Heidi Sandy, chair, Junior Lawyers Division
Is the cost of a legal education still worth it?
9 July 2010
4 January 2012
8 June 2009
17 May 2012
9 December 2010
15 October 2012
When we asked the same question to our members in March 2009 they thought not.
Ten years ago a degree – and law degree in particular - was widely considered a guarantee to a job. The results of the Association of Graduate Recruiter’s (AGR) survey published earlier this month (6 July 2010) suggest this is not the case and graduates face an increasingly difficult market in which to obtain employment with an emphasis being placed on better degree results.
At least 80 percent of organisations are now requiring a 2:1 degree as a minimum for a graduate job and on average they are receiving almost 70 applications per vacancy advertised to commence this year - an increase of 20 applications per vacancy since 2009 and double the figure since 2008. This has been intensified by graduates from previous years still looking for suitable jobs and adding to competition for the limited vacancies available.
Law students searching for a training contract will be all too familiar with this situation. A 2:1 minimum requirement approach is often used as part of the filtering process however, this system can automatically exclude candidates who have the skills and attributes to be a good lawyer unnecessarily and have a detrimental effect on the diversity of the legal profession. Often those who will have passed their exams and crucially paid their tuition fees will not even be considered by these law firms.
Whilst the results of the AGR survey look promising for trainee solicitors - who on average are amongst the better paid graduates - undergraduates and LPC students should view the survey as health check on the current status of the graduate employment market and look at the realities of obtaining a training contract.
The Junior Lawyers Division’s (JLD) message is not to discourage able and passionate students from pursuing a legal career but to give them a ‘health and reality check’ on the current availability of both training contracts and alternative graduate positions available. The JLD encourages better information and resources, which reflect the realities of the legal profession to be made available to those considering a legal career. It is essential that this information is made available at early academic stages and before students pay their tuition fees. These are commercial organisations and it is not in their interests to tell their potential ‘customers’ what the realities can be.
For those without firm or parental funding the cost of training is a barrier to accessing the profession. The amount of training contracts currently available with firm funding have decreased and if you do not have parental financial support the alternative is to self-fund via bank loans.
For those students this is a huge financial commitment and risk in a profession where even before the recession it was very tough to qualify. Banks are also tightening up their lending criteria to those who need professional studies loans, recognising that even those that successfully complete their course may not obtain a training contract and qualify.
This has a huge impact on the diversity of our profession. The cost is prohibitive to those students aspiring to enter the legal profession but either do not have the financial resources or contacts to pay the necessary education requirements or obtain a training contract at the end of it. As a profession we are in real danger that those students who want to qualify into positions, which do not traditionally command high salaries, such as social welfare and crime, may simply not be able to afford to (even if they can obtain a training contract in those areas anyway). This has an important wider impact for access to the profession as whole.
Typically a student completing the LPC without employer funding can face up to £20,000 of tuition fees alone, with a further £6,000 for non-law students undertaking the conversion course. There are also the additional costs of maintenance to consider, which can leave some students with in excess of £30,000 debt following completion of their education. The cost of qualification is very high and starting salaries are not usually commensurate with this, especially for those that have self-funded, typically starting their training contract on the law society minimum salary of £18,590 in central London and £16,650 elsewhere.
Feedback at our most recent JLD student forum in May told us that at some LPC providers less than one in five students had already secured a training contract. The pool of students competing for so few places is huge which is compounded by those already looking from the last year’s graduating class, those qualifying from other jurisdictions, barristers cross-qualifying and paralegals. It is key that students understand that there simply are not enough training places out there and that they are ridiculously oversubscribed.
The JLD recognises that students have to be accountable for the education choices they make however, we hope our message makes that choice a more informed one.