Jumping the cash barrier
By Laura Manning
How do you pay your way through legal training if you’re unwise enough not to have fabulously wealthy parents? Lawyer 2B reports on the options
When confronted with the astronomical cost of legal education and training, considering your future can be daunting. But to those without a training contract or money from their parents to fall back on - do not despair, as there are still ways to cope with the cost of training.
Embarking on a legal career may seem more overwhelming than ever at a time when two of the legal training loans giants, NatWest and RBS, have withdrawn their schemes and Legal Practice Course (LPC) providers have yet again hiked their fees.
LPC fees for 2011 range from £8,500 to £12,900 depending on the provider, and when you add on maintenance costs the total could reach around £25,000. Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) fees are even higher, at between £11,600 and £15,750.
For non-law graduates who want to become lawyers, several thousands of pounds will be added to their debt as they need to take the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL)conversion course, which means taking another year out of work. GDL fees can reach almost £9,000.
If you do not mind getting a little deeper into debt, the vocational stage of your training can be funded by a bank loan. But before you hit the books, you must do some basic maths because if you are going to rack up debts to fund your studies it is vital to weigh the cost against your future earnings.
While postgraduate training in law could lead to a good salary, you need to be 100 per cent certain that this is the career path for you by doing the necessary work experience, vacation schemes and networking to ensure you are both ready to commit and able to meet the repayments.
Career development loans (CDLs), currently offered by Barclays Bank and the Co-operative Bank, are worth looking into as a potential source of funding for the LPC and BPTC. However, CDLs are no longer available to GDL students.
CDLs are subsidised by the Government, and therefore you have a repayment holiday for the duration of the course plus one month after. Also, the Young People’s Learning Agency foots the bill for interest accrued throughout your course and a month after.
It is possible to borrow any sum between £300 and £10,000, and repay it over a period of up to five years. This entitles you to cover 80 per cent of course fees, expenses including childcare and living costs for full-time students.
Although CDLs could be the answer for some, those hoping to undertake the LPC in London will need to find at least £4,000 extra to cover course fees, not to mention living expenses.
One solution could be to apply for a graduate loan to cover maintenance costs. These are available from most high street banks but beware, getting more than oneloan to cover mounting costs may not be the most sensible decision with the legal market still fragile after the economic crisis.
The gap between completing the LPC and getting a job as a trainee may be longer than you expect, so committing to a CDL that will charge at least £200 a month on repayments after you complete your studies might not be the best plan.
As CDLs are offered by only a couple of banks it means the rates can be steep, and you may be rejected if you have a poor credit history. Together with this, at first glance the interest rate may look reasonable but this is normally an average rate for the whole period of the loan. Banks offer CDLs at a customer rate of around 9.9 per cent a year, equivalent to a typical 5 or 6 per cent over the lifetime of the loan.
If the idea of sinking deeper into debt is not appealing but you refuse to concede defeat, there are other options to consider.
It’s not all about London. Looking to study outside the Big Smoke can make a huge difference to your bank account, with fees as low as £8,400 at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) and £8,500 at the Bristol Institute of Legal Practices (BiLP).
Alternatively, you could do the course part-time or split the LPC in two (ie take a gap between completing the compulsory stage and the electives).
On the plus side, this would give you enough time to earn while you learn, avoiding debt and gaining some work experience at the same time. But remember, doing a course part-time is a massive commitment, taking up to two years, and the balance between work and study may be a challenge for some.
For those considering a career in the legal aid sector, however, this may be the best option, with more and more high street firms unable to offer sponsorship. This is leading to an increasing number of aspiring lawyers in this field moving to careers as paralegals.
On the other hand, you could consider a route into law such as that offered by the Institute of Legal Executives. As a legal executive you would be legally qualified but have different training from that of a solicitor.
There are routes into being a legal executive from GCSE up, with exemptions for those with A-levels and degrees. Salaries for school-leavers start low at between £10,000 and £15,000, but experienced executives in London can earn around £40,000.
Meanwhile, Northumbria Law School is currently completing a five-year pilot for a groundbreaking course that will enable students to graduate as fully qualified solicitors, following validation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
This attractive alternative sees all levels of legal education and professional training compressed into one course, eliminating the need to complete the LPC separately, and introduces a work-based learning element. But note, it is only being offered to those who have already chosen to enrol on a law degree at the university, and is completely dependent on the number of law firms that choose to sign up to it.
Awards and grants
The Law Society runs 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 show that your financial hardship is greater than most and that you are serious about entering the profession. Applicants can specify the amount of the bursary they wish to apply for up to the total course fees, but must have been offered a place on the LPC before application.
The society also runs the Diversity Access Scheme, which provides support to talented aspiring solicitors who have to overcome exceptional obstacles to qualification. Social, educational, financial, disability and family issues are all factors that are considered.
However, both of these awards are only available for the LPC and not for funding a degree, a GDL or other courses. This year, applications closed on 31 March and interviews are to be held in July.
Limited funding for ethnic minority and overseas students is available from a few organisations including the Windsor Fellowship, the British Council and the Inderpal Rahal Memorial Trust.
It is also worth checking whether your postgraduate law school feels like giving you a freebie or making a contribution towards your 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.
The College of Law also offers a range of bursaries through the Diversity Access Scheme and Pathway to Law, with the latter targeting A-level students.
City Law School and Kaplan Law School offer scholarships for the LPC, BPTC and GDL, with up to £3,000 being offered at City, while Kaplan Law School offers up to £5,975 in pro bono scholarships.
Together with this, many law schools are now offering flexible payment plans that can offer a lifeline to those struggling to access funds. BPP’s full-time LPC and GDL students will be eligible to spread their interest-free payments over four annual instalments instead of two, while part-time students will have the choice of making eight interest-free payments over the length of the programme for the LPC, BPTC and GDL.
Kaplan also offers a monthly direct debit system, asking for an initial payment of £2,345 followed by eight monthly payments of £1,200 for the LPC, and an initial outlay of £2,450 plus eight monthly payments of £700 for the GDL.
Finally, talk to your local council as the awards officer may have information on local charities or grant-making trusts that could help you out. They will also be able to give you the lowdown on any discretionary awards that are 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 each year is approximately £4.5m. 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 and offer dates, so visit their individual websites for more details.
All the Inns tend to award scholarships on a merit basis. 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 true commitment through moots, mini-pupillages and other extracurricular activities in addition to exam grades.
HSBC Bank has also reinstated its BPTC loan which originally gave cash-strapped would-be barristers an interest rate of 1 per cent and a three-year repayment holiday. The terms and conditions of its new 2011 Bar Loans Scheme were yet to be confirmed at the time of going to press. The course to qualifying as a solicitor or barrister may seem to have financial hurdles at every turn, but if you can overcome these, a rewarding career awaits.