By Corinne McPartland
Proving your worth
27 October 2010
Imagine not being able to do something you really want to do, no matter how hard you work or how clever you are.
This is the stark reality that many would-be lawyers face every year when confronted with the astronomical cost of legal education and training. Granted, you can turn to graduate loans, while the lucky few might even have the bank of Mummy and Daddy to rely on. But what if loans will just not cover the true cost of study? And what if your parents simply cannot afford to help?
Before the word ’diversity’ hit the legal world’s radar, we suspect many of you would have just had to rethink your career paths and settle for something that requires a little less financial backing.
Thankfully, though, postgraduate law schools now offer a wide range of scholarships and bursaries to help you overcome the difficulties of training as a solicitor or barrister. “The study in the run-up to becoming a lawyer is a great financial burden for anyone, but it’s something people just have to deal with,” explains Paul Mason, who was recently awarded Kaplan Law School’s Bar Master of Moots Scholarship. “Getting a scholarship to do the Bar Professional Training Course [BPTC] has been such a help - I don’t think I could have done it otherwise.”
Indeed, the Bar Master/Mistress of Moots Scholarship is just one of Kaplan’s many scholarships available for its new BPTC programme. It involves £7,500 by way of a reduction in fees for the BPTC course and is awarded to the person who can demonstrate a proven record in organising and leading student activity in mooting, debating or advocacy.
But the cut-price fees come with some responsibilities attached. The successful scholar’s duties include organising and leading Kaplan’s advocacy programme.
“By having these scholarships we aim to attract and support students who are already keen advocates,” says James Wakefield, head of Kaplan’s new BPTC. “Advocacy is such fun and we’re setting up a course where there’ll be every opportunity for talented people to practise their skills.”
The second £2,500 award that Kaplan makes is called the Bar Advocacy Scholarship, which is handed out to at least six students a year with proven records as advocates.
Applicants have to give examples of any mooting, debating, pro bono work or public speaking they have taken part in to stand a chance of securing the cash.
“I think it’s so important to be able to offer talented students a way into the profession, which otherwise might seem closed to them,” explains Wakefield. “I mean, if you want a diverse profession you can only get that by making sure talented individuals have a real chance of making it.”
On the subject of funding the BPTC, Kaplan is not the only provider to have a pot of money available exclusively for scholarships. BPP Law School, the College of Law (CoL) and City Law School all run similar schemes (see the Autumn 2010 issue of Lawyer 2B magazine for table of bursaries on offer by the top postgraduate law schools).
Inns of Court bursaries
If you are not successful at gaining one of the scholarships mentioned above, you could always try your luck at getting one of the Inns of Court bursaries.
The four Inns of Court - Lincoln’s Inn, Inner Temple, Middle Temple and Gray’s Inn - between them award around £4m of bursaries to students each year. BPTC scholarships from the Inns range up to £15,000.
The closing date for applications is normally the first Friday in the November before you start the BPTC course, but you can only apply to one Inn for an award. This means that if you are successful you will be required to join that Inn.
Other than that, many of the major high street banks offer special loan schemes for the BPTC. These loans typically have slightly lower interest rates than their normal ones and delayed repayment arrangements to allow you to start paying them back after pupillage.
But would-be barristers are not the only students who can benefit from special bursaries and scholarships. Just as they do for BPTC students, law schools across the country also offer a helping hand to aspiring solicitors.
BPP student James Wagner was lucky enough to receive £2,500 towards his Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and will get a further £2,500 if he decides to stay on with the provider to do his Legal Practice Course (LPC). “The scholarship is awarded purely on academic merit, because I think I would have taken the GDL and LPC without it. But it looks really good on your CV and shows you have something law schools want to recognise, which for me is more important than the money - although that helps,” explains Wagner.
Although BPP dean Peter Crisp agrees that it is not always about the money for some people, he says that many students need to have the financial backing to succeed.
“Research has shown that an individual’s gender, ethnicity and class greatly affect the number of obstacles they’re likely to face in achieving a professional legal qualification,” Crisp insists. “With this in mind, we offer a number of scholarship places for exceptional individuals demonstrating a strong desire and level of commitment to qualifying in the legal field, but who without support would find it difficult to attain their dream.”
Indeed, it is not only for students to find the money to fund the GDL and LPC themselves, but getting the cash together to do a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) is also often tricky.
Realising this, BPP, which was granted university status over the summer, has just introduced a bursary award aimed specifically at sixth-form students wanting to study an LLB, but who are struggling with the finances to do it.
Recently the school launched what it calls the ’Your Break in the Law’ competition for state-educated sixth-form students from minority backgrounds. The prize, worth a whopping £10,000, covers BPP’s course fees for the entire LLB. Perhaps more importantly, winners also receive work experience and mentoring from law firm Reed Smith while Barclays Bank provides them with further legal experience at its Canary Wharf headquarters.
“Often it’s not just the expense but the connections and support that can be a barrier to entry to a career in law. That’s why this scholarship competition is so important -
it addresses the issues of diversity and social mobility in the legal profession, something we’re very much committed to,” insists Crisp.
To win the prize competitors have to go through two rounds of tests based on grammar, comprehension and case analysis before winning a mock court debate against eight other finalists.
BPP also works with Lawyer 2B on its annual feature competition, where students have the chance to win a free spot on the school’s GDL and LPC programmes (click here for for more information on this year’s).
Sonia Burgess, who won a place on the LPC in 2009, is currently on BPP’s two-year distance-learning GDL.
“This means I can pursue a career that I’ve spent almost 10 years thinking about without the stress of worrying about how I’m going to finance it,” she says. “It really is a life-changing experience for me. It’s fantastic that people have recognised my potential and are giving me this fantastic opportunity.”
“It’s our hope that these scholarships will help talented individuals to overcome the odds,” adds Crisp, “whether they are social, educational, financial, a disability or unusual family circumstances, in order to increase diversity in the legal field and enhance the profession as a whole.”
Elsewhere, CoL has created and is funding the Henry Hodge Traineeship, which is a training contract in legal aid practice. The special training contract is in memory of the college’s former deputy chair of governors Sir Henry Hodge, a pioneer in legal aid practice, who died of leukemia in June 2009.
The successful candidate is employed under a training contract by CoL and spends the first year in the school’s Legal Advice Centre at its London Bloomsbury base.
For the second year they are seconded to Hodge Jones & Allen, the legal aid law firm of which Henry Hodge was a founding partner in 1977.
CoL also funds a range of bursaries through the Law Society’s Diversity Access Scheme and its Pathways to Law initiative.
“We target students a A-Level so they can being to aim for places at the sort of universitiies top law firms recruit from, explains CoL director Richard de Friend. “This is because, at the end of the day, if they don’t get into the right university they’re significantly reducing their chances of getting a training contract.”
Savage agrees that, through scholarships such as its annual Tracy Kaye award, which helps meet the cost of the LPC at the school’s York centre, many students are getting the financial buoy that could make the difference between them sinking or swimming.
“There’s a vast financial gap between the poorest students and those from the most privileged backgrounds, with some thinking nothing of studying the LPC,” admits Savage.
“For some talented candidates it’s often only a pipe dream, but we want to give them the resources to show that if you want something enough you can achieve your dream.”