at self funding. My hope was that I would be able to gain full-time work to be able to self-fund the LPC and pay on a monthly payment plan. I wanted to study part-time at the weekend to enable me to work so as not to build up more debt. The National College of Legal Training (NCLT) offered this option at an affordable price which would mean that I could work at a reasonably paid job and still get by.
The other London providers’ fees would mean that I would have to be earning quite a bit just to cover tuition, rent, commuting and bills. A graduate development loan only extends to £10,000 so would not even cover the tuition of the London law schools.
There are other, cheaper options outside of London but electives at these are limited and I do not want to compromise on the quality of my education. Additionally, the majority of firms which have human rights expertise are based in London. I see London as my best oppotunity for employment so it seems backwards to move away.
Another flaw in the system is that work experience is not paid.
After my degree, I decided to take a year out to get some experience and save up and decide on my future but I have found it very difficult to get paid work in the legal sector.
I worked at the British Institute of Human Rights for six months before moving to the Public Law Project. I have been here for two months working on the Exceptional Funding Project. Unfortunately both of these positions have been unpaid internships so I have been working part-time in a pub to support myself.
I really feel that, despite all the talk of social mobility, the legal profession is still pretty closed off for those who are not from advantaged backgrounds.
I want to be a lawyer and I worked hard during my degree, gaining a first while taking part in extra-curriculars, volunteering at the Citizens Advice Bureau and working part-time and I do not want that to have all been for nothing just because I do not have money.
I think the legal sector as a whole has lost sight of the fact that it should cater to all backgrounds.
My parents do not have any money to give me; they do not own a property, they rent from the council, and have debts of their own to pay. I am the first person in my family to ever go to university and worked part-time throughout my degree to support myself.
There is a massive blindness to the fact that those who want to work for the most vulnerable often have to self-fund; this does not seem right.
Read law students’ reactions to the news that the NCLT has decided to discontinue its LPC and GDL (29 May 2013).