Legal education’s oversupply is unethical

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  • To put matters simply there are two solutions to this problem. Either the Law Society (and, indeed the Bar Council) follows the approach of the GMC and limits legal education so the number of places available at the education stage are proportionate to the number of employment opportunities. Alternatively the approach of the Institute of Chartered Accountants is followed whereby accountants to be undertake a three year training contract which includes all necessary exams. If the medical and accountancy professions can address this issues successfully, we can't we?

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  • ^^
    Your second idea regarding CAs is exactly what I was thinking. Their model is a lot more appealing, especially for non-law students. I have a feeling that law is used by unis as a way of bringing in £££ since it's the default choice for pupils who have good grades but don't know what to do after school.

    In Scotland our law degrees are four years for some reason, then there's the DLP which costs ~£5k and for which there is very little funding. The unis have to start limiting the number of students they take in.

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  • I don't want to seem uncaring, but surely the students also have some responsibility here, to check before embarking on an expensive training course that it is actually likely to lead to a job?

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  • Perhaps the ILEX legal executive qualification should be looked at - especially for those who haven't yet done their LPC? A law grad would be exempt from most of the ILEX exams (they'd still have to do the short Graduate Fast-track Diploma course) plus five years work of a paralegal nature (which most people are doing anyway just to pay the bills! If you qualify as a legal executive - you become a specialist lawyer capable of being a partner of a law firm, district judge - it's no small qualification. If the student is still wanting to go on and become a solicitor, well, they can. So long as their law degree is still within the 7 years deadline, they can take their LPC and so long as they are a legal executive before the end of the LPC, they will be in a position to apply to the SRA for exemption against the training contract. (The SRA recognise legal executives training as they have already 'done their time' in the office already without having to do another 2 years training contract). For those unfortunate LPC graduates who can't get training contracts - use your academic qualifications to be exempt from the ILEX exams, satisfy ILEX you've done their required five years qualifying employment (paralegal work) and at least get yourselves professionally qualfied!!!!! It doesn't stop you still looking for a training contract but it may help if you've got a legal executive qualification on your CV and your firm can use you to charge out more for your services. This may seem a long way around but if you got your timings/exemptions right, you'd be able to qualify as a solicitor via the ILEX route in just over 3 years (if you've already satisfied at least 2 of the 5 years of qualifying employment). Even if a law grad went on to doing the LPC now, and assuming they got the precious training contract, they wouldn't get qualified as a solicitor for 4 years!! Speak to ILEX and find out for yourselves??!! www.ilex.org.uk ....

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  • I agree Simon Sellick and, also possibly uncaring, my first thought was "welcome to the world". No matter what job you're going for, there's always going to be competition - particularly in the current climate. And in response to Rosemary, yes you are right, if people are that desperate to be a lawyer, they'll find a way.

    The days of just walking into a highly-paid cushy job straight from uni are long gone.

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  • I agree this is an oversupply of students chasing training contracts at the moment. I was recently involved in recruiting for a paralegal vacancy. We were inundated with CVs from candidates who had good grades. However, most of the candidates performed badly at interview. The majority of candidates stumbled over why they wanted to work for us and had clearly not done any research. One candidate told us that she was actually interested in working for another team within the same organisation. Another candidate had rearranged her interview time and then turned up late anyway.

    The system is producing too many students who are chasing elusive training contracts but the students need to realise that it takes more than good grades to secure training contracts and paralegal work.

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  • Whilst myths about the profession continue, there will always be a surplus of students.

    My experience of talking to some students is that they are aware of the high risk but are willing to take that risk (so they say) because they are so desperate to be solicitors.

    There's nothing one can do about that.

    Though I think tuition fees at £9,000 per annum should focus the mind more on whether it is viable.

    Though sadly I fear that most students will still think that the fees are worth it because they will earn more.

    Unless regulators step in the situation can not be resolved.

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  • While I agree with the general thrust of the article that there are problems in the legal training sector, it makes several incorrect assumptions:

    1. All undergraduate law students want to be lawyers. An undergrad law degree prepares you for all kinds of things (unlike an undergrad medical degree). I have friends who did law degrees with no intention of becoming lawyers and are very happy as senior civil servants or journalists. I don't see why LLB places need to be cut as there are plenty of careers one can go into after such a degree.

    2. The existence of 15,000 LPC places means there are 15,000 LPC graduates per year. If all LPC providers filled their classes to capacity, there would indeed be 15K students per year, but the same Law Society figures quoted by the author show this is not the case. Further, not all students on the course will pass. I seem to remember seeing figures that the actual number of LPC graduates was less than 10,000. This is still more than the number of training contracts available, but the odds are not quite as grim as the author claims. (Unlike the odds for would-be barristers, which are shocking.)

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  • Surely the worst thing we could do to address the over-supply of law students is to make it really easy to enter the legal profession?

    Oh hang on! That's exactly what people are proposing to do - come on in ILEX lawyers and University Course lawyers!

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  • While I agree that there are universities exploiting aspirational young people, the students do have to take responsibility.

    These uneven odds have existed in Australia for many years. When I qualified, the big firms would each take fewer than 15 trainees a year. The majority of students undertook double degrees (Arts/Law, Commerce/Law, etc) to improve their chances, resulting in 5 years at university. The result? Cut-throat competition, considerably raised standards and solicitors much sought after the by top UK practices. Competition is not all bad news.

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  • Re the above post whilst competition does give law firms greater choice of new solicitors, I don't think the benefit of that is greater than the financial ruin of failed students.

    The minority will get through and enjoy good earnings and that's great for them but it's not worth the price of a generation of financially and emotionally ruined law graduates.

    Yes students have some responsibility to make sensible choices but this is impossible for students to do when law firms, schools and governments are spouting propaganda about careers in law for their own vested interests.

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  • I agree with Anonymous. I have been involved in University law lecturing and you knew from day one that some of the students had a snowball's chance in hell of getting a decent degree, let alone a training contract. They are just being exploited so they can keep universities going. Places should be cut so that there aren't LLB and HND courses in any old further education college. The reality is that students attracted by "Silks" and suchlike on TV are being milked unscrupulously.

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  • Firstly, I think Beth makes a good point about the statistics, and there are also many good points made about competition – the Bar has learnt similar lessons in recent years. Secondly, the attitude shown by the author of this article reflects the harmful attitude of many who have come in to the profession in the past decade (or the boom years) almost as if on a conveyer belt destined to take them on to great things they deserve (and the salaries promised to them on rollonfriday.com). It is a good thing if the new blood in the profession has to fight for it – the whole profession is going to have to fight for survival in the coming years.

    1. Beth makes a good point about the potential inaccuracies in the use of the figures for LLB places and LPC places. The student numbers for the LLB, LPC and, let's not forget, the BVC/BPTC also include foreign students. The Bar was recently very concerned about the numbers paying to do the BCV/BPTC with even lower odds of securing pupillage and tenancy than the odds of getting a TC. Many bodies looked at limiting BVC/BPTC places or making call to the Bar dependent on having completed pupillage. Ultimately, one of the key considerations was that a great number of foreign/commonwealth students and law degree holders come to study or train in the UK for CV points before practicing in their home jurisdiction. Simply limiting LLB, LPC or BVC/BPTC numbers would be short-sighted: having masses of bright future foreign professionals train in the UK is a huge asset and valuable business or 'social network' right under our noses.

    2. Secondly, as some of the comments note, the difficult odds add to the competition for places in our professions, which generally accounts for higher standards in a global market place. Any partner in a law firm worth his or her salt will have got to that position through being alive to the fact that no client owes lawyers a practice. I fear that the author of this article slightly neglects the benefits of competition and the realities of any area of business. Might this be reflected in his bemoaning "the damage wrought by cost-conscious clients due to the recession". If we can't offer great service and excellent value for money at a time when the balance of economic activity and trade is moving East, our work will follow it and go elsewhere leaving only scraps for the UK profession. The great industry the City is sitting on will go the way of manufacturing and other former great industries if we're not competitive and cost conscious. Just as it was cheaper to manufacture abroad because labour cost less, the same will happen to many parts of the ways law firms achieve their profits (e.g. billing for trainees and 1 year PQEs to photocopy or proof). The earlier law students (with their reams of straight As or A*s) realise that the world owes us nothing, the better. For much of the 00's, far too many young men and women being churned through the likes of BPP and CoL believed they were on a conveyer belt to a glamorous city job to "do for a few years" (if they “decided” not to make partner) as if the world owed them a career. It is no bad thing for the profession to be reminded that we're owed nothing.

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  • Regarding Beth's first comment, I graduated with an LLB in 2003 and decided I would explore other options besides becoming a solicitor, having become slightly demoralised with it all. However, at every interview I was met with the question: "I see you did a law degree. Why don't you become a lawyer?" No one seemed to believe me when I said I wasn't interested in it after studying it. Becoming a lawyer seemed the only way I could get any kind of career at all.
    Journalism was something I looked into, but I was told I would need a degree in journalism rather than one in law, or a load of experience in journalism - which I couldn't get without a journalism degree.

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  • Students DO need to take responsibility. I did the GDL as a mature student a few years ago having spent a few years in a different career before deciding on law. I worked really hard to apply to firms for training contracts before I started the GDL, checked out which ones best matched the life experience (and work experience) I already had. I was very relieved to obtain a training contract with a large firm, which paid all my law school fees.
    Imagine my surprise when I started the GDL and discovered that most of my fellow students hadn't even applied for training contracts. This problem was even worse on the LPC where many students saw it as the natural next step but had made no decision really to practice law.
    There may be many students who do law at University, but how many are really serious about a career in the law? Students should consider what a career in the law means, should decide if it's what they really want and then do the studying. I can think of more life expanding ways of spending a year if doing the LPC is just a way to put off a decision about career for another year. This is only my experience, but I can't believe that it's wildly different everywhere else. Law has always been a well respected degree and many people do it for that reason, rather than having committed to be a laywer.

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  • In agreement with one author a Law degree do prepare us for more than one career. I do however have to take stock in also agreeing that TC are not easily assessible. However with everything comes share determination and if one is determined to be a qualified solicitor with the relevant training then by any means possible it will happen.

    Why are we so pessimistic in everything. Dont get me wrong I am not proclaiming that it is not hard to get a TC all I am saying do not deter people from entering the profession by the whole pessimism.

    There are training contracts out there and I know I will get one when I dedicate the time to obtain it.

    Less we not forget. Law is a business too and CoL and all the other providers are there to run as one and of course I am sure they warn people of the difficulties in obtaining a TC but it is not their responsibilities to provide one. If that was the case then we would all blame the universities for not providing jobs for us all when we complete our studies.

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  • The problem is that to many LPC providers are telling the students that they will complete the course and then simply 'walk in to a training contract' - its a disgrace and they are taking many peoples money. The system needs to be changed so that you complete a three year training contract with the first year being the LPC.

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